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Reader Tip: Use vinegar as a substitute for fabric softener

Daniela emailed in the following tip:

I’ve been using vinegar instead of fabric softener in my laundry recently. I just add it in the rinse cycle to solve hard water fading on the clothes. It works great, our clothes look better than they did with some of the more expensive fabric softeners, and it costs us a fraction of what we used to pay for fabric softener. -Daniela

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  • Annette says:

    Does the vinegar leave your clothes smelling like sour vinegar? Does it help with static cling?


  • Julie says:

    How much vinegar do you use?

  • Terry Sharpe says:

    which type of vinegar do you suggest….and how much?

  • Amanda says:

    Do your clothes smell like vinegar?

    • Erin says:

      Sometimes our clothes do smell like vinegar coming out of the washer – but the smell is gone once they come out of the dryer!

    • holi says:

      I have even a pinch…used the brown cider vinegar! I was out of the regular white vinegar, so desperate times call for innovation! Didn’t make the clothes smell or discolor them. I did mix it in before I added the clothes.

  • Colette says:

    What a great idea, but I have the same question about the smell.

  • Heidi says:

    is it possible to put the vinegar in a downy ball? love those things since I totally tune out the sound of my washer ( and I have a simple machine that wont alarm or add stuff on a timer)

  • Emma K says:

    My daughter was wearing a black and white dress one day and a stranger at a museum told me, that if you soak black clothing in vinegar (and water) that it helped them retain their color. Not sure if it’s true

    • jennifer says:

      I’ve read/heard that before.
      I don’t wear black so I don’t know for sure.

    • Lea Stormhammer says:

      My mom used to do a vinegar rinse when dying material. I would assume this would be the same idea.


    • Melissa says:

      I bet it’s true for your daughters dress. – I soak swimsuits in vinegar right after purchasing. It really helps them keep the color in the chlorine and not lose their color!

    • Alison K says:

      I remember my Mom used to soak our new clothes in vinegar to prevent bleeding. We even used it to get bleeding out of clothes like the red stitching bleeding onto a white shirt. It worked pretty good if caught before the heat of the dryer set it in. I don’t knoe if fabrics are made different now, but I haven’t noticed an issue with the bleeding like when I was a kid.

  • Rena says:

    Vinegar is great. Your clothes don’t smell like vinegar after they are dry. Yes you can put it in a downey ball or how ever else you use your fabric softener. It has done great for my static but I heard it doesn’t help everyone depending on where you live.

    • Johnlyn says:

      It does nothing for static cling here in South Dakota – plus we have really really hard water which I think contributes to the problem.

      If I don’t want static I have to dry my clothes and use a bounce sheet.

      There is no smell at all when you use vinegar! I wish it worked for me.

      • Suzy says:

        I’m in Rapid. What about you? I haven’t tried it but I am doing laundry right now so maybe I will try it on the next load.

        We have a water softener that helps with the hard water but goes through salt like crazy!

        • Johnlyn says:

          Hey Suzy! Nice to see another SD person here. We’re in Spearfish. I’d be interested to know if vinegar works for you – we’ve been thinking about getting a water softener.

      • Kimberly says:

        Try using a balled up piece of aluminum foil in the dryer to help with static. You can use it for many cycles before it stops working. I always keep one in the dryer during the winter and replace it when it starts getting really compact and falling apart.

    • Liz says:

      You can use aluminum foil to help cut down the static in the dryer. Just make a baseball sized portion of aluminum foil and you can use it over and over in the dryer.

  • Debra D says:

    I use vinegar anyway in the wash to sanitize our baby clothes. The clothes will not smell if you add it before the last rinse. Or I just add it to to the bleach compartment (since I don’t use bleach at all) in the beginning and I am good to go. If you add it too late you may have a rinse only cycle that can wash it along. I have heard that a little essential lavender or tea tree oil are a nice softeners too, but don’t know all the details.

  • Tracey says:

    How much vinegar do you use in a load?

  • Liz says:

    Love the tip thank you! but what is the concentration? 1 cup for an extralarge load? 1/2 a cup? Help! thank you!

