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And we’ll add this to the list of frugal failures

you all know, I’m always in the market for new ideas to reduce our
outgo. So, I thought I came upon another one recently when I’d heard of
a number of people who only did their laundry in cold water.

I thought. It’s much better than taking cold showers (yes, we did that
for quite some time when we were first married!) and, best of all, no
one will even notice.

Well, let me tell you, lots
of people will notice. You see, after a week of washing everything in
cold water only, I learned that cold water does not get pre-treated
toddler stains or six-month-old stains out of clothing.

Not in the least.

guess the people who do the cold water only thing must not have
children. Or at least they don’t have children as messy as mine.

any rate, despite lots of stain remover and hot water-washing, the
stains are still there on multiple articles of clothing, some which
were almost brand-new. Let’s just say that I think any money saved by
using only cold water would be quickly lost in all the clothing we’d
need to replace.

So much for a great idea.

Your turn: Have
you ever had a brilliant frugal idea which flopped on its face? And do
you have any great suggestions for reducing the costs of running
laundry besides using cold water?

Originally published January 2008.

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  • says:

    I’ve used cold water for years. In fact, my mom’s used cold water as long as I can remember. I have 3 year old and a 7 month old and haven’t had a problem yet. However, we do use Oxy Clean on most items. I figure it’s the trade off for not having a washing machine and doing laundry at a friend’s once a week. So the items sit longer than I would like, thus the need for Oxy Clean.
    My not so favorite thing is line drying. I do it, but certain items come out really stiff. Training pants, hand towels, etc. I do it to save money, but some items I just have to run through the dryer.

  • Tina says:

    First off my flop seems to be common with others, Gardening!! I can start a crop of seedings but once I put then in to a “garden area” in the yard they keel over, I’m in Florida so maybe they need more care than I give, don’t know!!

    As far as Laundry goes I have always used cold for everything(so has my mom), except baby laundry but even then I would only do warm washings when I knew there were more than 2 or 3 stained items, and they were usually treated with Zout ( I loved that stuff when my DD was little!! )

    Oh and can anyone explain to me why would you wash towels in hot water, I can understand sheets (I do those in warm), but I have never really understood towels, since they are being used to dry off a completely clean body, no offense to those who do this I’m just courious for the reasons.

  • says:

    I also wash about 90% of our laundry in cold water. I also use OxyClean, but I use the Laundry stain remover, the spray in the blue bottle. I cannot live without it because I have two little ones that are very messy. Honestly my stains always come out with Oxy clean. Really! So I use cold water on almost everything except my cloth diapers (I use hot) and my kitchen and cleaning cloths (I use hot there too). I don’t see many coupons for Oxyclean, but even without them it is still worth it. If only there were a homemade alternative!

  • says:

    Just to echo others:
    Forget about fabric softener. If you don’t want to give up fabric softener, dryer balls work well at softening clothes (but not at reducing static cling.) You can purchase a pair of these for about $10, and they’ll last years. Just throw them in the dryer with clothes.

    Hang clothes out to dry. I need to make room for this.

    Or, just don’t do laundry at all. That might be my favorite option.


  • says:

    Just wanted to chime in as a (child free) cold water user. The only way I’ve ever washed was the “wash in cold, dry on low” if I have to dry indoors method. Even for my dry clean only items. I’ve never once ruined anything.

  • Andrea says:

    I have always used cold water to wash clothes. I have a 3 year old and a 2 month old. I use Tide and color safe bleach (meijer brand) in every load. The stains come out like magic. No pretreating either!! My dad taught me that trick!! Also I am pretty sure if you use hot water and/or dry them it just sets the stain forever.

  • says:

    I use Murphy’s Oil Soap for stains. It cleans grease stains even after clothes have been dried. It also removed taupe paint from my fave black shorts – took several washes, but I kept treating the stain & tossing back into the hamper until they came clean.

  • Emily says:

    My frugal flop was trying to use baking soda in the dishwasher. I read somewhere that this is a frugal method – use half as much detergent and fill the rest with baking soda. My husband was so mad – it left a dusty film on all the dishes! The glasses were cloudy and everything had spots. I gave up on this months ago. Now that I have a cabinet full of electrasol thanks to my recent couponing discovery, I don’t need to be so frugal with this anymore!

