Use far less soap, it's good for your washer and your wallet
According to her chats with several dishwasher and washing machine repair people and experts, we are not just using too much detergent: we are using "10 to 15 times the amount of soap" necessary to get the job done. You read that right: we could all cut our dishwashing liquid and laundry soap budgets by 90%.
Today's laundry and dish washing machines are efficient, using very little water compared to earlier models. Today's detergents are concentrated, meant to fit lots of "loads" into one bottle or box, save packaging and clean productively. Vernon Schmidt, author of the self-published book "Appliance Handbook for Women: Simple Enough Even a Man Can Understand," tells Tugend, "Nobody thinks they use too much soap... but they're pouring money down the drain."
I know what you're thinking: you're sure you're not one of those soap-wasters. You only use two capfuls -- after all, those kids' clothes are really dirty (oh my goodness the diaper accidents! the nighttime misfires!) so you can't possibly be using more than two or three times as much as you need. (I'm starting to feel guilty now: you?) While the cap sizes and little scoops are, according to a Procter & Gamble spokeswoman, carefully calibrated based on research of thousands of loads of laundry, aren't you just the teeniest little bit suspicious that the detergent companies may want us to use more than we need?
Schmidt surely is. First: he says that, depending on how hard or soft your water is, you can get by with one-eighth to one-half of what's recommended by your laundry and dishwashing detergent package. Those with especially hard water might need half; those with normal or somewhat soft water can get by with far less.
Second: we have an obsession with suds, and we (I'm looking at my husband here) continue to believe that no suds means no clean. Not true! A spokeswoman for an appliance manufacturers' trade group says that you shouldn't see suds swishing around in the window of your front-loading machine. Too much soap makes clothes stiff, glassware filmy and appliances' life shorter.
The more soap we use, the sooner our appliances will need repairing and the more wear and tear they'll get. Some consumers who overuse soap then have to run the clothes and dishes through again (and again, and again) to remove the film, costing money and unnecessarily taxing the environment.
Tugend goes on to provide helpful hints for loading the dishwasher (don't scrape too much, put the dirtiest side of the dishes toward the center) and using the dryer, but I'm sitting here feeling enough reproachment over my wasteful detergent use to last me for many, many loads.