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Reader Tip: Save More by Using Less

photo source: BigStock

Jeni emailed in the following tip:

Several years ago I read The Tightwad Gazette by Amy Dacyczyn. One of her tightwad tips made a big impression on me, and has stayed with me over the years: use less.

Do you really need to fill the laundry detergent cap to the line determined by the manufacturer before you dump it in the washer? Or will your clothes get clean using a bit less?

Do you need to fill the palm of your hand with shampoo to wash your hair? Or will a smaller amount do the job?

This idea can be applied to everything from condiments to cleaning products. Experiment in your home to see if using smaller amounts of products will give acceptable results.

The great thing is, you have nothing to lose. If your clothes don’t seem to get as clean with less detergent, or you don’t have enough lather to wash your hair properly using less shampoo, you can always go back to using more product. But you may just find that less is enough, thereby making those products last longer and ultimately your money go further.

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  • Luba says:

    Yes, I totally agree. It’s possible that the manufacturers want us to buy more of their product; therefore, they want us to use more of it. I have used much less laundry detergent for a long time and have found my clothes to be just as clean, but less smelling like detergent. 🙂

    • Georgia says:

      When I first read through the manual for my HE washer, I noticed that it said to ALWAYS use HALF the amount of laundry detergent specified on detergent packaging!

      That’s hard to remember especially on the ultra concentrate detergents, because the amount you’re putting in already seems like so little, but I find that my clothes still come out clean when I used half of that tiny amount! And, if I use the amount recommended by the detergent manufacturer, it doesn’t totally rinse out and I see soap bubbles during the final spin cycle.

  • Sarah says:

    I struggle with this because I think to myself ‘oh well I got this toothpaste (or whatever product) for free, so who cares!’ I know that is a terrible attitude that I need to get over.

    • Whitney says:

      Me too, though I try to remember that I did pay tax. I’ve also had the experience of flying through a particular product because I got it for free, only to discover that it’s next to impossible to get it for free anymore (freezer bags come to mind). Nothing sobers you up like paying almost full price for something when you could have had more free stock on hand if you hadn’t been so careless.

      • Luba says:

        You’re totally right, Whitney. Just because we get it for free now doesn’t mean we will be able to in the future.

  • Lisa says:

    I always use less laundry detergent and dishwasher soap-never noticed a difference. I also buy high quality natural soap to wash my kids all day long after meals etc and I add it to a foam pumper with half water-really stretches it and works and smells just as good-same with the dawn for hand washing. This is very easy to do and does save money-without a lot of pain/planning/coupons or running to different stores/sales. It actually makes your good deals that much better! I agree that company’s ask you to use more than is necessary.

    • J says:

      We do this also with shampoo, if I don’t make it. We pour half out into an empty bottle and refill with water. Shake to mix and our hair is clean and shiny.

      • Lisa says:

        Didn’t even think of that! What recipe do you use for homemade shampoo-that sounds interesting. I am trying to make more things-so much less and more natural.

        • J says:

          Lisa, sorry but sometimes I just can’t find the time so when I make it I make a couple batch.


          1/3 Cup Castile Soap (You can get this at health food stores)

          1/4 Cup Coconut Milk

          1/2 tsp of Vegetable Oil or Olive Oil

          Read more:

          • KC says:

            Thank you for the recipe! I hope there are several brands to choose from when it comes to Castile soaps at health food stores (I haven’t spent much time looking for them).
            1 brand that is very popular is Dr. Bronners.
            Just a little FYI about that company:
            The CEO of Dr. Bronners (who is 1 of the grandsons of the late Dr. Bronner) is a huge supporter of legalizing Marijuana. He said in an article to Inc. Magazine that 1 reason he added hemp oil to their products was to give a big middle finger to our country’s governing authorities.
            It appeared from the article that he is actively fighting for legalization by funding those efforts with the money he makes as CEO of Dr. Bronners.
            I personally don’t want my money to go to any of those efforts.
            But I’m sure that health food stores will have other brand options for me to purchase Castile soap so I can try that recipe.
            Thank you for posting!

