Can You Use Hand Soap To Wash Clothes?

A big difference exists between hand soaps and detergents. But nowadays, the word soap is used interchangeably and carelessly with the word detergent.

Because of this, it can be difficult for the average joe to point out what contains detergents and what actually contains soap. 

As far as most modern hand soaps are concerned, and not just them, but most cleaning products that require the formation of lather are concerned, they contain detergent instead of soaps.

This is the reason why modern hand soaps are actually safe to use for the laundry. Because they contain detergent that can help tackle the soiling that builds up on clothes from everyday activities. If you want to be 100% percent sure your product contains soap instead of detergent, look for plant or animal based materials in the ingredient list. 

The presence of chemical compounds instead of animal based compounds indicates a detergent. 

Below we’ll discuss why soaps are substituted for detergents in most modern cleaning products, and in the end, discuss the possible alternatives you have when you run out of laundry detergent.

Let’s take a deep dive into hand soaps

The typical soap is gotten from either plants or animal products or byproducts. You can get soap from plant oils like (pine or vegetable) or from combining animal fats with an alkali substance like lye. 

The big way that soaps differ from detergent is in their formulation. While soaps are derived from natural products, detergents are synthesized, meaning that they are products of chemical reactions. 

When it comes to the complexity of their making, detergents take the upper hand. Detergents contain many ingredients and compounds purposely added to support a specific type of cleaning, which makes it the number one choice by manufacturers for making cleaning solutions. 

For instance, you can find laundry detergents containing water softeners and chelates to make washing as efficient and effective as possible, while others may contain ingredients like disinfectants for cleaning surfaces that serve as hotspots for bacteria. 

That extra edge they have makes them superior to soaps, especially in applications like laundry and cleaning of surfaces. 

Having said that, let’s still not sleep on one important misconception: that all products labeled as soaps are soaps. That’s not true. 

Many hand soaps you see actually contain detergents instead of soaps. The name soap is just there because of how flexible we’ve made it become with the term “detergents”. 

The choice of using detergents instead of soap in products labeled as “soap” all boils down to its effectiveness, fewer downsides and multi-facet functionality in comparison to actual soaps. 

So to be 100% sure that the hand soap you have is actually a soap and not a detergent, you should check the ingredient list to see what makes up the composition of the soap. If you find natural ingredients from plants or animals, then it’s no doubt a soap, otherwise the presence of chemical compounds indicates a detergent!

I have a hand soap, can i use it in the laundry?

As far as using an actual soap for laundry is concerned, it can be done, but you’ll suffer many problems with it. 

The first is that you won’t be getting a really good cleaning. That’s simply because you cannot compare the formulations of detergent to your regular hand soap.

Secondly, whenever you’re using hand soap for laundry, you have to make sure you’re rinsing with fresh water otherwise you’ll have a deposit of film on the surface of your clothes which will make them appear duller or even ruin them depending on how delicate they are. 

These deposits are known as soap scum and they form when soaps react with minerals in hard water.

Another downside of using soaps, is that you’ll have to use warm to hot water (as soaps work better in that medium), and that can see you compromising the instructions on the fabric care label of clothes that say “do not wash in hot water”!

How to use hand soap for cleaning

If it happens that soap is the only thing you have for laundry, then you can actually use it and achieve a manageable degree of cleaning. But here are tips to bear at the back of the mind to ensure you don’t end up destroying your clothes.

Do a spot test

As with any laundry product, you first want to do a quick spot test to determine how the soap would react with the fabric. Will it damage it or will it discolor it?

To do the spot test, get an inconspicuous area of the cloth and apply the soap directly on it. Work it in until you’re satisfied, and let it sit for some minutes. Rinse, dry and then inspect for any color changes or damage to the fabric.

You must rinse with fresh clean water!

Because soap would lather more than detergents, you only need to use a small quantity in your washer or bucket. It’s actually preferred to wash clothes by hand when using soaps, to prevent the many issues that result from using a sudsy detergent in the washer. 

After washing your clothes, you want to make sure you’re rinsing with FRESH clean water to completely eliminate the soap scum from the cloth. If you don’t rinse them away completely, then the deposits will make the cloth look duller! 

Use soft water to prevent the formation of soap scum

The reason why soap scums from in very good amounts in the first place is because you’re using hard water for laundry. Soft water too will produce scums, but not as much. So if the water entering into your house is hard water, you want to soften it using a water softener!

What else can I use when I’ve run out of laundry detergent?

Get the last bit of laundry detergent remaining

Having known that soaps are not really the best option for laundry might prompt you to look for other alternatives instead.

So, what are the options that you have.

Dish soap

Dish soap lather, so it delivers the same issue as hand soap in the washer. But the good news is that you can use it to clean clothes to a satisfactory degree, even more so than had soaps. 

Dish soaps are excellent at getting rid of grease and oil stains. This is because their primary function is to tackle grease and oils that accumulate on plates. Any other type of soiling might not be completely removed though. 

The best way to use dish soap is to use them in hand washing clothes. That way, you have so much control over the amount of suds that form.


Like hand soap and especially dishwashing detergents, shampoos are best proposed for washing clothes by hand and not using the washer — because of suds!

When using shampoo, use as little as possible because of the way they lather much faster (and in bulk) compared to laundry detergents. 

Body wash

Body wash is also another great alternative to laundry detergent. When selecting body wash, make sure it doesn’t contain moisturizers or hydrators, as that can leave a film on your clothes and make them trap dirt easily! 

Can I use only borax to wash clothes?

Turn the pantry upside down but can’t find anything meaningful to clean clothes, can you fall back to an all purpose cleaner like borax to do the job?

Borax in itself, won’t do a good cleaning job for you, only when used together with a laundry detergent. Effectively, borax serves as a laundry booster which aids cleaning, removes odor from clothes, removes soap deposits on clothes during rinsing, softens water, makes whites appear whiter and importantly, balances the pH level of your cleaning medium so cleaning is efficient. 

Final Thoughts

Most hand soaps you’ll find at home are perfectly safe to use as a substitute for laundry detergent, because they actually contain detergents and soaps! 

What you want to avoid doing is putting them in the washing machine because it can form excessive suds and cause problems for your washer and the laundry too. 

The best way to use hand soaps is in hand washing, where you have a much better control over the amount of suds than can be produced.