    • kerry D. says:

      I never measure, but probably about a cup…

      I just got a H.E. front loader machine, and have been using vinegar in the fabric softener compartment… does anyone know if that’s ok? These machines seem kinda touchy. (I wouldn’t have got a new one but my 21 year old machine broke…)

      • Mrs S says:

        I am NOT a professional. That being said I have used vinegar in HE machine for over 8 years and never had an issue with it clogging or corroding or anything. I do however mix my vinegar with water because if my softener compartment isn’t full enough, it will not dispense.

  • Christy says:

    I use vinegar too. No smell once the clothes are dry, works great when hanging clothes out on the line to dry too. I love that vinegar has so many great uses.

  • Carmen Bowen says:

    How much vinegar do you use per load? I have a front-loader, and used to use it, until my husband complained of the sour smell? Maybe I was using too much?? I have used a small amount of vinegar, along with my liquid fabric softener, and have had ok results. But would love to use more vinegar, less fabric softener! Thanks for any insight! 🙂

    • Lana says:

      The sour smell may be the washing machine itself. Mold is a big problem with front loaders and you could try leaving the door open to help the moldy odor. I am a former owner of a frontloader and I hated that moldy smell.

      • Lori Pottorff says:

        If you look at your washing machine owner’s manual you may find that there is a “trap door” where water collects and gets stagnant. That needs to be emptied and cleaned every so often. The vinegar actually deodorizes a smelly machine and NO you will not smell like a pickle factory if you use it in your wash. It makes your clothes so soft because it cuts down on the sudsing factor of the detergent and it makes sure to rinse out all of the detergent thoroughly!

    • Jen says:

      I have been using vinegar for a long time. I have a front loader and fill the fabric softener dispenser of the washer full of vinegar. Never have had a smell after drying.
      Whenever we have have had the washer techs come out for repairs, they always comment that the insides look excellent. Thanks to the vinegar, and only about 2 Tbs of detergent per load. 🙂

    • Tedi says:

      You need to leave the doors open on the front loader. I have had ours for 2 years now and have not had a problem with it smelling.

    • I’ve read that the vinegar helps keep the front-loaders cleaner. I’ve been using it for about four years now; I just fill up the fabric softener compartment. If you’re getting a smell, make sure you remove your laundry promptly after it’s clean and leave the door open. Run an empty cycle with just bleach and the hottest water (or a cleaning cycle if your machine has one).

      Also, are you using white vinegar? I use it in my washer and dishwasher both. But once I used apple cider vinegar and it smelled horrible.

    • Christy says:

      I’m fairly certain it’s not the vinegar. I had the same problem with mildewy clothing, mostly because I was unfamiliar with the issues front-loaders have. My mom and husband thought it was because I use natural detergent. After some research, I figured out that adding 1/4-1/2 c baking soda under the liquid detergent dispenser, drying the door and seal, and leaving the door open overnight got rid of the smell.
      Regarding fabric softener, I’ve read that it’s very toxic so it would be safer to just switch completely over to vinegar.

      • Christy says:

        BTW, I use the baking soda with every wash. I don’t actually measure it, I just pour enough that I can still set the liquid dispenser on it and the drawer will still close. I do occasionally use vinegar in a wash, but, honestly, I don’t find that I need a fabric softener. It’s usually for when I leave a wet load in overnight and have to rewash. Then I use vinegar in the fabric softener dispenser.

  • Deborah Wheeler says:

    Do you use white or apple cider vinegar? Do the clothes smell like vinegar when they are finished?

  • Catherine says:

    I do this too and it works great. The best benefit, I think, is that you can use it on towels & they don’t loose their absorbancy.

    NOTE: Do NOT mix bleach & vinegar in the same cycle! If they mix together, they will create toxic fumes. Not cool.

  • Deborah Wheeler says:

    I would also like to know how much to use for a front loading washer.

  • Julia says:

    I’ve been using white vinegar as fabric softener for a long time. Since I got my front loading washing machine, I’ve learned it also helps alot with that all to common mildew smell. Vinegar helps keep the liquid detergent from building up in any kind of machine too.

