13 Laundry Detergent Alternatives You Can Try

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Out of laundry detergent? These alternatives will save the day.

Do you need laundry detergent alternatives because you’re going for a more eco-friendly approach? Or have you just opened your cupboard to find you’ve got no detergent left? Either way, there’s no need to panic.

Thankfully, many alternative laundry detergent solutions will get your clothes clean, fresh and stain-free without a mad dash to the supermarket. You’ve probably got at least a couple of these amazing items in your home right now.


13 Laundry Detergent Alternatives

Store-bought laundry detergents might be effective. But the problem is, we don’t really know what’s in them. Not only do they contain toxic chemicals, but it’s also a lot of plastic waste.

If you have sensitive skin or a desire to minimize your carbon footprint, these alternatives may be just what you need. Plus, you will save money in the long run with these DIY solutions!

1. Baking Soda

The trusty baking soda will come to your rescue many times in the domestic world. It isn’t just a handy thing to have for baking, but it’s powerful as a cleaning agent, too.

Baking soda works by neutralizing acid, no matter where it comes from (i.e. batteries, vomit, urine), to clean your clothes (1). Other benefits include:

  • Cleaning clothes well: Baking soda is an amazing detergent, as well as a powerful stain remover. It naturally breaks up stains to get them out of clothes.
  • Rids odor: If you have a sweaty sports bra or dirty socks that need deodorizing, reach for your baking soda.
  • Doesn’t damage fabric: The harsh chemicals in your store-bought detergent or fabric softener can wear down fabrics. Baking soda, though, does not.

How to Use Baking Soda As Detergent

Put one cup of baking soda directly onto the clothes or into the dispenser. Then wash normally, with warm or hot water, depending on the fabrics.

Additional Specs

TypeBrightener, cleaner, stain remover
FabricWhites, colors, any fabric
WashMachine or hand wash
StainAny stain, including acidic ones

2. Borax

Borax, like baking soda, is a great thing to have in the house for emergency situations. For a deep clean of your laundry, this is a great detergent alternative.

Due to its high pH, Borax creates an “alkaline water” for your clothes which leaves them clean and odor-free (2). Borax removes soap residue, stains, and brightens white clothes.

Using Borax for Laundry

To use Borax on laundry day, add ½ cup directly onto the clothes or into the dispenser. Wash normally at a hot or warm temperature, depending on the fabrics.

Additional Specs

TypeCleaner, brightener and odor remover
FabricWhites, colors, any fabric
WashMachine or hand wash
StainSmelly stains, including urine

3. Powdered Oxygen Bleach

Chlorine bleach is not ideal, especially for sensitive skin, and for environmentally conscious folk. However, oxygen bleach is a wonderful alternative.

Powdered oxygen bleach has the ability to:

  • Remove tough stains: Powdered oxygen bleach can work at stains without damaging your clothes.
  • Disinfect: It’s amazing to find a great detergent alternative that can clean, remove stains and disinfect. Powdered oxygen bleach has incredible anti-microbial qualities which disinfects your laundry (3).
  • Be gentle: Powdered oxygen bleach is perfect for delicate items, such as underwear and baby clothes.
  • Brighten clothes: Whites or colors, powdered oxygen bleach is perfect for brightening all clothes.

Using Oxygen Bleach for Laundry

Add ½ cup of powdered oxygen bleach to the washer drum before adding the clothes. Once the clothes have been added, wash the clothes at any temperature, but warm or hot water is preferred.

Warning

Don’t use on silk or wool.

Additional Specs

TypeDisinfectant, stain remover, brightener
FabricWhites, colors, delicate fabrics, including baby clothes. Don’t use on silk or wool.
WashWashing machine
StainOrganic or dirt stains

4. Shampoo

In an emergency situation, run to the bathroom and grab that shampoo bottle. This shouldn’t be used every time, as it’s obviously intended for hair. But if you’re stuck for ideas, then try out shampoo.

We do recommend using a gentle shampoo, such as baby shampoo. Definitely do not use a shampoo conditioner combo or a shampoo that tints your hair. You don’t want to end up with colored whites!

How to Use Shampoo for Laundry

Shampoo should be used for handwashing clothes. For a sink full of water, use one teaspoon of shampoo. Use more for larger basins of water. Mix first, before adding clothes. Hand wash as normal. If the item is heavily soiled, first soak for 30 minutes.

Additional Specs

TypeCleaner
FabricAny
WashHand wash
StainDirt or grime

5. Bar Soap

Grab a bar soap as a laundry detergent alternative! Most of us have bar soaps in the house already, so this is perfect if you’re stuck in a pickle with no laundry detergent.

Keep in Mind

Don’t use a bar soap that has oils or skin softeners as this can stain your clothing.

