The Best Laundry Detergent Alternative

Which brand of laundry detergent do you use? Many people have a brand that they prefer, either for the scent or for how effective it is. Today, there are plenty of laundry detergent alternatives available, and there are also brand-name options like Bounce, Tide, Cheer, and Gain. But, what if none of these brands work well for you?

Maybe you’re not happy with how well these mainstread laundry detergents work, or they have far too strong of a scent. Maybe a family member has sensitive skin that gets irritated by the chemicals in the formula, or you’re simply looking for an eco-friendly way to clean your laundry without sacrificing how efficient it is. Today, you have many laundry detergent alternatives available that you can try. 

We’re going to outline several of the best laundry detergent alternatives that you have around your home or that you can purchase from a grocery store. The affordability and effectiveness can vary. We’re also going to go over a few myths that won’t work for you to help you save some money. 

1 Load of Laundry
Depending on your household size, you may find yourself doing multiple loads of laundry every day. This can take a toll on your wallet and on your washing machine if you use regular detergent.
Laundry by Celeste Lindell / CC BY 2.0

1. Baking Soda

Baking soda is a popular multipurpose cleaner that works well for everything from brushing your teeth and washing your hands to freshening up your refrigerator or carpet. When it comes to washing your clothes, using baking soda is great for helping remove oils and acids quickly and easily. Baking soda is also great at removing odors, and this makes it an ideal thing to use on bathing suits, towels, gym clothes, and undergarments. 

Additionally, this laundry detergent alternative is 100% safe to use in your washing machine. The chemical composition of this product won’t cause excessive suds to form when you mix it with cold or hot water. Also, it dissolves very easily in water, and this prevents it from forming buildup inside of the internal piping of the washing machine. 

This makes baking soda a great long-term laundry detergent alternative. A lot of people swear by this product, especially since it’s so affordable. If you’d like, you can also enhance it with essential oils as it’s scent-free. It’s safe to use on regular types of clothing, and it will leave them smelling like you used a traditional detergent. 

For availability, you can find baking soda sold in every grocery store, and you can even buy it in bulk online. You could also have some in your home already to bake with, so double-check your cupboards. 

How to Use It:

  • Start by adding ½ cup of baking soda during your wash cycle. When the rinse cycle hits, add another ½ cup of baking soda. If you have heavy odors, increase it to a full cup during the wash cycle. 

2. Bar Soap

It seems like bar soap should be a common laundry detergent alternative. However, it’s less than perfect in practice. It does remove some stains and odors, but it has a formulaic makeup that makes it foam up a huge amount. This makes it more risky to use in your standard washing machine. Instead, you should only use it when you hand wash your clothing. 

To hand wash using bar soap, you should wet the bar and apply it directly to any stains before you lather it up. It’s also necessary that you rinse it properly to prevent it from forming a white residue. If you want to use bar soap, you should find the most “gentle” type on the market. It shouldn’t dry out your skin or hands, and this should make it gentle enough on your clothing. 

How to Use It (Handwashing):

  • Soak laundry in warm water.
  • Lather soap bar and apply lightly to the clothing’s surface.
  • Rinse well.

3. Borax

Borax is an old-fashioned cleaner that has a history of use as carpet stain remover. This is a worthwhile laundry detergent alternative that has a very basic formula that can remove stains and odors from your bright clothing. Pet owners in particular swear by using this product to remove odors and colors caused by dog or cat urine stains. 

However, Borax has one big drawback. Even if you use it very sparingly in your washing machine, it usually leaves a white residue behind on your clothing and on the washing machine itself. You can easily rinse this residue away without a problem, but it adds another step in the cleaning process. If you choose to use Borax to clean your clothing, you can pick some up from the cleaning department. You can also order it in bulk. 

How to Use It:

  • Add a gallon of water with a tablespoon of Borax and pre-soak your laundry before you wash it. You can also add a ½ cup of Borax during your pre-wash cycle. 

4. Dish Washing Liquid

Depending on who you ask, this dish detergent alternative is either the worst or best choice you can make. Many people swear that it works just as well as normal laundry detergent while remaining easy to use and cheap. The same people also claim that they don’t get a huge amount of foaming when they use a modest amount during every load.

