If you’re looking to pre-treat stains, soften clothes or banish odors from dirty clothes but want to avoid harsh chemicals, then vinegar may be your new best friend.
Using Vinegar for Laundry
Vinegar serves as an alternative to harsh laundry chemicals like bleach. But why? White vinegar is comprised of about 5 percent acetic acid and 95 percent water. “The acid in vinegar is too mild to harm fabrics, but strong enough to dissolve the alkalis in soaps and detergents,” according to the Vinegar Institute. (Yep, it’s a real nonprofit serving the vinegar industry!)
While you can use other vinegars like apple cider, distilled white vinegar is an inexpensive and effective choice. You can pick up a large jug for around $2 at most grocery stores and use it to brighten, soften and de-stink load after load of laundry.
Vinegar can be used in lieu of bleach, stain treatments and fabric softener; you’ll still want to use laundry soap in your machine. So, let’s look at some specific ways to try vinegar in your laundry room.
You can incorporate white vinegar into your regular laundry routine. “Clothes will rinse better if 1 cup of white distilled vinegar is added to the last rinse water,” the Vinegar Institute recommends.
Another option, if your machine has an automatic dispenser for soap, softener or bleach, is to simply add the vinegar to the dispenser. That way, it will automatically dispense at the right time.
As an added bonus, vinegar is a natural disinfectant that is effective against certain types of bacteria (1). Commercially available white vinegar that contains 5 percent acetic acid kills about 80 percent of germs, studies show (2).
If you find yourself constantly reaching for the stain remover, consider making your own DIY natural spot treatment. Simply mix equal parts vinegar and water, and add a few drops of an essential oil like lavender if desired. Keep on hand to pre-treat any stains.
For large stains, you may want to soak your clothing in about 2 ounces of white vinegar and enough water to cover the stain (3). Leave overnight. Wash with eco-friendly laundry soap.
For stubborn stains like sweat and coffee, you can add a bit of salt to your vinegar soak. Coarse salt is ideal but table salt works just as well. Gently blot the stain. Allow to dry in the sun, and then wash as usual.
Vinegar can even be used to remove rust stains from delicate fabrics like vintage lace (4). Soak the lace in cold water, rinsing several times. Next, gently hand-wash the lace with a wool detergent. Then, tackle rust spots using a mixture of white vinegar and hot water.
As with any cleansing agent, if you’re unsure about using vinegar on certain fabrics, test a drop on a tiny, inconspicuous spot first.
Clean Your Washing Machine
Front-load washers in particular can develop a musty odor over time. You have two vinegar-fix options here: Add two cups of vinegar and run a full hot-water cycle to de-gunk your washer. Or, simply add ¼ cup distilled white vinegar to every load for gunk prevention–and reap the benefits of softer, brighter laundry at the same time.
Ready to swap harsh chemicals for vinegar? One final word of caution: Be sure to read the user’s manual for your washing machine to make sure you’re following the manufacturer’s instructions for running your loads.