Here’s Exactly How to Use White Vinegar in Your Laundry

Experts share their best tips for cleaning laundry with vinegar.

<p>Janine Lamontagne/Getty Images</p>

Janine Lamontagne/Getty Images

When you consider all the different types of natural cleaners out there, a few ingredients rise to the top each and every time. White vinegar is certainly one of those, and it can be a real game changer when it comes to laundering your garments and linens. This fermented ingredient tackles stink like a champ, swiftly rinses away product residue, and can even help soften and whiten your fabrics. Here’s exactly how to use white vinegar in laundry.

Related: The Be-All-and-End-All, Definitive Guide to Doing Laundry

How Does White Vinegar Clean Laundry?

So what is it about white vinegar that makes it such a cleaning champion? “White vinegar is nature’s most effective combatant of bacteria growth,” Carol Mehas, cleaning expert and founder of arbOUR, says. “Using white vinegar correctly in your washing routine reduces the odor-causing bacteria.”

She adds that it also helps nix residue and buildup from lotions, sweat, dead skin cells, sunscreen, and fabric softeners—all of which can further trap the bacteria that’s there in the first place. This detoxifying action has an added benefit of helping your fabrics feel softer and less starchy, and can even make your whites whiter.

6 Genius Ways to Use White Vinegar in Your Laundry

You can incorporate white vinegar into your laundry routine a few different ways. Here are some of our favorites.

Add it to Your Regular Wash Cycle

Put your laundry in the washing machine as you normally would and add a normal amount of detergent as instructed on the product label. Next, add 1 cup of distilled white vinegar to the fabric softener dispenser or toss it in during the rinse cycle, says Sacha Dunn, laundry expert and founder of Common Good. “Let the machine work its magic," she says. "The white vinegar will soften your fabrics, neutralize any lingering odors, and help break down any leftover detergent residue.”

De-Stink Your Gym Clothes

Adding distilled white vinegar to your laundry loads is particularly useful when washing athletic clothing and undergarments that touch sweaty body parts. “Most athleticwear is synthetic, meaning that the fibers are very tightly woven together and regular gel-based detergents, fabric softeners, pods, and powders simply sit on the surface of these fabrics and don’t penetrate to remove the real odor-causing bacteria,” Mehas explains. Follow the same instructions as above.

Related: 7 Life-Changing Laundry Tricks for Workout Clothes That Always Smell Fresh

Use it as a Spot Cleaner

“If you have a spot that needs attention, dab undiluted white vinegar directly onto the stain" Dunn says. "The acidity of white vinegar can help lift certain stains, including sweat, food, grease, wine, coffee, ink, and oil. Let it sit for 15 to 30 minutes, then wash the garment right away to avoid any potential discoloration or damage.” It may help to pour the vinegar into a spray bottle, then spray onto the soiled area.

Be sure to do a spot test in an inconspicuous place first, before putting undiluted white vinegar directly on clothes, to be sure it doesn't cause any discoloring.

Try a White Vinegar Soak

You can use distilled white vinegar as a soak, either on your machine’s soak settings or in a separate washing pale in the sink. Mehas says to combine ½ cup of vinegar with 2 cups of water (4:1 ratio) and let the garment soak for 15 to 30 minutes. This is effective for de-stinking washable shoes, garments, and linens, and can even help tackle stained garments.

Brighten Your Whites

Because distilled white vinegar is mildly acidic, it can help break down detergent residues, mineral deposits, and other buildups that cause fabrics to gray over time. “Add one cup to the wash cycle and watch your whites come out looking renewed and vibrant,” Dunn says.

Clean Your Washing Machine

In addition to cleaning your clothes with white vinegar, you can use this natural ingredient to deep clean your washing machine, says Jessica Petrino, educator and appliance expert at AJ Madison. “Vinegar can help remove odors from clothes and the washer drum,” she explains. Mehas says to add 1/2 cup of white vinegar directly into the drum and let the cycle complete.

Pro Tips When Using White Vinegar in Laundry

To get the most out of your white vinegar and avoid any mishaps, make sure to follow these pro tips.

  • Use Distilled White Vinegar: Mehas says you should opt for distilled white vinegar, which is less acidic and therefore gentler on your clothing while still providing the cleaning power that nature intended.

  • Check Fabric Compatibility: Before using white vinegar, ensure it's safe for your fabrics. It's great for cotton, linen, polyester, nylon, microfiber, and spandex. Be cautious or avoid using it with delicate fabrics like silk, acetate, and rayon. Always test a small, hidden area first if you're unsure.

  • Less is More: More isn’t always better. “Using too much vinegar can be harsh on certain fabrics and even your washing machine. Stick to the recommended amounts and timing for best results,” says Dunn.

  • Don’t Mix With Bleach: Mixing white vinegar with bleach creates a toxic chlorine gas that’s very harmful. These two ingredients should never, ever be combined.

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