Can You Wash Clothes Without Detergent? 5 Effective Methods

Washing clothes without detergent can be effective using baking soda, vinegar, borax, or soapnuts for eco-friendly, cost-saving, and allergy-friendly benefits.

You may want to try an alternative way to wash clothes for various reasons – save money, avoid allergies, and be eco-friendly.

Let’s look at how you can wash clothes without detergent, so you’ll know if it may work for you.

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Can I wash clothes with just water?

You can definitely wash your clothes in just water, but don’t expect too terribly much to happen.

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Unless you’re a master at lifting away stains, you will want a little help doing laundry.

4 Ways To Wash Clothes Without Detergent

It may take a little trial and error to see which option works best.

Baking Soda

Arm & Hammer Pure Baking Soda, 8 Ounce (Pack of 3)

Baking soda may be the answer if you’re looking for an easily affordable and versatile solution. It’s a common product that’s found in a home and is used to clean and deodorize.

And this is precisely why it’s an excellent choice to wash clothes without detergent. Baking soda removes stains and odors from laundry and even doubles as a fabric softener.

It’s not always easy to remove dirt, oil, and sweat from clothes, but baking soda gets the job done naturally and gently. 

You will want to pre-wash the clothing before you tackle it with baking soda. It is meant to remove stains and smells from laundry, not thoroughly cleaned.


Amazon Brand - Happy Belly White Distilled Vinegar, Kosher, 16 Fl Oz (Packaging May Vary)

You probably have vinegar in your pantry, too. It also works well when it comes to cleaning clothes – and doing dishes.

Vinegar is eco-friendly, effective, and only costs dollars. It also removes soap residue and build-up, which prevents fading and dinginess. 

As a natural cleaning product, it removes dirt, stains, and smells from laundry. It’s also environmentally friendly and non-toxic.

You won’t be able to wash delicates, bedsheets, and towels with vinegar because it can cause shrinkage.


Mule Team Borax and Arm & Hammer Super Washing Soda Variety Pack

Borax is an affordable and all-natural solution for cleaning clothes without detergent.

The natural clothing detergent is a mineral that’s mined directly from the earth and found on any grocery store shelf.

You may find borax listed as something else.

  • sodium borate 
  • sodium tetraborate
  • disodium tetraborate

Borax works well when removing stains and wrinkles and kills mold and bacteria that may have latched onto clothing.

The major drawback of borax is that it isn’t environmentally friendly due to chemicals that can kill aquatic wildlife and plants.


Yonder Laundry Soap Nuts/Berries | Hypoallergenic, 330 Washes 35.27 oz

Recently, soapnuts have become a more popular way to wash clothes without detergent. In truth, it’s one of the oldest and most natural ways to clean clothes.

The active ingredient in soapnuts is saponin, which is what breaks down dirt and oil. It makes an excellent alternative for those with sensitive skin and allergies.

Soapnuts don’t contain toxins and are eco-friendly. And they work when cleaning clothes, dishes, and floors. 

Soapnuts do have a few drawbacks. You aren’t going to get a ton of suds, so removing stubborn dirt and grime from clothes may not be the easiest of tasks.

You may also end up with soapnut residue, which makes clothing feel stiff or rough.

Benefits of Washing Clothes Without Traditional Detergent

You will see some benefits when you decide to wash laundry without detergent.

More affordable

The cost of laundry detergent, fabric softener, or dryer sheets can add up quickly, especially for large families.

When you go with natural cleaning solutions like baking soda and vinegar, you’re saving big bucks. And you aren’t using as much hot and cold water.

Environmentally friendly

Store-bought products are generally not good for the environment. They contain harsh chemicals that can pollute water supplies and kill plant life.

Extends the life of clothing

The same harsh chemicals that damage wildlife damage your clothing every time you wash them.

By washing them without traditional detergent, your clothes will last longer and fade less.

Better for your health

Again, detergent is full of harsh chemicals, so it makes sense that using it to wash clothes may have consequences.

