Editor’s note: Each week, one of Bankrate’s personal finance reporters is reporting on a new way to save and chronicling the savings journey. This week, I made some DIY cleaning products, using a few basic ingredients, to see how much I could save. See what happened.
There are so many ways to waste money, and I wondered if buying cleaning products from the store was one of them.
I’ve pinned a lot of cleaning do-it-yourself Web pages to my Pinterest account in my time and have been in awe of several mommy blogs that tout the wonders of making your own household cleaning products. They always make it look so easy and effective, so I decided to finally try it out myself.
I wondered: How much money could buying my own ingredients save me, and would it even be worth the extra time and effort to make my own cleaning products?
“Do some research, find a couple recipes to try out, make small batches of the cleaning product and then try them,” says Carrie Rocha, creator and contributor to PocketYourDollars.com. “You will need to decide if the end result cleaning product’s potency is worth the extra effort you invest into making it.”
Here’s what happened.
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Real-life test: What worked
I decided to create three DIY cleaning products:
Carpet stain remover.
I got three very different results, and only one really impressed me. That was the laundry cleaner.
A good friend of mine filled me in on her laundry secret: Use vinegar in the wash cycle to kill any bacteria. (Bacteria causes the smell you may have detected in your towels.)
Following her instructions, I put a full load of towels into the washer, and after it filled up with water, I stopped the machine. (Do this right before it starts to oscillate.) Then I poured in 1/4 cup of distilled white vinegar (for $2.48 a gallon at Wal-Mart) and let it sit for 10 minutes. Then, when the time was up, I put in the normal amount of laundry detergent and let it do its thing from there on out. By the time my towels were done in the dryer, there was no nasty vinegar smell, but there was a very fresh-smelling set of towels. Plus, they were decidedly softer than usual.
After doing a little math, I figured out that I would only have to spend $2.48 to get 64 uses. That’s roughly $0.04 per load. This one was definitely a keeper.
Here’s a hypothetical example. Let’s say that a regular bath towel costs about $15 and usually lasts around five years, and that an average one-person household has 10 towels. At $15 per towel, that’s $150 spent on towels. Suppose that using vinegar doubles the life expectancy of your towels. That means that instead of paying $150 for a whole new set of towels every five years, I will only pay $150 every 10 years. And if this were the year that I would have had to buy new towels, that means I saved $150, just because I spent an extra 10 minutes putting 1/4 cup of vinegar in my laundry.
That’s phenomenal, because not only does taking care of my things save me money, it saves me time from having to actually go get those new towels. Clearly, taking care of your stuff will save you money in the long run.
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Real-life test: What sort of worked
Next, I took Rocha’s advice and created an oven-cleaning product. I made a thick paste of baking soda and water and used it to clean the inside of my oven.
“Make it wet enough that you can let the paste sit for five minutes without drying out, then scrub it off,” she says. “It works well, and baking soda can be purchased in big boxes for next to nothing.”
You can buy a 13 1/2-pound bag of pure baking soda on Amazon for $17.29, which is $0.08 per ounce.
I mixed 9 tablespoons of baking soda with 1/2 cup of water, which made it a little too runny but still worked to clean the inside of my oven. Next time, I’ll be sure to add less water and extra tablespoons of baking soda.
Confession: By “next time,” I mean that I probably won’t ever create this paste again in my life. Why? While it only costs $2.24 to make about four batches of oven cleaner, a 14 1/2-ounce bottle of Easy-Off oven cleaner costs $3.94 and you can get several more uses out of that than you can from one box of baking soda mixed with water. However, if you’re someone who likes to make environmentally responsible products, you will probably love the baking soda route.
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Real-life test: What didn’t work
So, the carpet cleaner creation didn’t turn out so well.
Here’s how I made it: After picking a “homemade stain remover” Web page off Pinterest, I gathered three common household products:
Dawn dishwashing liquid soap.
Per the instructions, I mixed one part Dawn, two parts hydrogen peroxide and 2 tablespoons of baking soda. I must have done something very wrong, because by the time I finished applying my three-ingredient mixture to an old, orange-ish stain in my dining room carpet, two things happened: The stain was gone, but the surrounding area was now very bleached. (It reminded me of those hilarious Pinterest fails I’ve seen online.)
I used a store-bought Bissell stain-remover product to fix the mess I made. While it helped get rid of most of the bleached appearance, there’s still a little of that bleached look left. Though I can’t know for sure, I suspect that it would have been a complete success if I had started with the store brand and never tried my own DIY solution.
That 16-fluid-ounce, store-bought product only cost me $5.97, whereas the horrific homemade hassle cost me $6.41, before taxes. Furthermore, if I were to continue making homemade “cleaning” solutions like that one, it would actually produce far fewer uses than the store-brand product provides. There’s no way I’m going to spend 44 cents more just to ruin my carpet.
I’m not the only one who laid the homemade stain remover to rest. Rocha, who says she has never had success with stain removers, says she reverted to Shout for her clothes. “I found that I was saving money with my own stain remover but spending money replacing stained clothes. It wasn’t worth it to me,” she says.
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How to succeed at this challenge
Just because I semi-failed doesn’t mean you will, too. Though, I consider this a win-win challenge since I will save $150 on towels every few years. Bonus: I now know going the store route is the most cost-effective and stress-free option for me personally.
Rocha says she has tried numerous recipes for various cleaners throughout the years, and calls the “right” recipe “very personal.”
“Depending on the quality of your water and the unique combination of grime, dirt and stains in your home, a recipe I love may not work as well for you as another,” Rocha says, calling it a learning process.
Another tip is to use essential oils as a household product. Holly Homer, mom blogger and entrepreneur of KidsActivitiesBlog.com, has been creating her own homemade cleaner ever since she started with essential oils. “It started because I was uncomfortable using chemicals in my kitchen around food. I now use these in every room of the house, almost exclusively.”
More money-saving tips: Rocha says to time your purchases. In the spring and early summer, some cleaning supplies will be on sale at big-box stores and grocery stores. Be sure to combine sales with available coupons and discounts.
Compare prices online with prices at your local store.