How To Disinfect Laundry (With & Without Bleach)

What’s the deal with disinfecting laundry?

Using a washing machine is a basic part of household chores. You’ve got to clean your clothes. But disinfecting your laundry is another story.

Your washing machine loosens and removes dirt from clothes. If you’re lucky, a general wash will erase stains from mud, food or grass.

But your washing machine and generic washing liquid don’t sanitize your clothes. For that, you’ll need to know how to disinfect laundry.

How to disinfect laundry with white vinegar

  1. Use white vinegar: Not normal or apple cider vinegar.
  2. Use it in a regular cycle: Add anywhere between ¼ cup and ½ cup in a regular wash or a rinse cycle.
  3. Wash: Run the washer at any temperature.

Do You Need to Disinfect Laundry?

If you want to prevent illnesses spreading, yes. If you need to sanitize clothes after an unfortunate flood or mold outbreak, yes.

Brace yourself for some pretty disgusting – but important – facts.

According to a Time article, “A single gram of fecal matter contains millions of viruses, and exposure to just a hundred of those viruses can make you sick” (1).

Surprisingly, the average person has one-tenth of a gram of fecal matter on their underwear. This, in turn, spreads to 90% of the other items when put in a washing machine.

You might be thinking, “Well, I’ll just wash my clothes separately from my housemate’s.”

Think again. According to the article, “You’re not even safe if you wash your sick housemate’s clothing separately from your own, since his germs will hang out in the washer even after the clothing is gone.”

All in all, the only way to prevent the spread of illnesses is to disinfect your laundry.

How to Disinfect Laundry With Bleach

Bleach is an effective way to kill bacteria and stop the spreading of illnesses. However, be careful when using bleach on colored items because it can discolor certain clothes.


Bleach cannot be used on many clothes. Make sure to look out for the symbols on your clothing labels.

Bleach laundry symbols

What You’ll Need

Using Bleach to Disinfect Laundry

  1. Choose the right bleach: Make sure your bleach has between 5.25 and 6.15 percent of sodium hypochlorite. We recommend this bleach.
  2. Read clothing labels: Bleach works in cold, warm or hot washes, but the temperature of the water could affect your clothes.
  3. Add bleach before clothes: For a regular size load of lightly soiled laundry, add ¾ cup of bleach to the bleach dispenser. If this isn’t possible, add bleach to the machine as it’s filling up with water, before the laundry has been added. For heavily soiled clothes, use 1 ¼ cup of bleach instead.
  4. Then, add detergent: Add the normal amount of detergent to the wash.
  5. Wash: Run the cycle.

The bleach will remove up to 99.9% of germs and bacteria. It’s also a great idea to make sure your washing machine gets a good clean every few washes to prevent further spreading of illnesses.

How to Disinfect Laundry Without Bleach

Of course, bleach works best for white clothes. So, if you’re wondering how to kill germs and bacteria on your dark work uniform, or your little black dress, look no further than this list!


Borax is a great alternative to bleach since it’s a disinfectant and antifungal.

  1. Read clothing labels: Since Borax works best with hot water, make sure you only use on clothes that can be washed at hot temperatures.
  2. Add Borax to detergent: For a regular load, add ½ cup of Borax to your detergent. Mix beforehand for a good consistency so it doesn’t block your dispenser. Or, you can insert it into the machine with the clothes.
  3. Wash your clothes hot: Make sure to do a hot wash cycle. Don’t use Borax on a rinse cycle, and don’t use cool or warm water.


Don’t mix Borax with vinegar or lemon juice. Please keep away from small children and pets since Borax is toxic if consumed.

Essential Oils

Essential oils are wonderful for many reasons. But not many know that they’re great for sanitizing your laundry. Simply add them to the fabric conditioner dispenser in your machine, or straight to the load during the wash. Essential oils, unless naturally very dark in color, should not stain or damage your clothing, so don’t worry about that.

The following essential oils work particularly well for sanitizing laundry:

  • Pine oil: Add 1 cup of pine oil to your wash. The more you use, the cleaner your laundry will be! But don’t use pine oil on silk or wool. Pine oil has a distinct smell, so you might want to do an extra rinse to get the lingering smell out.
  • Tea tree oil: 100% tea tree oil is an effective laundry disinfectant. To disinfect clothes, add 2 teaspoons of tea tree oil to your load.
  • Lavender oil: is antibacterial, antifungal and antiseptic. Add 10 drops to each load and voila, blast bacteria away!
  • Thyme oil: is powerful when it comes to disinfecting. It’s known to kill E. coli and MRSA (2). Make sure you buy thyme oil that is twice distilled and don’t use if pregnant. To use for sanitizing clothes, add about 1 teaspoon or less to your load.

