Green domestic housekeeping and sustainable cleaning laundry with chic homemade softener made of vinegar and baking soda for fluffy rolled towels on wooden background vinegar in laundry

7 Smart Reasons to Use Vinegar in Laundry

Using inexpensive distilled white vinegar in the laundry is smart because it will whiten, brighten, reduce odor, and soften clothes without harsh chemicals.

Green domestic housekeeping and sustainable cleaning laundry with chic homemade softener made of vinegar and baking soda for fluffy rolled towels on wooden background vinegar in laundry

It’s cheapgallon white vinegar

Plain distilled white 5% vinegar runs around 3.5 cents per oz. in the typical supermarket when purchased by the gallon.

Name brand liquid fabric softeners come in at about 10 cents per oz.—nearly three times the cost. As an alternative to liquid softeners, dryer sheets are a cheaper way to ruin your clothes and linens, on average about 5 cents per sheet.

It’s colorless

When buying vinegar to use in the laundry, choose distilled white vinegar with 5% acidity. It contains no synthetic color and no natural plant dyes that can stain clothes.

It softens

Plain white distilled vinegar with 5% acidity is a natural fabric softener. The acid helps remove detergent and soil that is left clinging to fabric fibers, which is what allows clothes and linens to come out feeling soft and clean.

Commercial softeners work just the opposite. They are designed to coat fibers, leaving behind their scented residue, which can build up over time rendering those items non-absorbent, dingy gray, and anything but soft.

A half-cup of white vinegar when added to the final rinse (pour it into the washer reservoir marked for laundry softener), on the other hand, will soften fabrics and leave no residue at all. A light scent can be added, if you want, with a few drops of lavender oil. However, once dry your laundry will not smell like vinegar.

It is safe to use

Distilled white vinegar is safe to use in both standard and high-efficiency washers. At 5% acidity, it is 95% water, which makes it mildly acidic.

Once added to the washer, food-grade vinegar becomes even more diluted when mixed with gallons of rinse water in the typical machine.

Vinegar in the laundry is not only safe in septic tanks, it is beneficial to that type of system, and to the environment as well.

It whitens, brightens

The acetic acid in distilled white vinegar will not harm washable fabrics because it is so mild, while at the same time strong enough to dissolve the alkalis left by soap and detergent.

Adding one-half cup of vinegar to the final rinse will result in brighter, clearer colors. Add the distilled white vinegar to the fabric softener dispenser or add the vinegar manually at the beginning of the rinse cycle if your washer gives you that option.

It reduces odor

Wet towels left sitting in a hamper or forgotten in the washer can produce a sour, moldy smell. To get rid of that problem and to get those towels smelling nice and fresh, do this:

Fill the washer with hot water, add two cups of distilled white vinegar and run a complete wash cycle with no detergent. Run a second complete cycle with detergent added.

This works well for minor situations and small loads. For more serious situations, you’ll want to use this more aggressive treatment.

It releases lint, pet hair

One-half cup of white distilled vinegar in the rinse cycle will help prevent lint and pet hair from clinging to clothes. The vinegar will help the fabric fibers relax and “release” the hair. For the same reason, it helps get rid of the excessive lint if you accidentally wash something dark with something that produces lint, like towels.

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  1. Linda Howard says:

    My new washer does not have a disperser for fabric softener. Would it help if I used the vinegar in the bleach dispenser?

    • Mary Hunt says:

      If you do that, I’m pretty sure it will release at the beginning of the cycle along with the detergent. It’s best if the vinegar goes into the last rinse. Are you able to stop the machine mid-way to add the vinegar with this rinse? That would be ideal! xo m

    • Kim says:

      I live in a condo now and have to share the laundry room with the entire building. None of the two washing machines has a fabric dispenser. I bought a Downy Ball off of Amazon. It seemed unlikely that I was ever going to be able to time getting the vinegar into the machine right if I didn’t.

  2. Terri Willis says:

    My husband kept having small rashes and we couldn’t figure out the problem. After reading one of your articles on vinegar instead of fabric softener, I wanted to try it. My husband hates the smell of vinegar but said go ahead and try it. He has not had any skin problems since. I’ve been using it for probably 5-6 years now on everything. I love it!! It’s cheaper and my laundry is soft and always feels clean.

  3. Deb says:

    Hi Mary. After seeing the warning about vinegar in the washing machine you referenced in your email, I immediately went to the website of the manufacturer of my machine in order to contact them for their opinion. But first I searched “vinegar” on their website and lo and behold, there it was — they recommended using vinegar in their washing machine. That settled it for me.

  4. Laura P says:

    I’ve been using vinegar in the rinse cycle for over 20 years now, about when I stopped using fabric softener. No damage to the washer, and I think the washer stays clean and fresh because of it. Although I’ve jumped on the scent booster band wagon in the past couple of years, I haven’t noticed that they do anything negative and I love the lingering scent (essential oils don’t do the trick for me). I assume the vinegar is always doing its thing, no matter the size of the load. Delicates to linens all get vinegar. Towels are always fluffy and have longer life. Such a simple and inexpensive thing!

  5. Cath says:

    I started using vinegar years ago because I could never get the funky odor out of my husband’s sweaty work shirts. I did some research, found your tip, and have been using it in every laundry load since. It works! I can assure everyone that your clothes do not smell like vinegar. They smell completely neutral. I have never been a fan of scented detergent, and I particularly dislike the lingering odor of scented fabric softeners, to say nothing of avoiding allergy issues from unnecessary chemicals added to our laundry. I usually buy the big bottles of vinegar from Costco. When they’re empty, I save them, clean them out, and use them to store water for emergencies, rather than run to the store for a case of small plastic bottles of water. We really have to end our dependence on those one-use plastic items to save the planet!

    • Boe says:

      Thanks for sharing your tip on single use water bottles…I’ve been doing that for years. I might add that plastic bags need to be avoided, too. They always manage to find their way to our water sources and are filling up our planet!

  6. Susan Odom says:

    I have used vinegar per Mary’s instructions for several years. I also use the wool dryer balls in my dryer. Between the two of them my laundry is so soft, and smells so fresh; I would not use dryer sheets ever for laundry, although I do use them for other things.

    • Mary Hunt says:

      The reservoir is smaller because a front loader uses so much less water. Whether liquid softener (boo!) or vinegar, I think you can depend on the amount the reservoir holds to be a good ratio.

    • Mary Hunt says:

      Hi Lisa … Researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill tested conventional household disinfectants, hospital disinfectants and natural alternatives to measure each product’s ability to kill specific hazardous microbes. Their results show that white vinegar killed 90 percent of germs without regard to the temperature of the water.

      Sounds pretty good until you realize that leaves a 10 percent chance for Salmonella, Streptococcus and Staphylococcus viruses, Influenza A2 virus and Herpes Simplex Type 1 to live on. A product like Lysol disinfectant, on the other hand, kills 99.9 percent of those germs.

      So does soap, detergent and hot water.

  7. Nancy says:

    Mary, that magazine that insisted vinegar will eat through plastic washing machine parts is way off base: if that were true, the world would not have the major problem of plastic pollution that it does now, we would just dissolve it all in vinegar!

  8. margaret love says:

    I was so happy to read your article this morning about vinegar in the washing machine … I had just heard a report on my local news station about the harm using vinegar in the washing machine… thank you ! I do enjoy all your post …

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