  • Heather says:

    I have been doing this since the beginning of the year and will never go back to dryer sheets or fabric softener. Our clothes come out fresher, cleaner and softer than before. Especially if you have hard water, give this a try. It solved our stinky/musty towel problem (they used to smell even after being washed) and it helps with static also. I do use dryer balls to help fluff the clothes while drying. If you have a fabric softener dispenser in your washer already just glug some vinegar in there, no need to measure exactly, and set the wash cycle to fabric softener. So easy, much cheaper and great for those with sensitive skin!

  • I have been using vinegar in my laundry for some time now and have saved a ton of money. I put vinegar in my Downy ball for fabric sofner. I also pour vinegar into my white load as a natural bleach. To help with static I use dryer balls.

    • Linda G. says:

      Thanks for the reminder of putting vinegar in with my whites as a natural bleach, I thought to do so but I had already added another whitener so I couldn’t at that time.

    • Vinegar actually reacts poorly with soaps and detergents. They work best in a basic environment, and vinegar is an acid, so it reduces their effectiveness. That’s why I put vinegar in the rinse only, because by that time all the soap is gone.

  • Jen says:

    I have never tried this, but after reading all of your comments I think I’ll try it. I would worry about the smell – my family has an uncanny sense of smell, but it’s worth a try. Fabric softener is so expensive!

    Question – I air dry a lot of my clothes. Will this be a problem? I’d hate for it to come out hard or smelly because of this. Any experience would be appreciated. Thanks!

    • Linda G. says:

      The vinegar will help to soften your clothes and the vinegar smell will disappear but I’ve never tried to air dry after using it though. Perhaps you can do half vinegar and half fabric softener so your family members will still smell the fabric softener after it comes out of the wash? Good luck!

    • AKelly says:

      We line dry ours outside mostly, inside sometimes. No smell here. I use use straight white vinegar in the fabric softener holder on the washer. No vinegar smell on the clothes. Sometimes I do get a whiff of it around the washer. Not one of the family has ever mentioned a vinegar smell on their clothes, so give it a go.

    • Kadee says:

      I use vinegar, and line dry the majority of our clothes. No vinegar odor!

    • Veggiemomof2 says:

      This is one of the reasons I love using vinegar as a softener. You can line dry jeans & towels & the pants don’t walk off the line by themselves. The towels are almost as soft as if you’d put them in the dryer cuz the vinegar has stripped out the soap residue.

  • valleygirl says:

    Already use it in the rinse cycle of my dishwasher, never thought about the clothes washer! Will try it on my darks next load! Thank you!

  • Brandi Carson says:

    How much vinegar do you use per load, as much as you would use fabric softener or can you use less? Def. worth giving a try, especially since at the moment we are our of fabric softener!

  • Heather says:

    We have been using vinegar in our washer for years. At first I did not like smell, but I realized it was because my clothes did not smell like anything at all. I started using the vinegar with just a splash of fabric softener. It doesn’t take much, about 1/4 of a cup per load.

  • Tedi says:

    Does anyone know how to get the stains out of underarms from deodorant? I have been using vinegar for some time in my laundry cycles, but that doesn’t seem to get the stains gone.

    • kandie says:

      Make a paste out of baking soda and dish washing detergent (like Dawn). Work it into the cloth with a brush. I’ve had great results with this. You may have to do it a couple times to completely get the residue out, then just do it every few months as needed. (I’ve only done this with plain cotton shirts–nothing fancy that needed to be ironed…) Good luck 🙂

  • Stacy says:

    We use vinegar occasionally as a fabric softener (if your kids wet them selves Fabric softener prevents the clothes from rinsing well enough to get the smell out and vinegar neutralizes it) ALSO if you put vinegar in your wash cycle as well, a few TBSP it will prevent fading/bleeding. I used to work at Sam’s Club and the vest was VERY RED. I could wash it with pretty much anything if I added vinegar (I still avoided washing it with whites)
    I also sew a lot and vinegar in the wash and rinse cycle makes it so you can wash all your fabric purchases at once (good habit so it is all clean when you want to use it)

  • Beth says:

    I make my own softener using 1 bottle of cheap hair conditioner, 3 cups vinegar and then put this in to a “standard” size softener bottle and the fill up with hot water. I then just use the same amount I normally would. Works great and so much cheaper!