Keep In Mind

Be cautious if you have young children, are pregnant, or have pets, as essential oils can be allergenic and sometimes, toxic.


You can definitely try out Pine-Sol as an alternative to bleach. Plus, it’s a great product to have in the house for other cleaning chores, such as cleaning carpets or glass.

Besides its lovely scent, Pine-Sol kills 99.9% of germs and bacteria (3). You can use this product to get out stains, but if you want to disinfect your laundry, follow these steps:

  1. Check your clothes: Only use on white or colorfast fabrics.
  2. Add your clothes: Put your laundry in the washing machine first.
  3. Add Pine-Sol: Add ½ cup of Pine-Sol to your laundry, either via the dispenser or straight into the machine.
  4. Wash: Run the washer at your desired cycle and temperature.

White Vinegar

Vinegar is another powerful, non-toxic disinfectant — white vinegar especially. If you have kids and pets at home or just prefer less severe cleaning products, this might be a winner for you. You can use it as a mild disinfectant, or in a rinse cycle to get rid of soap build-up from your normal detergent.

Here’s how to disinfect laundry with white vinegar:

  1. Use white vinegar: Not normal or apple cider vinegar.
  2. Use it in a regular cycle: Add anywhere between ¼ cup and ½ cup in a regular wash or a rinse cycle.
  3. Wash: Run the washer at any temperature.

Hydrogen Peroxide

Hydrogen peroxide is a must-have product in the laundry room. Not only is an effective sanitizer, but it whitens and brightens clothes, and removes stains. Hydrogen peroxide has many amazing uses, but to disinfect laundry, follow these steps:

  1. Use 3% hydrogen peroxide: You can buy this in most drug stores.
  2. Spot test: Hydrogen peroxide works with whites and colors, but do a spot test first to make sure it doesn’t stain the fabric.
  3. Add 1 cup to the wash: Add to the detergent dispenser or straight into the load for a disinfecting clean.
  4. Wash: Run the washer as normal.

How to Disinfect Laundry With Heat

When it comes to household chores, you’ll soon find that heat is your friend. One time you can make heat work for you is when you need to sanitize your clothes. Some ways to do this include:

  • Wash temperature: Wash your clothes at the hottest temperature possible. But check the label on each garment first, because some clothes shrink or lose color in hot water.
  • Use your dryer: The heat from your dryer can kill bacteria that escaped the washing machine, especially if you wash your clothes in cold water.
  • Iron your clothes: Prolonged exposure to the high heat from an iron will kill pathogens.
  • Try a steamer: To further sanitize your laundry, try a handheld steamer. Simply wave it over your clothes to kill bacteria and get out wrinkles. It’s a win-win!

Does the Dryer Disinfect Clothes?

We used to rely on our radiators, fans and sunny days to dry our clothes. However, a lot of the time, our clothes would smell musty and damp.

Ever since we got our beloved tumble dryer, our clothes have been so much cleaner! Plus, they smell lovely.

That’s because your dryer actually kills pathogens. Even a 30-minute cycle in a hot tumble dryer can do a wonderful job at disinfecting your laundry (4).

If you want to save energy though, you can always hang your clothes outside in the sun to dry, since the UV light is a natural disinfectant for laundry!

How Do You Disinfect Colored Clothes?

Borax, white vinegar and some other laundry detergent alternatives shared will help you to disinfect your colored clothes. You can be sure you won’t lose the brightness and pigment of your favorite pieces.

The ones to stay away from when disinfecting colors are:

  • Bleach.
  • Hydrogen Peroxide (unless a spot test proves otherwise).

The rest are safe to use, but always make sure you read the label on your clothes to know which temperature to use for individual garments.

Does Vinegar Sanitize Laundry?

Yes! White vinegar will disinfect your laundry because of its acidic quality. As well as sanitizing, it deodorizes and keeps colors bright (5). So, next time you do laundry, add some white vinegar and watch the magic happen.

Time to Sanitize

It’s a good idea to disinfect your laundry from time to time, especially during the cold and flu season. If anyone in your home has been ill, then try any of these tips to disinfect your clothes. This may prevent the illness from spreading to more family members or even to friends outside the home.

It’s effortless, easy and affordable to sanitize your clothes, so don’t skip this step next laundry day.

Headshot of Beth McCallum

About the Author

Beth McCallum

Beth McCallum is a 20-something freelance writer & book blogger with a degree in creative writing, journalism and English literature. Beth firmly believes that a tidy house is a tidy mind. She is always looking for new ways to sustainably clean and tidy her house, that's kind on the environment but effective in the house, too!