Those with sensitive skin have a hard time finding a laundry solution that keeps them from itching.

People with skin allergies benefit the most by using natural products to wash laundry.

Drawbacks of Washing Clothes Without Traditional Detergent

You may find that doing laundry without detergent isn’t for you.


Washing clothes without the help of detergent isn’t easy, and it’s going to take more than ten or twenty minutes.

Add on the fact that sometimes you’re dealing with stubborn stains, and it’s just worth it.

Dirt & grime won’t go away.

Natural laundry cleaning products don’t always do the job when it comes to stubborn stains and breaking down dirt.

For example, baking soda and vinegar aren’t enough if you work outdoors or in a garage.

Lint is left behind

Store-bought detergent reduces lint and softens your clothing. When you go with a natural product, you may have to deal with lint build-up in your dryer. 

Lint tends to accumulate and can clog up your washing machine or dryer, which can lead to decreased energy efficiency and higher energy costs.

Mold & Bacteria

Yes, detergent has harsh chemicals, but one of the reasons is that it kills mold and bacteria that tend to linger on clothing. 

If your clothes smell off, you can probably blame mold and bacteria that didn’t die during the wash. 

And don’t forget you do want to smell fresh. The best way to achieve that is detergent.

What NOT to Use

  • Dishwasher detergent. Okay, the pods look similar, but the dishwasher and laundry detergent are very different things. You can bank on it, doing damage to your clothing.
  • Dishwashing liquid. You aren’t looking at creating a bubble bath in the kitchen.
  • Bubble bath.  A bubble disaster can do electrical damage and kill a washing machine.
  • Ammonia. It can ruin your clothes, skin, and lungs. Always use ammonia with caution.
  • Household cleaners. Just because it lifts grease from the stove, don’t think it’s suitable for clothes.
  • Body wash & shampoo. Keep it in the shower and away from clothes.

What can I wash my clothes with if I don’t have detergent?

  1. baking soda
  2. vinegar
  3. borax
  4. soapnuts

FAQs about Detergent

Can you wash clothes with just water?

Yes, it is possible to wash clothes with only water. To minimize detergent usage, it is advisable to separate laundry into lightly soiled and heavily soiled items. Lightly soiled clothes can be washed with water alone, while heavily soiled clothes may require the use of detergent.

Do laundry balls really work?

Laundry balls do not significantly improve the cleaning effectiveness compared to washing without detergent. The observed cleaning effects can mostly be attributed to the mechanical interactions with the laundry or the use of hot water instead of cold.

Can you just use baking soda to wash clothes?

Using only baking soda to wash clothes is possible. By adding one cup of baking soda directly to your laundry load, you can achieve a fresh and clean result. It is recommended to bypass the soap dispenser and simply toss the baking soda in with your clothes. This method is particularly beneficial for individuals with sensitive skin, as baking soda does not contain any additives that may cause itchiness or breakouts.

What happens if you wash something with no detergent?

If you wash something without using detergent, it will not only make your clothes look, feel, and smell worse, but it can also cause them to lose their appearance and texture. Detergents are essential for removing dirt, oils, and body odors from your clothing. They combine a mixture of salt, water, and soap to ensure your clothes are thoroughly cleaned.

Is it OK to wash clothes with just fabric softener?

It is not recommended to wash clothes with only fabric softener. Fabric softener alone is not sufficient for cleaning fabrics and should be used in conjunction with detergent. While fabric softener can leave clothes feeling and smelling pleasant, it does not effectively remove dirt and grime.

Can I use baking soda as laundry detergent?

Baking soda can be used as laundry detergent. By adding just one cup of baking soda directly with your clothes, you can achieve a fresh and clean load. It is even more beneficial for those with sensitive skin, as baking soda does not contain any additives that may cause itchiness or breakouts.

Can you wash towels without detergent?

It is possible to wash towels without detergent by running them through a wash cycle without the use of detergent or bleach. Instead, add one-half cup of baking soda to eliminate any mildew smell. Afterward, you can choose to air-dry or machine-dry the towels.

