Wednesday, May 14, 2014


You spend a lot of money on soaps and other cleaning agents.  Most of use don't think about it.

Some of the largest and most profitable businesses in America make soaps and cleaning agents.   Proctor & Gamble and Johnson Wax are huge conglomerates built on soaps and waxes.  The amount of money made on each purchase of a soap or cleaning product is pretty small.   But chances are, every time you go to the grocery store, you buy some sort of soap or cleaning product.   The sales are small, but they are consistent over time, and the profits add up.

Consider all the soaps you might buy:

1.  Bar soap
2.  Shampoo & Conditioner
3. Hand soaps (including the pump kind)
4.  Liquid bath gels or soaps
5.  Car wash soap
6.  Pet shampoo
7.  Dishwasher Soap
8.  Dish Soap (different than #7)
9. Laundry Soaps (and bleach and softener and dryer sheets)
10.  Tile cleaner
11.  Window cleaner
12.  All-purpose cleaners (like Formula 409, etc.)
13.  Floor care products (Swiffer, Mop-n-Glow, Floor wax, etc.)
14.  Degreasers (Simple Green, etc.)
15.  Furniture wax and cleaners

The list goes on and on.   And most of these are sold on a brand name basis, as for some reason, people are very brand loyal to soaps, which is why the Johnson Wax people could afford Frank Lloyd Wright to design and build their world headquarters.

Soap really was the very first (or one of the first) chemical industries of mankind, when you think about it.   People started making soaps, no doubt, in the caveman days, from reduced animal fats and ashes taken from the campfire.  It is an old business.

My Mother was very brand conscious about soaps.  She always bought Tide laundry detergent, and a bar soap called "Cashmere Bouquet".  She bought Windex brand window cleaner and Formula 409 spray.   We had Joy dish-washing liquid, Cascade dishwashing machine detergent,  and of course a can of Comet (not Ajax) under the sink.  She would never dream of buying store-brand equivalents or generic versions of any of these products.

And that pretty much was the way I spent money, for the first 40 years of my life.   Maybe our buying preferences are set early on (no maybe about it, they ARE) and we follow what our parents did, monkey-see, monkey-do.   It wasn't until recently that I started looking long and hard at the prices of soaps and cleaners and realized that I was throwing away hundreds and hundreds of dollars of money every year.

Take dish soap.   You know, the kind that comes in a bottle and is yellow, blue, or orange, and you use it to wash you pots and pans, or maybe even your dishes, if you don't have a dishwasher machine.   I would buy this at the grocery store, picking out the brand name I was used to buying, and not even look at the price.   Usually, the price was at least $2, more often closer to $3, sometimes closer to $4 a bottle.

Now, looking online today, I see some sites that show that "brand name" products can be as low as $1 a bottle, if you dick around with a coupon or wait for a "BoGo" sale at the grocery store (Winn Dixie does weird things like "10 bottles for $10!").   But the rest of the time, you ain't paying  a buck-a-bottle.

Next door, however, at the Dollar Tree, they have a 16-ounce bottle of dish soap for a buck - every day.  And this same soap can be used to refill those hand-pump hand soaps, in each bathroom.

Speaking of which, those hand-pump hand soaps (no one uses bar soap anymore, right?) can run up to four bucks at the grocery store.   They are a buck apiece at the Dollar Tree - almost cheap enough to be disposable.   Cheap enough that you can toss them when they get old and nasty.   But easy to refill with their buck-a-bottle dish soap.

Shampoo is the same way - four bucks a bottle, or sometimes more, for "special conditioners" and other nonsense, most of which is just perfumes and scenting that attracts mosquitoes when you go outdoors.  The Dollar Tree?   They have old-school names like "Breck" for a dollar a bottle.

Laundry detergent and dishwashing machine detergent is less of a bargain at the Dollar Tree.   However the wholesale club does have these items at prices about half that of the grocery store - in large sized containers, of course.

Which brings us to another issue - wasting soap.   It is tempting to just dump soap on things to clean them.   Laundry detergent is particularly prone to this, especially with the liquid kinds.   People just pour in the soap like they are pouring booze, using 2-3 times the recommended amount.   This is a sure way to up your soap consumption 2-3 times.   Use the measuring cap or scoop.   And the same is true for other kinds of soaps as well.   More soap doesn't mean more clean, as once the water is saturated with soap, more soap doesn't extract more dirt.

Is there a big savings to be had here?   Not huge for any one month, to be sure.   But paying $4 for a bottle of shampoo does seem kind of excessive to me, particularly when there are alternatives that are one-quarter the price.  But then again, my hair isn't more than 1" long.   I suppose folks with long hair and complicated haircuts need to spend more.   But then again, that's spending money on what?  Status?

I would estimate that we save at least $20 a month, maybe more, by using cheaper soap products - store brand, Dollar Tree, Wholesale Club, compared to our previous spending habits.   It may not seem like much, but it does add up, over time.