  • says:

    You’re not the only one Crystal! I wonder if it may partly be how hard or soft one’s water is? We just moved to a home with really hard water and I’ve been struggling getting the clothes spot free.

    Thanks, Patti, for the idea from The Tightwad Gazette. I might even go try it tonight. 🙂

    By the way, I love the new design. Thanks for all the work you’ve put in to help us all save money.

  • says:

    I don’t want to be a salesperson, but the only detergent and stain remover I use is from Quixtar. I am an Independent Business Owner(IBO), I have read your blog since May and truly enjoy it.
    I have never had anything not come out! I lent my sons baby clothes to a friend and got them back and they were stained with spitup and everything else, after some prewash and soaking in all fabric bleach and SA8 detergent, every stain came out and they have probably been in there for over a year! It is a little expensive up front, but you only need 1/4 cup per load of detergent and it comes out to about 30 cents or less per load not including shipping, the bigger the box the more you save per load. Tide and a lot of other powder detergents are full of corn cob filler, not this. I have extremely sensitive skin too and have used this my whole life. If you are interested in it drop me an email and I can give you some more specifics on it. I normally buy an 18 lb. box and 3 liquid prewashes and it lasts me about 3 months or so. I have 3 children too, so before you throw all of those clothes out, try this stuff first, I guarantee you won’t be sorry. Anyone else is welcome to try it too. [email protected]. Thanks again for all you have done to help my family save money!

  • says:

    I think the cold water might be my problem, going to start using warm. I’m just tired of having to wash stuff 2 or 3 times, and still having marks on it.

  • says:

    I can’t read all the previous comments, but don’t throw those clothes away.
    You can soak any stained clothes in a mixture of borax, cascade dishwashing soap, and water. I sometimes add a bit of Chlorox two- the recipe for this is in one of the Tightwad Gazette books- I’ve been using it for something like 20 years.

  • says:

    My biggest flop was homemade laundry detergent. Yes, it was cheap, but we’re all sensitive to most soaps, so our clothes made us itch! I went back to my scent-free All, and will probably never go back to homemade.

  • says:

    I was my two little ones’ clothes in cold water only, and have had no problems with stain removal. I use All Baby and LOVE it! For tough stains I pretreat with Shout gel, and/or add Borax to the load. The only thing I wash in Hot water is my whites.

  • stephanie says:

    spray oxyclean stain remover. it’s only $3 (approx), and I’ve yet to find a stain it won’t get out. If it’s especially stubborn, I spray it and soak it for 24 hours in a small bowl on my kitchen counter. If it’s old linen (antique) boil water and put powder cascade in. Remove from heat, stir and insert clothing. Soak for 30 minutes, rinse with cold water. (I do stain treating separately, then I can wash everything on cold…only small amounts of warm water)

  • says:

    I wash socks, underwear, sheets, and towels in hot water and rinse them in cold. Everything else gets washed/rinsed in cold. As far as stubborn stains go, I really like Oxiclean. There is also an eco-friendly version at Trader Joe’s. The label says to let clothes soak for 6-8 hours. I like to put the clothes in hot water with Oxi and let them soak for up to 2 days. Sounds ridiculously long, but it was gotten out spit up stains from several years prior.

  • says:

    Ok, this is totally random but sort of crazy. My name ended up on the wrong comment..I actually was the post above about the Zout. it says it was posted by KQ.

    Doesn’t matter at all..but very weird. Haha

    December212012 here: Larra, on Typepad, the commentor’s name is shown *below* the comment instead of *above* the comment, as in Blogger. Hope that helps clear up the confusion!

  • says:

    My boys are pretty messy (11 months and 22 months) and I do all our wash in cold water, more to prevent shrinking, etc. than anything else. I also hang dry most of our clothes. For the most part, I get all the stains out. I use Oxiclean (both the powder & the spray) and I haven’t found anything that works better, although I’m giving Shout a try since I got it WAY cheap at Publix today! I check everything as it comes out of the washer and if it is still stained, I throw it back in to soak again.

