While laundry detergent is great for many people, it doesn’t work for everyone. When that’s the case, an alternative is needed. So, whether you don’t want to use laundry detergent to wash your clothes or you ran out of laundry detergent and didn’t have time to buy any more, there are many alternatives you can use.
Here are 13 laundry detergent alternatives that actually work:
- Bar of soap
- Body wash
- Oxygen bleach
- Baking soda
- Lemon juice
- Dishwashing liquid
- Soapberry nuts
- Laundry detergent sheets
- Homemade laundry detergent
The rest of this article will discuss the various laundry detergent alternatives and whether it’s best to use each alternative in the washing machine or in the sink, the best products for each alternative, and how to make your own laundry detergent.
Using shampoo to wash clothes is pretty standard, especially for people who travel often. Shampoo works as a quick and straightforward detergent when you need it, as you almost always have it around the house.
While shampoo is an excellent alternative on the go, it’s not something I recommend using in the washing machine. Most shampoos produce a lot of suds, and too many suds in the washing machine can leave behind residue, leading to the potential of bacteria and mold.
Too many suds in the washing machine could also cause them to leak from the washer, leading to an extensive clean-up and the potential of water damage.
Therefore, if you choose to use shampoo as your laundry detergent alternative, it’s best to wash in the sink instead of the washing machine. Because of this, I recommend only using shampoo to wash a small amount of clothing or delicates, as washing everything by hand will take some time.
2. Bar of Soap
An old-fashioned bar of soap will also do the trick when washing clothes. However, like shampoo, you can’t put a bar of soap in the washing machine, so you’ll have to wash by hand to use this method.
If you’re on your last pair of clean underwear but don’t have detergent, I recommend using a bar of soap. Everyone has at least one bar of soap somewhere in their house, so if you’re in a pinch, it can do the trick.
There are even bar soaps that are made for laundry, such as the Fels Naptha Laundry Bar (amazon paid link). This soap bar is made specifically to remove stains, and it’s recommended that it’s used with actual laundry detergent. However, using this to give your clothes a quick wash in the sink will work just as well.
3. Body Wash
Using a body wash as laundry detergent is similar to using shampoo. Both remove dirt and oils, and both create suds. Therefore, using body wash in the washing machine isn’t the best idea. Putting a small amount of body wash into the sink to wash your clothes will work just fine as a laundry detergent.
Of course, the smell of the body wash that you choose will transfer to your clothing, so selecting a body wash scent that you don’t mind having on your clothes and using a minimal amount of body wash, is essential.
If you choose this method, it’s crucial to rinse the clothing thoroughly after washing them, as the body wash can hang onto the fabric and leave a residue, even after drying.
Borax works exceptionally well when used in laundry. Borax’s scientific name is Sodium Tetraborate, which is already a common ingredient in many laundry detergents you buy. Therefore, using Borax to replace laundry detergent isn’t only acceptable, but something many people already do.
While a boost of Borax along with regular laundry detergent is recommended as the best way to use Borax in your laundry, using it without regular laundry detergent won’t hurt anything, and it’ll still clean your clothes.
The best thing about using Borax as a laundry detergent alternative is that it can be used in the washing machine- making it easier to wash your laundry without regular detergent. Adding one cup (128 g) of Borax to your washing machine for a normal-sized load will do the trick.
Borax has a high pH level that’s usually around an eight, and when in a washing machine, the higher alkaline level works to provide overall cleaner clothes. So, with or without regular detergent, Borax is an excellent addition to your washing machine.
5. Oxygen Bleach
Oxygen bleach, not to be confused with chlorine bleach, is entirely safe to use when washing clothes. Oxygen bleach contains sodium percarbonate as the active agent, whereas chlorine bleach contains sodium hypochlorite. The difference is that oxygen bleach is color-safe, and chlorine bleach will remove color.
Of course, adding oxygen bleach to your laundry load with regular laundry detergent is recommended, as bleach is used to brighten clothing. However, if you don’t have any laundry detergent, you can use oxygen bleach to clean your clothes.
However, before dumping a large amount into the washing machine, make sure you look over the instructions to know how much to use (and how to use it), as well as checking to make sure it’s oxygen-based.
6. Baking Soda
While many people might think Borax and baking soda are the same, they have their differences. The main difference between the two is the pH and alkaline levels. Borax has a higher pH and alkaline level than baking soda, making it a better choice for a laundry detergent alternative.
However, baking soda is still a good option if you’re in a pinch and need something to wash your clothes. Baking soda is still used as a cleaning agent, so it’ll clean your clothes, just not as thoroughly as Borax.
Like Borax, adding about a cup of baking soda to your washing machine for a normal-sized load will work as a laundry detergent alternative.
7. Lemon Juice
It might seem crazy to use lemon juice to wash your clothes, but if you have no other options, lemon juice will work. However, I wouldn’t recommend using lemon juice as a permanent alternative to laundry detergent due to how expensive it can be.
Lemon juice is very acidic, so it works very well to break up dirt, remove stains, and lighten clothes. When using lemon juice as a laundry detergent, you can dilute it with water to get more use.
It’s essential to use real lemon juice from lemons. Using artificial lemon juice isn’t quite the same, as many artificial lemon juice brands have added coloring or other ingredients that can harm your clothes. So, unless it’s 100% lemon juice, it’s best to use juice from the actual lemons themselves.
