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6 household items you can use when you run out of laundry detergent

We bet you have most of these ingredients on hand

Pile of dirty laundry in front of a washer and dryer set Credit: Getty Images / Mariakray

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You’ve let your dirty clothes pile up and now, as you pull on those decade-old sweatpants tucked in the very back of your dresser, you realize it really is time to do your laundry.

You reach for your laundry detergent when all of the sudden, you realize you are out of any and all detergent. While you could wait until your next grocery store run to stock back up, you might be forced to re-wear some not-so-clean clothing.

Luckily, you’re not without a solution—and we mean that literally. Many household items can transform into laundry detergent substitutes that work just fine when you’re in a pinch.

While none of these recipes should be long-term solutions, they’re safe for use in your washing machine for the time being.

1. Mix it up with good old baking soda

Baking soda in a labeled jar with a spoon on a wooden table
Credit: Getty Images / ThamKC

Combining baking soda with other ingredients like washing soda and bar soap will make for a much more powerful wash that's comparable to your regular laundry detergent.

Along with deodorizing your sneakers and refreshing your carpet, baking soda can be a simple yet effective laundry detergent alternative. Ultra-gentle, it caters to sensitive skin, but it also gets tough odors out of fabric.

Just be sure to use baking soda in moderate amounts and proceed with caution on delicates, as it can wear down on certain fabrics like wool and silk. One cup of baking soda per large load of laundry should do the trick.

2. White vinegar has added benefits

Another option for sensitive skin, or if you just prefer a chemical-free solution, distilled white vinegar makes for a viable laundry detergent substitute. Don’t worry—vinegar won’t stink up your clothing. Once rinsed through a wash cycle, your clothes will be completely odorless.

A warning: Don’t pour the vinegar directly onto the clothes, as this could risk staining. Instead, add a half cup of distilled white vinegar to one cup of water before tossing it into the washing machine.

Aside from clean clothes, there are some great benefits to using distilled white vinegar in your wash: it can help loosen up soapy residue that has accumulated on clothes and towels over time; it can remove stains pretty well; it can be used as a pretreatment to clothes, too. Dilute one cup of vinegar with a gallon of water and let it soak overnight.

3. Boost your laundry with a borax solution

We’ve seen what borax and a couple of other handy ingredients can do when it comes to stripping your laundry. For this reason, borax makes for a decent laundry detergent substitute. While borax is a great sidekick to detergent, it can be used to loosen stains and brighten up clothing on its own.

If you have them, adding a few other ingredients to borax will make it much more effective in the wash. 20 Mule Team recommends making a laundry boosting borax solution by adding one tablespoon of borax and two cups of hot water into a sealable container.

Mix the solution and add to laundry as a laundry booster—or, in this case, in place of detergent if you’re completely out.

4. Hand wash with shampoo or body wash

Hands washing clothes in soapy water
Credit: Getty Images / Mukhina1

A fragrance-free, gentle formula body wash or shampoo works well for hand washing clothes. While you'll get a fresh clean, it won't be as effective in removing stains, so be sure to pre-treat it with a different method or stain-removing product.

If you’re really in a pinch and don’t mind handwashing a few garments to get them clean, grab some of these go-to products found in your shower.

Make sure you’re using a gentle formula, as products with additives and moisturizers can prevent a good wash. Baby shampoo or baby body wash works well if you’re a parent and already have this on hand—if you don’t, any gentle body wash or shampoo with basic ingredients will do.

Fill up a large tub with warm water and soak your garments, towels, or other dirty laundry. Add a small dollop of shampoo to the water, lather it, and add more if you feel necessary. Rinse completely with warm or cold water and toss in the dryer or let it hang dry.

5. Make your own powder detergent using a bar of soap

You read that right—you can DIY your own detergent at home.
For a powder detergent, this recipe by DIY Natural is free of any additive chemicals.

Grab a fragrance-free bar soap and begin grating it into a large bowl. From there, add a cup of borax and a cup of washing soda—fairly similar to baking soda, washing soda is a grainy powder that helps to deeply clean soiled fabrics and laundry. If you don’t have washing soda on hand, you can also bake your own batch with baking soda you already have.

Stir your borax and washing soda mixture thoroughly for five minutes. Use one tablespoon per regular load or two for heavily soiled clothes.

6. DIY a liquid detergent using dishwashing liquid

You can also make liquid detergent by thinking outside the box.

One Good Thing recommends mixing half cups each of borax, washing soda, and liquid dish soap to a large pitcher. Add four cups of hot (not boiling, as that can result in accidentally melting your container) water to allow ingredients to dissolve, then fill up the remainder of the container with cold water.

Shake before each use and use a quarter cup for each large load of laundry.

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