This is mostly for my British readers. I told this recently to an English friend, and she was so surprised, and I was so surprised that it wasn’t common knowledge, that I reckoned I’d go ahead and put it out there.
I used to live in a place with extremely soft water. I hated it; where ever I live, I will likely never be among the legions buying stuff to make their household water softer. One thing you learn right away when your water is that soft is that you need much less soap. You learn this even if you’ve just called in and have to visit the porcelain furniture before you head back out again. The water there was so soft that a normal amount of lather could be worked up with just a grain of sand’s worth of soap. Any more than that, and you’d be standing there an extra five minutes just to rinse the soap off. I’m not exaggerating.
My friends there told me of a door to door salesman showing up one day, trying to sell water softening systems. He was laughed right out of town. Always know your audience!
Anyway, when we got our washer-dryer, I became vividly aware of how much more dear laundry detergent is here.1 (What follows applies equally to washers, with or without drawers.) However, I eyed this drawer that holds the detergent/etc, and I mused over the knowledge I’d gained at some point: soda crystals soften water. Hmm.
Soda crystals are also called washing soda, soda ash, and sodium carbonate.2 I don’t know if I’ve ever come across them in the US, which is why I prefaced this by saying it’s mostly for my British readers. If you know of these things by some other name, for whatever country you are familiar with, or even by that very name, say so in the comments! I quite likely just didn’t know what to look for before, is all.
After thinking about these things, and experimenting with various amounts, I now place 15 grams / 15 mL of soda crystals in the detergent dispenser drawer of the washer with the detergent. It softens the water enough to be able to use half the called-for detergent. My skin’s very sensitive, so I use the Ecover line (various ones depending on the clothes going in); how much you need to use for the same effect may vary based on your detergent. I encourage you to experiment – maybe it won’t work for you at all, and you’ll end up re-washing that load altogether, but what if it does? Soda crystals cost nearly nothing; it’s nice to halve the laundry soap bill with almost no effort.
Remember all the soda crystals will be flushed away by the time the last rinse cycle happens, so you’ll need the same amount of softener (conditioner), if you use it, and besides, I’m not sure softer water would increase the effectiveness there.
- I’ve just pulled up a few examples; prices based on package size that yielded cheapest price per load:
Category Detergent Price per load (Current Conversion in parentheses) US cents UK pence For sensitive skin All Free & Clear 10.0c (5.9p) Ecover Bio Liquid (46.6c) 27.7p Popular Tide 10.0c (5.9p) Fairy (31.6c) 18.8p Generic/Own Brand White Cloud, Walmart’s Brand 6.7c (4.0p) Tesco Non Bio (24.0c) 14.3p
- Not to be confused with sodium bicarbonate, which is new British for baking soda — older cookbooks just say baking soda, interestingly. [↩]