Savings? Great - but check purchases

February 26, 2012 

  • Homemade laundry detergent

    Recipes for laundry detergent abound on the Internet. I'm not sure where all the concoctions originated, but the detergent recipe I ended up using is one that's also used by the Duggar family of reality TV fame. You know, the folks with 19 kids? I figured if it's good enough for their brood, it's good enough for my family of three with the occasional giant laundry bag lugged home by our son away at college.

    Tap water

    1 cup Arm & Hammer Super Washing Soda

    1/2 cup 20 Mule Team Borax

    1 bar Fels-Naptha soap

    Grate the bar of Fels-Naptha soap, and add to a saucepan filled with 4 cups water. Stir continually over medium-low heat until soap is melted.

    Fill a five-gallon bucket half full of hot tap water. Add the melted soap, washing soda and Borax. Stir well until all powder is dissolved. Fill bucket to top with more hot water. Stir, cover, and let sit overnight to thicken.

    The next day, stir mixture, which will gel. Fill empty laundry detergent jugs half full with soap mixture, then fill the rest of the way with water.

    Shake before each use. Use 5/8 cup for top-loading machines, and 1/4 cup for front-loaders.

    This recipe makes 10 gallons of laundry detergent. If you use a top-loading machine, you will be able to wash 180 loads, using 5/8 cup detergent. If you have a front-loading machine, as I do, this one recipe will wash a whopping 640 loads of laundry, using just 1/4 cup per load.

    Notes: You can find the ingredients in the laundry section of most grocery stores, including Harris Teeter. The Fels-Naptha soap, a 5.5-oz bar wrapped in paper, costs $1.39. The Arm & Hammer Super Washing Soda (not to be confused with A&H baking soda) is in a cardboard box and costs $2.95 for 55 ounces. And the Borax, which also comes in a cardboard box, runs $4.75 for 76 ounces.

    For the 5-gallon bucket, I recommend one of those giant white industrial drums with a lid. Restaurants receive ingredients in these buckets and are often happy to pass them along rather than throw them out. You can also ask on Freecycle.

    Foaming hand soap

    1-1/2 tablespoons liquid hand soap

    Warm tap water

    Put 1-1/2 tablespoons liquid hand soap in an empty foaming soap container. Add warm tap water, leaving enough room to shake.

    Replace pump lid, and shake. Pump once or twice to prime. That's it.

    Note: The recipes I referenced called for anywhere from 1 to 3 tablespoons of liquid hand soap, depending on how thick you want the foam to be.

    The budget breakdown: A 64-oz. jug of anti-bacterial hand soap can easily be found for about $5. That one jug, which would refill just eight standard hand pumps, will make an astounding 85 bottles of foaming hand soap. That's a deal.

    Your only other startup cost is a foaming soap container. I bought Dial foaming soap at the grocery, using a coupon, of course. Once the containers were empty, I began making my own.

    Amy Dunn

Editor's note: Amy Dunn writes about living frugally and how to save money on her Centsible Saver blog. Read it daily for alerts on sales, freebies and other ways to save money: Below is a recent post.

I'm a huge advocate of using coupons to save money. It's my job, of course, but I also go home and practice what I teach. I clip paper coupons, load digital coupons onto my store loyalty cards, and match coupons to sales to make our money stretch even farther.

But coupons are only one way to slash your household budget. If you really want to live the frugal life - or circumstances are requiring a more frugal lifestyle - take a good hard look at what you're putting in your grocery cart.

Would your purchases pass "the grandma test"? In other words, would your grandmother or great-grandmother have spent her precious household money on some of the items in your cart - or even recognize them?

I'm most definitely not into deprivation, so I recommend looking for things you can do without - no sacrifice required.

In addition to saving money, you'll reap environmental fringe benefits by reducing the amount of trash you're sending to the landfill.

If you have a reluctant spouse or kids, try eliminating one item from your grocery list at a time. With any luck, they won't notice.

Here are a few suggestions:

Paper napkins. Switch to cloth. It's classier, cheaper, and far less wasteful. Just toss them into the washer with your towels.

Paper plates, cups and plastic utensils. Use the real thing. With dishwashers in the majority of homes and apartments in America, there's really no excuse.

Paper towels. I'm fairly certain this is one of those items that great-grandma would shake her head over - folks spending hard-earned money on rags that fall apart after a single use. We use cloth rags made from worn out T-shirts and other old clothes not worthy of donating to charity. Wash and re-use.

Laundry detergent. Instead of buying it, make your own. For a $7 investment in three basic ingredients, you can make 10 gallons of home-made detergent. (See box on page 2E for recipe.) If you have a front-loader, as I do, that translates to 640 loads. You can easily spend seven bucks on a single 32-load bottle, so it's a huge money saver. And think of all those plastic jugs being diverted from the landfill.

Stain sticks and sprays. Not only are they heavily packaged, they're pricey. We've recently crossed this off our grocery list in favor of a $1 bar of Fels-Naptha soap. It is one of the century-old ingredients in homemade laundry detergent, but it can also be used as a stain remover. Wet the stained garment, rub the bar of Fels-Naptha into the stain, and toss into the washer.

Hand soap. This is another easy DIY project. (See box.)

Swiffer cloths. Replace these with reusable microfiber cloths from the dollar store. Even better, cut up an old flannel shirt into Swiffer cloth-size pieces. Wash with your rags, and re-use.

Bottled water. This one is obvious. Get everyone in the family a quality reusable water bottle and put their names on them.

Juice pouches and boxes. This one can be a hard sell for those of you with kids accustomed to sucking down several of these in a day. Think about the minute amount of juice contained in these and the huge price you're paying for convenience. Water is always the better choice.

Dunn: 919-829-4522 or or

News & Observer is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service