Why You Should Add Vinegar to Your Laundry Load

White distilled vinegar bottled next to laundry weave basket

The Spruce / Ulyana Verbytska

Among several uses for ordinary white vinegar in the laundry room, is its use as a natural fabric softener. Commercial fabric softeners are expensive and may leave heavily scented residues on laundry that many people find unpleasant, both to the nose and on the skin. A half-cup of white vinegar when added to the final rinse, on the other hand, will soften fabrics and leave no residue at all. A light scent can be added, if you want, with a few drops of lavender oil. 

Fun Fact

Unlike commercial softeners, vinegar has no effect on the fire-retardants used in children's sleepwear.

White distilled vinegar, available on supermarket shelves, is a product of the alcohol distillation process on starchy grains such as corn, rice, and barley. Mildly acidic (5 to 6 percent), white vinegar will not only soften clothes, but also freshen the scent, and it is especially effective at removing and preventing mildew odors. The mild acid is just strong enough to dissolve the residue alkaline soap residue, which is where the softening action comes from. 

Although there is some use for it in cooking, white distilled vinegar may be labeled as "cleaning vinegar" on the store shelves. Make sure to use white distilled vinegar — not cider vinegar — because apple cider vinegar contains brownish tannins that can potentially stain clothes. 

Additional Uses for Vinegar

  • As cotton clothes whitener: mix with boiling water and used to soak clothes. 
  • To clean washing machines: add a cup of vinegar where you would normally put laundry detergent and wash an empty load on the hottest water available. This will freshen the washing machine and remove leftover soap residue.
  • Eliminate mildew and mold odors: eliminate odors from a washing machine by mixing two cups of vinegar and running it through the machine without clothes.
  • Prevent static cling: add to laundry, sweaters and other clothing, and it will be less likely to pick up pet hair.
  • Fight underarm odor: spray undiluted white vinegar on the underarms of shirts before laundering to reduce sweat odor. 
  • Clean mineral deposits from a clothes iron: fill the water chamber with a 50/50 mix of white vinegar and water; then let the iron steam to remove deposits.
  • Get rid of smoke odors: add to the washing machine, and vinegar will remove cigarette smoke odors from clothing. 
  • As a natural weed killer.
  • Clean pets ears: mix a few teaspoons of vinegar in water to make a mild solution for cleaning inside your pet's ears. 
  • Remove bumper stickers: clean bumper and window stickers with a vinegar-water mixture, and the mild acid in the vinegar will loosen the adhesives.
  • Tile and glass cleaner: mix water with vinegar to make a natural cleaner for shiny surfaces. 
  • Cleaning coffee makers: add vinegar to the water reservoir, and it will help clean mineral deposits off the inner workings of your coffee maker.