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Can I Do Laundry Without Detergent? Here’s the truth!

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Laundry is one of those tedious jobs that no one wants to do. It makes matters worse when you finally get around to the mountainous pile of dirty clothes and discover that you have no laundry detergent left. You may decide to leave it to another day or consider washing your laundry without detergent.

Laundry washed in water alone, without detergent, will be clean, but deep stains and odors may persist. Washing soda, borax, vinegar, vodka, lemon juice, and hydrogen peroxide may be added to hand or machine washing. Dishwashing liquid, shampoo, body soap, or bubble bath can be used for handwashing. 

There are multiple reasons for not using detergent in your laundry. You may just have forgotten to buy some laundry detergent, and in that case, there are some household alternatives you can try. You may have allergies and struggle to use traditional detergents and need something hypoallergenic. Alternatively, you may feel that using detergents is not eco-friendly, and you would like a green option. 

Why Do We Need Detergents To Wash Laundry?

Dirt gets trapped in tiny dead-end pores and crevices in the fabric. The dirt also tends to repel water, making it harder to remove it with water alone. Stains that consist of oily or greasy substances are especially effective at repelling water. 

Laundry detergents contain chemicals called surfactants. Surfactants adhere to the dirt and form a molecule around it. This process enables the surfactant to dissolve and lift the dirt out of the fabric weave. 

Laundry detergents also contain water conditioners. Water has many naturally occurring metals, such as calcium. These metals interfere with the washing process, preventing dirt from being entirely removed. The metal is deposited onto the clothing, compromising the texture and color. 

Hard water has high metal content and needs more water conditioners that bind the metals, preventing them from affecting the washing process and being deposited on clothes.

What Happens If I Wash My Laundry Without Any Detergent?

If you wash your laundry in water only, you will find that some of the dirt is removed, but deeper stains will persist. Odor such as from perspiration will also still be detectable on clothes. 

You can get more stains out by soaking, using hot water, and agitating the water, or rubbing the laundry, but there will still be stains that you cannot remove. 

If you do not use detergent for some time, you will find that your clothes and linens begin to lose their color.  The fabric will harden as metal molecules are deposited on the material. 

Learn if it’s ok to put one item in your washing machine.

What Detergents Did Ancient People Use?

People have been using different forms of laundry soap or detergents for generations. Some were not pleasant, such as the ancient Romans that used a urine mixture to clean fabric. In ancient Babylon, archeologists have found evidence that shows the Babylonians made soap from animal fat and ash. 

In the fifteenth century, Spanish people produced soap made from an oil base. The recipe originated from Castile, and the soap became popular all over the world. You can still buy Castile soap in some countries.

Clothes were often boiled and scrubbed vigorously, but that damaged the fabric, and clothes did not last long. 

What Can I Use Instead Of Laundry Detergent?

Several household laundry products can be used if you have run out of detergent and need to do some washing urgently. Some of these products can be used for handwashing but are unsuitable for machine washing. 

Here’s what to do if your laundry doesn’t suds up.

Handwashing Alternatives To Laundry Detergent

There are a number of handy products that you can use for handwashing if you have run out of laundry soap. 

  1. Shampoo
  2. Dishwashing liquid
  3. Hand or body soap
  4. Bubble bath

These products should not be used in an automatic washing machine as they will create too much foam, which may damage it. 

My complete guide to washing laundry by hand.

Hand And Machine Washing Alternatives For Laundry Detergent

There are some products that you will probably have in your home that can be used for laundry. In case you don’t, I have added paid links to Amazon in case you need to order some.

  • Baking soda can be added to laundry instead of detergent. Use half to a full cup of baking soda per load of laundry. If there is a large stained area, sprinkle the baking soda directly onto the stain. Place the powder into the washing drum before putting the laundry in.
  • Borax can be used in the same way as baking soda.
  • White wine vinegar or apple cider vinegar can be added to your laundry. Use half to one cup per load. Vinegar is especially helpful in eradicating odors. A fifty-fifty mixture of vinegar and water can be used on the underarm section of shirts. It also effectively removes the dirty neck ring on collars. 
  • Half a cup of lemon juice added to a load will help break down stains.
  • Hydrogen peroxide is a good alternative for a load of white laundry. Use about a cup of hydrogen peroxide for an average size load. 
  • Vodka can be used to wash delicates. 

Are There Plants That Can Substitute For Laundry Detergent?

Plants that have saponins can be used as laundry detergent. Plants that fall into this category include:

  1. Sapindus Mukorossi is also called soap nuts or soapberries. These can be added directly to your wash. If you prefer, you can put four to five nuts in a netting bag and place this in the washing machine.
  2. Alfalfa
  3. Quinoa
  4. Saponaria officinalis – soapweed
  5. English ivy
  6. Horse chestnut

For most saponin-rich plants, you need to make a decoction by boiling the plants in water and straining out the solid material. Use the remaining fluid as a detergent.  

What Can I Use For Fragrance Instead of Laundry Detergent?

Essential oils are ideal to use to add fragrance to your laundry if you do not have detergent. Mix fifteen to twenty drops of essential oil in a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar or wine vinegar and add it to your laundry. For a stronger smell, add the essential oils to the final rinse. 

What Products Are Unsuitable For Use For Laundry?

Never use automatic dishwasher soap or ammoniated household cleaners as detergents for laundry. These products contain harsh chemicals that damage fabrics and cause skin irritation when the clothes are worn afterward. 


If you have no more laundry detergent, several household products can be used instead. Saponin-rich plants are a natural alternative to laundry detergent, and essential oils can add a pleasant fragrance. 

I have also written a complete guide on everything you can mix with laundry detergent that may interest you to read next.


Sunday 26th of March 2023



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