So you’ve set out to do a load of laundry only to realize you already used the last of the detergent. Bummer—but there is hope for your socks and underwear yet. In a pinch, you can sub in some common household items for your Tide or All; they may not have the same stain-busting power but they will get rid of odors and bacteria. Depending on which one you have on hand, they might even leave your clothes smelling fresher.
Baking soda. There is no shortage of ways to creatively use baking soda, from extinguishing a grease fire to quickly browning your ground beef. This multi-purpose baking ingredient and cleaner also works as a suitable alternative to laundry detergent. According to Essential Home and Garden, it effectively removes acids, oils, and odors from all different types of fabric, while also being completely safe to use in the washing machine. If you want to get fancy, add a few drops of essential oil of your choosing to give your laundry a nice scent.
Lemon juice. When life gives you lemons…use them to wash your clothes? All you need to do is dilute 1/3rd of a cup of lemon juice with 3 cups of water and add it to your machine during the wash cycle. Lemon juice will loosen stains and brighten your whites. Note: Don’t try this trick with artificial lemon juice, which typically contains food dye, and will leave you with more stains than you started with.
Vinegar. Vinegar will go a long way to getting your clothes into a presentable state; its acidity will lift stains and odors that have set into your clothing, and it leaves no residue behind after rinsing. Vinegar is safe to use in the washing machine, as it won’t create suds. Perhaps this goes without saying, but this only applies to white vinegars. If you use dark vinegar, it will stain your clothes almost instantly.
Dish soap. Dish soap will get your clothes clean, provided you’re willing to put in the work. The problem is that it’s risky to put in the washing machine, since it might create more suds than the machine can handle, so it’s recommended you wash any clothes by hand when using it. Add as needed to a tub of warm water, agitate your clothes, and follow up with a thorough rinse. Since dish soap isn’t particularly acidic, you’ll see the best results on soft fabrics like cotton.
Hydrogen peroxide. This first-aid staple will also go a long way to freshen up your clothes. The Spruce writes, “the 3% solution sold in drug stores as a first-aid disinfectant is the best choice for laundry. It is safe to use on all washable, dye-stable fabric.” Hydrogen peroxide will not only remove stains, but also will eliminate accumulated odors; it’s perfect for washing an overused towel or the smelly socks you wore in the rain.
Shampoo/body wash. Much like its dish soap counterpart, shampoo or body wash can also clothes in a pinch, leaving them smelling better—THOUGH you probably won’t have much luck getting out stains. Do not put shampoo or body wash in your washing machine, as they are made to create suds; you’ll have to do a hand-washing in the sink if you opt for this method.
Vodka. This is the only alternative that will work and make you feel like a college freshman with a fake ID all over again. The List recommends pouring undiluted vodka into a spray bottle and lightly misting clothes that need some freshening up. This is mostly a stopgap—it will help reduce odors, but the alcohol won’t do much to lift dirt or stains. Opt for a flavorless vodka if you go this route, or you’ll risk giving yourself new stains to contend with.
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