Can You Wash Clothes Without Detergent?

Sure, you could wash your clothes without detergent, but it won’t do anything to clean them. All it does is splash your clothes with water. That is where laundry detergent comes in to give the drum of water the necessary ingredients to clean your favorite t-shirt, pants, and socks.

The better question is should you wash clothes without detergent? The answer is: no. Laundry detergent has chemicals inside that specifically target dirt, grime, stains, whitens the whites, brightens the brights, and even softens the fabric (you know, fabric softener). Unfortunately, water just doesn’t have those kinds of properties.

But let’s humor the idea that you ran out of laundry detergent. What do you do then? Now that’s a question with a great answer—several answers, in fact. Here’s how.

The Best Laundry Detergent Alternatives

When you’re staring at an empty bottle or tub of detergent, don’t make the long trip to buy more. Instead, take a look around your home. Believe it or not, the best laundry detergent alternatives can be found in your very home such as baking soda and dish soap. Take a look at the list below for an alternative that sounds right for you.

Important: As a homeowner, realizing that you need to waste another Saturday waiting for the landlord or handyman to come over to fix another damaged appliance is frustrating. It shouldn't feel like the norm to constantly have damaged appliances and systems in your home since it can come to a huge cost at the end of each year.

The Home Improvement Solutions eBook covers everything you need to do in your home when it comes to maintenance and improvement so you can avoid wasting another weekend waiting for someone to come to your rescue.  

Baking Soda

Baking soda (View on Amazon)—the wonder ingredient—can do just about anything, from removing odors to being a great alternative for cleaning. It scrubs away dirt and grime thanks to its mild alkali and gentle abrasive nature. But did you know it makes an excellent alternative to detergent?

Here’s why: baking soda neutralizes odors by affecting the pH balance, which is what causes the odor, rather than masking the smell with fragrances. If you toss it into your washing machine to wash your clothes, its naturally gentle abrasive nature will scrub your clothes while neutralizing any smells. It’s perfect for the job!


Yes, white vinegar (View on Amazon) smells terrible, but when used in your laundry it can remove stains, prevents mold and bacteria growth, and can brighten whites. It’s basically a green alternative for bleach. Tossing vinegar into your laundry, along with your homemade detergent, is an excellent idea.

Now, you might be thinking your clothes will smell like vinegar. That is not at all the case unless you’re using way more than you need. And if you do, it goes away in the dryer anyways. You’d be missing out on vinegar’s odor-fighting, green bleach properties.

Dish Soap

Why not, right? It’s dish soap! However, people often make the mistake of adding a ton of dish soap to their washing machine in times of need. You do not need the same amount of dish soap to get the same power as detergent because dish soap is far more sudsy than detergent. In fact, just a quick squirt of dish soap will be enough.

Depending on the dish soap, it might cause irritation to your skin, especially if too much dish soap was used. Any dish soap left behind will be dried into the clothing. To combat this, toss in a quarter cup of white vinegar to help remove any excess dish soap.


Like dish soap, shampoo is also an excellent alternative to detergent. However, you should be very cautious when using shampoo. It’s highly concentrated and adding too much can cause the washing machine to create too many suds. Only squeeze a thumb size amount into the washing machine.

On that same note, conditioner and shampoo that tints your hair is completely out of the question. These are usually found in more expensive shampoos so avoid them. You are welcome to use a cheap bottle of shampoo. It still has cleaning properties.

Make Your Own Detergent

Believe it or not, you probably already have the ingredients needed to create homemade detergent. Once you’ve created it, the homemade solution will have all the necessary ingredients to wash your clothes, neutralize odors, make them smell great, and even soften them.

To make your own homemade detergent, mix together:

  • A gallon of hot water
  • About a quarter cup of your favorite liquid soap
  • And a cup of baking soda
  • Toss in a quarter cup of vinegar after first wash cycle.

Gentle twirl the gallon so the solution mixes without causing too many suds. For each load, all you need is a quarter cup of your homegrown detergent.

Never Washing Your Clothes Without Detergent!

Detergents can come in many forms – this can be perfume, soap, or washing machine detergent itself. Some washing machines aren’t able to dissolve the detergent due to malfunctions which means your clothes will smell average. If you’re always having problems with your washing machine, you need to know what’s causing the issue and if you’ll need to get the washing machine repaired or replaced. Having a working washing machine is crucial for any home.

If you want to save $100s on Home Repair, learn the most important home maintenance and home improvement procedures, and increase the value of your home, you can download our Home Improvement Solutions book now. With it, you’ll learn about a wide range of home maintenance and improvement topics, and you’ll be able to make your home a better place to live in. There are also a bunch of tips in there that’ll save you loads of time and money when it comes to repairs, DIY, and general home hacks that you can’t find anywhere else.

Whether you are a new homeowner, have owned a home for years, renting, or just love home repair and improvement topics, our guide will give you an in-depth explanation of many everyday home maintenance procedures. A lot of our readers use this book to increase the value of their homes, and they’ve saved a lot of money on things like repair that would have cost a professional handyman $100s of dollars.

Wrapping Up

In conclusion, you really shouldn’t wash your clothes without detergent. Without detergent, your clothes are missing out on the necessary ingredients to scrub, wash, and neutralizes odors that cling to your clothes. Water is just water.

If you’re ever stuck without detergent, use one of the alternatives listed above. They are the best alternatives for a pinch, or long use. By far the best, however, is the homemade detergent with baking soda, soap, and vinegar tossed in after the first wash cycle.