Using Vinegar as Fabric Softener Review – Does it Work?

5 out of 5 leaves

5 out of 5 leaves

When using a standard automatic washer and dryer, a fabric softener is typically required for soft, static free clothes.  Fabric softeners come in liquid or dryer sheet form, and work by coating the fabrics with a layer of chemicals.  These chemicals increase the smooth feeling of fabrics and decrease static build up during tumble drying.  The buildup of fabric softeners can lead to decreased absorbency, which is not ideal for items like towels and cloth diapers.  Can White Vinegar be used as a fabric softener instead?

The Good

  • Better for you – less chemicals on your clothes = less chemicals on your body
  • Better for the Earth – natural vinegar is made from plants, a renewable resource
  • Saves Money – using white vinegar costs much less per load than any liquid fabric softener*
  • Clothes do not smell like vinegar after washing
  • Vinegar does not impact the absorbency characteristics of fabrics


The Bad

  • Vinegar is better at softening clothes than at removing static
  • Clothes do not have the heavy fragrance that some enjoy from fabric softener (this may be a good thing for some)

My Experience

White Vinegar as Fabric Softener: 8 cents per load!

After my experimentation with aluminum foil dryer balls, I was left needing a natural fabric softener (the foil dryer balls did a great job fighting static, but some fabrics were left a little stiff).  Many folks recommended using white vinegar in the rinse cycle, so I decided to try it out.  I did laundry as usual with liquid detergent, but added a 1/2 cup of white vinegar to the rinse cycle.  I dried the clothes with the foil dryer balls.  The clothes came out soft and static free (and they didn’t smell like vinegar)!  Using White Vinegar as a natural fabric softener worked great!

A 1/2 cup of vinegar softened a big load of kids clothes: 12 pairs of pants, 12 little shirts, 11 pajama sets, 9 pairs of socks, 4 pairs of undies, 3 onsies, 2 dresses, and 2 jackets!

My only watch out with this method is to remember to add the vinegar to the rinse cycle as the water is filling, or already full.  I made the silly mistake of adding the vinegar to the spin cycle, and some clothes were bleached, and smelled like vinegar when they were done.  Oops!

If you don’t want to sit around waiting for the rinse cycle, you can use a fabric dispenser ball.  Just pour the vinegar in the ball, and add to your wash as usual.  It’s practically foolproof!  Here’s a link to one if you’re not sure what I’m talking about.

Have you ever tried using vinegar as a fabric softener?  What other green laundry ideas do you recommend?

*By my calculations, white vinegar costs about $0.08 per load, liquid fabric softener averages around $0.12-$0.32 per load.  Dryer sheets are about $0.05 each if you get the giant box at Costco.

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102 Responses to Using Vinegar as Fabric Softener Review – Does it Work?

  1. Pingback: Aluminum Foil Dryer Balls Review – Do they Work? | Green Idea Reviews

  2. Nancy says:

    As I hang my clothes on the line, I don’t use a softener — but it’s good to know if I ever need one. Thanks!

    • Victoria says:

      I would love to learn more about line drying – I’ve never tried it.

      • kristin says:

        There’s not much to know! I’m really tall and can’t chance that something will shrink in the dryer, so I’ve been line drying for years. The only problems for me are:

        a) space. If you’re an apartment dweller like I am, you have to get creative about how to hang stuff up in your place.

        b) time. Denim is the slowest, but an absolute must for me. The only things I put in the dryer are towels and linens.

        I use vinegar in place of fabric softener and have never smelled it on my clothes after they’ve dried. However, when I used to use liquid fabric softener it would sometimes streak and get embedded in the fabric. Without the dryer, traditional fabric softener stays in your clothes a lot more.

  3. Teresa says:

    I keep reading about this, but I haven’t tried it yet. The aluminum foil balls are a new idea for me.

  4. Yolanda says:

    I LOVE the picture of your clean, folded laundry!

  5. Kathy says:

    I do use vinegar in my rinse (when i remember!) I use wool dryer balls to help the clothes dry faster but they dont’ seem to help with static cling either. I’d rather dry on the line whenever I get the chance. Do you make your own laundry soap?

