Laundry basket overflowing? Kids need clean clothes for school tomorrow? Or are you out of smart outfits for work? If it’s time to set the washing machine running but you’ve realized you’re clean out of laundry detergent, then we’re here to help.
Did you know that you don’t actually need your conventional and chemical-filled washing detergent to guarantee a deep clean of your family’s clothes? These 10 laundry detergent alternatives and hacks are here to come to you — and your washing machine’s — rescue.
We’ve proven the power of natural laundry detergents above, so you might be wondering why you’ve been bothering to buy conventional detergents all this time.
It’s a good question and one we started to ask ourselves a long time ago. The above solutions to running out of laundry detergent are short-term fixes that can wash a load but won’t necessarily leave your clothes feeling as fresh and clean as you might like.
So what’s an alternative that you can rely on and that won’t run out unexpectedly?
We created our own organic, eco-friendly, and chemical-free laundry detergent alternative from an organic cotton pouch that contains 120 grams of magnesium pellets. Yup, you read that correctly: just 120 grams of magnesium can pack the same cleaning punch as the traditional detergents you’ve probably been using — just without any of the nasty, potentially harmful chemicals and plastic waste, making it safe for all the family and even the most sensitive skin.
It’s called Hexawash and works thanks to a very clever bit of science. When magnesium pellets mix with water, they create two gases: hydrogen and magnesium. This reaction forms an alkaline solution of pH 10.5, which is the optimum pH for cleaning clothes (and actually the pH found in traditional detergents).
During this reaction, negative hydroxide ions are created, which, when inside your washing machine, reduces the surface tension of the water and begins to lift dirt and oil from your clothes. It’s powerful, and scientifically-based washing, that results in sparklingly clean and fresh-smelling laundry.
What’s more, the Hexawash lasts 300 washes, so you’ll never find yourself again rooting around the back of your pantry searching for vinegar, baking soda, or other storeroom essentials when you run out of detergent.
And, when it has reached the end of its lifespan, this green alternative to laundry detergent can be popped into your compost bin, where it’ll biodegrade back into the soil.
Downsides to this method: We can’t think of any! Not only do we think Hexawash is the best alternative to laundry detergent, but it’s a 100% natural way to clean your clothes, too.
2. Baking soda
Baking soda, aka sodium bicarbonate, is a naturally occurring substance that can do wonders for your laundry. Having long been used as an eco-friendly alternative to laundry detergent and in other cleaning processes around the home, baking soda is the obvious choice when you’ve run out of laundry detergent.
Because baking soda helps to break down the bacteria on clothes, thus lifting out odors, this is one of the best laundry detergent alternatives if you’ve got sportswear or kids’ clothes to wash.
So how can you use baking soda?
- Add half a cup of baking soda to your washing machine. You can add it in the washing machine drawer or straight into the drum.
- For natural fabric softening, add half a cup of white vinegar to the drawer when it hits the rinse cycle. Alternatively, use half a cup of lemon juice if that’s all you’ve got on hand.
Downsides to this method: Baking soda won’t give you the deepest clean — particularly when compared with other laundry detergent alternatives available — but is great if you’ve no other options.
3. White vinegar
It might seem like a strange — and smelly — addition to your laundry, but did you know that vinegar is a superb detergent substitute? Best of all, it’s one you’re likely to have in your pantry right now.
Vinegar is acidic and has antibacterial qualities, so it helps to lift away any stains and foul odors. A great thing about using vinegar to wash your clothes is that it won’t leave behind any residue — as conventional detergents are known to do — so you don’t have to worry about over-rinsing before drying.
So how do you use vinegar to wash your laundry?
- Put half a cup of distilled white vinegar into the detergent compartment of your washing machine and your clothes will come out clean, stain-free, and, most importantly, not smelling of vinegar!
Downsides to this method: Using white vinegar to replace laundry detergent or other natural cleaning products can wind up being costly in the long run, so this is a temporary laundry hack!
4. Lemon juice
Just like vinegar, lemons are acidic, making them perfect natural stain removers. However, for best results, ensure you’re using real lemon juice, as artificial lemon juice may contain colorants that can damage your clothes.
So how can you use lemon juice as a natural alternative to laundry detergent?
- Add half a cup of lemon juice to your load.
- Wash and dry as normal!
Lemons are also great for deep stain removal pre-washing: apply a mixture of ⅓ cup of lemon juice with ⅔ cup of water on the stain and gently rub until it starts to fade. Pop your clothes into the wash as above and voila, clean clothes!
Downsides to this method: You’ll need to have plenty of lemons in the house to produce enough lemon juice for a full load. This can also end up being a costly alternative to laundry detergents, you’ll want to avoid relying on it!
If you’re out of laundry detergent, then it’s likely you don’t have any borax available, either. But if you do, sodium tetraborate, as borax is scientifically known, is already found in many conventional detergents and so is a reliable substitute if you don’t have anything else.
