You always run out of laundry detergent at the most inconvenient time. Now that it’s laundry day once more, you either don’t have any laundry detergent or looking for a less expensive option is your goal. Before running for your favorite detergent, you’ll find a great laundry detergent alternative in your pantry.
You can wash your clothes without heading to the store with common household ingredients used as a detergent, like baking soda, vinegar, and lemon juice. Baking soda, borax, and washing soda work as natural laundry detergent substitutes and boosters to clean your clothes when you’ve run out of detergent. Even shampoo or dish soap can be used in a pinch when you’ve got no laundry detergent left for one more load of laundry.
In our guide, you can learn about some of the best detergent substitutes that make a great alternative to laundry detergent. By the end, you’ll better understand which natural, eco-friendly laundry detergent alternatives leave your clothes feeling fresh. (Learn How To Keep Basement Dry Without Dehumidifier)
Can I Use Baking Soda Instead of Laundry Detergent?
You can use baking soda or baking soda and lemon for a hint more fresh scent instead of a regular detergent bottle or box. Either way, it is one of the most popular substitutes for laundry detergent as it is a mild alkali to remove dirt and grease and clean your clothes, especially whites.
To use baking soda for laundry:
- Add 1/2 cup of baking soda to the detergent dispenser or directly into the drum.
- Add 1/4 cup of distilled white vinegar to the rinse cycle for extra cleaning power. The vinegar helps remove residue and soften fabrics.
- Dissolve 1/2 cup baking soda in warm water for heavily soiled loads before adding clothes.
Baking soda is a great regular laundry detergent booster or alternative and is safe for all fabrics. It works incredibly well on cotton, linens and towels by helping remove stains and brightening whites. Just use vinegar in the rinse cycle, as baking soda can leave a residue.
Will Vinegar Get My Clothes Clean?
Distilled white vinegar as a laundry detergent alternative is among the top household items you can use. As a laundry detergent, the acidic vinegar breaks down dirt and grease, softens fabrics and is a natural fabric softener.
To wash clothes with vinegar:
- Add 1/2 to 1 cup of distilled white vinegar directly to the drum.
- Add a 1/4 cup of baking soda directly to the drum for extra cleaning power.
- Add 1/4 to 1/2 cup of vinegar to the rinse cycle to remove soap residue and soften fabrics.
Vinegar is safe for all machine-washable fabrics. It works well at removing body oil and sweat stains.
Will Shampoo Work to Wash Clothes?
You can wash clothes in a pinch, using liquid shampoo or body wash and use as a substitute laundry detergent. Shampoos are designed to wash away dirt, grease, and grime from hair, so they can also work on clothes.
To use shampoo for laundry:
- Add 1/4 to 1/2 cup liquid shampoo or body wash to the drum or detergent dispenser.
- If using body wash, opt for a gentle cleanser, not heavy exfoliators.
- Add an extra rinse cycle to help remove shampoo residue.
Shampoo won’t work as well on heavy stains as when you add detergent and may require more dirty laundry room scrubbing. Stick to gentle shampoos, and body washes to avoid fading colors. The cleansers can produce suds and bubbles, so use sparingly when you’re out of laundry detergent. (Read Is It Legal To Drain Washing Machine Outside)
Will Bar Soap Work to Wash Clothes?
As a laundry detergent cleaner, bar soap is the old-fashioned way to wash clothing. You can use any type of bar soap as a laundry detergent. However, use a gentle soap without strong perfumes or dyes for the best effective laundry detergent substitutes.
To use bar soap as laundry soap:
- For top-loading machines, put 3-6 grated bars of soap into a sock or cloth bag. Add to the wash drum.
- For front-loading machines, grate the soap and dissolve 1-2 tbsp per load in boiling water. Add to drum.
- Alternatively, shave thin slivers of soap directly into the machine drum before loading clothes.
Is Washing Soda A Substitute For Laundry Detergent?
Washing soda or soda ash is a laundry booster used when you don’t have much detergent for washing clothes. It helps remove stains, brighten whites, and soften hard water.
To use washing soda for laundry:
- Add 1/4 to 1/2 cup of washing soda to the drum or dispenser drawer.
- Make a paste with washing soda, water, and pre-treat stains for extra power on heavy stains.
- Add vinegar to the rinse cycle to balance the pH.
Washing soda works well in all water temperatures. It is ideal for cleaning greasy stains, cloth diapers, athletic wear, and work clothes. Use caution, as washing soda can damage delicate fabrics like silk or wool.
Will Borax Make A Good Laundry Detergent Substitute?
Like baking soda, borax is a natural mineral salt to help remove dirt and stains from laundry. It also acts as a deodorizer, whitener, and water softener.
To use borax for laundry:
- Add 1/2 cup borax to the drum or dispenser drawer per load.
- Add 1 cup of borax for heavy-duty cleaning and let dissolve in hot water before adding clothes.
- Add vinegar to the rinse cycle to remove any residue.
Borax works well in all water temperatures and on most fabric types. Take care with delicates like silks, as the mineral salts can damage fibers. Don’t use borax on flame-retardant fabrics; it can reduce flame retardancy.
Can I Hand-Wash Clothes Without Detergent?
When hand-washing clothes, you can get soiled clothes clean without laundry detergent. Here are some options to try:
- Baking Soda – Add 1-2 tbsp baking soda to a sink or basin of warm water. Let garments soak before scrubbing and rinsing clean.
- Mild Soap – Use a small amount of gentle soap like Castile or baby soap in the water. Rinse thoroughly.
- Vinegar – Add 1/4 cup white vinegar to the wash water, then rinse with 1 cup vinegar in clean water.
