Do You Need a Laundry Detergent Booster?

detergent booster

The Spruce / Ana Cadena

You follow all the laundry rules. You sort your laundry. You use the right water temperatures. You clean your washer regularly. But your laundry still looks dingy and has stains that won't come out. Why?

Even if you follow all of "the rules" on how to do laundry correctly, it is possible to still have less than desirable results. Could the problem be your laundry detergent?

Not All Laundry Detergents Are Created Equal

Just take a look at product ingredients and prices in the laundry detergent aisle at a store and you'll quickly notice that not all laundry detergents are created equal.  

The detergent's cleaning ability is based on the ingredients in the formula, the quality of your water supply, and your laundry skills. If you choose a laundry detergent that does not contain sufficient stain removing enzymes and effective surfactants to lift soil from clothing and suspend them in water to be washed away, the cleaning results will not be satisfactory. 

There are typically three levels of pricing in laundry detergent: budget, mid-range, and top tier. Price is not always a total indicator of a laundry detergent's cleaning ability; however, it is usually an indicator of the number and type of ingredients in the product. The key is to look at the list of ingredients. The more active ingredients like surfactants and enzymes, the better the detergent.

If you choose to use a less expensive detergent that does not clean as well as you'd like, there are ways you can boost the cleaning power. Some detergent boosters are formulated to condition hard water and optimize a detergent's cleaning ability. Natural products like distilled white vinegar and baking soda can improve the cleaning results of detergent. Boosters should be used along with the regular amount of detergent recommended for each wash load.

Calculate the Costs

If you are watching your budget, always take time to calculate the cost of the laundry detergent and the booster per load of clothes. Many detergents are formulated with boosters, such as oxygen bleach, already added. Be sure to read labels carefully. You may find that a higher-priced laundry detergent with more active cleaning ingredients is less expensive than using two products. ALWAYS measure the amount of product you use. Overdosing is expensive and ineffective in boosting cleaning results.

Laundry Detergent Boosters

There are several additives you can use to boost a detergent's cleaning ability. Each one offers different properties but may help solve some of your laundry issues. 

  • Distilled White Vinegar: Distilled white vinegar should be added to the rinse cycle to help strip away any detergent residue that is clinging to fabrics. The residue traps soil and leaves clothes looking dingy. Many find that distilled white vinegar leaves clothes soft enough that fabric softener is not needed.
  • Baking Soda: Baking soda will boost the cleaning and odor removal performance of your detergent. This is especially important if you have excessive minerals or hard water. In water that is too acidic or alkaline, detergent needs a boost to work more effectively. 
  • Borax: A naturally occurring mineral, borax removes stains by converting some water molecules to hydrogen peroxide, a bleaching product. When detergent is added to hard water, some of the detergent compounds attach to the calcium and magnesium granules, settle to the bottom of the washer without cleaning your clothes, and are flushed away in the rinse. By adding borax, the water ions are neutralized and detergent has more cleaning power.
  • Washing Soda: Washing soda acts as a solvent in removing a wide range of stains. The sodium carbonate "softens" water helping other cleaning ingredients lift soil from the fabrics and suspend the soil in the wash water.
  • Chlorine Bleach: When chlorine bleach is used in addition to detergent, the chemical ingredient oxidizes helping to remove soil and organic matter. It acts as a disinfectant on bacteria and viruses and generally whitens cotton, linen, and natural fabrics.


Chlorine bleach must be used with extreme care because it can permanently remove color and weaken fabrics.

  • Oxygen Bleach: Oxygen bleach works more slowly than chlorine bleach and contains sodium perborate or sodium precarbonate to remove stains, whiten clothes, and brighten colors by removing soil residue. It is often called all-fabric bleach and is usually safe for all fabrics and colors.
  • Water Conditioners/Water Softeners: These terms are used interchangeably on some laundry product labels but there is a difference. A water conditioner is a term for an equipment system that changes the qualities of the water in your home. A water softener is a product that reduces water hardness one grain per gallon or less. Softening water allows detergents to do a better job in cleaning clothes and is more gentle on clothing fibers.