  • Michele says:

    We only use cold water to wash clothes. I have never had a problem with it. I have a toddler and if I can’t get a stain out, I set up a tub of water/oxyclean and let it soak…until the stain is gone…works like a charm.

  • Kahle says:

    Hey Crystal I’m telling you I do have a toddler who does not toddle but scoots on her bottom, she is a late walker and I have never done our wash in anything but cold water but you just have to spend the time pretreating, I have always used the liquid spray shout and the liquid spray oxy clean, spray both of them on the same stain, rub the material together in your hands and wash in cold water and I have NEVER in two years had a stain that did not come out! You might give those two together a try. I alway found that hot water made our clothes look miss shaped and worn out way before they were thats why I always have used cold water. Good Luck! Try try and try again! 🙂

  • says:

    I generally only use cold water for laundry, too, and most all stains come out. My typical procedure is: spray on stain treatment (OxiClean), then if the stain is tough make a paste with Biz (which I pretty much keep only for stain treatment), treat and wash again and that usually gets it. The only thing I’ve found that doesn’t succumb to ANYthing is this red clay Alabama dirt where we live-ha!

  • says:

    I have one, but its definitely not cheap up front! LOL!

    I just switched to a front loading washer, and I can’t tell you how much it saves and how great it cleans! I bought it using all kinds of deals and only paid $100 oop for it, so I’m pretty proud of it. Anyway, the other day I was opening a jar of black apricot jam I’d bought at a farmer’s market. The jar splattered ALL OVER my church clothes–white ones. Red stains everywhere! I was so worried it wouldn’t come out. To add insult to injury, I ran upstairs to change and in the rush out the door forgot to put them in the wash right away. It was 8 pm before I could get them in the wash, and I thought they were goners. Nope. A tiny bit of detergent, a tiny bit of water, and a COLD wash (!!) and it all came out the first time!

    I am totally amazed at how little energy and water this thing uses, and it gets out all of my kids stains! And mine! It uses less than a 1/4 of the water a typical washer uses, is quieter and cleans better! Its a long term savings–will be a year or two before it pays for itself–but its definitely worth it for us!

  • Marsha says:

    I think a lot depends on the hardness of your water, and just how COLD your cold water is. Our water is medium-hard, and the municipal water is just above freezing, especially in the winter. I have my washer on warm wash/cold rinse, but the “warm” water is really just about room temperature because of the temperature of the cold water. I do rinse in cold, though.

    I have two teen boys, who regularly get filthy. I had to become a laundry chemist when they were toddlers! I think you just have to experiment on what works for you, given your water conditions, your machines, and the types of stains. I tried so many cheaper detergents, even home-made, but nothing has every worked on my kids’ clothes except Tide. This really aggravates me because it’s usually the most expensive. I pretreat with Zout, and use oxygen bleach (Walmart or Aldi brand is much cheaper than oxyclean, and it’s the same chemically) on my whites, because it’s much gentler than chlorine bleach. I also double rinse in cold water since my husband and sons are sensitive to the chemicals I use.
    I frequently buy stained–but otherwise good quality– clothes at garage sales for real cheap. I get out the stains about 90% of the time. On the others, I strip them of buttons, zippers, etc. for my sewing box and cut them up for rags.
    As for a frugal failure–trying to make everything from scratch, and never buying convenience food has not worked for me. I need to have an easy fix-it meal in the cupboard or freezer on those nights I’m really busy, sick, or extremely tired. It’s bliss to just be able to tell my sons to make some hamburger helper (Walmart or Aldi brand, of course). Much cheaper than ordering pizza.

  • says:

    I only use cold too, even for the dirtiest stuff (except the diaper loads). I line dry and it gets all the stains out in the sun (whatever didn’t come out in the wash). For especially dirty loads, I’ll add some borax or washing soda. I haven’t had a problem with stains not coming out yet.