    • Victoria says:

      I haven’t tried my own laundry soap yet – but I hope to one day. Do the wool dryer balls really help with dry time?

    • Kathleen says:

      I just made my first batch of laundry detergent and I LOVE LOVE LOVE it!!! I have a HE washer and it is marvelous. It isn’t chemical free, but here is the site I got it from http://www.howdoesshe.com/cheaper-and-better-diy-laundry-detergent/

      Looking forward to trying the vinegar as fabric softener.

      • Michelle says:

        for those trying the felted wool balls, clip a safety pin to them- that will help with the static cling. Also if you like dryer sheets for the additional scent factor but don’t like the chemicals try getting a non-metal tub with lid, fill it with vinegar, add 40-60 drops of essential oil of your choice and soak sponges that have been cut in half in it, pull one out before each load, toss in the dryer with your clothes and dry as normal. When the load is dry, put the sponge back into the tub to use for next time. :)

        • kh says:

          Has anyone heard about vinegar hurting washing machines?

          • loesa Weebothee says:

            I don’t see how vinegar could “hurt” a washer, it will clean all of the residue from detergent and previous uses of softener out of it.

          • courtQb says:

            I’ve heard of vinegar in washing machines being an issue when you also use bleach. They react with each other and can damage the machine. I don’t use bleach personally, it’s too irritating, so if you’re just using the vinegar it should be fine, from what I understand.

  6. Oh, yes! I have been using white vinegar for over a month now and am so pleasantly surprised how well it works! I did it by accident when I ran out of fabric softener sheets and remembered reading about white vinegar. I have dryer balls that help with the static so the combination of the two has worked well for me!

    Becky B.
    http://www.organizingmadefun.com
    Organizing Made Fun

    • Victoria says:

      Yes, I’ve been using aluminum foil dryer balls with the vinegar – my last load of towels was perfect!

  7. Missy says:

    I wonder how this works in an HE machine??

    Stopping by from Better Mom Monday!

  8. Marlo says:

    Like this! Vinegar also works well on cloth diapers as you can’t use fabric softeners. It strip built up soap and hard water deposits. Use 1/2 cup occasionally in the rinse cycle. I have not tried vinegar with other laundry. Thanks for the tips!

  9. I have used vinegar in the rinse for a few years and I just love it. I have never heard of the foil dryer balls and doubt I would want to put aluminum in with my clean clothes. BUT I made and use wool dryer balls. They reduce the static very well.

    • Victoria says:

      Amy, I was worried about the aluminum dryer balls too, so I tried them with our towels first. They worked great, so I tested them on kids clothes. No problems there either. I use them with everything except my few delicates that can be tumbled dry.

  10. Dee says:

    I pour in the vinegar in the “bleach” cup after I put the soap in the machine at the beginning of the cycle. Never had any problems doing it that way.

    • Victoria says:

      Perfect! My washer doesn’t have a bleach cup, so I just set the timer on my phone to remind me to dump the vinegar in.

  11. Jessica says:

    Interesting. I use vinegar in place of “jet dry” in my dish washer. I will have to try this in the washing machine. I have a spetic tank I wonder if it’s better than fabric softener?

    • Victoria says:

      I’ll have to try it out in the dishwasher. I presume it works as a rinse aid?

      • Melonie Chaney says:

        I use white vinegar in both washer and dishwasher and have for years. I love it. I keeps my clothes soft and my dishes spot free.

        • Stephanie says:

          I have hard water where I live and using vinegar in the dishwasher as rinse agent and I also use it once a month in my high efficiency washing machine to get the soap residue and smell out (from mold when I forget a load by accident). It keeps my dishes spotless and lengthen the life of my appliances which would eventually get clogged with lime deposit otherwise. Never tried as fabric softener, but I will now!

          • Ali says:

            I used to use vinegar in my rinse aid holder in the dishwasher until I read about how that holder isn’t designed to have an acidic substance in there continually. It will rust the parts, and they are expensive to replace! Use a substance designed for that holder, or stick vinegar in a cup and run the wash cycle fresh every time. Good luck!

