Does More Detergent Make for More Clean?
Given the number of posts at frugality sites on how to make your own cleaning supplies (and the number of reads those posts get), the topic is obviously one of interest to the community. My take is that there's an easier way to save money on cleaning supplies than making your own: Use less.
It may not take a genius to observe that using less saves money, but it does take more than average awareness to see through all the ways manufacturers get you to use too much, and to see just how much less is actually enough.
For example, how much detergent does it take to get your clothes clean? The answer depends on how dirty they are. If you've been working (or playing) hard outdoors, it may take quite a bit. If you've been repairing bicycles or rebuilding engines or working as a fry cook, it may take even more. But if you've been sitting at home or working in a cubicle, it doesn't actually take much.
Plus, the fact is, using more detergent than you need makes your clothes less clean, because some of it stays behind in your clothes.
I first learned about this back in the mid-1990s, when several companies started marketing these ceramic disks that supposedly cleaned your laundry without detergent. Many people who tried them found that they seemed to work, but only for a while. Eventually, people figured out that what was happening was that there was enough detergent left in clothes from previous launderings to get the clothes clean, even if you just washed them in water, until everything in the load has been run through a cycle or two without added detergent.
Mull that over for a minute: Even after rinsing, there's still enough detergent left in your clothes to wash them again. That little detergent — the amount left behind after the rinse cycle in your washer — is all it takes to get your clothes clean.
Once I internalized that, I started using much, much less laundry detergent. For ordinary amounts of dirt, a quarter of the recommended quantity is plenty. For clothing that has only been worn indoors, just an eighth is probably enough. Not only will small amounts get your clothes clean, they'll be more clean, because they'll have a lot less detergent left in the fabric.
Obviously the manufacturer's incentives are to recommend using more. Not only do people who use more buy more, but it reduces the chance that you'll lose respect for the product due to having load of especially dirty laundry come out less than completely clean.
All your other cleaning supplies
Much the same is true of all your other cleaning supplies.
How much shampoo does it take to get your hair clean? It depends on how oily your hair is (and how much hair you have), but it doesn't take a lot to get hair clean. (And if you don't strip every last little bit of oil out of your hair by washing it twice, you may find that you don't need to add oil back in the form of hair conditioner.)
How much toothpaste is enough? The ADA recommends a pea-sized amount for children. (They suggest that adults use "just enough" to cover the length of the bristles on their toothbrush, but I expect that was due to pressure from the toothpaste manufacturers.)
In the kitchen and bathroom it's particularly easy to start with just a little and then add more if things aren't getting clean.
Using less doesn't just save money; it's also gentler on the planet. It uses less natural resources to make the stuff, package it, and ship it to you; it exposes you to a smaller dose of the chemicals involved, and dumps less of them into the environment.
Experiment with using less — and not just a little less. Start with using half as much. If things still get clean, cut by half as much again. Personally, I find that about one-quarter of the recommended amount is usually a lot closer to the right amount than what the manufacturer recommends.
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