How Much Vinegar Should I Use in the Laundry?

Dear Home-Ec 101,

I read your information on why liquid fabric softener causes stains on dark clothing and that you use white vinegar instead.

I have a front loading machine.

How do I add the vinegar and how much?

Washing in Walhalla

Dear W.W.,

To add the vinegar to your washer, use either the fabric softener dispenser or one of those balls you toss in with the clothing. If you are using chlorine bleach in your load of laundry be VERY careful and don’t mix the two.


Consult your washing machine’s manual before making the switch. If your washing machine has gaskets or tubing that is vulnerable to a mild acid, it should have a warning. (When we’re discussing white vinegar, we are referring to the 5% dilution. Never use the concentrated 25% in the laundry) 

Next, I wish your question about the amount of vinegar to add to your washer were as simple to answer as how to add it.

If your laundry had a Facebook page, its relationship status would be: It’s complicated.

Did you know that there are chemists who work for major corporations whose job it is to study the efficacy of detergents and softeners and their effect on the clothing they clean and soften?

Their job is made harder every year with the rising trend of fast fashion (think of it as the fast food of clothing). Consumers buy clothing expecting it to last even if it isn’t made to and consumers like to misplace blame when their clothing wears out quickly. Regarding the vinegar, too much acidity and the fibers will weaken even faster.

The manufacturers of your washer also spent a lot of time and resources researching just which materials to use to create the gaskets and tubes that will withstand the usually caustic conditions of the laundry process? Granted manufacturers use this information in two ways, first to maximize profit and second to keep their reputation. Is vinegar safe for your machine?

How hard is your water?

Did you know that the water coming from your tap contains a lot more than good old H₂0? Depending on where you live and its mineral content, the water may be considered hard or soft. The hardness of your water is measured in grains and if you want to turn your laundry room into a science lab you can call your county’s extension office and ask about the water quality in your area. (You can also have your water tested if you want even more precise knowledge).

How big is your washer?

You could then look up your washing machine’s capacity, usually somewhere in the range of 4.2 – 5 feet in the US. Then determine the appropriate size load of clothing it can accommodate.

How big is the load of laundry you’re washing?

When adding your clothing to a front loading washer, you should loosely fill the tub until it naturally—without shoving—meets the first row of holes from the opening. You don’t want to pack the clothing in so tightly that it’s pushing against the door.  Some manufacturers suggesting adding clothing by weight, check your manual, with practice you’ll get really good at knowing the right amount of material. If the clothing is extra dirty, leave more room. 

Are you using hot or cold water?

Do you have cold ground water, like people in Minnesota or are you in the subtropics of Florida? Don’t forget to consult the fabric labels to determine the temperature at which the items can be safely washed. 

Do you use the right amount of detergent?

The amount of detergent in the rinse water will affect how the vinegar performs. Consult the owner’s manual and the label of the high-efficiency detergent to determine how much detergent to use per load.

So how much vinegar, Heather? That’s all I really want to know.


You’re going to have to experiment.

You see, without knowing the size of the machine, the hardness of your water, the amount of clothing, the type of clothing, the temperature it will be washed, or your expectations of the outcome, I really can’t give a precise answer. The answer could even be to skip the vinegar altogether and stick with fabric softener; you have to figure out what works best for you.

The good news is that every day comes with more laundry and another opportunity to experiment.

Send your questions to

How much vinegar should you use instead of fabric softener in a high efficiency washing machine?

1 Comment

  1. M. Len on March 23, 2017 at 4:12 pm

    Great article!! I’ve been using white vinegar for quite awhile, and won’t go back to fabric softeners. My sheets and towels are so much nicer. I also have a high mineral content in my water, and vinegar in the wash and rinse cycles whitens better than bleach (that’s a whole other topic!), and of course I never use bleach in any load with vinegar.
    I care about what is in my drinking water, and I am lucky to have a private well. Did you know there are still 2 states in the US that have no standards for well drilling? Everyone with a well living here should be aware of it: Alaska and Pennsylvania. I work closely with my extension office to keep my water tested and clean, and in the know about what is in my water.

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