Can You Use Fabric Softener as Detergent? [Answered]

fabric softener as detergent

Laundry day often presents questions and dilemmas, and one common query is whether you can use fabric softener as a detergent substitute.  Using fabric softener as a detergent won’t help you clean the clothes, and your efforts will be futile.

Both fabric softeners and detergents may look alike but differ in their functionalities. An empty detergent bottle might tempt you to use fabric softeners. But it won’t clean your clothes to the optimum.

Related: Can you wash clothes without detergent?

Related: Does laundry detergent expire?

Why is it Not Possible to Use Fabric Softener as a Detergent?

The ingredients of fabric softeners differ from those of detergents. The main objective of a fabric softener is to soften the clothes, reduce static cling, and add fragrance to the clothes. While a detergent aims to combat the dirt and stains on the clothes, remove soiling, and cleanse the clothes.

Fabric softeners contain chemicals that soften the clothes by neutralizing the atoms’ imbalance. They establish harmony between the fibers, making the clothes softer.

The detergent contains surfactants that help remove stains and dirt. In addition, they give brightness and freshness to the clothes, thanks to ingredients like brighteners, enzymes, and bleach in the detergent.

Fabric softeners can create suds and leave a residue on clothing if used as a detergent. This residue can trap dirt and reduce the overall cleanliness of the laundry.

Another thing to consider is the timing of using fabric softeners and detergents. Detergents go into the washing process during the wash cycle, while fabric softeners are added at the end of the rinse cycle. Since fabric softener lacks all the ingredients and qualities needed to clean clothes, you cannot use it as a detergent.

Related: How to fix thick fabric softener?

do not use fabric softener as detergent

What Can You Use Instead of Laundry Detergent to Wash Clothes?

1. Machine Washing

a. Baking Soda

You can use baking soda as a quick alternative to laundry detergent. Use baking soda only on lightly soiled clothes. If you decide to use baking soda, you must pre-treat the stains before your wash cycle. Use 1/2 cup for an average laundry load. Use 1 cup for heavily soiled clothes. Use baking soda in the drum before adding clothes. Set the machine to the hottest temperature if the care label instructions allow it.

baking soda powder

b. Oxygen Bleach

Use bleach only if the care label instructions allow. Prepare a bleach solution according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Soak the garments in this solution for the appropriate time, as recommended. 1/2 cup of baking soda will boost the washing process.

oxygen bleach powder in a spoon

c. White Vinegar

White vinegar is a regular household cleaner. Try using white vinegar if you are short on laundry detergent.

Related: Will vinegar bleach black clothes?

white vinegar bottle

2. Hand Wash

a. Shampoo

You can use baby shampoo instead of laundry detergent. Baby shampoo, being gentle, won’t ruin your clothes or trigger any allergic reactions. Use it as follows:

  1. Fill a basin or water container with warm water.
  2. Add a small amount of shampoo.
  3. Stir the water vigorously to develop a lather.
  4. Allow the clothes to soak in the water for 15 minutes.
  5. Gently rub the clothes with your hands. 
  6. Rinse the clothes with fresh water and squeeze out the extra water. (Read the care label before squeezing.)
  7. Allow the damp clothes to dry as instructed on the care label. 
shampoo for washing clothes

Hand wash if the care label instructions allow. Some garments aren’t suitable for hand washing due to the risk of fabric distortion and permanent damage to the garment.

b. Body Wash

Use the same steps given for shampooing. Avoid using body wash with moisturizers as it leaves a thin coat on the clothes that facilitates dirt accumulation on the garments, leaving them breathless. Make sure you use it in small quantities.

Related: Can you use body wash as laundry detergent?

body wash for hand washing laundry

c. Dishwashing Liquid

It’s better to test on a hidden area of your garment to understand the consequences of this method first. You don’t have to risk issues like color fading or damage to your clothes, correct? Once you confirm that there are no adverse effects on your clothing, you can follow the instructions given below:

  1. Fill a basin or tub with water and pour in the dishwasher liquid.
  2. Stir vigorously to gather lather.
  3. Allow the clothes to soak in the soapy water.
  4. Agitate the clothes to remove dirt.
  5. Rinse and squeeze to eliminate the last ounce of the dishwasher.
  6. Allow the clothes to dry as per instructions on the care label.
dish washing liquid for washing clothes

A dishwasher clears stains on dishes. So the chances of it not working to its full potential on clothes are high.

Related: 8 Substitute for laundry detergent.

Related: 7 Best substitute for fabric softener.

What Can I Do if I Accidentally Use Fabric Softener as Detergent?

You won’t get clean clothes if you use fabric softener as a detergent. A fabric softener lacks the cleaning agents of a detergent. What will happen at most is that the clothes will appear softer with a fresh fragrance, but they will still be dirty.

You might have to make your laundry detergent available and run another wash cycle to clean your clothes. You may also need to run an extra rinse cycle to remove excessive fabric softener from the clothes. Ensure you don’t use fabric softener again during this rinse cycle.


Fabric softener softens clothes but does not clean them. So it cannot take the place of the detergent. If you are short on detergent and wish to wash clothes, there are other alternatives for a quick laundry task.

Using fabric softener instead of laundry detergent will make them softer and have a fresh fragrance. However, they will remain dirty. It will be an extra task for you to run another wash cycle.

So, be alert and set a reminder when it’s time to replace your old detergent with a new one. It will help you wash your clothes on time without wasting precious time.

Related: Can I put fabric softener in the bleach dispenser?