  12. This is so neat- I’m glad I ran across your post on Like a Mustard Seed’s link-up. I’ve been wondering about trying this and now I will! Thank you. BTW- I love your motto, “testing out sustainable ideas so you don’t have to.” :)

  13. Pingback: Weekly Weeder #20 – Winter Cress + Wildcrafting WednesdayCommon Sense Homesteading

  14. Laurie says:

    Thanks for sharing your post on Wildcrafting Wednesday. You are one of this week’s featured posts. We hope to see you again!

  15. Jeanna says:

    I use white vinegar as a fabric softener also, and I line dry. I just wanted to add that anyone who wants a little fragrance can either add a few drops of essential oils to the vinegar or you can take a bottle (about 20 oz) fill it 2/3 full of vinegar and then add a tablespoon or so of cheap hair conditioner and shake to blend. This will help with static and gives it a nice smell also.

  16. gurwin says:

    hi,
    my mum was using top loading washer previously and now i bought her a new front loading machine ( electrolux) ,but the problem is the clothes are not soft at all,tried all kind of softener still doesn’t help to soften the laundry even the towels are very hard.im regretting now for shifting from TP to FL machine,pls advice……..and how what is the amount in ml for 1/2 cup of vinegar?

    • Victoria says:

      Hmmm – I’m not sure what the problem could be. I loved having my front loading machine before my last big move. I recommend contacting the machine manufacturer. By the way, 1/2 a cup is about 120 mL. Good luck!

    • Stacey says:

      Hi I also have a front load machine. The problem can easily be the laundry detergent. First use an HE detergent because they are low sudsing but most importantly don’t use more than labeled. Some detergents are more concentrated than others so use the amount on th we bottle. The reason is HE machines use far less water so there is probably soap being left behind, that will cause what you describe. You can also select second rinse so the clothes are rinsed twice. Hope this helps. Also using to much soap over time the clothes will get very dingy.

  17. Tabatha says:

    Hey, I plan on doing this as I’m making my own laundry soap. I know it works great because once I bought some laundry detergent that I HATED the smell of, and planned to buy a different type when I got back in town from being away. Well, my fiance decided to “help” while I was gone and washed ALL the clothes in it. I didn’t know what to do, because they were clean but they just stunk so bad. I thought that using my normal detergent that I like would just make it worse (since it is scented as well). And super wasteful since it’s already clean. So I re-washed all the clothes with just the normal cycle and a cup of vinegar. They did NOT smell like vinegar, the smell really dissipates quickly. It smelled like absolutely nothing, perfect in my opinion! I also clean with it sometimes, and it doesn’t make my whole house stink like vinegar because the smell just goes away very quickly. It is a natural disinfectant! So when you use it as fabric softener, you clothes are REALLY clean! Good for those of us who hate germs :)

  18. Tabatha says:

    If you don’t have a fabric softener dispenser on your washer, use a downy ball! It doesn’t have chemicals, its just a dispenser you are supposed to pour fabric softener in and add to your washer. It works great with vinegar and you don’t have to wait around for the rinse cycle.

  19. Pingback: Using Vinegar and Baking Soda to Auto-Clean the Dishwasher Review – Does it Work? | Green Idea Reviews

  20. kristin says:

    I’ve been using vinegar instead of fabric softener for about 6 months now and I love it. I’m using a VERY small (probably a tablespoon) of organic laundry detergent and 1/2 cup baking soda for the wash and vinegar for the rinse. One of the best things about it was that it gets out deodorant build-up in my husband’s shirts.

    I went home to my mother’s house who still uses Tide and Downy and I can’t believe how overwhelmed I was at the smell. I used to use the same products but after going basic with the baking soda & vinegar, the Tide smell gave me a headache!

  21. Sara says:

    I’ve been using white vinegar adding it in the softener compartment before starting my front loader machine. I also add a tablespoon of baking soda (great softener too!) mixed with few drops of essential oil. It leaves the clothes lightly scented and it is great for the whites!

