How To Do Your Laundry (almost) For Free (and still get a great wash)

In this post, I will show you how I wash my clothes (almost) for free in my front-loading, high-efficiency washing machine.

When my kiddies were small, laundry seemed never-ending. Washing powder would last no time at all. The machine and the dryer were always running.

At the time we were trying to manage on one income, so I had a keen interest in bringing down the cost of everything including the laundry.

I tried lots of different laundry alternatives, such as Ecoballs and Ecoeggs. I tried making my own detergent. I even tried washing with only water.

I still love my Ecoegg, but I have to say that it isn’t the cheapest option because you can’t control the dosage and the replacement pellets don’t seem to last as long as I expected. So for this post, I have ruled those out.

Today I will show you the method I use to get a very good washing result at next to no cost.

Before I begin, let me be upfront and say that if you want to save (a lot of) money doing your laundry you have to wash your clothes in cold water.

For the method I describe below to work, you need a good washing machine that has a long cold cycle. Fortunately, most modern machines now have that type of cycle. Back when my kiddies were little the machine I had then only went down to 30C.

Today I have a Zanussi front-loading washing machine. It’s a very basic machine that I got very cheap on eBay in nearly new condition. But even so, it allows me to set the temperature to cold. It also has a very good intensive cycle which takes about three hours to run.

washing machine controls for cold intensive wash
Washing machine controls for a cold intensive wash

To do your laundry (practically for free) wash at a cold temperature. Set your washing cycle to intensive and use a very small amount of detergent. Always dry your clothes naturally.

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How to do your laundry (almost) for free at home

Here are six things I do that mean I spend only a very small amount on my laundry.

1. Set your washer to cold and never move the dial back!

When you wash your clothes in cold water your washing machine will use far less electricity to run the wash. Most of the energy used is for heating the water. When you don’t heat the water all you are paying for is for the drum to move, which is much less.

Older washers had two water inputs, one for cold and one for hot. So if you had some water in your hot water tank, that would get used. Modern machines now have one cold input and the water is heated by the machine’s element to the desired temperature. This is considered to be more efficient than drawing hot water into the machine.

So if you have a modern machine, setting the washing temperature to cold can save a lot of energy and therefore money.

2. To get a good wash on cold consider running an intensive cycle

A washing machine needs four things for it to wash effectively:

  1. Detergent
  2. Water
  3. Heat
  4. Agitation

When you take one of those away (in this case heat) you need to increase one or two of the others.

By choosing an intensive cycle, you increase the washing time and thus the agitation.

Warm water can penetrate and expand fibers much quicker than cold water. If we give the cold water more time to be effective, we should get the same effect as using warm or hot water for a shorter time.

3. Use a tiny amount of washing detergent

I’ve always ignored the recommended dosage on a detergent packet. Detergent manufacturers always seem to advise using too much. It’s in their interest of course!

I use a smidgen of laundry liquid or powder, and I put it directly in the washing drum so I don’t waste any when it travels down the pipes from the dosing drawer.

laundry detergent dosage
Laundry detergent dosage

If you have the time, why not make your own laundry detergent?

4. Super-charge your washing detergent with washing soda crystals

Washing soda crystals are generally very cheap. Back before washing powder was invented, soda crystals were used as laundry detergent, which is why people often call them washing soda crystals.

Washing soda crystals soften the water so that it can more easily penetrate the fibers and lift off dirt, which is exactly what you want when you wash with cold water.

Soda crystals are also great at dissolving grease.

adding washing soda crystals to the laundry detergent
Adding washing soda crystals to the laundry detergent

5. Avoid using fabric conditioner

I find that using less detergent along with some soda crystals makes the clothes quite soft and so I don’t need fabric softener.

If you need more softness, I recommend adding half a cup of white distilled vinegar to the rinse cycle.

6. Don’t be scared to run half-cycle washes if you have a front-loading machine

It is never a good idea to overload your washer because you won’t get a good clean and you could even cause damage to the machine.

If you can’t fit your hand vertically on top then the washing machine is overloaded.

Not so long ago, the advice was to always run full loads because it was said to be less wasteful on water.

Front-loading machines are now very efficient on water use. They weigh the contents and only use the necessary amount. If you run a half-load, less water is used than in a full-load.

When you run cold washes you don’t need to worry so much about using more electricity because the energy used to run the machine is minimal. It’s heating the water that uses up energy. You are only really paying to turn the drum.

Running your machine daily with less laundry makes it easier to dry your clothing too.

How to dry your laundry for free

It’s possible to wash your laundry (almost) for free. But drying it can be done totally free!

If you are running a daily wash then the chances are you won’t have a lot to dry at once.

