What Can I Substitute For Laundry Detergent

Picture this: you fill-up the washer with a load of dirty laundry that absolutely must get washed today, but when you go to fill up the detergent, you find that the box or bottle is completely empty.

We’ve all been there. It’s a situation that is certainly annoying, but it can quickly be taken care of without an emergency trip to the grocery store.

Several substitutions can be made for laundry detergent, and many of them are everyday household products that you probably already have on hand.

If you have ever wondered, “what can I substitute for laundry detergent,” keep reading to find out. 

Substitutes For Laundry Detergent In This Review

What Can I Substitute For Laundry Detergent

Baking Soda

Baking soda is a standard household cleaning product, and it can be used on just about any surface to clean many different types of stains.

Baking soda is excellent at removing grease, acid, and odor, making it a great product to use in laundry. 

Baking soda is also very affordable and easy to find.

It’s possible that you already have some in your home somewhere, so take a look around and get to cleaning! 


  • Baking soda is very cost-effective and readily available in just about any grocery store, drug store, or other convenience stores. 
  • It is excellent at neutralizing odor and absorbing grease, oil, acid, and other hard to remove stains. 
  • Baking soda can make your whites more white and your colors brighter. 
  • Keeps your washing machine clean and free of odors, meaning you will have to spend much less time cleaning the washer. 


  • For some stains, you may need to use a large amount of baking soda and wash the item several times before the stain is removed.  

Method for Use

Add 1/2 a cup of baking soda to the washing machine during the washing cycle and another 1/2 a cup during the rinse cycle.

For tougher stains or intense odors, add up to 1 cup during the washing cycle. Reduce the amount of baking soda for smaller loads of laundry. 

White Distilled Vinegar

Much like baking soda, vinegar is a common household item that can remove many types of stains.

It is a great stain remover and deodorizer, and it works wonders as a substitute for laundry detergent.

Make sure to use white distilled vinegar, as any other colors will leave your clothing with a very hard to remove stain.

Lucy’s Family Owned – Natural Distilled White Vinegar is a best-seller on Amazon with outstanding reviews. 

Though many people do not like the smell that vinegar tends to leave behind, it will remove any odors that were on the clothing before.

The vinegar smell will be minimal, and it should fade quickly after the clothing is washed. 


  • Cheaper than traditional laundry detergent and readily available at all grocery stores.
  • Can make dark colors bolder and eliminate any residue left behind from other laundry detergents. 
  • Excellent deodorizer and stain remover. 


  • May leave clothes with a mild vinegar smell, which some people may not like. 

Method for Use

Add 1/2 a cup during the wash cycle.

You can use up to 1 cup of vinegar to remove more significant stains or foul odors. 

Lemon Juice

People have used lemon juice as a substitute for laundry detergent for many years, and it can be a good choice for occasional use, but it is certainly not the best choice for prolonged use.

If you are in a pinch and have enough lemons to get all the juice you need, it will work wonders on your white clothing, leaving them brighter and better smelling than ever. 

Make sure to use fresh lemon juice from real lemons and not bottled lemon juice, as it may contain artificial colors that can damage your clothing.

Because such a large amount of lemon juice is required, it may be more expensive than buying laundry detergent, and it is undoubtedly the most expensive option on this list. 


  • Lemons are available in grocery stores year-round. 
  • Clothing comes out of the wash smelling fresh. 
  • Great at loosening stains and brightening the colors in the clothing being washed. 


  • A large amount of lemon juice is needed per load of laundry, so it may end up being more expensive than traditional laundry detergent, depending on how much you need. 
  • Prolonged use of lemon juice can wear down and damage certain fabrics. 
  • Lemon juice has the potential to bleach dark fabrics. 

Method for Use:

Mix 1/3 cup of lemon juice with 3 cups of water and add during the wash cycle. 


Borax is a well-known substitute for laundry detergent that has been used for many generations.

It is excellent at getting rid of pet urine and other stains and odors, making it a popular choice for pet owners. 

While using borax instead of laundry detergent does have many pros, the one major con that it leaves a white residue on anything it touches.

However, many people continue to use it regularly and love how it leaves their clothes looking and smelling, so you will have to weigh the pros with the cons and decide what will work best for you.