However, there are many washing machines that indicate that you shouldn’t use dish washing liquid in them. This is because dish washing liquid doesn’t have a high efficiency formula, and this means that they will bubble and foam up more than regular soap. In turn, this option can foam up and overflow the washing machine, and this can lead to a fantastic mess. 

So, it’s best to avoid dish washing liquid for this reason. However, you can use it if you want to hand wash your clothing. If you do, you only need a very modest amount in every load, about what you’d use when you wash dishes. Almost any type of dish washing liquid will work for this purpose, but a less acidic option tends to be much more gentle on your fabrics. 

How to Use It (Handwashing):

  • Get a tub of warm water and add several drops of dish washing liquid. Swish the water around and let it combine with the water before you add your clothing. Scrub the clothing and rinse them thoroughly. 

2 Dish Soap
Dish soap should be one of your last resorts when it comes to finding a laundry detergent alternative because it’s very easy to add too much and overflow the machine to create a mess.
Dish Soap by Sea Turtle / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

5. Lemon Juice

Lemon and lime juice is usually presented as a great laundry detergent alternative, and this is true to a certain extent. The pure lemon juice has a very acidic nature that works very well to loosen up the stains and brighten up your whites. You can enhance this process much more if you add some table salt. 

However, lemon juice does come with drawbacks. First, it can be difficult to get the amount of lemon juice you need to wash a whole family’s worth of clothing, even if you dilute it in water. This can make it a more expensive option upfront. Also, the strong acid content in the lemons can damage some of your fabrics over time, and it can bleach dark-colored fabrics. 

You can grow your own lemons or find them in most grocery stores all year-round. However, you never want to use artificial lemon juice to clean your laundry. Fake lemon juice can come with added colors that can cause staining when you use it to clean your clothing as a laundry detergent alternative. 

How to Use It:

  • Start by putting three cups of warm water in a bowl and dilute ⅓ of a cup of real lemon juice into it. Add it to the washing machine when the wash cycle kicks in. You can also add ⅓ cup of real lemon juice to the bleach dispenser if you have one. 

6. Oxy Prime

Oxy Prime is a newer laundry detergent alternative to hit the market, and the main selling point of this product is the natural formula. It doesn’t have any dyes, perfumes, fillers, or artificial brighteners in it. It also lacks phosphates, and it’s more eco-friendly than a standard laundry detergent. 

When it comes to effectiveness, this product is hit and miss. When it comes to standard cleaning processes, it’s effective at removing light stains and odors. However, any set-in stains are usually too strong for this slightly-weaker form of oxygen-boosted detergent. 

However, this could be a viable laundry detergent alternative if you have a family member that reacts to standard liquid detergents. This formula is hypoallergenic. However, not all stores stock it and you may have to look online. 

How to Use It:

  • Take a look at the package and follow the instructions to find out how much you should use per load. 

7. Oxygen-Based Bleach

This laundry detergent alternative has gained a lot of traction in the past few years, and OxiClean was a brand that had a host of charismatic commercials during the 2000s to help boost the popularity. It works on carpets and decking, so it should come as no surprise that it works well on clothing too. This product is safe to use on colored clothing, and it works to remove odors and stains. ‘

This product is also unique at a chemical level. Many of the formulas feature sodium percarbonate. Because of the composition of this product, it’s much more eco-friendly. It’s also a potent product, and you should only need to use roughly a tablespoon per gallon of water. You should note that these bleaches aren’t meant to work by themselves. Instead, you should use it as a pre-soak solution or a laundry booster. It can supplement traditional laundry detergent and increase how bright your white clothing is. 

You can find this laundry detergent alternative in a powdered form. However, it is usually much more expensive per unit to buy, and this makes it hard to justify buying it as a viable alternative. 

How to Use It:

  • Take a look at the package and follow the instructions to find out how much you should use per load. The amount you need will vary from brand to brand, depending on the ingredient concentration. 

8. Soap Nuts

Soap nuts are one of the oldest laundry detergent forms available, and they date way back to use in ancient times in China and India. They are a viable laundry detergent alternative today for anyone who wants to go all-natural. This is because the soap nuts don’t get treated in any way, but you add them directly to your laundry load. 