How to Use Bar Soap as Detergent

Simply grate some of the soap into hot water before hand-washing items. You can even rub stains with the bar soap. Hand wash as normal.

One more thing: if you use a fragranced soap, your clothes will smell amazing after they’ve dried.

Additional Specs

TypeStain remover, deodorizer, cleaner
FabricAny
WashHand wash
StainGeneral stains

6. Body Wash and Hand Wash

There’s no reason to fear running out of laundry detergent. There are so many things in your bathroom that you can use, including body or hand wash.

Please note:

  • Hand washing only: If you put body wash, hand wash or shampoo in the washing machine, it will lather a lot because of the sulfates. This can be damaging to your machine. Therefore, only use body wash or hand wash when hand washing your clothes.
  • No moisturizers, no oils: When choosing a body or hand wash to use as an alternative, read the ingredients. If there are moisturizers or oils, don’t use them on your clothes as they can cause stains.

Using Body or Hand Wash for Laundry

Add a small amount (about a teaspoon) to hot water and hand wash as normal.

Additional Specs

TypeCleaner
FabricAny
WashHand wash
StainDirt, grime; not a useful stain remover

7. Aquaball Laundry Balls

If you have an Aquaball laundry ball in your cupboard, it’s a great laundry detergent alternative. One Aquaball can do up to 60 washes!

Aquaball Laundry Balls are:

  • Kind to your skin and free from chemicals
  • Gentle on clothes
  • Good for minimizing color fading
  • Convenient

How to Use Aquaball Laundry Balls

Add it to your machine drum on top of your clothes and the water will do the work.

Additional Specs

TypeDisinfectant, brightener
FabricAny
WashWashing machine
StainIt does not remove stains

8. Washing Soda

Washing soda and baking soda might be related, but washing soda is the stronger of the two. They have different chemical makeups. Washing soda is better for removing stubborn stains because of its high alkaline compound (4).

You can buy washing soda, or you can make your own washing soda from baking soda. Isn’t that cool?

To utilize washing soda on laundry day, it’s best to use it as a pre-soak. Mix two spoonfuls of washing soda in a gallon of warm water. Add the stained clothes and let them soak before washing them normally in your machine.

Additional Specs

TypeStain remover
FabricBest for cotton, preferably white. Shouldn’t be used on silk or wool.
WashPre-soak in basin
StainGrease, blood, tea, coffee

9. Vodka

Vodka isn’t only useful for a fun night in with the girls. It’s good for cooking, cleaning and as a solution on laundry day.

If you need to freshen up clothes, a vodka solution is the way to go.

What does vodka actually do? First, it freshens your clothes. Second, it actually disinfects your clothes because of the ethyl alcohol. Lastly, it removes odors without leaving an alcohol scent behind.

Using Vodka as Laundry Detergent

Mix one part vodka and one part water in a spray bottle. Turn the clothes inside out and hang up before spraying with your vodka solution. Place in a well-ventilated area to air dry.

Additional Specs

TypeFreshener, disinfectant, odor remover
FabricMost fabrics, but avoid dark and bright colors, and leather
WashSpritz on dry clothes
StainDoes not remove stains

10. OXY-Prime

When actively looking for an laundry detergent alternative, you should definitely consider OXY-Prime. It’s non-toxic, eco-friendly, and powerful in the laundry room.

OXY-Prime can do the following:

  • Clean clothes.
  • Remove stains.
  • Remove spots.
  • Work on all types of fabrics.
  • Work at all temperatures.

Using OXY-Prime for Laundry

Oxy-Prime is a powder, so it can go directly onto your clothes or through the detergent dispenser. Follow the instructions on the bottle to measure out the right amount for your load.

Additional Specs

TypeCleaner and stain remover
FabricAny
WashWashing machine
StainDiapers, coffee, grass, blood, popsicles. Basically any stain!

11. Vinegar

The best vinegar to use in the laundry room is distilled white vinegar since it does not stain. That being said, once you have introduced vinegar to your laundry routine, you’ll never look back! Vinegar is an amazing alternate laundry detergent as well as a stain remover, brightener, and deodorizer.

The acid in vinegar removes stains and thoroughly cleans clothes without damaging them. More benefits of white distilled vinegar include:

  • Removing residue: Soap residue, sweat residue, you name it. White vinegar is wonderful for removing residue, even on dark clothing.
  • Removing mildew: White vinegar can quickly tackle mildew that has grown on damp clothing.
  • Removes pet hair: Say goodbye to the long blonde hairs your golden retriever leaves behind on all your clothes, because white vinegar can remove it! White vinegar also prevents pet hair and lint from sticking to your clothes.
  • Removes bad odors: Smoke, sweat, dampness, be gone! You’ve got to keep a bottle of white distilled vinegar in your cupboard for quick removal of bad odors.
  • Softens clothing: You can actually pour vinegar into the fabric softener dispenser of your washing machine. This is an eco-friendly and non-toxic way to soften clothes, without leaving residue behind.
  • Disinfectant: Okay, vinegar, we get it. You’re amazing. This is a great alternative to laundry detergent because it disinfects, too.