I personally use the 20 Mule Team All Natural Borax Detergent Booster & Multi-Purpose Household Cleaner brand and have had great success with it for various cleaning assignments.


  • Works well on pet odor and urine stains.
  • It makes colors brighter. 


  • Typically borax leaves a white residue on clothing and the washing machine. It is easy to remove, but it does mean more cleaning time.  

Method for Use

For the most effective use of borax, presoak clothing in 1 tablespoon of borax per gallon of water, and then wash as normal. 

Bar Soap

Any soap seems like it could be an excellent substitute for laundry detergent, but you should be careful when using anything that bubbles or foams.

Bar soap is great for handwashing laundry in a pinch, but it shouldn’t be used in the washer. 

Because of the price and availability of bar soap, it has become a popular choice for use on clothing, linens, and towels.

Some soaps tend to leave a soapy residue behind, but most white bar soaps should not have this problem. 


  • Affordable and easy to find at most convenience stores. 
  • Excellent stain remover and deodorizer 


  • Creates too many bubbles for use in a washing machine. It should only be used for handwashing clothing.
  • Can leave a residue layer behind. 

Method for Use

Soak clothing in water and lather soap bar.

Scrub clothing until the stain is removed and the clothing is clean. 

Powdered Oxygen Bleach

Powdered oxygen bleach is a great product to use on any stain on your clothing.

It does not have harsh chemicals like many other stain removing products, and it can even remove old stains that have been set into the fabric. 

Powdered oxygen bleach is also a great way to make your colors brighter and your whites whiter while being an excellent disinfectant.  

Charlie’s Soap Color Safe Chlorine Free Oxygen Bleach Powder is an Amazon choice and gets great reviews.


  • Keeps colors on clothing looking bright and fresh. 
  • Non-toxic to humans and animals. 
  • Can remove set-in stains and odors. 


  • It can be harder to find than other laundry detergent alternatives.
  • More pricey than some of the other options on the list. 

Method for Use

Follow the instructions on the packaging for proper use.

Directions will vary based on the brand of bleach. 

Commonly Asked Questions

Can shampoo or body soap be used as a substitute for laundry detergent? 

No, shampoo or body wash should not be used as a substitute for laundry detergent.

Much like the bar soap, these cleaning products both create too many bubbles to be used in a washing machine.

If you are in a bind, body soap or shampoo that does not have any artificial coloring in it can be used to hand wash clothing, but never put it in the washer. 

Are laundry balls a good substitute for laundry detergent? 

Some people swear by laundry balls, but in almost every study conducted about their effectiveness, it has been proven that laundry balls are not a suitable replacement for laundry detergent.

Though they make big promises, they fall short and are typically no better than using hot water to clean your clothing, which isn’t actually cleaning it. 

All I have is dish soap. Can I use that instead of laundry detergent? 

Many people use dish soap to wash their clothing as it is a much cheaper option than laundry detergent.

However, caution should be used when working with dish soap.

A minimal amount per load of laundry is all you need.

If you use too much, you run the risk of overflowing your washer with soap and bubbles.

To be safe, dish soap is much more effective if it is used to hand wash laundry. 

Can vodka be used as a substitute for laundry detergent? 

No, vodka cannot be used as a substitute for laundry detergent.

Vodka is an excellent deodorizer, so if you are simply looking to eliminate bad odors, vodka will work really well for you.

It can remove even the toughest odors like cigarette smoke and skunk spray.

Fill a spray bottle with vodka and spray until the clothing is damp.

The odors will be gone within a few hours.

However, vodka does not remove stains, and it does not sanitize clothing, so it should not be used for those purposes.


Throughout this article, we hope we have answered the question, “What can I substitute for laundry detergent?” 

Whether you’re in an emergency laundry situation or you don’t want to run to the store for laundry detergent, there is almost certainly a household item that can be used as a substitute for laundry detergent.

Laundry detergent can be pricey, and many families don’t want to deal with the harsh chemicals that can be found in traditional laundry detergent.

Fortunately, there are many great substitutions for laundry detergent, so if you have ever found yourself wondering what you can substitute for laundry detergent, you no longer need to worry.

Now you can make the best decision for yourself, your family, and your clothing.