  • B says:

    I was using vinegar, and a a half cup baking soda with my detergent. Although, now I use the smartklean ball, and I am loving it. Not sure if I can use the vinegar with that.
    I also heard that the vinegar helps wash your machine too. If that is true, double duty!

  • Chanda says:

    A small word of caution, vinegar helps colors set which is wonderful for making your clothes bright and last longer, but it also means it will set any stains in your clothes, so don’t add it if you’re stain fighting anything in your load.

  • Karen says:

    I use vinegar in my wash, it’s really great to taking the smell of urine out of things when my son wets his bed. But the down side of vinegar is it sets stains!! Then they are really hard to get out, if at all! I only use the vinegar in towels & bedding!

  • Deb says:

    I have found the cheapest white vinegar at Costco/Sam’s….you have to buy 2 gallons, but it goes fast.

  • Aberline says:

    I’m curious about the prices here? I can get a big jug of fabric softener at Big Lots for about $3 and a gallon of vinegar costs the same.

    You don’t need to add as much softener as the bottle says. Just a splash will do.

  • Jennifer says:

    I have a laundry question someone here might be able to answer. Lately I’ve noticed our dark clothing (navy, black) with white-ish faded streaks/splotches on them. I rarely use bleach in the washing machine, plus it doesn’t have that “bleached” look so I’m pretty sure it is not that… I am not sure what is causing this! I have had to literally throw away 3 shirts recently. Has anyone had this problem? Any ideas on what the issue could be? Thanks!!! 🙂

  • Suzanne H says:

    I use vinegar in my HE washer to keep the suds and soap scum down. This was a trick told to me by a washer repairman. We called him out b/c our washer wasn’t spinning effectively – or so we thought. Really it was just the soap residue had built up too much which created too many suds. When an HE washer spins and you have too many suds, it spins out the suds instead of water. He ran the washer with nothing but vinegar and it worked fine after that! He told me to use less soap and always put in just a dash of vinegar – no special HE detergents needed (he said that’s marketing bull and I’ve since had other people confirm that as well). That was almost 6 years ago and my 13+ year old washer is working fine! As an added bonus, vinegar also helps get out strong odors, whitens whites, brightens colors, is all natural and doesn’t leave any lingering smell at all!

  • Melissa says:

    I have been using vinegar for months now. it is great and cheap. It also helps get the funky smells out of clothes.

  • Love this. I was thinking about making my own laundry detergent, so this would go along perfectly. Plus, I ran out of generic Downy last night! Store stop on the way home for sure!

  • Courtney says:

    Another use for vinegar – an appliance repairman told me that every so often, you should run your empty dishwasher using vinegar instead of detergent. The vinegar cleans out any sediment or buildup and keeps your dishwasher running more efficiently.

    • Aberline says:

      I put vinegar in every load. It’s the only thing that works now that everything is phosphate-free.

    • Sharon says:

      Ha! I was just about to ask if anyone had tried vinegar in the dishwasher. We live in an apartment on the bottom floor and have one large flood and one mini-flood with lines getting plugged, etc. No one’s fault but everyone time the upstairs neighbor ran the disposal or dishwasher the dirty water came out of our dishwasher and sink (it was pretty disgusting). I can’t seem to get the smell out of the dishwasher so I’m definately going to try this now. Thanks!

      • If it’s really bad, there are dishwasher cleaners you can buy. I buy a citric acid-based one by Finish; you stick the bottle upside-down in the dishwasher and run an empty cycle, and it really makes a difference. I wonder if something really strong like that would help get things clean once and for all, and then you could maintain with vinegar. I use vinegar in the rinse aid compartment.

      • Kelly says:

        I had that happen to me in a bottom-floor apartment, too! My “neighbor” refused to stop washing their nasty dishes, even as I was bailing water out of my sink to avoid a flood! Luckily, I was scheduled to move out a week later! 🙂

  • Debbie says:

    Sounds great to me but my husband says the vinegar will rust the washer in time…anyone know about this? Thank you!

