A lesson in study abroad finance from yours truly – laundry
This is Part 2 of my series, “50 Ways To Save Money While Studying Abroad”, which in the end may have more than 50. Today’s topic is something that many people probably either forget about (because it’s such a common part of everyday life) or just don’t realize how much they actually spend doing it. While in general it may not seem too expensive, when you add up all of the separate costs, the overall damage to your wallet can be pretty big. It involves a lot of dirt, chemicals, bad smells, and (if you’re in China) some pretty big soy sauce stains.
Laundry. Whether you realize it or not, laundry can cost you big bucks over time. Take a second to think about all of the individual costs associated with washing clothes: laundry detergent, the power and electricity used in dryers and heating water, and of course the overall water consumed by your washing machines. And for some reason, no matter what country you’re in, it’s still very expensive.
Note – Each tip may not apply to everyone; it’ll depend on if you’re using machines at a laundromat or in your dorm, or if you’re using your own machine at home. Also, while most of these tips can and should be used by just about everyone, some are on the more drastic end of the spectrum for those people who are looking to really save money.
1. Do it less often
If there’s one thing I’ve learned about clothing in China, it’s that you can wear it many more times than you think. My rule of thumb has become:
“If it doesn’t smell and it’s not actually dirty, there’s no need to wash it.”
Wearing jeans for 5 hours doesn’t automatically mean that they need to be washed before you wear them again. (Beijing is one dirty city, so if I can wear jeans more than once, so can you.)
2. Stick with the store brand
This is a tip that will come up throughout this entire series. I like my Tide just as much as the next guy, but name brand detergents are always more expensive than store brand equivalents…even though both do the same exact job. With name brand detergent, your paying for marketing, packaging, and scent. I wouldn’t want to pay the extra for the first two anyway, and I think I can live if my clothes smell neutral as opposed to “fresh Spring rain“.
3. Use less detergent
Be careful how much detergent you’re pouring into the washer. Most people fill to a line on the cup that you can barely see and some people don’t even bother using the cup at all. You actually only need about a 1/4 of a cup, so read the directions on the bottle of detergent and don’t waste your cash by wasting detergent.
4. Use powdered detergent
Powered laundry detergents are usually much cheaper than their liquid counterpart and, for those who like saving the planet, are more Eco-friendly. Back in the day, powders could leave an unwanted residue on clothing, but now, most powders are designed to readily dissolve in water. To be sure you won’t encounter this residue, fill your washing machine with water and soap before adding your laundry.
5. Wash in cold water
(More so for students using their own machine)
From the 20 or so articles I’ve read on doing your laundry, the general consensus is that as much as 90 percent of the energy used when washing clothes is just for heating the water. Investing in (store brand) high-efficiency concentrated laundry detergents will help you get clothes equally as clean while reaping the savings from using cold water. You can save hot water washes for underwear, socks, and white towels (due to bacteria).
6. Use a shorter washing cycle
Unless your clothes are extremely dirty, you can skip the heavy-duty cycle in favor of a shorter cycle. This is good reason to separate your clothes into “less dirty” and “more dirty” piles. Choose the shorter washing cycles for “less dirty” – slightly soiled clothing – and choose the longer cycle for “more dirty” – very dirty or stained – clothes. It’s common sense, but this will help to use less energy since the machine runs for less time.
7. Wash full loads only
Although you don’t want to stuff the washer to the brim, always make sure you’re doing a full load. Half-full loads may use less water but they actually consume the same electrical power as full loads. You’re essentially paying the same high price for half the service.
8. Use a clothesline or drying rack
Drying your clothes is just as (if not more) expensive as washing them. Cut your laundry cost in half by letting your clothes air dry as opposed to machine drying them. Air drying also preserves your clothing, as the lint you clean out of the screen in the dryer is made up of the fibers from your clothing.
9. If you are going to use your dryer
- Remove lint: Remove the lint from the screen before you start drying. A full screen won’t allow the moist air to escape, which slows down the drying cycle and uses more energy.
- Split up your clothes: Make separate piles – those clothes that need to be machine dried and those that can be air dried. With fewer clothes in the dryer, those clothes that do have to be machine dried can now dry faster.
- Invest in some dryer balls: This post is about saving money, not spending it. However, these things only cost about $10, and they soften your laundry “naturally”, saving you money on fabric softeners, dryer sheets and energy.
10. Go natural
Forget buying name brand or generic – save even more on costs by going the green route. Things like fabric softeners, stain removers, and even laundry detergent itself can be made from everyday (cheap) items like Borax, vinegar, baking soda, and lemon juice. Personally, I don’t really care about health or environmental issues associated with detergents, but in addition to helping you save money, these products are all non-toxic. Check out these ideas:
Do the math and you’ll see that over the course of a year, the excessive costs of doing laundry (i.e. without making any attempt to save money) can be the equivalent of a flight to just about anywhere in Europe. Follow the tips above, and you’ll be able to save some cash without having to make any lifestyle altering changes.
Also, check out the rest of the posts in this series:
If you have any other money saving suggestions, questions, or comments please feel free to leave them below and I’ll get back to you!