  • Linda R. says:

    When it comes to liquid laundry soap your really just paying alot for water, a little soap, and fragrance. I started making my own laundry soap with 1 cup grated laundry soap bar, 1 cup 20 Mule Borax, 1 cup washing soda and 1/4 cup oxy clean (dollar store brand). I put in 2 tablespoons and the clothes get clean! Plus I take pride in using something I made and I know exactly whats in it!

  • Sharon says:

    I have had 2 washing machine repair men tell me that the main cause of washer problems is because of people using too much soap and if I can see bubbles then I am using too much soap. I have used less than half of the recommended amount for years with no issues.

    • Lisa says:

      My guy told me the same thing-he said even if it is HE soap to use less.

      • SandyH says:

        Most definitely dilute your shampoo! You will still get so much lather, and the plus is you’ll use less water to rinse too.

        The reason I know this? I’m a professional dog groomer. ALL dog shampoos are thick concentrates– and are then diluted for use. The thickness of the concentrate is about the same as the thickness of ” human” shampoo, so it got me to thinking about diluting my own shampoo.

        Be sure to dilute any pet shampoos you use, too.

        • Mrs. R. says:

          Yes! Two different hairdressers told me the same thing—-that most shampoos are ten times more concentrated that necessary!

    • Janelle says:

      That is absolutely correct about using too much detergent. My husband is an appliance repair tech and so many times he has to tell people the only problem is that they are using too much detergent – washing machine & dishwasher. Your water(hard vs. soft) makes a big difference in how much detergent you need to use as well. Most people shouldn’t use more than a quarter cup of detergent on a top load washer. Front load washer most likely only about two tablespoons.

  • Janice says:

    Agreed!! I noticed my Tide detergent has 3 lines on the side of the cup, I naturally thought that was for a small, medium, or large load. Reading the instructions, line 2 was for a large load and 3 was for a heavily soiled load!

    • Autumn says:

      A man that works on washers/dryers once told us one of the MAIN reasons the washer needs to be repaired is TOO MUCH SOAP being used!! Always use LESS.

  • Danielle B says:

    Love it!

    I would go one step further though, and say, “What can you flat out do without?”

    Everything has been extremely tight this month. I ran out of homemade laundry detergent early in the month and have had no money to buy laundry detergent or the supplies to make my homemade detergent. I’ve been washing clothes since the 5th without any laundry detergent at all, and I’m amazed at how I can tell absolutely no difference with or without the detergent. Now, maybe if my husband had a really dirty job or something, laundry detergent wouldn’t be optional, but thankfully he has a relatively clean job.

    I ran out of scrubbing solution for the bathtub also. I just used a Scotch sponge with the yellow and green pads combined, and dishwashing detergent from the kitchen sink to scrub the tub. It took a bit more elbow grease, but nothing so drastic I had to run out and buy tub cleaner!

    Now don’t get me wrong, if I have the chance to purchase these supplies and/or stockpile them, I certainly will! But sometimes it’s amazing what you can just do without for a while! 🙂

  • Pat says:

    A thought here. You can also make your own laundry detergent, shampoo, etc and save money there too.

  • Lindsey says:

    This is SO true. This was brought home to me in something I read about and then tried at home. The tip was to see how much soap is left in your clothes by washing them once in plain water…I did and was horrified/amazed to see that there were all sorts of soapy suds in the water during the wash cycle. Now I use half of what is recommended.

    Also, I use 1/4 dryer sheet at a time, and none at all for towels since it reduces the absorbancy.

    • Yes. I cut up my dryer sheets in thirds! No difference thus far.

    • Allison Voges says:

      I don’t cut up my dryer sheets, but they usually get used for two (or three…or four) loads or whenever I’m tired of looking at them!

    • Brenda says:

      I typically use my dryer sheets at least a couple of times, but i recently found this idea on pinterest that i am excited to try: I think this would stretch things even further!

    • Patti says:

      Washing the clothes in plain water to see if you are overusing soap is an excellent tip. The excess soap builds up on the clothes and makes them look dingy and weakens the fabric to make them wear out sooner. Also soap film attracts dirt particles, so clothes get even dirtier.
      Worse, though, is that the soap left in the clothes can cause skin irritation and even allergic reactions from the chemicals in the soap.
      Using less laundry soap is one of those odd tips that is both frugal and beneficial. Those are my favorite kinds!