  • SC says:

    Oxy Clean Laundry Stain Remover Spray is the all-time best! I have a 2 year old boy who makes BIG messes and the Oxy Clean gets out everything–blueberries, blood, poop, literally everything. And I have always washed in cold water using cheap generic brand detergent. I usually spray it on the stains before tossing them in the hamper, but occasionally I’ll forget and even after a stained piece of clothing has been washed AND dried I spray Oxy Clean on the stain and it comes out in the next wash! I think there is still hope for your kids’ stained clothing!

  • Sheila says:

    I’m shocked to read this. I have 3 kids under the age of 6 and i only wash in cold. I have NEVER had a stain that i could not get out. I spray with Shout and then mix a little oxyclean in the sink with cold water…soak over night and throw in with the laudry. I have not had an issue. Of course, i must pretreat the stain before throwing it in the laundry. I find if i wash in hot and forget to treat the stain i often set the stain.

  • Pam says:

    Tide cold water works. Most other detergents are mostly water. I have found that tide takes out the stains without pretreating.

  • Beulah says:

    Peroxide can work just as well as a soak for clothes as oxyclean does–great if cvs or somewhere has a good sale on it! It works wonders on natural stains! Soaking in a sink of hot water for a while with oxy or peroxide has always worked wonders for me. Obviously some things just won’t come out, but I’ve been able to get stains out of hand me downs enabling us to use them.

    Another trick I’ve used for stubborn stains is adding a small amount of bleach to the hot water oxy/peroxide mix. I know it sounds noxious, but i’ve had no problems. This only works on lighter fabrics. It will generally fade them, but it’s nothing tragic with light fabrics, even if they do end up white. Leaving them in the sink with the hot water allows them to fade evenly if that happens. It works great as a last ditch effort. If you’re ready to pitch the clothes anyways, what harm can be done?

    We also use only cold water except for towels and heavily soiled items. I’ve found that plain old baking soda or Fantastic work wonders on stains….and the soda really helps the detergent work better if you have hard water or an old machine.

    My biggest flop has been “falling for” BOGO sales at Walgreens without checking Walmart first. I’m much more careful now!

  • says:

    I am not sure why the stains did not come out. My experience is right the opposite. My mom always taught me if you are trying to get a stain out, always use cold because the heat would set it in (that could just be a wives tell). I always use shout (Spray and Wash just doesn’t seem to work as well) or zout for tougher stains. I have also been known to use hairspray for ink if necessary. The only time I use warm or hot water is for sheets so it will kill the germs.

    I will say too that if we go somewhere that might be messy (pick strawberries, blueberries, ice cream shop) I put the girls in white shirts and dark bottoms. And then if a stain doesn’t come out I spot check it and put bleach on it and it’s good as new (on the white only of course). Usually I can’t tell if the dark bottoms got dirty. That doesn’t always work because life is spontaneous sometimes, but we rarely ruined clothes when the girls were smaller. We also stripped them down at the table in warm weather (9 months or more out of the year here) if it was just us. And I still do that with my younger one if it’s spaghetti or pizza. We don’t mind and they are old enough to know that we don’t do this in public or if we have company.

  • Melodie says:

    Hmmm . . . I’ve washed in all cold for years because every time I washed in hot, I always forgot to change the setting on the next load with dark colors. I ruined so many outfits from running colors, that I decided to do all cold. I never had a problem with stains till I switched from Tide to cheaper brands of detergent. That is one of the only products I am brand loyal to. Oxy Clean spot cleaner or Shout Action Gel are both a life saver too now that I have little boys making messes.

    A friend has been giving us detergent from Quick Star that is pretty good. Since it is a gift and it lasts forever before running out, I have been appreciating it. Sometimes I do think I still miss Tide, though.

  • says:

    i only do laundry in cold water and hang sheets on the fence of our pool. don’t have and can’t have a wash line in our scottsdale subdivision. such a shame for desert dweller, so the closest i get is my pool fence. love the fresh smell on our sheets. and i LOVE your new look. fabulous.

  • says:

    I so agree with this! I almost always use warm water wash for this reason. Cold water also allows underarm stains to build up, when they wash out better with warm or hot.

