Doing the laundry is an unavoidable part of life, and perhaps one of the least enjoyable ways to spend your hard-earned cash. Even worse, the costs of keeping your clothes fresh and clean can really add up – laundry detergent, fabric softener, energy and water can take quite a chunk out of your budget.
With many of us trying to cut back on household outgoings, CHOICE experts reveal some of the things you can reduce or cut out completely from your laundry routine to save money.
1. Fabric softeners
CHOICE experts recommend giving expensive fabric softeners the flick.
"Fabric softeners are not only pricey, they also have a few other downsides. If you're trying to cut costs, you should consider removing them from your shopping list," says CHOICE head of reviews and testing, Matthew Steen.
"Fabric softeners essentially coat your clothes and towels in nice-smelling chemicals which can not only irritate sensitive skin but will also leave a layer of residue on your clothes and reduce the absorbency of your towels," says Matthew.
"Ironically, you're stripping stains from your clothes and then recoating them with chemicals. It's a marketer's dream."
Ditching the softener may prevent you from having to spend extra money on repairing and replacing your washing machine
They also reduce the flame retardancy of clothing, which means you absolutely shouldn't use them on children's sleepwear, and they can cause build up in your washing machine, which will reduce its efficiency and possibly cause damage in the long run too. So, ditching the softener may prevent you from having to spend extra money on repairing and replacing your washing machine – saving you again.
With some fabric softeners costing up to 69 cents per wash or around $10 or more per litre (such as the Downy Premium Parfum Mystique at $11 per 800mL bottle) this is a cut that could benefit both your laundry and your wallet.
2. Laundry beads and in-wash scent boosters
These are another type of fabric softener product but, instead of a liquid, laundry beads (otherwise known as in-wash scent boosters) are small soluble beads added to the barrel of your washing machine.
We calculated that using these products could add a whopping $372 to your annual shopping bill – money that's far better off in your pocket.
Not only do these products put an unnecessary strain on your budget, they can also put a strain on your washing machine and your laundry by coating your clothes and your machine with sweet-smelling chemicals. Not to mention that these chemicals can also irritate the skin of people with fragrance or chemical sensitivities.
3. Laundry detergent pods
Also known as capsules, packs, flings, discs or laundry balls, laundry pods are single-use capsules of liquid laundry detergent concentrate in a dissolvable plastic wrapper. Much like dishwasher detergent tablets, they're designed to be dropped straight into your washing machine.
They're certainly convenient (no messy pouring or measuring required) but that's where the benefits stop.
"Laundry detergent pods are considerably more expensive per wash than liquid or powder detergent and our testing shows that they don't always perform as well," says Matthew.
In general, laundry pods cost more and perform worse than normal laundry powder.
"The Omo Ultimate 3 in 1 Capsule was the best performer out of the products of this kind, scoring 74% in our laundry detergent review when tested in a front loader, but using this product will cost you a hefty $1.24 per wash. By comparison, Omo Ultimate Powder scored 84% when tested in a front loader but costs just 45 cents per load.
"So by opting for powder over pods, you'll not only save money but also get a better wash."
If you're doing multiple loads of washing per week, the price of an expensive but poor-performing detergent can add up to hundreds of dollars each year.
"Laundry detergent can amount to at least half the running cost of your washing machine over its lifetime so it makes sense to swap out expensive detergents for better-performing, cheaper products – especially since you'll also get a better wash for less money," says Matthew.
4. Too much detergent
You might be overspending on laundry detergent, but are you also using too much? The recommended dose per wash is usually excessive, our experts say, and you can still get great results (and cut your laundry costs!) by using much less.
"Using just a third of the recommended amount of laundry detergent can still give you great results – and your detergent will last three times longer, meaning you're paying for detergent less often," says Matthew.
Using less detergent is also better for the environment (think less packaging in landfill, fewer carbon emissions from manufacture and transport, and less detergent in our waterways). It can also be safer for sensitive skin, and it's better for your washing machine, too.
"Putting too much detergent into your washing machine can lead to a build-up of 'scrud', which could drag down its washing performance," says Matthew.
5. A poor-performing washing machine or dryer
An inefficient washing machine or dryer, or one that's too big for your household needs, could be costing you hundreds of extra dollars per year.
Front loading machines may cost more to buy upfront but they generally use less power, water and detergent than top loaders and have far lower running costs, which can save you a substantial amount of cash over the life of the washer.
In the table below you can see that the Kmart top loader washing machine we tested is much cheaper to buy, but costs much more to run than the Asko front loader.
While you might spend more up front on the Asko, you'll be spending far less on electricity and water each year. And even though the Asko is still more expensive over a 10-year period, it's arguable that a cheaper, lower-quality appliance (made with low-cost parts that are likely less repairable) won't continue to operate efficiently for 10 years, if it survives that long at all. So if you opt for the cheaper model, you may end up having to pay to replace it sooner than you would a better-quality machine. That cheap washing machine doesn't look so cheap after all!
|Cheapest to run||Cheaper to buy, expensive to run|
Asko W2084CW (front loader)
Annual running cost: $43
Potential 10-year overall cost: $2430
Kmart Anko ATLW80G (top loader)
Annual running cost: $163
Potential 10-year overall cost: $2047
|Difference in annual running costs: $120
Difference in 10-year overall costs: $383
Note: Based on washing 3.5kg of laundry, seven times a week in cold water. Running costs include water use, as well as energy use. Electricity costs calculated using $0.30 per kWh as an estimate. This will vary depending on your own electricity costs.
How much is your dodgy dryer costing you?
While you won't be wasting any money if you dry your clothes in the sunshine, the reality is many of us often turn to the dryer when the weather isn't on our side. The bad news is that clothes dryers can account for up to 3.7% of your average household energy use, so an inefficient dryer can add significantly to your energy bills, particularly if you use it a lot.
Different types of dryers vary both in cost and energy efficiency (and therefore how much they'll cost you over the long term). A good heat pump dryer will use as little as a third of the energy of a vented or condenser dryer, but you need to weigh that up against significantly higher purchase prices.
|Cheapest to run||Most expensive to run|
Samsung DV80T5420AB (heat pump)
Annual running cost: $41
Potential 10-year overall cost: $1959
Beko BDC710W (condenser)
Annual running cost: $169
Potential 10-year overall cost: $2640
|Difference in annual running costs: $128
Difference in 10-year overall costs: $681
Note: Based on 150 runs per year, with 3.5kg (dry weight) of laundry. Electricity costs calculated using $0.30 per kWh as an estimate. This will vary depending on your own electricity costs.
Stock images: Getty, unless otherwise stated.