8. Dishwashing Liquid
Dishwashing liquid or dish soap is another option to reach for if you don’t have any laundry detergent handy. However, like shampoo and body wash, you shouldn’t put dish soap in the washing machine. So while this alternative may not be the best for large loads of laundry, if you need to wash a few things in a hurry, it’ll work perfectly fine.
However, like body wash, you’ll want to make sure the clothes are thoroughly rinsed with water before drying them to ensure there’s no leftover residue.
Using white vinegar as a laundry detergent alternative is common and has been for a long time. Like lemon juice, vinegar is acidic, so it works wonderfully to remove stains and foul odors. A great thing about using vinegar to wash your clothes is that it won’t leave behind any residue like body wash will, so you don’t have to worry about over-rinsing before drying.
People typically like to add white vinegar to the washing machine with their regular laundry detergent. However, you can just use vinegar if you don’t have detergent. And don’t worry, your clothes won’t leave the washing machine smelling like vinegar- but they’ll be odorless and stain-free!
More on how to use vinegar here.
You’ve probably never considered using vodka as an alternative to laundry detergent, as most people haven’t. However, if you have absolutely nothing else around and need your clothes washed, using a few shots worth of vodka in your washing machine will disinfect your clothing.
However, if your clothes are stained, vodka won’t do much for them. So, while I wouldn’t use this method as a permanent alternative to regular laundry detergent, it works well enough if you’re in a pinch. You’ll want to make sure the vodka is clear and unflavored, or your clothes could leave the washing machine stained.
Here’s my full guide on how to get rid of the smell from your shoes using vodka.
11. Soapberry Nuts
If you’re like most people, you’ve probably never heard of soapberry nuts. While it seems crazy to wash your clothes with nuts, using soapberry nuts, or soap nuts, will clean the fabric of clothes and lift stains. Soap nuts are a natural cleaning agent containing saponin, the compound responsible for cleaning.
While regular laundry detergents contain similar ingredients, soap nuts are just a natural source. The great thing about this alternative is it won’t cause soap scum buildup in your washing machine because it doesn’t contain actual soap or create a lot of suds.
Using soap nuts instead of regular laundry detergent is an excellent option for those with skin allergies, as it won’t irritate your skin as some common laundry detergents might.
12. Laundry Detergent Sheets
I recommend trying out laundry detergent sheets if you’re looking for a permanent alternative to laundry detergent. There are multiple brands, but I recommend the Earth Breeze Laundry Detergent Sheets (amazon paid link). These laundry detergent sheets are eco-friendly and formulated for sensitive skin.
Like a dryer sheet, you simply throw a laundry detergent sheet into the washer with your clothes and turn it on. For the Earth Breeze brand sheets, you place the sheet on top of the clothes in the washing machine if you have a top-load washer. However, if you have a front-load washer, you put the sheet in the detergent dispenser.
Laundry detergent sheets are environmentally friendly and a lot less messy, making them an excellent alternative to regular laundry detergent.
13. Homemade Laundry Detergent
Lastly, an alternative for buying laundry detergent would be making your own. So, if you’re looking for an alternative to save money, making your own detergent might be the best option for you. You can make a large batch of laundry detergent in one go, so you don’t have to make it too often, and it’s not a difficult task.
I’ll go over the steps to make homemade laundry detergent below.
How To Make Laundry Detergent From Home
There are various ways to make homemade laundry detergent. However, each method has similarities, and most of the main ingredients are the same. For example, you’ll most likely need the following components:
- 6 cups (1,419.53 mL) of water
- ⅓ bar of Fels Naptha laundry bar soap
- ½ cup (64 g) of washing soda
- ½ cup (64 g) of Borax
- 1 quart (32 oz) of hot water
- 2-gallon (7.57 L) bucket.
Of course, if you plan on halving or doubling the recipe, the size of the bucket may change.
Once you have all of your materials, you’re ready to start making the laundry detergent. Here are the steps:
- First, grate the Fels Naptha bar and add it to a saucepan with six cups (1,419.53 mL) of water. Heat this on the stove over low heat (don’t allow it to boil) until it’s dissolved.
- Next, add the washing soda and Borax, and stir it until thickened. I recommend using the Pie Market Shopping Borax (available on Amazon.com). This Borax has excellent ratings, and you get 65 ounces (0.03 kg) for a relatively low price.
- After it’s at a thick consistency, remove it from heat and add it to the bucket with one quart of hot water. Mix the mixture and water well, and then add more water, leaving a few inches of space at the top of the bucket.
- Leave the mixture to sit until it has thickened, usually around 24 hours. It’s recommended to use about a ½ cup (64 g) of detergent for each load.
- Once you know how to make the homemade detergent, you can tweak it to your liking. However, the materials will likely stay the same, even if the amount differs.
Next, you can learn if you really need laundry detergent, or what temperature the water you use for your laundry should be.
I’m an expert organizer and a big laundry enthusiast. I’ve created this website and Organizing TV on YouTube to share practical guides about some of my favorite subjects; making clothes fit well, doing laundry and folding clothes effectively, and organizing wardrobes with a focus on saving space since I live in a home with limited space myself. You can learn more about me here.