  22. Trish says:

    I make my own laundry detergent and also use vinegar in my rinse. They both work really well. Clothes get clean and do not smell like vinegar. I think they have a fresh clean smell when I hang them up!!

  23. andi says:

    I also make my own lauundry soap and have been using vinegar with a few drops of lemon essential oil with great results for several months. I have also started using hydrogen peroxide to fill the bleach compartment and it seems to brighten up the whites without bleach.

  24. Azara says:

    This never would have occurred to me – thanks for sharing. I wonder how people come up with these ideas. Visiting from TALU.

  25. Wow! This is one of those things that I’ve seen posted on Pinterest or elsewhere and wondered if it actually worked. My problem would be having to wait for the rinse cycle. I would never remember to go back and check on the machine. I have never used a fabric softener, but I have always used the dryer sheets – and yes, that film feel bothers me, but it bothers me less than scratchy clothes and static cling. I would love to try to get into the habit of doing this, especially in conjunction with the foil balls!! That one’s a first for me. [#TALU]

  26. Selma - Dee Why Beach, Sydney, Australia says:

    G’Day Victoria, I have been using White Vinegar as afabric softener in my front laoder for years now. The towels come out soft – I dont use anywhere near the amount of detergent recommended, and theycome out clean – and soft. I like to hang my washing on the clothes-line, in the sun to dry. What bliss sleeping under sheets that have been dried in the sun. I live in an apartment, and like all apartment blocks in Australia we have a drying area – with grass! If the apartment blocks don’t have a space dowqnstairs then the clothes-liine is up on the roof. Australia is the home of the ‘Hills Hoist’ ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hills_Hoist) look it up; these clothes-line were used as play things when we were young, great to swing on!

    • Victoria says:

      What a great idea to have drying areas in an apartment building! I’ve always been a city dweller, and have never had the privilege of sleeping between sun dried sheets. Maybe next summer I can rig up a clothesline in my backyard…

  27. Selma - Dee Why Beach, Sydney, Australia says:

    oops, forgot to say, “Thanks for sharing your trials on the varied prodcuts, Love the site. Have a good day”

  28. Clare says:

    My two teenage sons and husband’s clothes have terrible sweat smells and deoderant smells in them and after reading this I have taken to pre-soaking (which is a pain but necessary) in vinegar (only have artificial white vinegar) and baking soda – works very well. Just wanted to ask, I have front loading washing machine – can i substitute the vinegar in the well where i usually put clothes softener and will the bleach streak colored clothes? thanks for reading my question.

    • Victoria says:

      Hi Clare! I’m no expert on washing machines, but I think that the vinegar would be distributed in the same way that fabric softener would if you put it in that well. I’ve never had a problem with the vinergar streaking the clothing when I’ve poured in into the rinse cycle. Good Luck!

      • Clare says:

        Thanks Victoria. Think I will try it first with some pretty used colored t shirts. Bit concerned about my husband’s spiffy work shirts:)

        • Victoria says:

          I understand! I totally did it with my kids clothes and towels first. Truth be told, I haven’t tried it with my work clothes yet!

  29. simsimi says:

    hi..can i use artificial vineger on my last rince.

    • Victoria says:

      Hi Simsimi, usually the last rinse is where I add the vinegar. But make sure you add it to the rinse water, and not the final spin!

  30. Rene S says:

    I love using vinegar as a fabric softener and have been doing so for several years. I can’t STAND anything washed with fabric softener now. Clothes feel icky and slimy, and smell too fake. Vinegar all the way!

  31. Ellaina says:

    Hi there i came across ur site and read all comments and im curious if vinegar can remove fabric softener stains. I just messed up my husband’s work clothes. And been googling how to remove the stain. Some said use detergent soa or white bar sopa and some said vinegar. Also if i use vinegar as fabric softener, do i just put it in my fabric softner dispenser? Is vinegar ok to use on colored clothes? I just really feel guilty that i stained his work clothes and i dont want to spend money for new ones.

    Thanks for reading my comment and will wait for your response.

  32. Pingback: Vinegar in Laundry « Aunty Mummy

  33. Joni says:

    Vinegar can be used to set dye, so it will not fade your colors and actually may help prevent fading. Also, I do not use vinegar to remove stains because on some it may actually set them in to the fabric.

