Can You Wash Clothes Without Detergents?

In this day and age, laundry detergent is an absolute necessity to wash clothes. Its special ingredients and formulations ensure your stains and soiling are tackled the best way they should — which results in garments you’re confident of wearing anytime anywhere! 

But there are times when you’ll run out of laundry detergents at home, and in that scenario, what should you do? What can you rely on to do the laundry for you? Assuming you hold a strong beef with all the laundromats and dry cleaners in town?

If you run out of laundry detergent, use hot water and baking soda to clean your fairly soiled clothes. Don’t expect to get a really good cleaning however because baking soda is limited in its cleaning ability, being a laundry booster. Other alternatives you can try are body wash, shampoo, liquid dish soap, and even bleach or stain removers.

Keep reading, to discover how to use these products to wash your clothes at home when you’ve run out of laundry detergent. 

No laundry detergent means no party

Detergents play a critical role in Laundry. Without them, you won’t be able to tackle soiling on clothes the way you’re able to do so today! 

Detergent work through the action of many ingredients stuffed inside of them during formulation. One of the most important are called surfactants. 

Surfactants are basically molecules that are attracted to water and grease on both ends. When they’re added to wash water, the attraction begins, and when agitation is provided by the machine, the attraction is shuffled such that stains are pulled away from clothes and now formed into a ball of small spheres. 

With rinse water added during the rinse cycle, the dirt spheres are swept away, and depending on how fresh the rinse water is, more dirt loosened by the detergent but hiding in narrow pores of the fabrics are pulled and swept away by virtue of a detergent gradient created between the cloth and the new water. 

Other ingredients in detergents also help to tackle soiling, and they include enzymes which work against protein stains, fat and starches, and also brighteners and whiteners which help improve the general appearance of clothes respectively!

Without these, water will not be able to satisfactorily remove soiling from really dirty clothes no matter how hot it is and no matter the agitation of the washer. 

For there to be proper cleaning, you have to have something that pulls dirt out from clothes which is what detergents actually do too.

But that isn’t to say that you cannot use anything aside from laundry detergents to wash your clothes!  There are a wide variety of things you can use as a substitute for laundry detergents when you run out them — and achieve a manageable result! 

What are the alternatives to laundry detergent?


Aside from having stain removing abilities, bleach can also disinfect, whiten and also brighten clothes. So it’s a 3 in 1 bonus when you think about it! 

There are two options when it comes to using bleach for laundry, you can either go for the sodium hypochlorite variety popularly known as chlorine bleach, or you can opt for the non-chlorine bleach also known as oxygen bleach or color-safe bleach.

Sodium hypochlorite bleaches can only be used on white clothes. They help make whites appear whiter and remove any soiling and stain on them. Using chlorine bleach on clothes that are colored can discolor them completely.

To use chlorine bleach on white clothes, follow the manufacturer’s instructions with regards to the dosage. 

You want to make sure you’re adding the chlorine bleach directly to the wash water first before adding in the clothes. 

Doing it the other way round (i.e adding clothes into the washer, then pouring bleach directly on them) can result in clothes with weakened fibers! 

If you’re using the color safe bleach which also includes oxygen bleach, the first thing you want to do is run a quick color-fastness and fabric-reaction test in an inconspicuous area of the cloth, like the seam or hem. 

Doing this would ensure that the clothes do not react chemically to the bleach and get damaged, or lose their colors mid-way washing. 

Performing a spot test is pretty easy, get the inconspicuous area of the cloth and apply a drop or two of a diluted solution of the  bleach to the area. 

Let’s sit for few minutes, then wash with cold water and inspect for any color changes or damage to the fabric. 

If you find any, it means that the fabric isn’t color fast or inert to bleach application, and you want to steer clear of using bleach on the fabric.

Just like chlorine bleach, you also want to make sure you’re adding the bleach to the wash water first, before adding the clothes in. Do not put oxygen bleach directly on clothes as it can damage the fabric if left to sit for a very long time. 

Another thing you want to do when you use only bleach as your detergent is to use hot water and the heaviest and longest cycle possible, especially if the cloth is heavily soiled. 

This would work together with the bleach to deliver a much better result! 

Water and baking soda

Baking soda is a laundry booster who’s main work is to help make detergents do what they do effectively.

In cases when you don’t have laundry detergents, you can always rely on baking soda to do the dirty job for you, but don’t expect the type of cleaning you’d get from using detergents on this experiment. 

Laundry boosters are meant to boost the actions of detergents to aid them in cleaning and not to clean clothes themselves.

When using a laundry booster like baking soda, make sure to use warm to hot water and the longest and heaviest cycle possible to achieve a decent cleaning — that’s if the fabric label allows for such  settings. If it doesn’t, opt for other options on the list. 

Here’s how to use baking soda to wash clothes, simply add one-half to one cup of it to an empty drum, then add warm to hot water and then your laundry, then run a wash cycle.

Liquid dish soap

I bet you never knew you could use liquid dish soap to wash clothes at home. That bottle of dawn has been sitting there all along waiting to be grabbed and used as a substitute for Persil! 

Now feel free to grab the bottle and kick start the process at least. One thing you must know about using dish soaps for laundry however, is that they cannot be used in the washer, especially front loaders and HE machines. There’ll be too many suds formed that will cause many problems for your laundry and the machine too. 

If you want to learn how to properly use liquid dish soap for laundry, check out this guide on that! 


Baby shampoo is also another great alternative to liquid laundry detergent. Just like dish soap, you want to avoid using them in the washer and opt only for hand washing! Because doing so will produce suds that will affect the machine and your laundry in many ways. 

When using baby shampoo, make sure you use it in small doses because it lathers so much and that can impede even hand washing. 


Body washes that do not contain moisturizers are a great alternative to liquid detergent. The caveat to using them is the same with liquid dish soap and baby shampoo: AVOID PUTTING THEM IN THE WASHER! 

Stain Removers

Stain removers are another great alternative for laundry detergents. It may be the case that you’ve run out of laundry detergents, but it rarely ever occurs that you run out of stain remover you brought not long ago, as they are typically one time treatments for laundry issues that arise. 

Soak garments in stain removers like Oxiclean Powder as per manufacturer’s instruction. Then launder using hot water with a little bit of the stain remover and you’ll be surprised at the level of soiling removed.

One thing to note though, avoid relying on stain removers as a substitute for laundry detergents. It can damage clothes when used consistently like you would use normal laundry detergent. 

Final Thoughts

Cleaning clothes without detergent is absolutely possible. You have a handful of options at home when it comes to that.

You can use baby shampoo but avoid using them in the washing machine or using too much of them in a bucket of water. 

Other decent substitutes include liquid dish soap and body wash. You can also rely on bleach to achieve soil and stain removal,  both the chlorine and non-chlorine bleach, or you can use the combination of warm to hot water and baking soda.