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?
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:
- 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.
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 to 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.
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