  34. Jeanie says:

    I see someone mentioned vinegar bleaches your clothes. Is this true? I don’t want to use vinegar on my dark clothes if it’s going to fade or streak them.

    • Victoria says:

      I’ve not noticed any vinegar bleaching, and I use it in most of my loads.

      • ps says:

        Ive even heard that it keep the colours from fading due to softening the water. ive used it in my machine instead of softener and ive noticed the colour does not fade in the few first washes as without it. Then i washed 2 pants of same brand and colour one without and one with. Maybe i imagined but with vinegar it looked somehow better.

  35. suzanne says:

    i always use vinegar as a fabric softener as i am allergic to fragrnaces in cleaning products, i also use it with salt in a soak to remove baked on grime on stove burners. i live in a country where the water can make the die run in clothes so i always add salt to the wash to fix colours. cheaper than die catchers

    • Tammy says:

      Suzanne, How much salt do u use and what wash do u put it in? I am very interested.

      • Tammy says:

        Oh sorry. Do u put any baking soda in with the salt or just salt & water?

        I, too, live in the country where water can be rough on clothes.

  36. Emily says:

    I have tried the white vinegar in place of fabric softener. While I like the softness of the laundry after using it, I have to say that I will only use this for towels and sheets from now on. My boyfriend said that when he began to sweat at work (he works commercial construction) his shirt would smell strongly of vinegar. After I quit laughing, I swore not to use it on his work clothes. I used only about a 1/4 cup of vinegar, so the amount is not what caused it.

    • Carol says:

      I am constantly researching new and simple homemade ideas for cleaning, laundry, garden etc…Yes, vinegar is my main “turn to”. Absolutely love it in my laundry. I use it in my rinse cycle as well as homemade “dryer sheets”. To make the dryer sheets, take an old t-shirt, towel, sheet -recycle those old clothes/items instead of trashing them – 1/2 cup white vinegar, essential oil of your choice (I use tea tree, or any citrus scent), container with well fitting lid to avoid drying out too quickly. whisk the vinegar and oil well to combine and store in the container. For larger (or thicker) loads such as towels, I use 2 “sheets”. Once the load is complete, put the sheet in the bottom of the container to re-absorb. Voila! I also hang clothes on the line and the vinegar in the rinse cycle has made a difference there. My husband has a lawn care business and has not complained about an odor (we live in florida). Hope this helps :)

  37. Tammy says:

    What kind of natural soap do u use? I have used dishwashing liquid before when I run out of detergent.

    • Victoria says:

      Hi Tammy, I typically use the Kirkland (Costco) brand detergent. I haven’t tried any natural or homemade detergents (yet…)

  38. Elizabeth says:

    I have just used vinegar to clean the washer. What a horrible build up from years of using fabric softener. I am going to try vinegar on my next load as a softener. As we have hard water here, I bet it will do a good job. I wonder if I should use more vinegar as the water is so hard?

  39. Beth says:

    I use vinegar in the washer as a fabric softener and two tennis balls in the dryer to reduce static-works perfectly, and unlike fabric softener, it doesn’t reduce the towels absorbency.

  40. Pingback: Organic Living Journey: Fabric Softeners Alternatives | Buys Fan

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  42. Sandra says:

    Vinegar works as a fabric softener because it rinses out the residue left in fabrics from the use of laundry soap/detergents. This is especially good if you have skin allergies or sensitivities. Fortunately, my washer has a fabric softener dispenser.

  43. Tina says:

    I’ve been making my own fabric softener with vinegar for over a year now….

    8 cups of boiling water
    4 cups of White Vinegar
    3 cups of Suave Hair Conditioner
    I also use Purex Scent Crystals for extra scent

    Boil the wate and vinegar..turn off heat after it begins to boil, add the conditioner and scent crystals. AMAZING stuff and it smells so good! I pour it into a down ball…..

  44. C Clark says:

    I really think that a lot of the stiffness comes from a build up of product on the fabric fibers. Just like the buildup of product on your hair. When you stop using the products and it gets all clean and healthy, it becomes exactly as we try to make it by putting the chemicals on it, in the first place.