A naturally-occurring mineral salt, borax has a pH level of 9.1, making it highly alkaline and good for fighting tough, acidic stains such as tomato or mustard. It’s normally used to pre-treat stained clothing, but in a pinch, it can work as the principal detergent in your washing machine.
So how can you use borax to wash your clothes?
- Add half a cup of borax into the drum of your washing machine.
- Wash and dry your clothes as usual.
Downsides to this method: There are concerns around borax due to its high alkaline level, which means it can cause irritation if it has contact with the skin in its undiluted form. As a result, you want to ensure that your clothes are rinsed thoroughly to avoid any residual borax hanging around.
6. Dishwashing soap or liquid
If you’re out of laundry detergent, there’s a chance you may well have dishwashing liquid at hand. So if you’re wondering whether dish soap can be used as a laundry detergent then the answer is yes — albeit with a bit of a catch.
The problem with dishwashing liquid is that it produces a large quantity of suds and foam when whisked together with water. This is fine when you’re running a washing-up bowl ready to hand clean dishes, or even handwash a couple of items of clothing; however, if you add dishwashing soap into your washing machine, the speed and force of the spinning drum can produce so much foam that it leaks out of your washing machine, causing water damage to your laundry room and potentially blocking your drains. As a result, you cannot use dishwashing liquid as a laundry alternative if you have a high-efficiency washer and you should only use a small amount even if you don’t.
On a secondary note, it’s worth being aware that suds are a product of the use of sodium Laureth sulfate (SLES) and sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) in detergents. These are foaming agents and, while there’s little proof that they pose a potential risk to humans, if they don’t wash out of your clothing, they can cause itching, so you’ll want to ensure that you rise your clothing fully if using any sort of dishwashing soap.
So how can you replace laundry detergent with dishwashing soap?
- Add two teaspoons of soap to the drum of your washing machine.
- When it reaches the rinse cycle, add half a cup of vinegar or lemon juice to help remove any residue that might be left over, as well as to act as a natural fabric softener.
Downsides to this method: Too much dishwashing soap can cause a real mess, so use it sparingly; we also recommend only using this method on colored clothing, not whites.
Out of either of the above? As with dishwashing liquid, shampoo can be used to substitute laundry detergent in an emergency. It’s great for handwashing and a go-to option if you’re traveling and only have a sink at your disposal.
However, you face the same issues of too much shampoo producing too many suds — and an expensive bill fixing your washing machine and your laundry room floor. Again, we wouldn’t recommend using shampoo in a high-efficiency washer.
How can you use shampoo to safely wash your clothes?
- Add two teaspoons of shampoo to the drum of your washing machine.
- When it reaches the rinse cycle, add half a cup of vinegar or lemon juice to the drawer to help remove any residue that might be left over and leave your clothes feeling itchy.
Downsides to this method: Laundry washed in shampoo can feel itchy against the skin if the clothes aren’t rinsed sufficiently. It can also cause suds to leak out of the washing machine during the wash cycle or go moldy or collect bacteria in the drum itself.
8. Body Wash
Body wash follows much the same rules as shampoo. Foaming agents found within body wash can cause it to overproduce suds when used inside a washing machine — and we’ve read above about the unintended, and sometimes costly, impact of that.
It’s also worth noting that your laundry will smell of whatever fragrance your body wash contains — so only use those scented with fragrances you’re happy to wear!
How can you wash your laundry with body wash?
- Add two teaspoons of body wash to the drum of your washing machine.
- When it reaches the rinse cycle, add half a cup of vinegar or lemon juice to help remove any residue that might be left over, which can leave your clothes feeling itchy.
Downsides to this method: If the clothes aren’t rinsed correctly, they may cause irritation to your skin. You can also damage your washing machine if the body wash produces too many suds and they leak.
9. A Bar of Soap
Everyone has a bar of soap on hand somewhere in their house. While this certainly isn’t the best method for washing your clothes without detergent, if you’re clean out of everything above, then it can save you from stained, smelling clothing.
Much like dishwashing detergent, shampoo, and body wash, bars of soap contain foaming agents, which can lead to a big mess in your washing machine, so err on the side of caution when using.
How can you use a bar of soap in your washing machine?
- Grate a cup of soap and mix it with hot water to dissolve.
- Add it to the washing machine detergent drawer.
- When it reaches the rinse cycle, add half a cup of vinegar or lemon juice to help remove any residue that might be left over and which can leave your clothes feeling itchy.
Downsides to this method: This method can cause your machine to produce too many suds and can leave clothes feeling itchy if they’re not rinsed thoroughly.
Ok, stick with us. This might seem completely bizarre, but vodka can help you “clean” your clothes if you’re absolutely desperate and completely out of the laundry substitutes above.
This is only a very short-term solution that works if you’ve got slightly smelly, but otherwise clean clothing, that needs a quick lease of life.
So how can you use vodka to refresh clothes?
- Mix equal amounts of vodka with water and put it into a spray container.
- Turn the clothing that needs refreshing inside out and spray it with the mixture. This will help remove odors.
Downsides to this method: This is only a temporary solution, but should give you enough time to go and buy some actual washing detergent!