How do you make homemade laundry detergent?

To make homemade laundry detergent, you can start by boiling 8 cups of water. According to Balanzat, you should then include 2 cups of borax and 2 cups of baking soda. After that, dilute 1 cup of 3% hydrogen peroxide with 2 cups of water and add it to the mixture. Finally, incorporate 2 cups of dish soap and another 8 cups of boiling water.

Can I use shampoo as laundry detergent?

Using shampoo as laundry detergent is possible, but it is not recommended to regularly wash clothes this way. It is important to never put shampoo into a washing machine. If you choose to clean your laundry with shampoo, it is best to only hand wash the items using shampoo.

Can you substitute Dawn for laundry detergent?

Dawn cannot be substituted for laundry detergent because it was not designed to effectively clean clothes like laundry detergent does. According to cleaning expert Sara San Angelo, using dish soap may remove some dirt and grease stains, but it will not clean your clothes as effectively. Additionally, dish soap may leave behind soap residue on fabrics that is difficult to remove.

What is the best homemade laundry detergent?

The best homemade laundry detergent consists of a mixture of 1/2 cup of washing soda, 3/4 cup of Castile soap, 2 gallons of water, 1/2 cup of baking soda, and 15 drops of lavender and lemon essential oil. To prepare, combine the baking soda and washing soda in a large bucket of hot water and stir until fully dissolved.

Can you wash with shampoo?

Washing with shampoo is possible, but it may not be beneficial for your skin. Lal discourages using shampoo regularly because it does not moisturize the skin and has a different pH.

Can you use vinegar as a substitute for laundry detergent?

Yes, vinegar can be used as a substitute for laundry detergent to clean clothes without harsh chemicals. Simply add 1/2 cup of distilled white vinegar to the detergent compartment of your washing machine and there is no need to use any other detergents.

What is a good substitute for washing up liquid?

A good substitute for washing up liquid is shampoo. Dilute a small amount (about a tablespoon) of shampoo with 500ml of hot water, and you’ll have an effective solution for removing grime, similar to washing up liquid.

Is laundry detergent just soap?

Laundry detergent is not just soap; it is a synthetic, man-made derivative used for various cleaning purposes, including laundering and dishwashing. Soaps, on the other hand, are made from natural ingredients like plant oils or animal fat-derived acids.

How to make laundry detergent?

To make laundry detergent, you can create a mixture by combining two cups of borax, two cups of washing soda, and one cup of soap flakes. Thoroughly stir the ingredients together using a wooden spoon until they are well mixed. Once done, promptly seal the container and remember to attach a label with clear directions on how to use the detergent.

How do you make laundry shampoo?

To make laundry shampoo, start by combining the dry ingredients, which are borax and washing soda, in a 1:1 ratio. Ensure they are thoroughly mixed. Then, add 1 part liquid castile soap to the mixture and mix well. Afterward, pour in 8 cups of boiling-hot water followed by 8 parts of cold water. If you desire a scented detergent, you can enhance it by adding around a dozen drops of essential oils.

Can I use dish soap to wash clothes?

You cannot use dish soap to wash clothes in a laundry washing machine because it is specifically designed to remove grease and food particles, which can create excessive foamy suds in the machine. However, dish soap can be effective as a pre-treatment for stains on clothes.

How do you wash whites with Dawn dish soap?

To wash whites with Dawn dish soap, start by filling a squeeze bottle and storing it in the laundry room. Whenever you come across a stain, apply a small amount of undiluted Blue Dawn Ultra directly onto it, and then proceed with your regular laundry routine. This method is highly effective in removing various stains from both white and colored items. Just remember to always separate your whites and colors into different loads for optimal results.

Is Dawn dish soap safe?

Dawn dish soap is safe for use on all types of dishes, including delicate materials like china and glass, according to the manufacturer, Procter & Gamble. Additionally, it effectively eliminates dirt and grime.

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