Washing Without Detergent: Everything You Need to Know

Did you run out of detergent, and you need to wash your clothes in a pinch? No need to worry because there are ways that you can wash your clothes without the ingredient that’s thought to be absolutely crucial.

It’s not rare that people run out of detergent without noticing or that they accidentally start the washing machine without putting detergent in. For that reason, many people wonder – is it okay to wash clothes without detergent?

It’s okay to wash clothes without detergent. If you’ve accidentally started your machine, it won’t harm your clothes. You can feel free to rerun it once the washing is done. However, water is 2/3 as effective as some detergents, so you might not even need detergent if the clothes aren’t too dirty.

Washing Without Detergent
Washing Without Detergent

However, this topic begs a few questions. If water is so effective, what’s the point of using detergents? Can clothes be washed without detergent? What can be used as a substitute for detergent?

These are all questions we’ll be answering in today’s article, as we’ll be delving deeper into the topic of machine washing and just how it works.

Let’s get started!

Can You Wash Your Clothes Without Detergent?

Yes, you can definitely wash your clothes without detergent! Obviously, detergents are very useful as they’re pumped with chemicals that will achieve a good wash and protect the fabric of your clothing, but they’re not crucial.

If you’ve accidentally started your washing machine without any detergent – it’s definitely not going to harm your laundry. That’s probably the first thing everyone worries about.

All that’s going to happen is your clothes are going to get wet as they’re rumbled around the washing machine. What’s impressive, actually, is that they’re going to get cleaner.

Water is great for cleaning anything, and washing your clothes even without detergent is going to turn up with some good results. As the water is piercing through the fabric, it’s going to get rid of anything dirty.

Obviously, it’s unlikely that water on its own will be able to handle any hardcore stains, but it’s definitely going to wash clothes that aren’t too dirty.

This, of course, depends on the washing machines. Better machines and higher quality are often accompanied by better water distribution, while lower quality machines aren’t as good. That’s why you can expect impressive results with better machines.

There is, however, one thing that water can’t substitute – and that’s chemical protection. Detergents are designed to clear out microscopic dirt and anything that’s not fabric. Just because your shirt is clean on sight, there’s no guarantee that it’s spotless. That’s what detergents are here for.

They completely clean the laundry, on both a microscopic and a human eye level, and they protect it for further wearing. Chemicals don’t enrich water on their own, and they can’t wash your clothes as well as water with detergent.

The added bonus is that your clothes are going to smell nice when they’re washed with detergent, as opposed to washing with water which has no scent.

What Can Be Used as a Substitute for Laundry Detergent?

Thankfully, there are many alternatives to laundry detergent! Don’t forget that laundry machines aren’t that old and that people used to wash their clothes by hand not even a hundred years ago.

Baking Soda

Baking seems to be the go-to solution for many problems in the household. I stress that this should apply only to white clothes – as baking soda can really pull off an amazing job when it comes to cleaning your whites. Baking soda can be used on fabric with colors, but it’s not as good when used on whites.

Baking soda is great as a substitute for detergent because it does the exact job that we focused on about detergents – it can nullify the effects of acids and all kinds of impurities. Food, drinks, vomit, urine, or anything else really – it can all be taken care of with baking soda.

It’s also beneficial for your washing machine, not only for your clothes. If any unlikeable smells are coming from your washing machine, baking soda will soak it right up. The same effect is achieved with your clothes – if something is particularly smelly (for example, once you’re done with a workout), baking soda will take care of it.

You can even add some of it to bleach (if you’re using it). You can save on bleach that way because baking soda amplifies its strength.

It’s also great at removing stains – many fabrics have age-old stains that can’t be taken care of. Baking soda, however, definitely has the potential to take care of those stains without damaging the fabric in any way.

There are many commercial softeners that can’t do a job as good as baking soda – they use harsh chemicals to soften clothing, while baking soda can do the same job without relying on the same chemicals.

If you’re a parent, you’ll be glad to know that baking soda can remove crayons very easily.

What’s important about baking soda is that you use a lot of it and that the clothes are washed in very hot water. A full cup of baking soda is recommended for a normal-sized load of laundry.


Borax is another great solution for removing stains and smells from your clothes. It’s especially good against ammonia – meaning that it can take care of urine and vomit with ease. The scrubbing powder in Borax is very good for your whites and it’s going to ensure that they’re as white and as bright as possible.

Borax isn’t only useful with your washing machine, though. Because of its very high pH, it’s been recognized as very useful in many areas around the home. Once you add it to water, it will create a slightly alkaline mixture for washing your clothes.

Similar to baking soda, Borax is also very good at protecting your washing machine! It can take care of any mold and fungus growing in your washing machine. It can also soften hard water, which is a big plus – this will improve your laundry and make sure that your clothes are as clean as possible.

It will also wash out any soap residue that was left on your clothes from the previous wash, or if it was left on the inside of the washing machine.

Lemon Juice

Another alternative for washing machine detergent is using lemon juice. It’s actually more useful for whitening clothes than it is for scenting them.

The acidity of lemon allows for it to be used not only on your whites but on your colors as well – and it’s especially good against rust stains! There are many stain removers that can’t do anything against rust, but lemon juice is a very effective solution to this problem. Make sure to apply it to the spot and throw it in the washing load.

You can also use lemon juice to make a paste from lemon juice and salt to treat the problem of mildew and mold building up in your washing machine. Most detergents are completely ineffective against this.

One last thing that’s really good with lemon juice is the fact that it can remove juice stains easily.


