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?

Signed,
Washer Warrior
borax-vinegar-laundry
Heather says:

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

Vinegar

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

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 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.

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

Good luck!

Send your questions to helpme@home-ec101.com



28 Comments

  1. Gisele on January 20, 2017 at 10:54 am

    I lent some clothes to a friend who returned them cleaned. However, she used detergent and/or fabric softener with perfumes or scents in them. I normally use unscented detergents and no fabric softener. I’ve washed them but the smell remains. They must be washed in cold water. I also am concerned about using anything that might take the color out. I tried the vinegar with no success. They have been hanging outside for 2 days with no success. Will Borax help? Wil it bleed the colours?

    • Peter Hoffman on February 18, 2017 at 11:50 am

      The scent is prob from the fabric softener they use. Some are designed to keep scent for 30 plus days now. Making it harder to wash off as well. Most likely time will be the most effective way to remove the scent. Eventually the scents will gas off just like smells go away from everything else.

  2. Gisele on January 20, 2017 at 10:54 am

    I lent some clothes to a friend who returned them cleaned. However, she used detergent and/or fabric softener with perfumes or scents in them. I normally use unscented detergents and no fabric softener. I’ve washed them but the smell remains. They must be washed in cold water. I also am concerned about using anything that might take the color out. I tried the vinegar with no success. They have been hanging outside for 2 days with no success. Will Borax help? Wil it bleed the colours?

  3. lauraofroses on July 3, 2016 at 4:36 am

    I need to know if it’s safe to use vinegar in apt. laundry or community laundry when you don’t know what’s been left behind in washers. I have to wash my clothes in vinegar now (& I usually do in Borax but just read you can’t do both) as my clothes have become terribly infested with what I’ve read online seems to be a type of parasite (maybe from this horrid apt) but they supposedly come from new clothes from foreign countries (I get as gifts). Nothing I read kills them & I’ve tried a lot but just found that if I hold a cloth with vinegar over them, they will release off my clothing & I brush them into a pail of vinegar & Dawn that I seal up & dispose of.But this takes hours for each article of clothing in wash & I’m not getting wash done, so thought if I could just wash clothes in vinegar, it might remove them. They have claws evidently that burrow into clothing & don’t release when just washed/dried. But if I have to worry about the leftover bleaches in machines. I do loads of laundry at a time & am low income & can’t afford to do wash cycle before I wash & after I wash. It’s expensive very small tubs. I have to use expensive non-formaldehyde detergent & was using non chlorine bleach but that won’t mix with vinegar either. I have no clean clothes to wear until I can fix this problem. Been sealing Goodwill clothes in lg ziploc bags. Thx for any help.

  4. Andrea on February 8, 2016 at 11:05 pm

    Just a question. All was very help ful but you did say that you should not use vinegar on clothes as it can wear out the fabric, but then you mention that its great as fabric softener. Is it safe for clothes if put in the “fabric softener” dispenser?? And if so, do you have to dilute it?? And finally, is vinegar not safe for silk even if put in as the final rinse/fabric softener??

    • Heather Solos on February 9, 2016 at 12:00 pm

      You shouldn’t use excessive vinegar on fabrics. You need to make sure it’s diluted by the amount of water in your machine.

      Do not use any acid, including dilute vinegar, on silk as it will damage the fabric.

  5. Rikki on November 9, 2013 at 10:09 pm

    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?

  6. helen taylor on May 15, 2013 at 9:06 am

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

    • Mary G. on May 17, 2013 at 1:57 pm

      Yes, it is.

  7. Gail Rapoza on April 25, 2013 at 1:01 pm

    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?

  8. Rhonda Krill on February 25, 2013 at 9:22 am

    Wow! Great information chemistry in the laundry room!

  9. gracieC on July 13, 2012 at 10:55 am

     Thank you – that was very helpful!
     

  10. Dora on July 5, 2012 at 2:29 am

     @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.

  11. […] the best way to fix it. Special thanks to my friend Heather over at Home Ec 101 for teaching me the science behind laundry…it has made all the difference. (My issue is super hard water and an HE washing machine. A […]

  12. Sandee Hill on January 27, 2011 at 10:55 pm

    "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: http://www.duggarfamily.com/recipes.html)

    • rainrosen on January 20, 2012 at 7:23 pm

      I’ve been wondering this question myself. Does anyone have any knowledge (other than personal anecdote) to shed some light on this?

      • Euan on October 9, 2012 at 5:17 am

        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

  13. Save money on laundry on January 26, 2011 at 9:29 am

    […] today’s money saving tip on HomeEc 101, a nifty blog about all the things you were supposed to learn in your high school Home Economics […]

  14. candis on January 23, 2011 at 9:48 pm

    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.

  15. jess on January 23, 2011 at 10:56 am

    Yes, what about washing Soda? Any hints on what that is for? This is a great post, by the way!

    • HeatherSolos on January 23, 2011 at 12:59 pm

      Jess, that's a great question and I'll make sure it's answered in full on the site itself in the near future.

  16. Pamela on January 22, 2011 at 11:55 am

    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. =)

    • HeatherSolos on January 22, 2011 at 12:07 pm

      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. 🙂

  17. Alison Moore Smith on January 22, 2011 at 4:32 am

    I have wondered what in the heck borax was for. My mom always had some (and washing soda, whatever that is) and I never thought to ask.
    My recent post Losing Weight After Pregnancy

  18. Christine on January 21, 2011 at 6:16 pm

    Veeeery nice post. Thanks very much!

  19. Karen L on January 21, 2011 at 1:36 pm

    Awesome info. Thank you.

  20. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Heather Solos and Thomas Cunningham, HomeEc101. HomeEc101 said: New on Home Ec 101: How to Use Vinegar and Borax in the Laundry http://bit.ly/e6NLUB […]

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