11 Laundry Detergent Substitutes You Can Make at Home

Whether you want to have less impact on the environment or you're simply out of laundry detergent, our laundry detergent alternatives can help.

Updated June 5, 2023
folded shirts & laundry detergent

Overwhelmed with the piles of laundry that need to be washed but can't get to the store to buy more detergent? While you might feel resigned to pushing it off and picking up some detergent tomorrow, you've got other options. All you have to do is look around your bathroom or kitchen for a good laundry detergent substitute. Several items in your house can substitute for laundry detergent when you're in a pinch.

Effective Laundry Detergent Substitutes

When you need a laundry detergent alternative in a hurry, hit your pantry. You're sure to have at least one or two of these effective substitutes for laundry detergent - any of these alternatives will do in a pinch.

Use Vinegar and Baking Soda as a Laundry Detergent Alternative

laundry with vinegar & baking soda

When you wonder what you can substitute for laundry detergent for your heavily stained or soiled clothing, reach for the vinegar and baking soda. Baking soda is also great for smelly clothes like your kids' sportswear.

  1. Add a half of a cup of baking soda to the wash cycle. For a bit more grease-fighting laundry power, add a pea-sized squirt of Dawn.
  2. Once you hit the rinse cycle, add a half of a cup of vinegar. This acts as a fabric softener.

Use Baking Soda and Lemon Juice for the Laundry

lemon juice and baking soda laundry

If you're out of vinegar, lemon juice combined with baking soda works just as well to get your white and colored laundry clean.

  1. After measuring out a half of a cup of baking soda, add it to the wash cycle.
  2. During the rinse cycle, add about a half of a cup of lemon juice instead of vinegar.

For stubborn stains, you can even try adding lemon juice as a pre-treater before washing.

Add a Dab of Dish Soap Instead of Laundry Detergent

dish soap

If you're in a bind, use dishwashing detergent like Dawn or Palmolive for colored clothing that doesn't require any special care. Remember, just a dab will do.

  1. To avoid excess bubbles and a massive mess in your laundry room, add a small squirt to the laundry. This is not even a capful.
  2. You can add a half cup of vinegar to the rinse cycle to make sure that the powerful stain-fighting detergent gets rinsed out. But if you pull your clothes out and they're speckled with leftover suds, you can use vinegar to remove them.

Need to Know

Avoid using this method if you've got a high-efficiency washing machine because the liquid soap will produce far too many suds for the low water levels to handle.

Use Shampoo as a Detergent Substitute for Colored Clothes

Shampoo bottles

Like dish soap, you can use a tiny amount of shampoo on colored clothing when you're out of detergent. Use a gentle formula and practice extreme moderation. Shampoo tends to produce a lot of suds, which can be dangerous in a washing machine. Your clothes will get clean, but the rinse cycle might not be able to get all the soap out. And you don't want suds running on to your floor. Therefore, a little goes a long way. The right amount of shampoo is going to vary by brand, so start with a small bottle cap squirt first.

Need to Know

If you've got a high-efficiency washing machine, skip this method. Shampoo produces too many suds.

Shave Bar Soap Flakes for a Laundry Aid

Hand holding bar soap

You can also use bar soap as a laundry detergent alternative in a pinch, but it will take a bit of prep work.

  1. Using a vegetable peeler, cut some small shavings off of your bar soap.
  2. Throw them in with your laundry.

You only want to use a few shavings because, like shampoo or dish soap, bar soap can produce a lot of suds. The suds will work great for cleaning your clothes, but they won't rinse out very well, making your clothing itchy. If you're afraid you used too much, run the clothes through an extra rinse cycle just in case.

Need to Know

Do not use bar soap in a high-efficiency washer; it produces too many suds.

Use Vinegar to Substitute for Laundry Detergent

pouring vinegar in laundry

Distilled vinegar is an effective stain remover for soiled laundry when you don't have laundry detergent available. To do this, use a half of a cup of distilled white vinegar during the washing cycle. This'll knock out stains and smells nearly as well as the best-smelling laundry detergents. Once dry, you won't even remember you added vinegar in the first place.

Use Borax as Laundry Detergent

Cup of borax

If you need an excellent all-around cleaner for clothes, using borax in your laundry is the way to go. Not only can it whiten your whites, but it helps with hard water. While it's great to use in a pinch, you wouldn't want to use it all the time because the harsher compound can make you itchy.

To use borax in your laundry:

  1. Add a half of a cup of borax to a large load.
  2. Wash and dry your laundry as usual.

Once you're done, you might as well use the leftover borax powder to make yourself some homemade laundry detergent.

Try Lemons to Whiten Your Whites and Colors

Lemon juice

All out of soap? Check the fridge and see if you have any lemon juice or lemons. Lemon juice is excellent for brightening colors and whites and getting rid of smells.

For this laundry hack:

  1. Add about a half of a cup of lemon juice to a regular size load as the acids will break down those stains.
  2. Wash and dry like normal.

Use Vodka for Delicates

Bottle of vodka

Delicate laundry takes a special touch, but if you need to get rid of odors or stains in a jiff and are out of laundry detergent, you might reach for the vodka. This hack works best for delicates that aren't heavily soiled and only need a bit of refreshing.

To give your clothes a vodka bath:

  1. Mix equal parts vodka and water in a spray bottle.
  2. Turn the clothing inside out and give it a little spritz.
  3. Allow it to dry and check for odors.

Use Hydrogen Peroxide for White Laundry

hydrogen peroxide

Need to get your whites bright and stain-free? Then it's time to reach for the hydrogen peroxide.

  1. For a regular load, fill the washer with water.
  2. Add a cup of hydrogen peroxide.
  3. Run the cycle as usual.

Use Oxygen-Based Bleach as a Laundry Substitute

Oxygen-based belach

Another hack that's great for whites and colored clothes is oxygen-based bleach (NOT chlorine bleach). Before tossing a cup full of bleach in the laundry, make sure you understand how to use bleach when washing clothes.

For this laundry detergent substitute method:

  1. Add ½ cup of oxygen-based bleach to the drum.
  2. Add clothes and run the cycle as usual.

Natural Ways to Wash Clothes Without Detergent

You've all been there. You have to get your kid's basketball shorts clean for the game, and you're out of detergent and you've got no time to run to the store. Never fear! Using these convenient alternatives will help you clean and organize your laundry in no time flat. But, if you loved the results, don't feel like it's taboo to use these laundry detergent subs all the time. After conquering your DIY laundry detergent needs, the next thing you can tackle is figuring out how to make your laundry smell good.

11 Laundry Detergent Substitutes You Can Make at Home