Mar 16, 2010

How Much Laundry Soap Do You Really Need?

According to Consumer Reports, many Americans use too much laundry detergent - primarily because the measuring cups that come with the soap are difficult to read.
"'If the lines aren't clear or are hard to see, it's easy to overdose and use too much detergent,' says Pat Slaven, a program leader in our Technical department who conducted the detergent testing. 'Plus, for all the products we tested, the line for a medium load—the most commonly done load—is less than a full cap, which makes it easier to use too much detergent.' The line for a maximum load is also typically less than a full cap."
Not only does using too much laundry detergent mean you have to buy detergent more often, but according to CR, it can cause lint and soap deposits to develop inside the washing machine - which might cause mold and could restrict filters, resulting in mechanical failure. With high-efficiency washing machines, CR reports, using too much detergent can lead to over-long wash cycles and mechanical failure.

But is laundry detergent even necessary? According to MSN, the answer is usually no. In one reporter's unscientific tests, all her clothes came out just as clean without detergent as they did with detergent.
"Minor stains that I thought would come through unscathed actually washed out. A pair of fluffy cotton socks, which I wear around the house and patio as slippers, was pretty grimy when I put them in the washer. They came out looking exactly the same as they do when they’re washed with detergent.
The socks, which are three or four years old, always have a little gray on the bottom -- no amount of detergent or bleach gets it out. If anything, they actually look a little better than the last time I ran them through the washer.
Peeking into the machine during the wash cycle, I found that the water looked exactly as dirty as it does when I’ve added detergent, only without the suds. The rinse cycle ran clear as tap water."
How can this work? Because modern washing machines clean primarily through their agitators, not through detergent.

I'm not quite ready to give up detergent for really dirty clothes (baby poop and caked on mud, for example), but I was already using only a few tablespoons of laundry detergent for most loads. So I tried this experiment myself and had similar results to the MSN reporter. Wow! Imagine the cost savings! And since laundry detergent is to blame for many rashes, eczema, and dry skin, there could be additional savings from using lotion and Cortizone-10.

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  1. It makes sense, but didn't the CR report indicate that if you use too much soap anyway, the soap doesn't all come out of your clothes? If that's the case, the residual soap in the clothes could be doing its job when washed without soap as you experimented with...

    I know over the winter, I was having to rinse my jeans twice to get more of the soap out and keep them from being so stiff (I don't dry them in the dryer). I blame part of that on the extreme cold temps of the water, plus now, partially putting in to much soap. I use Amway SA8 soap, and the scoop's about 2 TBSP, and I like the fact the box lasts me so long (about 6 months) but I'm going to try using half a scoop now (except maybe on smoky or greasy loads) and see how they come out.

  2. In my case, I use tiny amounts of laundry detergent (1 or 2 tablespoons), so I don't think excess soap could have made the non-detergent clothes come clean. Good thought, though!