Most people don’t have a clear appreciation for what their laundry is costing. Whether you have a home machine or use a laundromat, you may be surprised at the real costs of keeping clean. I remember living in an efficiency apartment in downtown Seattle. Each week, I’d load my wash into a plastic bag, and stick the plastic bag inside a rolling suitcase, fill the outside pocket with quarters and a novel, and walk down the street to the laundromat. In an effort to avoid a couple of creepers whose laundry schedules mysteriously always matched mine, I started re-bagging my wet wash, and bringing it back, where I spread it on drying racks in my bathroom. I discovered I was saving $8.00 a month, which in those days, was a fairly noticeable savings. Especially for someone who just did 1-2 loads a week.

Fast forward many years, and now I do 6-8 loads of wash per week (depending on what sports the kids are playing that season), and thankfully, I’m using my own machines. Laundry costs are still substantial. Here’s how most similar-sized households can save up to $1500 per year in laundry costs.

Laundry Detergent/Products

I’ve made my own detergents for years, using a similar recipe to Lyannae’s How to Make Your Own Homemade Laundry Detergent. I use castile soap instead of bath soap o Fels-Namptha because I want a detergent-free laundry. I pre-treat stains with Dawn, and also use white vinegar as a rise aid (when it is necessary). Laundry detergent savings $198 year.

Laundry Lines/Racks

To save energy on drying, I rack-dry when the weather is warm. Outside line-drying isn’t an option for me since I live in a townhouse. Savings about $28 over the dry months.

Need a quick free drying rack? If you’ve got one of those wooden drop-side cribs that has recently been recalled—grab a side and position it over your tub/shower (mine has a ledge, making it a perfect place to hold a rack like this).

Reduce Drying Time

Adding “laundry balls” to the dryer helps to prevent static, reduce wrinkles and speed drying time, which has eliminated the use of dryer sheets and bars. Laundry balls are just heavy felted soft-ball sized balls. They’re all natural, and their weight gets them bouncing around in the dryer a lot, without adding noise. All of this extra movement in the dryer dries garments much faster. I can’t tell exactly what this is saving, but I did notice that when we started using the laundry balls, it seemed to offset the use of our portable air conditioner, so I’m guessing it is a savings of $84 per year.

Need to Replace a Machine?

If you’re using an inefficient machine, or have a machine that may be near failure, it may be time to replace—but don’t buy new! If you don’t have to have the top-of-the-line machine, you can definitely benefit from those who do. Recycled and second-hand building supply stores get lots of washers and dryers. Often, they are the brand-new base models from a new home or condo that was immediately replaced with a designer model by the new owner. Many areas have a used building materials store, we are fortunate to have three of them near us. One can easily find a working high-efficiency, front loading washing machine for $250 or less, compared to a new machine at $600-700. Total savings: At least $350.

Ditch the Dry Cleaning

Dry cleaning not only exposes you to potentially hazardous chemicals, but is expensive! Furthermore, it’s not always necessary. Dry clean typically just means that your garment shouldn’t go through a machine with an agitating system, or would be harmed by traditional detergent or extreme water temperatures.

You can scale back or eliminate your dry cleaning bills by hand-washing your garments with mild soaps (detergent free, such as a pure castile soap). Rodale provides some excellent instructions here.