    • Anna says:

      I cut the sample Shout ColorCatchers in 1/2, too. They seemed to work great still, and I only used them with rugs that I know bleed horribly.

  • Lydia says:

    I save paper that has only been used on one side and use that to print on. Great for all those coupons!

    • Allison Voges says:

      Me too! Our “less paper” system at work generates more! I bring home nearly a ream a week, and that’s only me that’s saving the paper! I have a huge stack for couponing or coloring or paper airplanes!

  • Jen Krausz says:

    I have recently started to eat correctly, rather than filling up on junk! I am buying a lot fewer bags of chips, boxes of cookies, etc. Fruits and veggies from the farmer’s market or garden are so much cheaper than the processed garbage I was ingesting in large quantities before. I still buy the stuff I don’t really prefer for the kids, but I am much better at limiting their desserts and snacks than I ever was for myself, when I was eating it!

    I’m also using worn out t-shirts for cleaning rags and swiffer cloths instead of paper towels. I’ve been doing the foam soap diluting and using less laundry detergent for years, as soon as I figured out that those foaming dispensers are refillable with regular soap, diluted. I will have to try diluting the shampoo, too.

  • Des says:

    I try to do this with condiments and dressings. I’ll buy regular (not low fat) ranch, and mix a little bit of milk with it to make it go further and also reduce the fat content per serving. I have also tried this with sour cream and cream cheese with success. 😉 a little bit of water added to a ketchup container that’s at least half full will hardly be noticed as well if you don’t overdo it. 🙂 I’ve also noticed with the premixed ranch dip packets, you can use about two thirds of the packet for an 8 ounce sour cream container, or use a little more than half of the 16 ounce sour cream with just the one packet to make more. Again, just not overdoing it so it still has good flavor. 🙂

    • Liz says:

      When I do salad dressing (for a bowl of salad), I always pour out a little less than normal and then spray or splash just a little water on top to mix it up. It’s way easier to mix and makes the salad dressing go farther. I can’t tell any difference in the taste. Usually this works better with the full flavor dressings, not low-fat. I’ve also mixed some water in the bottle when I get to the bottom, and it’s always enough for another salad or two.

      • Heather says:

        That’s because the low-fat ones already have the extra water added in for you!

        • Des says:

          yes! and a friend of mine told me I could buy whole milk and water it down to make my low fat. Now why didn’t I think of that before?? It goes further. 😉

          • Heather says:

            It’s not the same with milk. Skim milk is the same milk as whole; it just has the fat taken out. Skim still has the same nutrients as whole. But if you water down whole milk you end up with a drink with less nutrients per cup.

  • I agree! I use less with everything too! The results are pretty much the same and the product last longer.

  • Diana says:

    I didn’t realize how much we over use laundry soap till I was stripping my old receiving blankets to use as diapers. After five hot washes with no soap it still looked like I’d dumped a whole capful of soap into the load during the agitation cycle! It took forever to get all that soap out of the fabric. I use a third of the soap now and everything comes out great!

    • Staci says:

      I break the powdered Electrasol tablets in half and use them in my dishwasher. I occasionally have a dish not clean but maybe I packed it too full. Vinegar is a great rinse aid. Don’t forget the dishwasher…..USE LESS there too.

      I am actually reading the Tightwad Gazette (big compiled version) right now. Borrowing from the library too. Interesting!

      • KC says:

        Great tip on the Electrasol tablets!! Thank you for sharing. I will have to give it a try and see how it works.
        I have been trying to think of ways to save money but still have a high quality dishwashing product. I tried making my own dishwasher detergent and it was not successful. Even after trying a few different recipes. It was disappointing. But I save money by using vinegar as my rinse aid so that makes me feel good!

