White vinegar is a workhorse in the cleaning department. It’s all-natural, non-toxic, eco-friendly, and budget-friendly. While vinegar is often used to clean bathrooms and kitchens, we’ll focus on its cleaning powers in the laundry room. We’ll look at laundry hacks like soaking clothes in vinegar overnight to brighten and restore heavily stained clothes, plus other ways vinegar makes laundry day easier.
Consider adding a jug of white distilled vinegar to your laundry room. The type of vinegar we’re referring to is plain white vinegar, the kind you can pick up at any grocery store. Sometimes it’s labelled as cleaning vinegar.
Can you use apple cider vinegar instead of white vinegar?
It’s best to save your apple cider vinegar for cooking and use white vinegar for cleaning. As ACV is more expensive, it’s more economical to use white vinegar which is just a fraction of the cost. While you can sometimes substitute ACV for white vinegar, you’ll need to dilute it first. And, be careful that the natural tannins in ACV don’t stain your white or light-colored clothes.
Let’s dive into the many ways white vinegar helps with laundry.
The cleaning power of vinegar
Store-bought white vinegar generally contains 5 percent acetic acid. Acetic acid is the main cleaning component found in vinegar. It’s tough enough to remove grease, rust, lime and other stubborn stains while still gentle enough to use for everyday laundry.
Here’s a quick look at how white vinegar helps with laundry:
- Softens and fluffs up fabrics
- Brightens and whitens colors
- Prevents lint or pet hair buildup
- Reduces static
- Removes stains
- Removes odors
Tip: As a general guideline when using white vinegar for a standard load of laundry, just add ½ cup to each load as your washer is filling with water. Then add clothes after.
How to properly use vinegar for laundry
Before we dive in, let’s look at how you shouldn’t use vinegar.
- Don’t use vinegar on anything that says “Dry Clean Only”
- Don’t mix vinegar with bleach: When combined, these two liquids form dangerous gases that may cause chemical burns. Don’t add vinegar to washing detergents containing bleach.
- Don’t mix vinegar with hydrogen peroxide: The mixing of these two ingredients make peracetic acid, an irritant for eyes, nose, and respiratory system.
- Don’t pour vinegar directly onto fabrics (unless used for a concentrated stain remover)
- Avoid using vinegar on or near stone surfaces: Vinegar’s acidic properties may cause etching on porous stone surfaces. If you have a stone (granite) sink or countertop, avoid using vinegar anywhere near it.
- Don’t mix vinegar with laundry detergent: You can use vinegar instead of your regular laundry detergent. Or, you can add vinegar to the rinse cycle after you’ve washed with regular laundry soap. Why shouldn’t you use them together? Vinegar is acidic while laundry soap is alkaline. When used together, they cancel out the effectiveness of each.
Tip: While white vinegar is generally safe on most fabrics and colors, always pre-test a small area on clothing first. Different fabric dyes react differently to vinegar. Use caution when laundering delicate fabrics such as acetate or rayon as they are more prone to damage.
6 vinegar laundry hacks
Here’s how to use white vinegar to add a boost of natural cleaning power to your load of laundry.
1: Brighten drab clothes by soaking clothes in vinegar overnight
We all have a few white shirts that have turned yellow with time. They look drab, dull, and dirty (even if they’re clean). Or, maybe you have dark clothes that look faded. Here vinegar works as a dual agent to whiten and brighten. To do this, try soaking clothes in vinegar overnight.
- A basin or bucket to soak clothes
- 1 gallon (3.79 liters) of hot water
- 2 cups of white vinegar
Fill a basin or bucket with hot water (hot water provides a deeper clean). Add 2 cups of vinegar to the water and mix. Add your clothes. Let clothes soak overnight. You should see a noticeable difference in the brightness of your shirts. Follow with a cycle in the washing machine using vinegar in lieu of your regular laundry detergent.
Tip: This method works best for 100 percent cotton fabrics that can withstand heat.
2: Pre-soak smelly, workout clothes for a deeper clean
After you’ve worked up a sweat, bacteria from perspiration soaks into clothing. Vinegar helps to banish many forms of bacteria and prevents staining and lingering odors (commonly found in workout clothes!). Lifehacker recommends doing a vinegar pre-soak.
- A basin or bucket to soak clothes
- A solution of one-part vinegar to four-parts vinegar
Combine vinegar and water solution in a large basin or bucket. Add smelly, gym clothes. Soak for 30 minutes and follow with a regular cycle in the washer. For added vinegar-power, add 1 cup of vinegar cup to the rinse cycle.
3: Soften towels and other fabrics
While that freshly-starched feel works well for dress-shirts, it doesn’t have quite the same appeal on towels and other fabrics that are meant to be soft. To use vinegar as a fabric softener, add a splash of vinegar to the fabric softener dispenser during the rinse cycle.
That “starchy” feeling is often the result of leftover residue on towels. Vinegar softens fabrics by removing soapy residues.
4: Remove grease stains
Last night’s lasagna somehow ended up on your shirt. For stubborn, greasy stains, make your own DIY vinegar spray using only two ingredients.
- An empty spray bottle
- A solution of equal parts water and vinegar
Combine one-part water with one-part vinegar in a spray bottle. Swirl to mix. Spray this vinegar solution generously onto greasy stains. Let it sit for at least 30 minutes. Follow with a wash cycle using regular laundry detergent. Repeat as necessary.
Tip: Do not place into the dryer until the stain is removed. The heat sets the stain into clothing.
5: Remove odors
Hey, accidents happen. Whether you’re dealing with urine, vomit, or other lingering odors, let the power of white vinegar come to the rescue. Using regular laundry detergent and the hot water cycle, add 1 cup of vinegar to the rinse cycle.
If possible, allow the items to sun-dry outside. For baked-in odors, try using the overnight vinegar soak listed above.
6: Revive old rugs
Breathe life into worn-out rugs with a simple water and vinegar hack. Reader’s Digest has a helpful tip for restoring old rugs.
- A push broom (or similar stiff-bristled brush)
- 1-gallon bucket filled with water
- 1 cup white vinegar
Fill a large bucket with 1 gallon (3.79 liters) of water. Add in 1 cup of white vinegar. Dip the push broom into the water-vinegar solution and gently brush against the surface of the rug. No rinsing required.
For more handy cleaning tips around the house, check out our post on timeless cleaning tips you need to know.
Other vinegar FAQs
Does using vinegar in the wash make your clothes smell like vinegar?
No, you don’t have to worry about smelling like a bottle of vinegar. While you may notice a vinegar-y smell while clothes are still wet, the smell disappears once clothes are dry. If you notice a lingering vinegar smell, try using a bit less in the wash next time.
How do you add vinegar to a front-loading washer?
Add vinegar to your machine’s fabric softener compartment. The vinegar will be added during the rinse cycle.