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Can You Wash Clothes Without Detergent?

Can You Wash Clothes Without Detergent?

Our lives can get pretty busy, and sometimes we forget to buy items that we desperately need but don’t use every day. For most people who don’t have children, washing clothes is not an everyday occurrence.

Some people have so many clothes they don’t need to do a load of laundry for 10 days. But what happens if you reach for that laundry detergent and you realize you haven’t bought any in a while and you don’t have any left? Can you wash your clothes without detergent?

You can wash clothes without detergent, but they won’t be as clean. Without detergent, stains, marks, and sweat will lessen in water, but they will not be expunged. If you don’t have detergent, you can always hand wash items of clothing in the sink with hand soap.

Lightly dirty clothing may look good as new if only washed in water, but you’ll need detergent to truly get the clothes clean. Read on to learn more about washing your clothes with other alternatives.

What Happens If You Wash Laundry Without Detergent?

When you wash your clothes in the washer with no detergent, nothing bad will happen to your clothes, but your clothing won’t be clean.

The water will reduce the amount of odors in your clothing and it’ll get rid of some dirt and debris, but you will see that your clothes aren’t as fresh and any stains on the clothes will only be faded, not gone.

If you need to wash a few items, like a T-shirt or underwear, it would be better to hand wash these items.

I Need to Wash My Clothes but I Don't Have Detergent, What Should I Do

How roughly or gently you scrub the item of clothing with your hands depends on the fabric. If you’re washing a pair of jeans, you can be as rough as you want. But if you’re washing a lace blouse, the gentler you rub the fabric, the better.

When you are finished scrubbing the clothing, drain the water from the sink and then fill the sink up with water. This is technically the rinse cycle. Gently squeeze the fabric so the hand soap filters out of the fabric.

Then, drain the sink and then gently squeeze the rest of the water out of the fabric. Hang the damp clothing in a warm room and allow it to dry.

What Should I Know About Dish Soap?

You can also use dish soap to hand wash clothing, but don’t use as much dish soap as you would hand soap. Dish soap makes a lot of suds and bubbles.

Also, if you have oil or grease stains on your clothing, rub the spot with dish soap before placing it into the washing machine.

Dish soap can remove grease and oil from pots and pans, so it is better than detergent for removing grease and oil from fabric.

However, do not pour dish soap into the washer. If you add dish soap to the washing machine, the vigorous washing actions the machine makes in order to wash the clothing with regular detergent will generate so many bubbles that it will build up and spill out of the washing machine.

Not only that, the suds may bubble up and slide into the mechanisms and moving components in your washing machine.

If you wash your clothes with dish soap one time, then your washing machine will be fine. But if you keep washing your clothes in dish soap, you will eventually have a lot of problems.

Can I Wash My Clothes With Just Water?

You can wash your clothes with just water, but the water will not completely clean the clothing. However, washing clothes and water is a good way to remove any odors and reduce stains before they become worse.

What Can I Use Instead of Laundry Detergent?

There are a few substances you can use in your home to wash your clothes if you do not have any laundry detergent.

Zote Soap or Laundry Bar Soap

You may find Zote soap with the back of a Walmart or at your local dollar store. To use this soap, cut the bar of soap into 4 pieces and grate one piece into a pot of very warm water.

When all the soap is dissolved, pour the soapy water into a laundry machine that is filled with your clothes and water.

Baking Soda

Baking soda is a common item everyone has in their home. When you fill a washer with your clothes, pour one cup of baking soda into the water.

When you do purchase detergent, purchase another box of baking soda and add a tablespoon or two of your laundry loads. Laundry soap plus detergent will make your clothes look like new!

Can You Wash Clothes With Just Soap and Water?

You can wash certain clothes in soap and water but not all clothing. Some fabric is far too delicate to be washed with hand soap or dish soap.

Here are the fabrics you should never wash in regular soap and water:

  • Suede
  • Silk
  • Chiffon
  • Sheer fabric
  • Any clothing that says dry clean only

Clothing like cotton, jeans, polyester, cotton polyester blends, and most other everyday consumer fabrics should be fine to wash in soap and water once in a while.

Conclusion to Washing Clothes Without Detergent

You can wash your clothes without detergent, but they won’t be as clean. There are a few alternatives you can use if you have run out of detergent.

Always carry emergency detergent in case you forgets to purchase your regular liquid detergent. The dollar store or corner liquor stores carry powdered detergent as well.

If you wash your clothes without detergent, some oil, dirt, and grease will wash away, but the clothes will not become clean. Lighter clothing items, like underwear, socks, and blouses, can be hand washed in the sink.

Lindsay Reed

Hi, I'm the founder of! I created this website to be a resource for everyone who wants to make the best home possible.