How to Use Distilled White Vinegar

  1. Measure ½ cup: Measure out ½ cup of white distilled vinegar.
  2. Add to machine: For a normal cycle, use white vinegar as you would your normal detergent. For a rinse cycle, add the ½ cup of vinegar to the fabric softener dispenser or directly into the machine.

For removing stains or whitening clothes, try this:

  1. Measure one cup: Measure one cup of distilled white vinegar.
  2. Fill up a large basin: With boiling water, fill up a large basin that can fit the items you want to work on. Add your cup of distilled white vinegar.
  3. Add your clothes: Now, add your white clothes to the basin and cover, if possible.
  4. Soak overnight: Allow the clothes to soak overnight.
  5. Wash as normal: The next day, wash the clothes as normal.

Take Note

Soaking overnight only applies to 100% cotton fabrics.

Additional Specs

TypeDisinfectant, cleaner, stain and odor remover, brightener
FabricAny (only 100% cotton for overnight soaking)
WashWashing machine and hand wash
StainSweat, mildew, food, drink, grass, blood, crayon, vomit, etc.

12. Soap Nuts

Soap nuts are becoming increasingly popular in the world of non-toxic cleaning products as they are 100% natural.

If you have sensitive skin, soap nuts are the way forward for you.

Soap nuts have been a natural detergent option for a very long time in India and China (5).

But why should you use soap nuts?

  • Multiple uses: If you’re looking for a reusable alternative to laundry detergent, try soap nuts. They can be used a few times before you compost them. There is no waste when it comes to soap nuts.
  • No synthetic chemicals: Because of their natural origin, these are non-toxic and chemical-free.
  • Allergies: If you have allergies, try soap nuts. They’re safe, and good for those with sensitive skin.
  • Multiple uses: They’re great for cleaning clothes, but also your hair and body!
  • Baby clothes: If you have a young child or baby, soap nuts are a perfect option for you, as they are harmless and good for delicate skin.

How to Use Soap Nuts for Laundry

To use, put them in a fabric bag and throw directly into the washing machine drum with your clothes. Use warm water so that the soap nuts can lather well to clean the clothes.

Additional Specs

TypeDetergent, stain remover, disinfectant
FabricAny fabric that can be washed warm or hot
WashWashing machine
StainDirt, oil, grime

13. Lemon Juice

Our final laundry detergent alternative is (drum roll, please)… lemon juice! I always like to pick up extra lemons at the store every week to have in case of emergencies.

Benefits of lemon juice include:

  • Removes stains: The acid in lemon juice is a great natural stain remover.
  • Brightens whites: The acid also makes white clothes bright again.
  • Safe for colors: It’s hard to find an option that works for both whites and colors, but lemon juice will do the trick.
  • Removes rust: Rust was a near-impossible stain to remove until lemon juice came along! Now you can easily get out rust stains if you apply lemon juice to the stain immediately and toss it into the wash.
  • Cleans clothes: Of course, lemon juice also cleans your clothes as a perfect alternative to regular laundry detergent.

How to Use Lemon Juice for Laundry

  1. Squeeze those lemons: Take a few lemons and squeeze the juice out.
  2. Apply to clothes: To remove stains, apply the lemon juice directly to clothes, work it in and then wash as normal.
  3. Make a paste: For using lemon juice as a detergent alternative, you need to make a paste first. Mix together lemon juice and salt. Quantities don’t matter — just eyeball it!
  4. Add clothes to the washing machine: Put your clothes into the machine first.
  5. Add your paste: You can add your paste directly to your clothes or through the dispenser if you’d rather.
  6. Wash as normal: Wash your clothes as normal according to the care label instructions.

Use Fresh Lemons

Fresh lemons are safer than store-bought lemon juice, as the latter probably has artificial coloring.

Additional Specs

TypeCleaner, stain remover, brightener
FabricAny fabric
WashWashing machine or hand wash
StainRust, mildew, mold, juice, food

Love Your Laundry Detergent Alternatives

Next time you go to the store, you can skip the detergent section altogether. Instead, get some lemons, distilled white vinegar, or maybe some laundry balls.

These make for a more eco-friendly and non-toxic solution to washing your clothes, removing stains and deodorizing your wardrobe.

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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!
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