If you have the weather, always dry your clothes outside on a washing line. If you space out your laundry it will dry much more quickly.

washing spaced out on a rotary clothesline
Washing spaced out on a rotary clothesline

For drying inside, invest in a good quality drying rack with plenty of hanging space. Position it near a radiator or heating vent and you should find your clothes dry quickly.

Don’t be tempted to put your wet laundry directly on a radiator because it will stop the heat from going into the room, which isn’t good if you are trying to reduce your heating bill.

To speed up drying times, an electric fan and dehumidifier work well together. There is no need to use hot air, cold air will suffice.

Dealing with stains when washing at cold temperatures

I find that stains come out pretty well on a cold wash as long as I don’t overload the machine. If I have some very stained clothes I wash them on their own. When my son had a nose bleed recently all the stained items went in the wash on their own on a very long cycle and the stains were gone.

If you regularly have a lot of stains to deal with, I recommend using a biological detergent and a stain remover such as Vanish stain remover bar.

For removing stubborn stains, I also like to make up a spray bottle with a tablespoon of my normal detergent and some water. Then I simply spray over areas that have stains or greasy marks.

homemade stain remover
Homemade stain remover
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How to wash at cold temperatures when you need your laundry sanitized

My one concern when I made the move to cold water washing was how I was going to clean items that previously required a hot wash. For example, my sheets and towels or my microfiber cloths.

At least once per week, I wash all my microfiber cloths along with the tea towels in one load. They have a lot of dirt on them and bacteria and are often quite smelly by the time wash day comes around.

There are two ways you can sanitize your wash when washing at cold temperatures:

  1. For whites, add a Milton sterilizing tablet. Milton tablets are designed for sterilizing baby equipment but you can also use them in your wash to kill germs. They have a bleaching effect, so don’t use them on colored items that you care about. You might find your supermarket does a cheaper version in the baby aisle. Tesco has its own version.
  2. For colors, add a half cup of distilled white vinegar. Vinegar has a natural antibacterial effect. Add it directly to the wash or in the rinse cycle. A half-cup should be enough.

You can also buy a proprietary laundry sanitizer product, but I prefer to make my own laundry sanitizer.

Pros and cons of washing clothes in cold water

There are plenty of cons to washing clothes in cold water. Saving money is a big one. But do we pay instead with sub-par cleanliness?

Let’s look at the pros and cons:

The advantages of washing clothes in cold water

  1. You save a lot of money on your laundry. When you run a cold wash you only pay for the drum to turn.
  2. It’s environmentally friendly. Due to using less electricity, its kinder to the environment.
  3. Your machine could last longer. It’s difficult to quantify this, but if you are not using the heating element on your machine there is less chance of it wearing out so quickly.
  4. Your clothes will last longer. Cold water is gentler on fibers than hot water.

The disadvantages of washing clothes in cold water

  1. Your washing machine could start to smell. I find my washing machine stays fresh because I often add a Milton sterilizing tablet to washes or a cup of white distilled vinegar, which sanitizes the machine as well as the laundry. If I wasn’t doing that I would run a monthly hot wash with a cup of washing soda crystals.
  2. It takes longer to do a wash. Cold water needs longer to remove dirt from fibers than hot water. Quick washes at cold temperatures won’t usually give you a good enough wash.
  3. Cold water washing works best in front-loading high-efficiency machines. I have only ever owned a front-loading washing machine. My mother used to have a top loader. From what I know of modern top-loading machines, they often don’t have a long enough cycle. They tend to use more water instead. You really need a machine that can give you a long cycle with lots of agitation.

How to get your whites white at cold temperatures

I find that washing powders do a much better job at getting whites white than liquid detergents.

For whites, I recommend using a washing powder designed for whites. You still only need a small amount and you can supplement with washing soda crystals.

Another option is to add a Milton sterilizing tablet which will give you a mild bleaching effect.

Frequently asked questions

Will my machine smell if I wash my clothes in cold water?

When you wash in cold water you need to take care of your machine, and if you do that it shouldn’t smell.

Run a monthly hot wash with a cup of washing soda crystals directly in the drum. This should sanitize the machine and clean out the pipes of any old detergent and fabric softeners.

Another option is to add a half cup of distilled white vinegar to every wash.

Can I use powdered washing detergent for cold washes?

I have found that powered washing detergent works just as well as liquid as long as you run a long enough wash. The powder needs time to dissolve properly.

More questions? Please contact me here and I would be happy to help you out.

This article and its contents are owned by sparklingpenny.com and was first published on 20 May 2022.
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Penny | SparklingPenny

Hi, I'm Penny. A busy mum of two boys and one dog, with the aim to enjoy life to the full.