Soap nuts are also a great choice for people who have extreme allergies because they’re hypoallergenic. They won’t bother people who have nut allergies because the inner pulp has a unique nature. However, soap nuts aren’t the best thing you can use to remove odors or stains. They can do the job if you have some light washing to do, and you can usually order them online. 

How to Use It:

  • All you have to do is add six nuts to the porous bag you get and put it in the washing machine during your wash cycle. Remove it after the wash cycle finishes. 

9. Shampoo And Body Wash

If you don’t have another option, you could try to wash your clothing with body wash or shampoo. This can work in a pinch, but you don’t want to put them in the washing machine. If you do, you’ll cause excessive foaming, and this can overflow the unit and create a large mess. Instead, you should only use these liquid soaps in very small amounts when you hand wash your clothing. Then, you should rinse your clothes extremely well to stop the soap from clinging to the fabric and creating residue

Neither of these soaps work well to remove stains from your clothing. However, some all-purpose soap called Campsuds can work to clean clothing. It could also strip away stains or odors. However, it’s a very caustic laundry detergent alternative, and it can pull the color out of your clothing over time. Also, you don’t want to put it into your washing machine. 

How to Use It (Handwashing):

  • Get a warm basin of water and add a small amount of your shampoo and body wash. Create a lather to clean the clothing before rinsing them thoroughly to remove any residue.

10. Vinegar

Vinegar is a laundry detergent alternative that your mother or grandmother may have used. This is a very mildly acidic liquid that is fairly effective when it comes to removing musty odors and stains. Even better, it won’t leave any residue behind on your darker clothing once you rinse it out and dry the clothes. 

Vinegar also has some other uses besides washing clothing. You can use it to break down mildew on fabrics and remove the lingering smell that comes with it. Also, it works well to remove smoky smells from a load of laundry when you add a cup of vinegar. White vinegar is widely available in supermarkets, and you can buy it in larger volumes at one time. 

If you want to be even more frugal, you can use diluted white vinegar as a cleaning agent for several areas around your home. However, you want to avoid getting and use dark vinegar as this can stain your clothing right away. 

How to Use It:

  • During the wash cycle, add ½ of a cup of white vinegar. You can also add the same amount of white vinegar to the detergent dispenser on your washing machine. You can also add a cup of white vinegar as needed. 

3 White Vinegar
White vinegar is a common household cleaner that is very powerful, but it has a very distinct smell that you may want to mask using essential oils.
Heinz White Vinegar by Mike Mozart / CC BY 2.0

11. Vodka

This may not strike you as a viable laundry detergent alternative, but it’s a popular liquor that you can use as a type of laundry detergent if you run out of your normal stuff. All you’ll need for it to work is a few shots worth of it. However, vodka is really only good for disinfecting. It won’t work well to lift stains from your clothing, and it is more expensive to use. If you want to try it, you can easily buy some at your local liquor store. The vodka should be completely clear and unflavored to avoid staining your clothing. 

How to Use It:

  • Wait for your washing machine to hit the wash cycle and add three to six ounces of vodka to the washing machine. 

12. Washing Soda

The final laundry detergent alternative on the list is washing soda or soda crystals. It is related to baking soda, but it’s much stronger. You use this laundry detergent alternative to remove stubborn stains on your clothing because this option has a higher alkaline compound.

How to Use It:

  • Use it as a pre-soak by mixing a gallon of warm water with two spoonfuls of washing soda and adding your clothing to it. 

Laundry Detergent Alternative Myths

Along with the things that do work, there are a few ones that are rumored to work but are actually a waste of money. We’re going to outline the two biggest ones for you below. 

Myth One – Laundry Balls

Better known as a washing ball, this product is essentially a plastic disc or orb filled with minerals that come specially optimized for washing clothing. They also have magnets that are supposed to be able to condition the wash water to make cleaning better. When you add these laundry balls to a load of laundry, they’re supposed to work better than standard detergent. 

However, the truth is, these laundry balls don’t clean much better than hot water does. Most of the manufacturer claims and tests have been proven false by the consumer testing groups. The US Federal Trade Commission and the Better Business Bureau have also found that these products aren’t effective. They’re not a viable laundry detergent alternative. 

Myth Two – Laundry Magnets

The second mythical laundry detergent alternative are laundry magnets, and they claim to allow you to wash your clothing without any chemical agents. This claim comes from the belief that the magnets can alter your water’s structure to make it better at cleaning odors and stains. 

