Sunday, February 20, 2011

My Downy Addiction

Since I covered laundry detergent and the incredible savings in homemade the other day, I thought I would do a follow-up with the fabric softener.  Saving $0.15 1/2 per laundry load is great, but for me, it sucks all of the joy out of the savings if I have to go add expensive Downy fabric softener to get my laundry right.  Enter, homemade fabric softener!  I don't have the same cost breakdown for my fabric softener as I did with my laundry detergent, but I'll do some estimations to try and get close.  My recipe is:

30 oz of distilled white vinegar
2 teaspoons vegetable glycerin
30-50 drops essential oil (I'm using lavender right now, but would like to try lemon in the future)
Not an exact science.  I don't measure at all.  The container I use to store my concoction is a recycled 32 oz distilled white vinegar bottle.  I now refill it from my gallon jug of white vinegar, almost to the top, add a squeeze of my vegetable glycerin, and count out drops of essential oil.  I do this standing in my laundry room while shoveling clothes into the washing machine, it's that easy.  Now, lets do the cost breakdown, again, these prices are at my stores:

1 gallon Distilled White Vinegar - $2.57 ($0.02/oz)
16 fl oz Vegetable Glycerin - $8.99 ($0.093/teaspoon)
.5 fl oz Lavender Essential Oil - $5.50 ($0.018/drop)

Glycerin Image from here            Lavender Image from here

This is where it gets tricky.  I use 30-50 drops of essential oil for every 32 oz of vinegar.  A quick google search says that a 1/2 fl oz = 15 mL = 300 drops.  I have no idea.  I've had my lavender essential oil for a while, and didn't buy it for fabric softener, but just happened to have it.  It's also an optional ingredient.  So based on my internet research, I came to the conclusion that the Lavender Essential Oil is almost $0.02 per drop.

Also - if you have ever looked at essential oils, you know that depending on what you buy, the price can be drastically different.  Comparison, from Mountain Rose Herbs website: 1/2 oz of Rose Essential Oil is $115.00 or 1/2 oz of Lemon Essential Oil is $5.75.  Please note, I will not be scenting my clothes with Rose Essential Oil.

So back to the math, assuming we're using a reasonable essential oil like Lavender or Lemon (there are many others, and Mountain Rose is a good resource if you don't live near a health foods store to browse selection).

30 fl oz White Distilled Vinegar = $0.60
2 teaspoons Vegetable Glycerin = $0.19
50 drops Lavender or Lemon Essential oil = $0.90
TOTAL = $1.69 for 30 fluid ounces or $0.056 per ounce
My store-bought alternative is Mountain Spring Downy Ultra, which sells at Walmart for $9.97 and you get 120 loads out of 103 ounces, or $0.0967 per ounce.  Since I have a front loading HE washing machine, my detergent, softener and other laundry agents all go in that pull out drawer on the front, and there are pre-measured lines for the fabric softener.  I use the exact same amount of homemade as I do of Downy, which I estimate to be about .85 fl oz.  The .85 oz is the measurement that gets 120 loads of laundry out of 103 ounces of softener.  That comes to $0.0476 per load for homemade and $0.0822 per load for Downy.

So, homemade is about half the price of Downy.  Now, a couple notes:  The Essential Oils and Vegetable Glycerin are optional, not necessary.  When I was first deciding on my recipe, several sites said that the Vegetable Glycerin can help with static and softness.  I purchased mine at the health foods store, and it's recommended use is as a moisturizer for rough skin like heels, elbows, knees.  The way I see it is, if it's safe to rub on your skin, it has to be safe to use in your laundry.  The essential oil is just for scent, and not much of it remains, just a very faint hint.

Now I know vinegar sounds like a smelly thing to dump on your clothes, but it washes completely clean!  I CANNOT smell it on my laundry when it comes out of the wash or dryer, and neither can my husband - who just shook his head when he found out I was putting vinegar in the washing machine.

Vinegar as a Pre-treatment

Vinegar also works to break down any build up on clothes, and it's also a natural bleaching agent to help brighten whites.  My favorite black t-shirts frequently get deodorant build-up under the arms, and I've found to cut it, I just put the shirt in a bucket, and scrub some straight vinegar into the build-up as a pre-treatment, and then throw them in the wash with my homemade detergent and softener.  I never knew how to combat the deodorant buildup before, and since I started using vinegar a lot more, it hasn't been a problem.

Another testament to the vinegar would be from my washing machine if it could talk.  With the front loader, I used to have this yucky build-up on the bottom of the door, resembling soap scum (it probably was).  It was gross, and I had trouble scrubbing it off.  Since I switched to vinegar, there's no more gunk on the door!

If you are still hesitant about using vinegar in your wash, I encourage you to go to the Queen of Homemaking herself - Martha Stewart.  I recently downloaded this laundry chart, printed it on cardstock and hung it in my laundry room.  On the back, I printed this companion chart.  Those are the downloadable PDF's, and here's the article that links to both of them.

Finally, my confession:  I still have Downy on hand and use it sometimes.  I really don't need my socks to smell like Mountain Spring, but have a major weakness for climbing into bed on Clean Sheet Night (yes, it's an event in my house) and snuggling into Mountain Spring.  As much as I want to save the money, there's nothing like that smell.  Mostly, I pick and choose when I want to indulge in the Downy.  If my husband has been having a bad week, I'll wash his favorite old t-shirt with the Downy knowing he'll be able to start his Saturday morning fresh with that smell he remembers from his childhood.  Sheets on the guest bed, always Downy, on my bed, sometimes Downy.  Using this method definitely stretches it, just like using Tide only sometimes and mostly using my homemade.

I know the homemade isn't for everyone, but I've loved getting to save money on these necessary consumables.  I never would have guessed that I had so much to say about what happens in my 30 square foot laundry room, but it's a busy place. Now that I have spewed everything that's been going on in my laundry room in the last seven months, I hope you can use something here.  Enjoy!


  1. We've even used vinegar on our hair, and it softens it beautifully!

  2. Kaitlin, I thought I was the only one!! LOL

    My Mom was visiting this past summer and told me about the vinegar instead of fabric softener. I began using it and I love it how the clothes smell afterwards: CLEAN, CLEAN!!! No scent whatsoever!!! I don't care for all those artificial air fresheners. I prefer the true smell of clean... so the vinegar did it for me!!! After reading the queen of brussels sprouts' comment I will try using a vinegar solution to rinse my hair.

    Really you could clean a house with vinegar, baking soda and water... why waste so much money on those fancy cleaning products???

  3. Hello=) I just have to tell you how pleased I am to find your post on fabric softener with vegetable glycerin. I have found numerous recipes for softeners but they always use conditioner which still have the harmful chemicals in them. I did some research on my own and came up with vegetable glycerin. It was so nice to see that my idea wasn't so crazy after all! The only other alternative to me would be to use an organic conditioner, but I am definitely going to try this =)


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