How Much Laundry Detergent is Really Necessary?

I am so honored beyond belief to have Carrie guest post today at Mama’s!  Carrie blogs at Colorado Springs Bargains and more recently at Denver Bargains.  And she is the smart cookie that created Grocery University.  I was thrilled to meet Carrie at Blissdom last year and was even more thrilled to see her again at the Savvy Blogging Summit.  Oh to have the wisdom and expertise that she does!

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Ever wonder if that bottle or box of laundry detergent is really the number of loads it says it is? What size “loads” are we talking about, anyway? Someone tell me I’m not the only one who thinks about these things…

Medium, Large, or Extra-Large Loads?

I’ve been curious about this for months, and I finally took a few minutes to figure it out. I took a box of Surf powdered detergent, which has lines for medium, large, and extra-large loads, and figured out how many ounces of detergent each load size used:

Medium Load: 1.5 oz     Large Load: 2 oz     Extra-Large Load: 2.5 oz

surf-laundry-detergentThe box contains 3 lbs, 12 oz of detergent, or 60 oz total. It claims to provide enough soap for 40 loads. But is that 40 medium, large, or extra large loads? Some quick math showed me that I’ll only get 40 loads of detergent from that box if I use the line for medium loads. If I put the amount of soap recommended for a large load, I’ll only get 30 loads, and if I fill the soap cup to the extra-large load line, it will last me for just 24 loads.

So, it seems that a 40-load box of detergent will last 40 loads if you use the fill line for a medium load. Most of us probably wash what we’d consider “large” loads, but I’d bet that a medium-sized scoop of detergent is plenty for a large load.

I’d assume this is similar for liquid detergent as well. Most liquid detergent has two fill lines, and I would guess that you’ll only get the advertised number of loads of laundry if you use the lower line. Which, again, is probably plenty. I would love to hear what Mama Laundry has to say about how much detergent is necessary! 🙂

Mama Here: Yes, Carrie is definitely right in that the advertised number of loads on the packaging is based on the smallest load-size.  The advertisers are smart – they know consumers will more willingly pay for a $5 bottle of detergent that has 32 loads, as opposed to the same detergent that costs $5 but only has 20 loads.  The consumer believes that they are getting more product for their money.

Do I believe that a ‘large’ load of laundry will get just as clean if you use a ‘medium’ amount of detergent? Well, it depends.  If you are using a premium detergent such as Tide I believe that it will.  If you are using store-brand detergent, possibly not.

It also depends on how dirty/soiled the load of laundry is.  If your husband works outside all day in the heat, you’ll need a ‘large’ capful of detergent to adequately clean his clothes.  If you are washing a large load of just regular, everyday clothes you can probably get by just fine with a ‘medium’ capful and still have clean, fresh-smelling, stain-free laundry.

There are some rules about laundry that don’t change: always sort whites from reds/purples or wash lingerie on the delicate cycle to ensure a long life. But then there are vague areas where the rules vary from wash load to wash load.  Experiment with your preferred brand of detergent and with your own family’s laundry to determine how much detergent is needed.

If you can get by with washing large loads with a medium capful of detergent, then by all means, do so! The less detergent you can use, the less money you spend!

Carrie Isaac helps Colorado families save money on everything from groceries to entertainment at Colorado Springs Bargains and Denver Bargains. Their mission is to “help Colorado families save money on the things they have to buy, and enable them to do things they couldn’t otherwise afford”.

I am pleased to link this post to Frugal Friday over at Life as MOM.


  1. Great post! I do not use as much as it says on the box, and I am so happy that I have not have to buy laundry detergent for almost a year. Last spring I was able to find my favorite laundry detergent for $1 a piece after coupons and sales, so I made sure to stock up. I got 10 bottles, which is lasting forever….even with 3 boys and a hardworking man in the house.

    I would like to invite you to link up at the Fantastic Frugal Fridays. It is a great place to meet fellow frugal folks, and you can win free ad space too…

    • mamalaundry says:

      Wow – $1 a bottle is oh so fabulous!! Congrats on that great find! 😉

      I’ll go check out Fantastic Frugal Fridays – thanks for mentioning it!


  2. I never use as much as it says in my front-loader. I have an 85-load box of Target store-brand powder that I’ve been using since September and it’s only a quarter gone because I use only about a tablespoon. My clothes get nice and clean! I do use hot water a lot of the time though.

  3. We never use what the bottle says either. For the most part we use Method (the pump is nice for my heavy handed DH ) the bottle says 4 pumps for heavily soiled or xl loads. We use 2 in our gigantic washing machine. It holds 2 regular laundry baskets of laundry. Everything comes out nice and clean.

    • mamalaundry says:

      Now that IS a big washing machine!

      I’ve never used Method, so I don’t know anything about the pump. I’ll have to check it out – thanks!


  4. I always use much less detergent than the package recommends and my clothes come out nice and clean. I buy the large containers of detergent from Costco. They last me a long time.

  5. I’ve always wondered about this. How much to use? I never use the full cap…..maybe that’s why my clothes stay stained! ha! But I followed your advice about the moldy smelling towels (full capful and hottest temp) and it’s worked perfectly!! Yippee!
    What are your thoughts on powder detergent. I have heard you mention it a couple of times and haven’t used that stuff in years. Is it as effective as liquid. It’s cheaper, isn’t it??

  6. DontBelieve TheHype says:

    Laundry detergent is a rip off! I wish I could remember the site ( will post later if I find it) but it scientically broke down what surfactants do and how much is really needed to get the job done. The agitation is mostly what gets clothes clean not the soap. The surfactants ‘trap’ the dirt so it does get back in the clothes. I was already using vinegar ( white) to clean around the house and get rid of urine odors in pet laundry. ( works on human urine if anyone has bladder probs) After reading the aboved mentioned article I started using 1/4 – 1/2 of the recommended amount along with 1/2 cup of vinegar. Clothes are clean, even the whites. Plus vinegar keeps colors bright. I can do about 70-80 loads, depending on size, with a 32 load sized bottle. Saves $$ and environment.

  7. How much soap is needed for a 40lb load of wash. I usually go to the laundromat and throw everything in one of the “big boys”. They usually hold up to 50lbs. So I calculate that a load is normally 10lbs, and add 1 cup for each 10lbs. So a 40lb wash, for me, would take about 4 cups. Is this too much soap, or too little?

    • mamalaundry says:

      Kevin, I think you’re right on the money. When you say ‘cup’ though, do you mean what is considered a ‘load’? The fill-line on the inside of the cap?

      If that’s the case, I think you’re thinking about this correctly.

      Just a little laundromat tip though: don’t overstuff the machine. Usually the “hot” water is not really hot at all on the washers. It’s usually luke warm-ish. So make sure you leave ample room for the clothes to agitate.

      To get adequately clean, clothes need the right amount of detergent, the right water temp and enough room to move around (agitate).

      Those big machines are sometimes misleading in that you think you can stuff them slam full.

      • ashraf kamsa says:

        how many detergent can i put in 8 kg clothes?..

        • Lauren Hill says:

          Hi Ashraf,

          I’m sorry, but I don’t know the exact answer to that. 8kg is a pretty large load, so I’d use a maximum dose as described on the laundry detergent package.



  8. I use purex and I put about 8-10 cups in a normal sized load which contains about 6-8 underwears 3 bras and about 4 pairs shirts & jeans….is that too much soap? I usually think if my clothes don’t come out smelling like clean detergent then they are not clean? How much should I really use? and will it hurt my laundry load if I keep using the same amount of detergent as I do today?

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