However, science proves that this is incorrect because of water’s molecular structure. Also, there has been a lot of testing to prove that magnets can’t clean out odors or stains. They only work around as much as hot water does for odors or stains, but they cost roughly $70.00 each. 

Products You Should Avoid Putting in Your Washer

There are a few things that you want to avoid adding into your washer as a laundry detergent alternative. We did include a few that we have listed as a laundry detergent alternative, but we explained that you want this to be a last resort. 

Automatic Dishwasher Detergent

Almost every dishwasher detergent has ingredients that are much more harsh than laundry detergent ingredients, and this can cause your clothing colors to fade out or bleach. They can also leave residues on the fabrics when you use them, and this can irritate your skin. 

Dishwashing Liquid, Shampoo, Bubble Bath or Body Wash

These products should be used sparingly and as a last resort as they tend to produce far too many bubbles that make it difficult to rinse them thoroughly during the rinse cycle. Putting dishwashing soap into a high-efficiency washing machine can produce enough suds to overflow it and cause it to get into your washer’s electronic system and void your warranty. 

4 Overflowed Washing Machine
Having a soapy mess is unpleasant to clean up, but it can also negatively impact your washing machine by destroying the electronics and voiding your warranty.
Soapy Christmas by iammeltron / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Household Cleaners or Ammonia

Ammonia and most household cleaners are way too harsh for most fabrics to withstand, and they can irritate your skin if you don’t rinse them thoroughly. The cleaners also have ingredients that can cause the colors to fade or bleach them out entirely. Some cleaners have ingredients that can cause damage to any high-efficiency washer you put them in. 

When to Use More Laundry Detergent Alternatives

Generally speaking, less is more. However, there are some rare times when soiled clothing needs more detergent. If your clothing is extremely dirty, using a small amount of extra laundry detergent alternative can help remove the grime and dirt. However, you want to look at the symbols on the garment to make sure you’re cleaning it correctly. 

Detergent usage guidelines are based on a traditional washing machine’s drum size. If you have a supersized model with a larger drum, you’ll need a small amount more than it says on the instructions because larger loads have more clothing and grime to rinse away. So, if you put a single laundry pod into your usual load of laundry, you may want two or three in extra-large loads. 

Another fact to consider is the water hardness. This will impact your laundry detergent alternative’s efficacy. If you generally have hard water in your location, you’ll have to use more detergent. 

Signs You May be Using Too Much Detergent

If you think that you’re using too much detergent or your laundry detergent alternative, take a look at any just-washed clothing. If your wet clothing feels sticky, slimy, or soapy, you’re feeling detergent residue. Other signs that you’re using too much detergent include wet clothing that feels slightly hardened or stiff, colored clothing that isn’t as vibrant, and white clothing that takes on a grey or off-white tinge. If this sounds like common issues to you, you’re probably using too much detergent. 

Finally, the biggest sign is that your high-efficiency washing machine smells musty, moldy, or bad. This can be from soap buildup. If this happens, you’ll have to clean the washing machine before you do anything else. You can use vinegar or baking soda to do so as they’re both great for stripping out soap buildup. 

How to Remove Detergent Buildup from Clothing

To restore your clothing and make sure it looks as bright and vibrant as possible, you’ll have to remove any buildup. You can start by soaking your soiled laundry into a mixture of water and vinegar. In the bathtub, mix a quart of water to one cup of vinegar and put your dirty clothing in this mixture. If you see any visible stains, you want to rub the stained area against itself to help loosen up any buildup. You should soak it for up to an hour before running them through a normal wash cycle in your machine. 

You could also try laundry stripping. This method works to remove any detergent residue, body oils, fabric softener, and hard-water minerals that have built up on your clothing over time. You’ll need a tub full of water, ½ cup of washing soda, ½ cup of borax, and a small amount of detergent. Add your laundry to this mixture and submerge them. Allow your clothing to soak for four hours before removing them and putting them through a normal wash and dry cycle. 

Bottom Line

We’ve outlined 12 viable laundry detergent alternatives for you to try in your own home, and you can see which one works best for your needs. You can even cycle through them and find one that you like more than the others. Whatever you choose, they can help you deodorize and clean your clothing each time you use them. 

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