      • flutemom says:

        i cut my finish tablets in half and use one half tablet per dishwasher load. we have soft water so not as much soap is needed. i’ve been doing it for probably about a year now, and don’t notice any difference in the cleanliness of the dishes. i also use less laundry soap than recommended and less shampoo, although i don’t dilute it (i use suave and even though my hair is waist-length, i only need a nickel-sized portion of shampoo, well-lathered)

        • Anna says:

          I’ve been using Finish packs, and they are doing a great job in my washer. But I can’t divide them up because they’re packets, not tabs. But they have the phosphate in the red-dot, and get my dishes clean the 1st time around, unlike other detergent.

  • Allison Voges says:

    I have a Swiffer, but instead of buying the wet Swiffer pads, I just use an old wet towel, folded and poked into the little holes instead. I spray some cleaner if necessary. If I have a sticky spot on the floor, I just catch one edge of the towel with my foot and it’s really easy to scrub that spot! I have discovered with my hard floors that a broom doesn’t catch all the fine dust and dog hair (dang dog…grrr) so I sweep, Swiffer, then mop.

  • sheri says:

    I have used less laundry soap for 2 years. My husband does not know that I water it down to half water and half soap. He states that I do not use enough soap to wash his clothes so he does his own. The shampoo and body wash also gets half and half. My husband is good for using half a bottle in 3 days so water it down and it go alot further.

    • Sarah says:

      I have started putting all of our body wash, shampoo & conditioner in bottles with a pump. It is much easier to regulate how much you get when you have a pump rather than dumping the whole bottle upside down. With our kids, this has saved me a BUNCH!

  • Brittainny says:

    I really like this post! As a mom of 4 kids, I have been finding lots of ways to use less and save money over the past several years. It all started 7 years ago when my 1st was born. I started using cloth diapers and cloth wipes. Then started making my own laundry detergent and cleaning products. I started using half the amount of dishwasher detergent, watering down the shampoo and soap, and using our used dryer sheets as dusting cloths. They work very well! I also have not bought paper towels or sponges in years. I found a few packs of clearanced wash cloths at walmart. I use those in place of paper towels and sponges. We use our towels more than once. We wear our pjs 2 nights in a row(sometimes more). It keeps the laundry down. I use a steam mop w/ washable pad. I have found several more new ways to save reading all these posts! I’m excited to make my own hand soap! I do get a lot of shampoo/condtioner for free or pennies using coupons. I have not fallen into the “use more because it was free” rut. So, our mini stockpile of toiletries is truly lasting a loooooong time. 🙂 No need to start making my own….yet.

    • Rebecca says:

      I recently bought the JUMBO size tear free body wash/shampoo for my kids. I promptly put it in the shower and was AMAZED at how much they used in just a few days. It was a solid colored bottle, but I held it up to the light and showed the kids it was almost half gone. They were amazed too! So…. I found a small clear bottle I had here and labled it Kids Shampoo filled it. They are using SO much less now that they can see how much is coming out of the bottle too!

    • Des says:

      I have heard of a lot of ways to reuse dryer cloths, but I love the dusting idea! thanks!

  • Deb says:

    One think I want to mention on this post – it really depends on whether you have soft water or not. If your water is very hard you will need quite a bit more soap/detergent than you do if it’s properly softened. The soap/detergent companies formulate their products for hard water.

    • Lisa says:

      This was my thoughts, it’s more labeled for the worst case scenario customer. We’re fortunate to not have hard water here, so we can cut back some.

  • Dri says:

    I figured this out with toilet paper. I started getting the better brands because of couponing, but because it’s thicker, you don’t need nearly as much as with the cheap thin stuff. 3 sheets of Charmin or Quilted Northern is perfect! Of course, you can’t govern that with guests and it’s hard with small children, so it may not be an “across the board” way to use less, but one or two people doing it, it’s definitely a savings.

  • april says:

    i use less also…dish soap, laundry soap(make my own actually), i cut dryer sheets in half, use less shampoo(and if i can with thick, naturally curly hair down to my butt, anyone can!).

  • Karen says:

    Can I just say how much I love that someone is quoting The Tightwad Gazette??? Makes my frugal heart glad. 😉 I love that book. I read it from the library, then bought my own copy, and I go back and reread it every few years. Plus, I reference it often and use a ton of its recipes. Swoon!

    Okay, fangirling done now. 🙂 I agree with this. I’m always trying to remember not to go overboard with products. It really does stretch things further.

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