    Try a water softener. Calgon or wash a couple of times with just washing soda or something. That will allow the water to penetrate and get under the residue so it will be rinsed away.

    Hard water is too “fat”. Soft water is skinny and can get into places and do things that fat water just can’t. Not so good for drinking, but it will clean better, all by itself, than fat water can, with even the very best soap.

  45. wolfforce says:

    I’ve been trying to switch everything in my household to more natural products because I’ve always been sensitive and hated most cleaning product smells. I can’t say I like the smell of vinegar either, but I gave it a try by diluting it in water (that’s what the article I read recommended: 1/4 cup vinegar to 1 cup water). I have a HE front loading washing machine and so far it hasn’t been a problem (the washing machine is new for us though, since we just moved and this is the first time we’ve had our own washer and dryer, so we’ll see how long this lasts…but I can’t imagine vinegar honestly being worse than fabric softener, if anything you’d think it’d clean the machine!). Our towels aren’t as soft as they were with fabric softener, but everything else seems perfect. I might try adding in more vinegar now and not diluting it with water. I don’t have any problems with the smell, despite my mom saying our clothes stink (she told us they would before we even started using vinegar though, so I’m pretty sure she’d say that whether they had any smell or not…I don’t smell anything, and I’m VERY sensitive to smells! Sniffing my shirt right now, all I smell is today’s deodorant).

  46. Beth Groom says:

    I think you need to add baking soda to make the towels softer. I have used this recipe and only changed the laundry boosters to essential oils as I wanted to make a more natural softener. http://www.onegoodthingbyjillee.com/2012/09/fresh-scent-homemade-fabric-softener.html

  47. Beth Groom says:

    Nevermind about the baking soda–I won’t be doing this again. http://www.crunchybetty.com/diy-101-baking-soda-vinegar-not-so-much

  48. Pingback: Washing Laundry With Soap Nuts Review – Do They Work? | Green Idea Reviews

  49. Grace says:

    Does it needs to be a distilled vinegar or natural vinegar will work a well? I am trying to use a better alternative because distilled vinegar is quite expensive than the natural vinegar here in the Philippines.

  50. Veronica Lemmer says:

    I have a large glass container in my laundry and put all my lemon rind and squeezed out lemons in the container and top it up with vinegar. Gives the vinegar a lovely lemony fragrance and this is then used as my fabric softener. Works well with oranges and grapefruit as well. Also use this as my general house cleaner product.

  51. Norene Erekson says:

    Using White Vinegar as a natural fabric softener worked great! And I want to add “Great practice Victoria”! I also use it, even I have a complete water treatment system in my house, including water softeners and water mineral filters. I was somehow obliged to appeal at this expensive solution, due to the fact that here in Berlin, the water is very hard. But without questions, the white vinegar is an weel known and old solution to soft clothes and also to vivid their color. I knew this method from my great-grandmother, who know it at their turn from her mother. Again, thanks for writing this article! Norene!

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  54. Nancy says:

    Hi… I just saw that blog and I will try the aluminums balls and the vinegar in my HE machine. I wonder how much vinagar do you put…?

    Thanks

  55. marshall says:

    I go to the laundromat. I use a cap full of Purex in my loads. I use viniger in my rinse. I don’t use fabric softners and dryer sheets. I just throw my clothes in the dryer on high for 28 minutes. When i take my clothes out of dryer they smell like dog. I was told to use dryer sheets and fabric sheets but the smell makes my head hurt. What can i use in the dryer besides fabric sheets and dryer sheets?

    • Victoria says:

      Hi Marshall! You could try a cloth with a few drops of your favorite essential oil. That might do the trick!

    • ps says:

      if it is like wet dog then it is bacterias then you need to soak it in a bucket or bathtub with vinegar. Also the laundromat may have build up that is fixed by either using 30 grams 1 ounce of citric acid at 90celcius you do the counting to Fahrenheit. Some people say citric acid did not do the trick but when they used white vinegar it worked.

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