This one may seem a bit odd, but vinegar is actually a good alternative to your laundry detergent. The mild acidity of the vinegar is very useful for brightening clothes and whitening them. The mild acid in vinegar can easily tackle stains and dingy clothing and clean them. It can also remove residue from your dark clothing.

It’s not uncommon for the detergent to leave residue on darker clothing – this isn’t permanent, so you don’t have to worry about it. Vinegar is pretty good at getting rid of this residue.

It’s also great for getting rid of mildew that’s growing on your clothes. I’ve mentioned mold and mildew growing in the washing machine a few times now, but it’s also very possible for mildew to grow on your clothes. Vinegar, however, is a natural enemy to mildew and it can get rid of it.

It’s also very useful if you have pets – it will ensure that pet hair doesn’t stick to your clothing, and the same applies to lint. Also, if you’re a smoker and don’t like the smell of smoke on your clothes, drapes, sheets, etc. – feel free to use vinegar, as it’s very good at getting rid of that nasty smell of smoke.

Vinegar is good at tackling all sorts of smells, not only smoke. Sour smells can be removed easily if you use vinegar, and it will naturally soften your clothing without leaving any residue on the laundry. It can also clean your washing machine of any mineral deposits and soap scum.

Powdered Oxygen Bleach

Powdered oxygen bleach is very good if you’re looking to get rid of any organic or dirt stains without resorting to toxic chemicals. Even though the word bleach usually leads to us thinking that it’s going to cause discoloration, you don’t have to worry about it, as even delicate items can be washed with this.

It’s very useful as a disinfectant – viruses and bacteria that may be living in your fabrics are going to be washed away with this product as it whitens the whites without using any toxic chemicals. It’s safe for humans, animals, and plants – which makes it ideal for parents with kids, and also a great product if you have pets.

It’s also useful for washing out old stains that have already dried – there are many products that can’t remove stains that have already set in, but powdered oxygen is often able to pull that off. It’s also oxygen-based, which makes it much easier on the laundry, unlike other products which are mostly chlorine-based.

Soap Nuts

This is a non-toxic and completely natural solution to your problem. They’re especially useful for people who have sensitive skin – they’re very soft on the skin, so they’re not going to cause any problems. The gentle detergent that’s made from these nuts makes it safe for usage on delicate items.

It’s great for people who suffer from allergies – it won’t exacerbate them and you have one less worry on your mind. These nuts can be used several times (for several washes) before they stop working and you have to get new ones. They’re also completely compostable, so they’re ecological and aren’t going to waste.

Washing Soda

Washing soda is the older, booming brother of baking soda. Sodium carbonate is the real name of this compound, and it’s often used to remove really stubborn stains that absolutely refuse to go away. The high alkaline compound is very useful in this regard.

Presoak the laundry in it before throwing it in the washing machine for maximum effect. Mix two spoonfuls of washing soda in a gallon of warm water before adding the clothes with a stain.


This is by far the coolest entry on this list. We already knew that vodka is often used for many things other than drinking – infamously Molotov cocktails and famously as a wound disinfectant. However, did you know that you can also use it for laundry?

Yup! To wash your clothes with vodka, all you have to do is make a solution that’s one part water and one part vodka into a spray bottle. Spray that over your clothes and hang them out to dry. It will disinfect your clothes very well, and no musty or alcoholic scent will be left behind.

However, this is perhaps a better solution if you need your clothes refreshed – not washed.

What Should Not Be Used as a Substitute for Laundry Detergent?

There are, quite obviously, a few things that seem like a no-brainer but are in fact harmful to your clothes, and you should never use them as an alternative for detergent.

Shampoos, shower gels, dishwashing liquid, and bubble baths are at the top of that list. “I’m washing my body with this, so it should get the job done with my clothes as well, right?” – wrong. Clothes have different tolerance than our bodies, and they can’t handle these products.

They’re also too bubbly – it may seem silly, but if there are too many bubbles, the washing machine won’t be able to rinse it all out. If you use this, you’ll see that a large part of the shampoo/shower gel/dishwashing liquid is still on your clothes.

Dishwashing soap is especially dangerous in this regard – it can create so many bubbles that an overflow occurs. The damage is done to the electronics system of the washing machine. Your warranty doesn’t cover this.

Household cleaners – ammonia is usually the first thing that comes to mind regarding this. Many people think that using ammonia as an all-purpose cleaning liquid makes it good enough for clothes. That thinking is false, as ammonia can be very harsh on fabrics, and it will make the wear and tear even quicker.

It also directly affects you, the wearer, as different people have different levels of tolerance to ammonia – it’s possible that you’ll start feeling itchy.

However, by far, the worst thing about using ammonia and other household cleaners is the possible color loss or discoloration of your clothes. Imagine using bleach on red fabric – that’s what can easily happen if you use household cleaners. They can also cause damage to washing machines, which once again is not covered by your warranty.

Lastly, we have a dishwasher detergent. Many people assume that using this is the same as using washing machine detergent – as they’re both washing machines. However, this could be further from the truth. You should never use dishwasher detergent with your laundry machine!

The ingredients of a dishwashing detergent are far more powerful than the ingredients of a laundry machine detergent. The role of those ingredients is to dissolve all the grime and food debris that’s left on your plate after eating. Now, imagine what that could do to your clothes.

They can also bleach the clothing and effectively destroy it, while they can also have a negative impact on the wearer. It’s likely that they’ll cause some irritation to the skin.

Make sure that you’re careful when you’re browsing the internet, as there are many articles out there that are actually suggesting the use of the aforementioned products.





Washing Without Detergent: Everything You Need to Know
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