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Ran Out of Laundry Detergent? Here’s How to Fit In One More Load

laundry detergent substitutes like a laundry soap bar and baking soda, on a white table
images72/Shutterstock

You’ve sorted your laundry, dumped a big load into the machine, and hefted up your jug of laundry detergent only to find it suspiciously light. Here’s how to get that load of laundry done before you run to the store.

Discovering you’re out of laundry detergent is one of the more common “are you #*@&ing kidding me?!” domestic chore moments. But with a few clever tricks, you can squeeze by and get that last load of laundry done.

What Not to Use

Before we talk about our favorite tried-and-true tricks, however, let’s highlight what you shouldn’t do.

No matter how tempting it might be, don’t substitute the missing laundry detergent with dish soap, dish detergent, shampoo, hand soap, bubble bath, body wash, hand-washing detergent, or, as a general rule, any other soaps you have around the house. None of those are intended for use in a washing machine, and they will cause extreme suds that can damage your washing machine.

In the same breath, don’t use household cleaners like general-purpose surface cleaners, ammonia, or non-laundry cleaners. In addition to risking excessive suds, using household cleaners can damage your clothing, your washer, or even start a fire in extreme cases.

What to Use When You’re Out of Detergent

So you’ve read the last section and set down the bottle of Dawn dish detergent. What next? Here are some basic tricks to get that last load of laundry done.

Rinse the Bottle

Ever swished warm water around a bottle of hand soap to get one last hand washing session out of it before refilling? Same concept here.

If you’re using liquid laundry detergent, unscrew the cap and slowly add around a cup of warm water. Swish it around for a few seconds and then use the warm water in place of your regular detergent dose.

Suspicious that’ll get the job done? Don’t be. Almost everyone uses way too much laundry detergent, and just that little bit of soapy water with the leftover detergent in it is enough to get the job done.

There typically isn’t an equivalent for the folks using powder detergent, but every bit helps. Bang the box on the edge of the laundry sink or washing machine and then cut the corner open fully to pour the absolute last of the powder out.

Use Laundry Boosters On Their Own

Usually, you’d use detergent plus some laundry booster like borax, baking soda, vinegar, or powdered oxygen bleach (like Oxy-Clean). When the detergent bottle is bone dry, however, you can still get by just using the boosters without the detergent.

Pick one of them—now’s not the time to play chemist—and add them to your laundry. A warm water wash and a half cup of vinegar, or a half cup of baking soda go a long way. You might be surprised to find that, besides the missing scent of your preferred laundry detergent, you can’t tell you didn’t use detergent.

Soak a Rag with Stain Pretreaters

If you have a stain pretreatment spray or soap on hand, use them to give your detergent-free wash a bit of a boost.

Grab a washcloth or clean rag and give it a few liberal sprays with the pre-treater. If you have a solid laundry pretreatment like the classic Fels-Naptha soap bar, soak a washcloth or rag in warm water and then lather it up with the soap. Toss the cloth into the drum of the washing machine to get laundered with the rest of the clothing. You can also use a cheese grater to pile a few shavings right into the washer if you prefer.

And you don’t have to worry about too many suds when using the laundry soap bar. Products like Fels-Naptha are designed for laundry use, and many people make homemade laundry detergent with them.

Jason Fitzpatrick Jason Fitzpatrick
Jason Fitzpatrick is the Editor in Chief of LifeSavvy. He has over a decade of experience in publishing and has authored thousands of articles at LifeSavvy, Review Geek, How-To Geek, and Lifehacker. Read Full Bio »

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