Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Gettin' On My Soap Box: The Laundry Detergent Debacle

Over at Trent Hamm's excellent blog The Simple Dollar, Trent deals with a recurring, ongoing matter of great fiscal importance; it's the cause of many highly emotionally charged posts and comments, dividing good, kind, tax-paying, God-fearing people into snarling mobs.

No, it isn't health care reform. It's laundry detergent. Like many serious frugalistas, Trent home-brews his own laundry detergent. The recipe is here. It's very simple, and very cheap to make. Trent calculates his cost at about .0225 per load (that's two and a quarter cents per load). This is very inexpensive compared to, say, Tide with Bleach at regular price at the grocery store, which runs about .20 per load (twenty cents per load). With this one decision, Trent calculates that he saves about sixty five bucks a year (or six hundred fifty bucks over ten years, or . . . well, you do the math).

It is amazing to me -- simply amazing -- how much flack Trent gets for this one particular decision from his readers. And I think it is symptomatic of a couple of things that are currently plaguing American society.

For one thing it's interesting that for most people, laundry detergent is consistently on the "to buy" list. This is curious to me, as I don't buy it very often at all, and a 300 ounce jug (which is supposed to last 100 loads) lasts my family a good 4 to 5 months. Second, it's interesting how much brand loyalty is out there. Otherwise rational people appear to get totally incensed when someone insinuates Tide is overpriced and overmarketed -- you'll pry their Tide from their cold, dead hands, thanks very much. And it's wild to note how many people don't think they have the time or the energy to take the five minutes making a batch of laundry soap requires out of a 24 hour day, but seem to have lots of time to devote to snarking about other people's decisions on a personal finance blog.

All that said, I'm most bewildered by the people who seem . . . well, flabbergasted that someone knew how to do such a thing. It's as if they believed laundry detergent has just always existed and someone came along and tried to replace The Real Thing with a sad imitation.

Reality check, people: laundry detergent, like 98 percent of everything else at the grocery store and the drug store and the Wal-Marts (I know it's Wal-Mart, but that's what we called it down south, "the Wal-Marts"), is an artificially created need. Yep, that's right, you don't really NEED laundry detergent, at least not in the form it is presented at the store. Trent's stuff is the real deal -- actually, Trent's stuff is a little bit gussied up; all our forefathers used for "warsching" was boiling water, soap (usually lye soap they made themselves), and a rock to beat it on. All other manner of washing paraphernalia are just variations on a theme.

Y'all, there is a happy medium. We can all just get along on this issue of grave importance to the American people.
  • If you want to make your own laundry detergent, knock yourself out. Keep a couple of things in mind, though. One, it does tend to gel up pretty well, so you won't be able to decant it into smaller jugs -- the big honking bucket is what you'll need to keep it in, and that may be risky if you have pets or toddlers. Also, I don't think it is approved for high efficiency washers, and I frankly ain't risking voiding the warranty on mine. Finally, I used to make this homebrew myself (GASP!! THE HORROR!!) and over time I noticed a soap buildup that made my clothes a little dingy and faded. I didn't like that. Your mileage may vary. God speed to ya.
  • If you love that clean linen scent, I am not going to fault you one bit for loving your Tide. Hey, we all have our simple pleasures. If you are brand loyal, you can still work to get your cost per usage down to the lowest it can be and still have your Tide Simple Pleasures Lavendar and Lily Pad Scent With Bleach For Cold Water Machines. I explain how to do that here. Also, consider using less. Bump your usage down to the place where it's painful or doesn't work, then bump it back up a notch.
  • If, like me, you prefer the convenience of premade laundry detergent but wish to minimize your cost per usage to very very low or none at all (!!) yes, it can be done, and yes, I do that on a regular basis. If you aren't brand loyal, laundry detergent can be had for cheap or free after coupons, sales, and rebates. I have at least 150 loads worth of laundry detergent down in my basement that cost me nothing. Nada. And in fact, I made a little money on some of it. If this kind of frugality rings your chimes, stick around. I can help.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I'll be stepping off my soap box and rinsing out the inside to get the last bits out before I recycle the box.

1 comment:

Brook said...

Great article!!! I've actually been thinking about detergent lately, so ironic timing....

I have always purchased, never made my own-though the process of making my own does intrigue me and I would be willing if the wallet required it.

I'm a fan of Tide, but will use other brands except the super cheapies. Toddler=stains. Must have strong stuff! :)