    My frugal flops are when I buy an article of clothing that shrinks and then I not only can’t wear it, but can’t return it either!

  • Jan says:

    Oxy Clean does not work for me. I have been putting it in every load- hoping it would work on my daughter’s clothes- but no luck! I wash everything in warm except reds in cold. I hang a lot of stuff to dry on wooden racks- but not towels and underwear! Shout has been kind of so- so for getting out stains- but I have the worst luck with food stains.

  • Lisa says:

    I have been washing with cold water only for years. My teenaged son finally started doing laundry, and I noticed that he wants to use hot or warm water to shrink his shirts (and thus show off his muscles). So to save money, I turned off the hot water behind the machine and he doesn’t know the difference. He just sees water coming into the machine and he’s happy.

  • says:

    I use cold on everything except bedding. I have a 21 month old slob er I mean daughter 🙂 :), and a sweaty, messy husband and I’m often messy myeself. I would say 98% of our stains come out.

    What detergent do you use? I use tide. I also soak any stained items and / or do a prewash.

  • Ruby says:

    Crystal, Don’t give up on cold water in the washing machine just yet! I wash everything in cold and I know this saves lots of money for us. I just pretreat stains and rinse the item out in hot water in the sink, then wash in cold. We have never had a problem with stains and we have 3 messy kids!

  • says:

    I forgot to add that making laundry detergent is also very inexpensive:

    Shred one bar of Fels Naptha and mix with 1 cup Washing Soda and 1 cup Borax. Use 2 tablespoons per load.

    I have been using cold water for a while now and haven’t had a huge problem with stains. (My kids were 2, 4, and 6 when we started with cold water and homemade laundry detergent.) But I wonder how different washers affect the outcome. Our washer is nothing fancy, but it seems to work just fine.

  • says:

    Okay, I am back again, because I just love laundry THAT much.

    I just remembered what my mom used to do. For a long time she had been buying a fancy pre-treater from a company called “Stanley.” She finally figured out that it was basically dish soap. So she switched to dish soap for greasy stains. It is much cheaper, and it always seemed to work.

    Dish soap works on stuff like tomato sauce and chocolate as well as other greasy stains, but not on stains like coffee, tea, rust, or sweat.

  • says:

    Question: where on earth does one find washing soda these days?

  • says:

    I have been doing cold only for years, and with two little boys. The key for getting stains out has been the use of Tide, which you can always find deals on! I found once that I tried to get the same stain out a million ways with other detergents, temperatures, stain removers, etc. I washed this item at least ten times. The FIRST time I washed it with Tide, it came out! I was sold, and have been ever since. I’ll still use bargain brands for some things, but when you really want to get it clean…there is nothing like Tide.

  • says:

    I’m surprised you had bad results, we haven’t had problems getting stains out of clothes but we also dont have any children. But, it’s awesome that you tried, you never know until you do.

    You could always break up your washes so that you have your heavily stained loads and your lightly stained ones that way you can wash with cold water sometimes and hot water other times. (it’ll beat hot water all the time!)

  • Vanessa says:

    I have used cold only ever since I got my front loader, and I almost never have trouble with stains. The only thing that I pre-treat is blood (I work at a vet clinic, so this is not unusual) with straight hydrogen peroxide, which is cheap and effective. Otherwise, I don’t even look at the clothes until they come out of the washer, if they are stained then, I will treat with plain, cheap dish soap, then put in with the next load of like-colors. Even my dog towels are washed in cold, and they come out smelling fine (I don’t worry about stains with those, though). They do get a double rinse and are *always* put in the dryer as line drying leaves them still furry!

    Speaking of line drying-I, too, hate that stiff feeling that they get from it, so after taking them off the line, I just toss them in the dryer on medium with a rag moistened with water and fabric softener. It only takes about five minutes per load and my fabric softener rag lasts for several loads (using less than I would for a single load in the washer). They come out just as soft as if they were dried entirely in the dryer.

    I do not understand the need to wash towels and sheets in hot water…how are they more “germy” than any other clothes?

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