- Shampoo – Swirl a small dollop of shampoo into the wash water. Rinse multiple times.
- Toothpaste – Rub toothpaste on garments before washing for stain removal and deodorizing. Rinse thoroughly after.
Always hand wash delicates gently to avoid damage. Test colorfastness when using homemade solutions. (Learn How To Move A Washing Machine By Yourself)
Will Dish Soap an alternative to Laundry Detergent?
If you’ve run out of laundry detergent, you may wonder, can you use dishwashing? In a real pinch, regular dish soap can be used to wash a small load of laundry. The degreasing agents in dish soap can lift dirt from the fabric.
To use dish soap for laundry:
- Add 2-3 tbsp of dish soap to the washing machine drum.
- Run on a gentle cycle and in cool water to avoid excess suds.
- Add an extra rinse cycle to eliminate dish soap residue.
Only use this method for 1-2 lightly soiled garments, not full loads. The skin-drying chemicals in dish soap can damage fabrics over time and cause fading. Use a gentle, eco-friendly dish soap, not antibacterial formulas.
Can You Wash Clothes With No Detergent?
Washing clothes without any detergent is an option in a pinch. Clothes will not be as clean, but the washing machine’s agitation can lift some dirt.
To wash with no detergent:
- Run the washing machine on its hottest water, setting safe for the fabric.
- Use the longest, heaviest soil cycle.
- Add vinegar or baking soda for extra cleaning power.
- For whites, add lemon juice and set in direct sunlight to naturally bleach and remove stains.
Wash only 1 or 2 lightly soiled garments without detergent. This method works best on cottons and linens, not delicates. Repeat the cycle for tough stains. Allow clothes to air dry fully to avoid mildew.
What About Lemon Juice, Shampoo, or Body Wash?
When you’re in a real bind, you can experiment with other homemade cleaners for laundry:
- Lemon Juice – The natural acidity cuts through grease. Add 1/2 cup lemon juice to the wash.
- Body Scrub – The exfoliants can help scrub out stains. Use 1/4 cup per load.
- Hydrogen Peroxide – This fizzing antiseptic can whiten and deodorize clothes. Use 1/2 cup per load.
However, these homemade detergent alternatives you can try work best to use as a laundry detergent laundry booster, not full detergent substitutes. Use sparingly and never on delicates. Always rinse thoroughly, as residues can damage fabrics.
Can You Use Laundry Detergent Alternatives in HE Washers?
High-efficiency (HE) washing machines require low-sudsing detergents if you add too much DIY laundry detergent. Some homemade laundry detergent alternatives may cause oversudsing and lead to error codes. (Learn How Long Before Putting Appliances On New Tile)
Here are some guidelines for HE washers:
- Start with 1-2 tbsp of baking soda, vinegar, or soap.
- Choose low-foam dishwashing detergent or shampoo formulas.
- Allow the machine to fill partially before adding cleaners.
- Run on the lowest soil setting with warm or cool water.
The key is starting with small amounts of alternative laundry detergent and slowly increasing if clothes are not coming clean. Avoid detergent pods, as they can clog HE machines. Always run an extra rinse cycle.
Are White Vinegar and Baking Soda Safe for Colors?
Vinegar and baking soda are safe laundry boosters for most colored fabrics. However, they can cause fading or color-bleeding in fabrics like silks, wool, and rayon.
To be safe with colored fabrics:
- Check garment tags and wash similar colors together.
- Turn garments inside out to prevent fading.
- Use cool water to avoid bleeding and shrinking.
- Add salt to the wash to help set the dyes.
- Skip the bleach and hydrogen peroxide.
- Rinse with 1 cup vinegar to a full tub of water.
If cleaning a new brightly colored item, test colorfastness first on an inside seam. Increase rinses to remove all traces of homemade cleaners.
The Bottom Line
If you’ve run out of a box of powdered detergent, try one of these best laundry detergent alternatives:
- Baking soda – Removes stains, deodorizes, whitens
- Vinegar – Cuts grease, removes residue, deodorizes
- Bar soap – Lifts dirt, safe for hand washing
- Borax – Bleaches, deodorizes, softens water
- Washing soda – Removes stains, brightens whites
- Liquid soap – Lifts dirt and oil from fabric
As you can see, several homemade laundry detergent alternatives exist, yet some work better than others.
What household item works best to clean clothes?
Distilled white vinegar is the best household item to replace laundry detergent. The acidic vinegar cuts through grease kills bacteria, removes stains and odors, and softens fabrics.
Can I really wash clothes without detergent?
You can wash a very small load when you have run out of laundry detergent using hot water, long wash cycles, and air drying. Add a laundry booster like baking soda or vinegar to the wash and rinse water for best results.
What is the natural laundry detergent recipe?
A simple homemade detergent is 1 cup baking soda, 1 cup vinegar, and 1/2 cup Castile soap or grated bar soap. Mix ingredients well and use 1/4 cup per load. Add essential oils for scent.
Is it better to use powder or liquid detergent?
Liquid detergent is the best high-efficiency detergent for HE machines since it produces fewer suds. The powder can be used in standard machines but may leave more detergent residue. Test small amounts and adjust to your machine.
Will lemon juice remove stains?
Yes, lemon juice can help remove some organic stains and whiten fabrics. Let clothes soak in a diluted lemon juice solution before washing. Avoid using lemon juice on delicates as the acidity can damage materials.
What is the best effective laundry detergent alternative for HE washers?
Look for low-sudsing liquid options like Castile soap. Start with 1-2 tbsp per load. Vinegar in the rinse cycle is also recommended for HE machines to prevent residue buildup. Always run an extra rinse.