Green Thursdays: Using Less Laundry Detergent

I am so excited to do this post.  I have been wanting to do it for a long time, but have been waiting to run out of laundry soap.  You see, I read this article, about Americans using too much laundry detergent.  It basically said that we think more soap equals cleaner laundry.  We don’t pay attention to the fill lines on the cap, and instead just fill the cap all the way to the top, way more than needed.  It wastes laundry soap, it wastes money having to buy soap more frequently, it makes our clothes dingy with build-up, and it pollutes our water systems.  In fact, according to the article, even heavily soiled large loads can be effectively washed with the amount of detergent for a small load.

This wasn’t news to me.   I have been using much less laundry detergent since I started using cloth diapers.  Too much soap on cloth diapers leaves a residue and prevents them from absorbing.  That makes for a leaky diaper, not good.   I figured if I could get poopy diapers clean with 1/4 the recommended amount of detergent, I could certainly get the other laundry clean with that much too.  That’s why it took me a couple months to finish the detergent I had (a container lasts me 4-6 months).

What intrigued me about the article was the statement by Seventh Generations co-founder, Jeffery Hollander.  He said,

“You don’t even need soap to wash most loads.   The agitation of washing machines often does the job on its own.”

Really?  No soap at all?   The machine does all the work without soap?  Think of all the money you could save not buying laundry detergent.  Plus, the benefits to the environment, not putting chemicals into the water system.  I had to try it.  So, when I ran out of soap last Thursday, I recycled the container, did a little dance, and waited for the laundry to pile up.  (I knew it would, my nemesis, the laundry troll, is always lurking about.)

Then I started my little experiment.  No laundry detergent (except the poopy diapers).  In the last week I have washed 4 loads of kids clothes, 1 each of darks and one of lights for Sean and I, 2 loads of sheets, 2 loads of towels, and 1 of dirty rags I used to clean the house.  I had some extra laundry last week due to getting ready for Ella’s party and having my parents spend the night.  So that is a grand total of 11 loads of laundry, no detergent.

How did it work?  My clothes all look clean.  I can’t tell the difference actually.  Except for the smell.  My clothes have no odor now, at all.  They used to smell like laundry soap.  Now, when I smell them directly from the washer, all I smell is water.  After drying, no odor.  (I’ve used dryer balls instead of dryer sheets/fabric softener for at least five years now.  Actually, it may be time for a new set.)  It also makes my laundry go faster.  I don’t have to start the machine, measure the soap, pour it in to let the powder dissolve, then put in the clothes.  Just start machine, dump in clothes, and done.  So, I’m hooked.  No more laundry detergent for me.  I’ve also cut down on my soap in the dishwasher with no apparent difference.

Do you pay attention to how much soap you use?   Anyone else not use soap at all?

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7 Responses to “Green Thursdays: Using Less Laundry Detergent”

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  1. Do you think this is effective because the clothes are getting clean from the soap reside already on the clothes? Just a thought.

    I make my own laundry detergent to cut down on the waste my household creates. Plus, it saves a bunch of money! :)

  2. Jessica Anne says:

    I did think of that. I don’t think I have a lot of residue, but we’ll see. I plan to do a follow up post to see if my clothes are still clean in a few weeks. Making your own is great–green and money saving!

  3. This is such a great resource that you are providing and you give it away for free. I love seeing sites that know the value of providing a quality resource for free. It is the oldwhat goes around comes around routine.

  4. Matt Metzgar
    Twitter: mattmetzgar

    I have just been looking into the same thing – seeing if water alone is enough.

    Glad it’s working for you.

  5. Lorrie No
    Twitter: Moogirl

    Do you have any static problems without fabric softeners sheets? I use the same dryer balls. I love your blog, can’t believe it took me this long to discover it.

  6. Lorrie No
    Twitter: Moogirl

    Do you wash your laundry without detergent on cold, warm, or hot water. Since I read your post about this, now I only use a tiny bit of detergent. For some reason I like the smell of TIDE on my clothes and sheets. It still works with only a tiny bit in the machine. I’m not sure whether I can go soapless, but I’ve thought about making my own one day.


  1. […] this summer, I posted about how I was going to stop using laundry detergent.  Since, apparently, just the mechanical action of the washing machine is enough to get all but […]