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What Substitutes for Laundry Detergent Actually Work?

Jennifer L. Betts
Buried in a pile of laundry

Overwhelmed with the piles of laundry in need of washing, but can't get to the store to buy more detergent? At this point, you might give up and wait until tomorrow when you can buy some. However, if you need your laundry done now, all you have to do is look around your bathroom or kitchen for a laundry detergent substitute. Several items in your house can substitute laundry detergent when you're in a pinch.

Laundry Detergent Substitute Ingredients

When you need a laundry detergent substitute in a hurry, hit your pantry. For these laundry hacks, you'll need:

Vinegar and Baking Soda for Laundry

When you wonder what you can substitute for laundry detergent for your heavily stained or soiled clothing, you might want to reach for the vinegar and baking soda. Baking soda is also great for smelly clothes like your kid's sportswear. To use this laundry detergent hack:

  1. Add a half of a cup of baking soda to the wash cycle. For a bit more grease-fighting laundry power, add a pea-sized squirt of Dawn.

  2. Once you hit the rinse cycle, add a half of a cup of vinegar. This acts as a fabric softener.

Baking soda and vinegar

Baking Soda and Lemon Juice for the Laundry

Do you have baking soda and lemon juice but no vinegar? Well then, you're in luck. This combination can work to get your white and colored laundry clean.

  1. After measuring out a half of a cup of baking soda, add it to the wash cycle.

  2. During the rinse cycle, add about a half of a cup of lemon juice rather than vinegar.

For stubborn stains, you can even try adding lemon juice as a pre-treater before washing.

Baking soda and lemon

Dish Soap for Laundry Detergent

If you are in a bind, use dishwashing detergent like Dawn or Palmolive for colored clothing that doesn't require any special care. This method should be avoided in high-efficiency washers and remember, a dab will do you.

  1. To avoid excess bubbles and a massive mess in your laundry room, add a small squirt to the laundry. This is not even a capful.

  2. You might want to even add a half cup of vinegar to the rinse cycle to make sure that the powerful stain-fighting detergent all gets rinsed out.

dishwashing liquid

Shampoo as a Detergent Substitute for Colored Clothes

Like dish soap, a tiny amount of shampoo can be used on colored clothing when you are out of detergent. Use a gentle formula and practice extreme moderation. Shampoo tends to produce a lot of suds, which can be dangerous in a washing machine. Your clothes will get clean, but the rinse cycle might not be able to get all the soap out. And, you don't want suds running on to your floor. Therefore, a little goes a long way. It's going to vary by brand, but start with a small bottle cap squirt.

Shampoo bottles

Bar Soap Laundry Aid

Bars of soap can be used in place of detergent in a pinch, but it will take a bit of preparation.

  1. Take a vegetable peeler to cut some small shavings.

  2. Throw them in with your laundry.

You only want to use a few shavings because, like shampoo or dish soap, bar soap can produce a lot of suds. The suds will work great for cleaning your clothes, but they won't rinse out very well, making your clothing itchy. If you are afraid you used too much, run the clothes through an extra rinse cycle just in case.

Hand holding bar soap

Vinegar to Substitute Laundry Detergent

Distilled vinegar is an effective stain remover for soiled laundry when you don't have laundry detergent available. To do this, use a half of a cup of distilled white vinegar during the washing cycle. This will knock out stains and smells. And don't worry about that vinegar smell; once dry, your laundry smells fresh and clean.

Assortment of vinegars in bottles

Using Borax as Laundry Detergent

If you need an excellent all-around cleaner for clothes, Borax is the way to go. Not only can it whiten your whites, but it helps with hard water. While it is great to use in a pinch, you wouldn't want to use it all the time because it can make you itchy. To use Borax in your laundry:

  1. Add a half of a cup to a large load.

  2. Wash and dry as usual.

You can even use Borax to make homemade laundry detergent.

Cup of borax

Try Lemons to Whiten Your Whites and Colors

All out of soap? Check the fridge and see if you have any lemon juice or lemons. Lemon juice is excellent for brightening colors and whites and getting rid of smells. For this laundry hack:

  1. Add about a half of a cup of lemon juice to a regular size load. The acidic nature of lemon juice is also suitable for breaking up stains.

Lemon juice

Vodka for Delicate Laundry

Delicate laundry takes a special touch, but if you need to get rid of odors or stains in a jiff and don't have laundry detergent, you might reach for the vodka. This hack works best for delicates that aren't heavily soiled and need a bit of refreshing.

  1. Mix equal parts vodka and water in a spray bottle.

  2. Turn the clothing inside out and give it a little spritz.

  3. Allow it to dry and notice no more odors.

Bottle of vodka

Hydrogen Peroxide for White Laundry

Need to get your whites bright and stain-free? Then it's time to reach for the hydrogen peroxide.

  1. For a regular load, fill the washer with water.

  2. Add a cup of hydrogen peroxide.

  3. Run the cycle as usual.

Canister of hydrogen peroxide

Oxygen-Based Bleach Laundry Substitute

Another hack that's great for whites and colored clothes is oxygen-based bleach. For this laundry detergent substitute methods, simply:

  1. Add ½ cup of oxygen-based bleach to the drum.

  2. Add clothes and run the cycle as usual.

Oxygen-based belach

Natural Ways to Wash Clothes Without Detergent

You've all been there. You have to get your kid's basketball shorts clean for the game, and you have no detergent and no time. Never fear! Using these convenient products will help you toward clean and organized laundry in no time flat. You can even choose to use these alternatives when you aren't in a pinch as a more natural laundry detergent.

What Substitutes for Laundry Detergent Actually Work?