Vinegar seems to have an endless array of uses in the household, and laundry is one of them.
Using white vinegar in laundry to replace traditional harsh chemical softeners isn’t a new fad, either. People have been using vinegar in their laundry for decades to help soften, whiten, brighten, and reduce odors – all naturally.
The good thing about vinegar is that it is eco-friendly and safe for the environment. That also means that it is safe to use in households with septic tanks. It can even be used in high-efficiency washers.
But why use white vinegar over commercial fabric softener? There are a few reasons…
Why You Should Avoid Fabric Softener
Traditional fabric softeners are loaded with chemicals, particularly fragrance, which acts as a major threat to our central nervous system.
The fragrance in most cleaners and household products is actually a mixture of several dozen to several hundred chemicals. None of these chemicals have to be disclosed, because of the rules surrounding the umbrella term “fragrance”.
Some of the most harmful ingredients in dryer sheets and liquid fabric softener alike include benzyl acetate, benzyl alcohol, ethanol, limonene, and chloroform, among others. These chemicals have been linked to and/or are known carcinogens (1✓)✓ Trusted ResourcePubMed CentralHighly respected database from the National Institutes of HealthRead source, neurotoxins (2✓)✓ Trusted ResourcePubMed CentralHighly respected database from the National Institutes of HealthRead source, central nervous system disruptors (3✓)✓ Trusted ResourcePubMed CentralHighly respected database from the National Institutes of HealthRead source, and respiratory tract irritants (4✓)✓ Trusted ResourcePubMed CentralHighly respected database from the National Institutes of HealthRead source.
These chemicals reduce the quality of air inside the home, which we then breathe in day in, day out.
By contributing to indoor air pollution, these chemicals can exacerbate allergies and weaken lung function.
The worst thing about these chemicals is that they’re built to last. That’s why you can still smell the fragrance on clothes for weeks at a time.
In addition to the previously aforementioned health conditions, these chemicals can also contribute to headaches, lightheadedness, fatigue, and serious organ damage.
So if vinegar does essentially the same job as a fabric softener, then why not use this inexpensive and hypoallergenic alternative?
How Does Adding Vinegar to Laundry Work?
Vinegar comes from a fermented liquid. When naturally-occurring bacteria called acetobacters combine with oxygen over time, the liquid turns into acetic acid, also known as vinegar. The same thing happens when a bottle of wine is left open for too long.
It is the acetic acid in vinegar that makes it such an effective cleaning agent.
There are several types of vinegar you can choose from, but distilled white vinegar is the best option for doing laundry. It is less acidic than other vinegar, so it is gentle, yet strong enough to dissolve detergent, odors, or chemical residues.
It is best to stay away from cider vinegar, as these contain tannins (natural plant dyes) that could stain your clothes.
12 Reasons to Use Vinegar in Laundry
Using vinegar in your laundry is cheap and eco-friendly. It is also beneficial for a variety of reasons, other than just softening clothes!
Here are 12 ways that vinegar can improve the state of your laundry 10-fold:
1. Natural Softener
Adding vinegar to your laundry cycles will leave your clothes and towels feeling soft and fluffy again. Vinegar leaves no residue on your fabrics, unlike many fabric softeners.
To soften your clothes, add 1/2-1 cup of vinegar to the softening dispenser or to the final rinse cycle.
2. Brighten and Whiten Clothes
Vinegar is strong enough to dissolve residues left by soaps and detergents, while at the same time being gentle enough to not destroy fabrics.
Adding just half a cup of vinegar to the final rinse cycle or to the fabric softener dispenser will make your clothes brighter and whiter.
3. Reduce Cling and Lint
To prevent lint and pet hair from sticking to your clothes, add just 1/2 cup of vinegar to the fabric softener dispenser just before the last rinse cycle. This will also help get rid of excessive lint that might occur if you accidentally wash dark fabrics with lint-producing towels.
4. Natural Deodorizer
Vinegar is a great natural deodorizer. If you feel your clothing smells like mildew or simply doesn’t smell the greatest, vinegar can destroy the bacteria that cause these smells.
In general, adding 1/2-1 cups of vinegar to the rinse cycle of your washing machine will be enough to get rid of unpleasant odors. For smells that are particularly strong, you can pre-soak them in one cup of vinegar mixed with cold water for twenty minutes before washing.
To get rid of cigarette or cigar smoke odor, add 1/2 cup of distilled white vinegar to the wash cycle. You can also pre-soak the items to make more of a lasting effect.
Vinegar can even be used to remove the smell of heavy smoke odors from small household fires like kitchen fires.
5. Remove Perspiration Odors and Stains
If you find that clothing has strong perspiration odors and yellow stains under the armpit area, you can fill a spray bottle with pure distilled white vinegar and spray it directly onto the problem area. Let it sit for at least 10 minutes before adding the garment to the washing machine.
6. Hypoallergenic Alternative
Vinegar is a great alternative to conventional fabric softeners that use harsh-chemicals in their formulations. It is earth-friendly, reduces allergies, and is perfect for sensitive skin.
Many people who have sensitive skin can’t use laundry detergents or fabric softeners, as they will leave them with an allergic rash called contact dermatitis. If you experience this, but don’t yet know what is causing it, it could be your detergent or softener.
A lot of fabric softeners and laundry detergents are also quite harmful to the environment, so if you’re looking to be more enviro-conscious, it would be wise to switch over to vinegar.
