Are you using too much of a good thing?

6 May

By Geoff Meeker

May 6, 2013 – Consumerism is the flip side of the technology coin. After all, it is customer demand that drives growth and innovation in the industry.

However, unbridled consumerism is not a good thing and that is the subject of this week’s column. Manufacturers love to see us spend our money – it is up to us to do so wisely.

Let’s talk about cleaning agents. The compounds we use to wash our clothes, dishes, hair and teeth are necessary, yes, but lately I’ve realized that we use far too much of them. We are wasting our money, causing a mess and harming the environment.

The soap tray of our front load washer is always less than half-full, yet clothes still come out fresh and clean.

The soap tray of our front load washer is always less than half-full, yet clothes still come out fresh and clean.

Washers

Front loading washers and dryers are lovely bits of technology, but you may not be using yours properly.

Open the washer’s front door and check the bottom of the window inside. Is there a buildup of sludge? If so, this is detergent that has failed to dissolve for two reasons: you are adding too much detergent and using cold water instead of hot (which activates the enzymes in the detergent).

The solution is to use hot water, and much less detergent than the little cup will hold. That’s right, ignore the manufacturer’s own instructions. Use half as much as you normally would, for starters. The HE in this detergent stands for High Efficiency, and it really does go a long way.  We’ve been using less than half the recommended amount of detergent at our house for more than a year, and the clothes are fresh and clean every time.

I expect the same would apply to the powder we put in regular top loading washers. Instead of using a full scoop, try cutting it in half. If you can’t see a difference, congratulations – you’ve just cut your detergent costs in half!

The wash and pre-wash trays on the dishwasher are less than half full, yet dishes still come out sparkling clean. It's a money saver and easier on the environment.

The wash and pre-wash trays on the dishwasher are less than half full, yet dishes still come out sparkling clean. It’s a money saver and easier on the environment.

Dishwashers

If you’re following the instructions for your dishwasher, you’re probably using too much detergent here as well. Dishwashers have a closeable tray inside the front door which we are supposed to fill with liquid or powder detergent. That’s what manufacturers suggest, anyway.

However, I’ve been using half that amount in both the wash and pre-wash trays for a couple of years now, and my dishes are coming out perfectly clean. I’ve found that the blue rinsing agent is necessary to avoid spotting, but this is a fact no matter how much soap you use.

Try it. You’ll be impressed with the results – and the cost savings.

A little dab will do ya! And this is a small toothbrush head.

A little dab will do ya! And this is a small toothbrush head.

Toothpaste

Where do we get our instructions for how much toothpaste to put on the toothbrush? From the commercials, of course, and the images on the carton, which depict a nice long gob of toothpaste extending from one end of the bristles to the other.

This is no coincidence. It is exactly how much product the manufacturers would like us to use, because it means consuming – and buying – more toothpaste. Again, I have learned from experience that you don’t need to use this much.

For more than a year I’ve been using just a pea-sized dab of toothpaste, covering about 20 percent of the brush surface. And I’m getting better results than when I used large dollops of the stuff. My breath is fresh and my teeth clean. The toothpaste foams up nicely, and there is no spillage onto the front of my shirt (admit it, this has happened to you, too) or blue smears of unused toothpaste hardening like cement in the bathroom sink.

Shampoo

This is an old one, but I bet there are a few of you who aren’t aware of it. The labels on many shampoo bottles tell us to “lather, rinse and repeat.” In other words, wash your hair twice.

You should ignore this advice. A double wash is not only wasteful, it can damage your hair. Unless you’ve been lost in the woods for a week, one shampoo is enough to get your hair clean.

Dish detergent

Err on the side of frugality here as well. If you are using too much dish detergent, that’s money – and chemicals – straight down the drain. I go with one quick squeeze, and that usually gets me through a sink full of dishes. If you squeeze the bottle for a second or more, you are using too much.

Anytime you purchase a cleaning product, think twice about how much you use. Unless it’s health-related process where sterilization is critical, we need to cast a skeptical eye on all manufacturer instructions. Experiment with smaller amounts. Chances are, you will be pleased with the outcome – and the money you save.

You’re welcome.

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