Can You Wash Clothes Without Detergent? [4 Best Alternatives]

washing clothes without detergent

Life can be unpredictable, and sometimes we find ourselves needing a quick laundry solution without the luxury of detergent or other alternatives.

Whether you’re on vacation or pressed for time, or your laundry detergent has expired, the question arises: can you wash clothes without detergent with water?

Can You Wash Clothes Without Detergent?

Washing clothes without detergent is possible but won’t effectively remove germs, dirt, odor, and stain. Alternatives such as vinegar, baking soda, lemon, and vodka also offer cleaning properties for clothes but won’t be as effective as a detergent to remove tough stains. While natural alternatives may work for light stains. For heavily soiled clothes, detergent remains the most effective option.

Are you looking for laundry detergent alternatives? If yes, read: Substitutes for laundry detergent.

Why Should You Not Wash Clothes Without Laundry Detergent?

Detergents play a vital role in removing dirt, grime, stains, and odor from clothes. It is not recommended to just wash clothes with water for effective cleaning.

One of the benefits of using detergents is getting rid of the stains on your fabric. Chemicals from the detergent effortlessly work to eliminate any stains on the clothes after mixing with water. Water alone is incapable of removing the stains from your clothes.

Secondly, detergent imparts a fresh fragrance to the clothes by removing odors. The detergent’s fragrance lessens the foul smells produced by sweating, mildew, and cigarette smoke, in addition to the chemical ingredients. 

Detergent destroys any bacteria, germs, or fungus buildup undetectable to the naked eye. In addition, detergents help to remove pieces of dead skin that mingle with sweat and skin grease.

Related: How to get smoke smell out of clothes?

not using detergent to wash clothes

Do Laundry Detergent Alternatives Work?

Laundry detergent alternatives do work to a certain extent. But they may not have all the qualities of laundry detergent. And the final results won’t make you happy.

Take soap as an example, which is capable of removing stains. However, garments washed with soap won’t have a crispy, cleaner, and fresher appearance.

Manufacturers produce laundry detergent with the sole aim of washing clothes optimally after considering all the problems. Modern washing machines are customized to work efficiently with laundry detergents.

4 Laundry Detergent Alternatives for Handwashing Clothes

Are you on vacation on a beach without access to a washing machine and detergent and want to wash your clothes filled with sand? Then hand washing clothes with water and a detergent alternative is your only option.

Hand washing gives you more control over the suds by using only the required quantity of detergent. Allow the garment to soak in water for 30 minutes or more if it is laboriously soiled. It gives the detergent alternative substantial time to work on the dirt in the fabric. All you have to do is rinse it after a thorough wash.

Hand washing requires you to stir the water thoroughly after adding the alternative. Adding the detergent alternative to the clothes may spot them.

Related: 8 Tried and tested substitute for laundry detergent.

1. Bar Soap or Body Wash

Laundry bar soap helps you remove a few stains. Grate a small part of these soaps in hot water, allowing it to melt. Rub soiled areas with the bar soap of body wash. Bars, body wash without oils, or skin softeners are best.

Related: Can you use body wash as laundry detergent?

bar soap for washing clothes

2. Shampoo

Go for a mild one, such as a baby shampoo. Avoid using shampoo with conditioners and those that dye the hair. One teaspoon of shampoo is ideal for a bathroom sink filled with water. Use more shampoo proportionately for a large sink or above-average load.

shampoo for washing clothes

3. Hand Wash

The instructions for using hand wash are similar to those for shampoo. Use a small quantity of handwash. Hand-wash soaps or soaps free of moisturizers are the best bet.

hand wash liquid for washing clothes

4. Dishwashing Liquid

While using dishwashing liquid, use the minimum amount possible. Ensure the dishwashing liquid is free of bleaching agents.


Laundry detergent alternatives are not designed for use on fabrics and could lead to residue buildup, discoloration, or damage to clothing fibers.

dish washing liquid for washing clothes

What Alternatives Should You Not Use as Laundry Detergent in Washing Machine?

You must be careful with a few items that may pose a risk to your fabric or machine.

1. Dishwashing Soap, Shampoo, and Body Wash

Dishwashing soap, shampoo, and body wash are known to lather excessively. Flushing out the overall suds becomes clumsy and difficult during the rinse cycle. A highly efficient washer produces suds in large proportions that overflood the machine and damage the machine’s electronic parts, eventually voiding the warranty.

2. Automatic Dishwashing Detergent

The proportion of harsh ingredients is much higher than laundry detergent in most automatic dishwashing detergents. These ingredients may fade and bleach your garment colors. In addition, remnants of these ingredients settle in the fibers after washing and cause skin irritation.

3. Ammonia or Household Cleaners

Similar to automatic dishwashing detergents, ammonia or household cleaners are harsh and can irritate the skin. Ingredients from these items may lead to loss of color and spotting on the fabrics. Household cleaners have ingredients that foam excessively. Using it may damage a washing machine with high efficiency.

Related: Can you wash clothes in a dishwasher?

What Can I Use for Fragrance Instead of Laundry Detergent?

If you’re looking for an alternative to laundry detergent that provides fragrance to your laundry, there are a few options you can consider:

  1. Fabric Softeners: Fabric softeners are commonly used to make clothes feel softer and reduce static cling, but many fabric softeners also provide a pleasant fragrance. You can add fabric softener to the rinse cycle of your washing machine.
  2. Essential Oils: Another option is to use essential oils to add fragrance to your laundry. You can add a few drops of your preferred essential oil to a damp cloth or a dryer sheet and place it in the dryer with your clothes. This will infuse your laundry with a natural scent. Be cautious when using essential oils, as some may stain fabrics or cause allergic reactions, so it’s a good idea to test a small area before using them on your entire load.
  3. Scented Dryer Sheets: Scented dryer sheets are readily available and can be used in the dryer to add fragrance to your laundry. They are usually added during the drying cycle and can leave a pleasant scent on your clothes.

Related: Can you use fabric softener as a detergent?

Related: 7 Substitute for fabric softener.

  • Can I wash clothes with just water?

    Washing clothes with water will just wet them, not clean them. Water alone cannot fight the bacteria, fungus, or odor or remove stains and soil from the fabrics.

  • Can I wash clothes in a washing machine without detergent?

    Yes! You can use a few laundry detergent alternatives to wash clothes in your washing machine. Baking soda, borax, vinegar, oxygen-based bleach, etc., are a few alternatives to laundry detergent that you can use.

  • Can you wash clothes with something other than detergent?

    Yes, there are several alternatives to laundry detergent. You can use cleaning agents such as baking soda, borax, vinegar, oxygen-based bleach, lemon or lemon juice, or vodka for washing clothes in a machine.


Using laundry detergents to wash clothes is the leanest, simplest, and most convenient way. Use laundry alternatives only when you run out of your regular detergent.

All the above alternatives will help you clean your clothes. However, the results may be compromising. In today’s fast-paced world, washing clothes using laundry detergent is the fastest and result-oriented method.