7. Keep Dark Clothing Dark
If you have any soap or detergent residue on your black garments, you can add 1/2 cup of white vinegar to the final rinse cycle of your machine to help remove it. This should help bring out the darker hues and prevent your clothing from looking dull.
8. Reduce Static
Vinegar will not only soften your clothes, but it will help reduce some of the static as well. This means you can also skip the toxic dryer sheets that come with a host of negative health effects, too.
While washing your clothes, add 1/2 cup of vinegar to the fabric softener compartment on the last rinse cycle.
9. Kill Bacteria
Vinegar is naturally anti-bacterial so it can kill the odor-causing bacteria on your clothing and other fabrics. If you have any odors that stick around even after a rinse with vinegar, try soaking them in a 1:1 mix of vinegar and water overnight. The acids in the vinegar will break away and eat at the bacteria, making your fabrics softer and smelling better.
10. Extends Clothing Life
Traditional fabric softeners made with harsh chemicals will eat away at your fabrics over time, making them dull and lifeless. Vinegar, on the other hand, is more gentle and doesn’t break down the threads as quickly. This means that you can extend the life of your clothing and towels simply by switching to vinegar!
11. Prevent Bleeding of Colors
Vinegar helps prevent the bleeding of colors by “catching colors” in the event that you have to wash colors together. It can actually avert the bleeding of colors onto other fabrics.
Add 1 cup of vinegar to the rinse cycle to help hold in colors instead of having them bleed out.
12. Cleaner Washing Machine
If you want a cleaner and better-smelling washing machine, vinegar can help you achieve that. The cool thing is, is that this effect will occur naturally when you use it in your laundry. Alternatively, you can use it on its own to clean the machine.
A cleaner washing machine will reduce soap scum and mineral deposits that can build up in the lines and hoses of your washer.
Every couple of months you can do a main clean with vinegar by running a complete wash cycle with hot water and 2 cups vinegar.
How to Use Vinegar in Laundry
Adding vinegar to your laundry depends on what you’re trying to achieve. In most cases, all you need to do is pour vinegar or a mixture of vinegar and water directly into your washer as it fills with water.
Never pour vinegar directly on fabrics.
To clean your clothes, pour 1/2 cup of distilled white vinegar into your washing machine in replacement of detergent you’d normally use.
To soften or de-static your clothes, add 1 cup of distilled white vinegar to the softening dispenser. Alternatively, you can also add it once your load of laundry reaches its last rinse cycle.
To pre-treat stains, dilute 1/2 cup of vinegar in a gallon of water, and apply it directly to the stains on your fabrics. Then wash as you normally would.
To get rid of odors, add 1 cup of vinegar directly to the washing basin during the rinse cycle, or use it in replacement of regular detergent. Add another cup of vinegar to the rinse cycle for stronger odors.
To brighten clothes, add your vinegar to the bleach dispenser.
To clean your machine, add 1 cup of vinegar into your washer and run it without loading any clothes. This will remove the residue from the machine’s loading bin.
Precautions When Using Vinegar in Laundry
There are a few precautions you need to take when using vinegar in laundry machines and on the clothes themselves.
Be sure to keep the following in mind when using vinegar for your laundry:
- Detergent and vinegar can be used one after the other but never mixed. If you are using detergent, then add the vinegar to the rinse cycle after the detergent has cleared. Otherwise, your clothes may end up oily.
- If cleaning delicate fabrics, be careful about the concentration of vinegar you are using. Make sure it is not higher than 5% acetic acid, or avoid altogether.
- Check with the manufacturer of your washing machine before using vinegar. Some laundry machines are not made with materials that can withstand vinegar, so the vinegar may actually eat away at your machine. While this isn’t super common, it is something you should be aware of.
- Use vinegar sparingly. Some anecdotal reports have noted it clogging pipes and hoses and damaging machines in the long term.
The Bottom Line
Adding vinegar to your laundry is a safe and economical way to achieve similar results of commercial fabric softener but without the added chemicals. Vinegar added to laundry can whiten and soften clothes, reduce static and even clean your washing machine while you’re at it.
Loredana Zinca says
This is so helpful!! Yeah I really dislike the commercial detergents and fabric softeners. Just junk!! Our health matters!!
Jennifer del Barrio says
Thanks a lot for this article. It very practical and useful.
Carly Fraser says
Thanks Jennifer! Glad you found it useful.
mary cassil says
can you mix white vinegar and clorax together
Carly Fraser says
You probably shouldn’t, as vinegar is very caustic, and might react negatively with the clorox.
Nyrene Taylor says
Hi, can you add pure lavender essence to white vinegar in any of the cycles? I was wondering if adding to the rinse cycle it would leave a slight fragrance. Thx
Carly Fraser says
Yes, you can! Just add a drop or two.
Very interesting and useful, thanks!
I’ve been using vinegar to clean everything for a very long time. Am I damaging my appliances. They say using vinegar in your appliances is hard on them especially the drain pipes in your dishwashers and washing machines is that true?
Carly Fraser says
I’ve been using it forever without issue. I think if you were to let it sit for a long time it might damage but short exposure should be fine.
I’ve been using 1/4 cup white vinegar instead of fabric softener for several years and I love how my towels feel. BUT recently my machine started putting spots or streaks on my sheets and light colored clothing! Repair man just left and the vinegar caused the bolts to rust and break down in the softener dispenser! So it should be added to the bowl in the rinse cycle instead of the softener dispenser. I don’t want to quit using it but it will be an effort to add at the right time. Glad I have a top loader.
Carly Fraser says
Thanks for the tip Wanda!