  • Andrea says:

    To answer the questions a lot of people seem to have:

    Use white vinegar only, not apple cider or red wine vinegar

    I use about the same amount of vinegar as I would fabric softener, maybe a little more

    I personally don’t see much of a savings using vinegar over fabric softener, as there are rarely coupons for it.

  • I know people always say how using vinegar saves so much money, but I just don’t see how it would do that for me. I have never used liquid fabric softener (unless I get it for free). I get dryer sheets with coupons, so 40 sheets for about $1. I cut them in half, so they last twice as long.

    I think I use an average of 3 half sheets per week, so that’s 6 months for a 40 ct. box of dryer sheets. $2 a year for dryer sheets? Cheap! Buying vinegar would surely cost more!

  • Kelly says:

    Our water is REALLY hard well water, so I’ve found that a scoop of Borax powder really helps soften the water so my soap can do a better job. Even using Tide, I get better results with a bit of Borax. At about $3-4 a box, it is an affordable, septic-safe way to soften the water and get cleaner clothes.

    I do use vinegar in the rinse thing in my dishwasher, though. I get less hard-water-etching and spots with vinegar in the rinse.

  • Elisha says:

    The problem with this is vinegar is an acid. You really don’t want to put an acid on clothing…this will weaken cotton and most delicate fabrics.

    This will actually cost you more in the long run. Hope this helps!

  • Ellie says:

    Thank you, this is great! Some fabric softeners are too strong and bother my allergies.

  • Margery says:

    I use homemade wool dryer balls to get rid of static in my dryer. ( I made them from one of my husband’s sweaters that moths had eaten. The one sweater made 6 dryer balls, and they are so cute!)

    If I use fabric softener, which is usually just with towels and sheets, I cut it 1/2 with white vinegar.

  • Annette Faber says:

    Can you use this in HE machines? Can I just add it to the fabric softener slot?

  • Erin says:

    My husband has acquired a wardrobe of mostly merino wools and synthetics. Both are supposed to be fabulous odor deterrents, which is a fabulous option when in a remote location for long amounts of time.

    However, after time I noticed a smell when the clothes came out of the washing machine. Not necessarily a bad smell, but they still had his smell. These fabrics demand no fabric softeners, and I typically line dried them. The solution I found was to use distilled white vinegar in the rinse cycle. My research found that dryer sheets leave a melted wax coating on all the clothes, making them smell lovely and static free. I was pretty grossed out by this, actually.

    For some reason, it was very hard for me to stop using dryer sheets. I did, and started using the vinegar (maybe 1/4 c, in the fabric detergent cup of my front loader). The first month was odd; I was still trying to decide if I like it. But then, I really began to notice how soft my towels were. Clothes were not holding an odor. But, now that it’s winter I’m beginning to see that I will need some sort of static reducer!

    I’m loving it! I’ve also heard it works well for cloth diapers (again, because you can’t use fabric softeners as it ‘coats’ the fabric).

  • Allison says:

    It’s cheaper to give up fabric softener altogether. I did this years ago. After a while my hubby asked if we could please start using it again for towels. 🙂 So now I buy less than 1 bottle a year, on sale. I use it only for towels, and only half as much as the cap indicates.

  • Loan N says:

    I have a front loader & used vinegar (in the softener compartment) from the beginning, never had the weird FL smell others complain about – thought it was b/c I don’t do much laundry. But when I stopped using vinegar (ran out & kept forgetting to buy more), my machine started to smell bad. Started using vinegar again & it went away. Also I airdry my clothes, and they never smelled sour… I fill the softener compartment, but it only holds maybe 1/8 cup

  • Deanna says:

    My machine has no dispenser and I currently don’t have a fabric softener ball. What should I do?

    • Jordan says:

      If you have a top loader you could allow your machine to fill then add the vinegar to the top so it disperses in the water evenly while the machine agitates! That’s the only thing I can think of other than just adding the vinegar to the wash like you would the laundry detergent. I hope that helps! -Jordan, MSM Team

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