I stopped using so much laundry detergent and my clothes feel better than ever – here is where I was going wrong

Cutting back on laundry detergent actually made my clothes feel softer, and I think you should cut back too

A wicker laundry basket with white linens and a bottle of detergent
(Image credit: Unsplash)

While laundry is not my least favorite chore, I am certainly guilty of trying to make it easier by throwing everything in with a splash of detergent and turning my machine on. What I didn't know, however, was just how damaging this was to my clothes. 

I had always heard that clothes and linens should be super soft after every wash so I was a little confused as to why my clothes were always stiff or scratchy when they came out of the wash. I had been adding more and more detergent and softener each time to try and soften my clothes – little did I know this was only making the problem worse and it made my laundry room smell damp. And it certainly did take some trial and error to finally get the balance right.

I have finally cut back on how my laundry detergent I use and it solved my scratchy clothes dilemma, and here is why you should too.

White utility room with washing machine

(Image credit: Paul Raeside)

1. I listened to my Grandmother 

It was my Grandmother's five laundry lessons that finally stopped me from overloading on laundry detergent with every wash, and I will be eternally grateful for her advice. 

While detergent does get dirt and grime out of your clothes and shifts odors, using too much was creating a horrible build-up of soap suds that I could not shift – probably because I was trying to fix the problem with the very thing that was causing it. The detergent simply was not being rinsed out properly, turning my clothes crunchy and far from chic. 

I even found myself blaming my machine, cursing it for being old – it is easier to blame the tools than the user after all. 

As it turns out, the more detergent I used, the dirtier my clothes (and my machine!) became. 

2. I started measuring my detergent according to my load 

Figuring out exactly how much detergent I should have been using was tricky. I even contemplated making laundry detergent myself or resorting to using white vinegar in laundry to help get rid of my surplus sud situation. With time and patience (kind of), however, I finally got it right. 

After some research, I found that, for most commercial detergents, just one tablespoon was enough for an eight-pound load, with approximately two tablespoons helping to clean and deodorize bigger loads. It turns out that a little really does go a long way.

I had to unlearn the general rule of listening to the packaging. After all, companies want you to buy more detergent and, having previously fallen into this trap of using more and more every time, cutting back saved not only my clothes but my money too. 

3. I learned how to remove years of soap sud build up 

Unfortunately, simply altering my laundry detergent dosage did not fix my problem right away. With how long I had been over-saturating my clothes with detergent I had to take some extra steps to finally free my clothes and machine from its horrid soap build-up for good. 

This is where learning how to restore my laundry came in. Almost unsurprisingly at this point, scratchy clothes are yet another thing you can clean with vinegar. I mixed one cup of vinegar into one quart of water in my bathtub before throwing in my ruined clothes. I left these for over an hour before washing the clothes again (with the right amount of detergent this time) to get rid of the vinegar smell.  

Knowing how to clean a washing machine also came in useful as I transitioned into more efficient washing habits. Detergent had lined the pipes and drum of my machine meaning it needed a thorough cleaning to fully fix my problem. I made sure to flush out my machine before rewashing my newly restored clothes, of course.

4. I finally found the difference between laundry detergent and fabric softener 

When I went to the store in the past, I picked any bottle of liquid laundry stuff that looked like it smelt good and didn't cost me a small fortune. Little did I know that laundry detergent and fabric softener are often placed right next to each other and look virtually the same. 

By loading up on laundry detergent, thinking it would soften my clothes too, I was doing the opposite and not adding any form of softener full stop. 

Now that I am saving money by not adding almost full caps of detergent I can easily add dedicated fabric softener to my shopping list to give my clothes an added protective boost from frequent washes. 

How much detergent should you actually use?

How much detergent you need to use will depend on your washing machine and the type and size of your laundry load. As a general rule of thumb, however, use approximately one to two tablespoons of detergent per load, reducing this if you was only washing a few things or something that is not heavily soiled and simply needs a freshen-up. 

Can you use too little detergent?

Just as using too much detergent can cause problems for your laundry, too little can result in persistent odors or stains. There is a fine balance as to how much detergent to use depending on your washing machine and your laundry load, making it a difficult measurement to get right every time. 

Chiana Dickson
Content Editor

Chiana has been at Homes & Gardens for two years, having started her journey in interior journalism as part of the graduate program. She spends most of her time producing content for the Solved section of the website, helping readers get the most out of their homes through clever decluttering, cleaning, and tidying tips – many of which she tests and reviews herself in her home in Lancaster to ensure they will consistently deliver for her readers and dabbles in the latest design trends. She also has a first-class degree in Literature from Lancaster University.