How to Use Vinegar and Borax in the Laundry

Dear Home Ec 101

You mentioned using vinegar or borax to remove detergent build-up from towels.  We have hard water in our area and I believe this could be a problem for us, even though I haven’t had a problem with odor.  I have few questions:

  • How much vinegar or borax should I use in my clothes washer?
  • Can the vinegar or borax be used on all washable fabrics?
  • If so, which do you think would be better for fabrics that can’t be washed in hot water?
  • Should the amount of vinegar or borax be increased in cooler wash water?

Washer Warrior

Heather says:

This is an excellent question, thank you so much for submitting it.


Vinegar is an acid. It can be used in a clothes washer as a laundry booster / fabric softener / water conditioner by lowering the pH of the water which increases the solubility of other compounds. In the case of laundry you’re hoping to increase the solubility of detergent, the minerals in hard water, and dirt.

As vinegar is an acid, it can weaken the fibers of some fabrics. Do not use full strength on:

  • cotton
  • rayon
  • acetate
  • triacetate
  • silk fibers.

For what it’s worth, I use vinegar with cotton all the time. Cotton is a heavy duty fabric and the vinegar is quite dilute. I do understand that I may be shortening the lifespan of the clothing article, but I find it to be a worthwhile trade off. My jeans still last much longer than fashion trends and my kids grow out of them long before they wear out. I do NOT use vinegar on silk.

When using vinegar to strip excess detergent you’re going to use more than when you use vinegar as a fabric softener in the final rinse. For loads where stripping excess detergent is the goal, use 1 cup of white vinegar for every gallon of water. You will need to consult your owner’s manual for specific capacities as they relate to your washing machine. When stripping detergent build up, be sure the laundry gets a plain water rinse to help bring the pH back up toward neutral -that’s 7 if you’re curious. If you’re breaking out the meter, you already knew that.

When using vinegar as a fabric softener to increase the efficacy of the rinse cycle, use 1 – 2 cups for top loading washers and just fill the fabric softener cup in high efficiency washers.


Borax acts as a buffer and raises the pH of water to a slightly basic solution, right around a pH of 8. Don’t use borax at the same time as vinegar or you’ll just create a nice little acid base reaction and make salt.

When using borax to help soften or condition your water, for both high efficiency and most top loading washing machines add 1/2 cup of borax per load. If you have a large capacity machine bump up the amount to 3/4 cup of borax per load. Borax is added to the actual wash cycle, not the rinse cycle when used in your washing machine.

If you’re using borax as a stain treatment, use 1 TBSP per gallon of water.

Temperature considerations:

Both vinegar and borax increase your detergents effectiveness by changing the pH of the water. This is independent of the temperature setting. I wouldn’t alter the amount of vinegar or borax added the wash when using cold or hot water. None of the research I did mentioned the temperature of your wash water, except to note that using cold water saves energy. This is a variable I would run a few home experiments on. After you try the vinegar and borax as recommended you can try increasing their amounts slightly when washing on cold water to see if there is a noticeable difference. If not, try backing off until you do not receive the results you want. In this manner, you can find the most conservative amount of additive for your specific water hardness.

Regarding delicates, borax is the way to go. Borax is recommended for fabrics that must be hand washed.

Good luck!

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  1. Pamela says

    After you mentioned it, I tried vinegar to remove detergent build up on my towels in my hard water area. Not knowing how much to use, I just threw some in (I know…). I used a rinse cycle on my machine and don't know if it had an extra plain water rinse at the end.

    I was pleased at how my towels turned out, they were not only fresher smelling but softer, as well, which I wasn't expecting. Now I am wondering how often I need to do this. =)

    • says

      One time isn't going to have much of an effect on your towels. If you constantly used a LOT of vinegar in the water and didn't rinse them, then you'd start to see some early wear. One time really won't cause much damage and many of us use a small amount of vinegar in the rinse cycle in place of fabric softener.
      Thank you for commenting and I'm glad you found it helpful. :)

  2. candis says

    I understand that vinegar is a disinfectant as well. Have you confirmed this in your research? I typically use full strength vinegar in place of fabric softener in all loads.

  3. Sandee Hill says

    "Don’t use borax at the same time as vinegar or you’ll just create a nice little acid base reaction and make salt."
    Heather- the homemade laundry detergent I make has Borax as one of the main ingredients. I also use vinegar as a fabric softener. Do you think I'm causing a chemical reaction (never noticed anything), or has the Borax been altered enough being mixed with the other ingredients? (I use the liquid detergent recipe from the Duggars:

      • Euan says

        It all depends how much of the borax is left after the wash cycle water has drained away but before the softener is poured in during the rinse cycle.

        I’d guess this varies depending on the particular washing machine you use.

        Ideally, you’d want a spin cycle before the rinse sycle, and the rinse cycle to happen in two stages – an initial rinse (and spin) and a further rinse which included the borax.

        Maybe we all ought to experiment and report back

  4. Dora says

     @rainrosen you are supposed use vinegar in the rinse cycle, and borax in the wash cycle, not together. if you ever use them together they will neutralize each other.

  5. Gail Rapoza says

    One of my daughters ran across an article that mentioned using 1/2 cup Borax AND 1 cup of white vinegar in the wash cycle together with the detergent to get out tough stains. I have been using this combination now for a while in place of bleach for my whites and I’ve been impressed with the effectiveness of it! I have not been imagining the results either. I compared the new way with articles of clothing done in the bleach and the new way has been whiter!
    The daughter who read it to me has no memory of the article by now, so I can’t corroborate the information. If what “Dora” said on July 5, 2012 is correct, am I just imagining the results? And, have I been slowly ruining my clothes by doing so? Or, is it a more dramatic and immediate effect rather than a gradual one?

  6. helen taylor says

    Hi I love dis corner is educating. Pls I want to know if borax is safe on my colour fabric and children cloth

  7. Rikki says

    Kind of of the subject of borax vs vinegar. Do you know if I can use liquid body wash in place of grated bar soap in homemade laundry detergent?

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