Vinegar as an All Natural Fabric Softener

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How to Use Vinegar as an All Natural Fabric Softener

Vinegar as an all natural fabric softener is a great way to make a eco friendly change to your laundry routine. White vinegar is one of the main things I rely on in my laundry room! It is an all natural fabric softener that can replace the need for other kinds of fabric softeners sold in stores.

Commercial fabric softeners can be costly and contain a lot of unhealthy chemicals, which are a couple of the reasons I quit using them and started looking for natural ways to soften my laundry.

Did you know that commercial fabric softeners can actually make your towels less absorbent? It’s true! Now, I use vinegar in the washing machine with my towels instead of regular fabric softeners. It is a wonderful way to soften my towels without affecting their ability to absorb water. It also helps combat any odors.

Why Vinegar Works to Soften Laundry – Even in Hard Water:

Vinegar naturally softens laundry by removing the soap and residue build-up.  Vinegar contains small amounts of potassium and sodium, which softens hard water and can dissolve mineral build up.

Concern 1: Doesn’t vinegar smell, well, like vinegar?

At first, I thought vinegar was an odd choice for a fabric softener because of its strong smell.  But I tried it anyway and found out there was no reason to worry – there’s no vinegar smell left behind once the laundry goes through the rinse cycle.

Concern 2: But I love it when my laundry smells like vanilla or lavender or something else delicious and fragrant.

Good news!  You can easily add a natural fragrance to your all natural fabric softener with your favorite essential oils.  Simply add about 40 drops of essential oils to one gallon of white vinegar.  (Suggestions: Lavender, Vanilla, Chamomile or Orange.)

How to use Vinegar as an All Natural Fabric Softener:

  • Add half a cup of white vinegar to the laundry in your washing machine before the final rinse cycle.


  • Add half a cup of white vinegar to your washing machine’s fabric softener dispenser before you start your laundry load.  It will be automatically dispensed at the right time in the cycle.

Tip: Use white vinegar because dark-colored vinegars may stain laundry.

How do you soften your laundry?  If you aren’t currently using vinegar as a fabric softener, why don’t you try it and come back and let me know how it goes?  I’d love to hear your feedback.

This blog post is a part of my Cleaning with Vinegar series.  Join me as I explore many of the ways you can use vinegar as a natural, eco-friendly cleaner in your home.  Read my previous post about how to clean your toilet with vinegar.  

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  1. I have been using vinegar as the only fabric softener my family uses for the past 7 months. I orignally found out about it as a fabric softener when I was looking for ways to get my cloth diapers a little cleaner and found out that some people use vinegar with all their laundry. I switched it out without saying anything, then after a few weeks I told my husband because sometimes he does laundry too. By that time I had proven that there was no residual smell, so he was sold!

    Thanks for the tip on the essential oils. I’m not sure if he’s willing to have a fragrance, but it’s something to think about.

    • Thanks for stopping by with your feedback. I learned a lot about vinegar and its benefits of using it in the laundry – I bet it is the perfect thing for cloth diapers. Did you notice it helped keep them cleaner or fresher longer than when you did not wash them with vinegar?
      The essential oils are nice and just leave a light trace of scent.

  2. Stephenie says:

    I disagree on this a bit. I once worked with a woman who lived near me and we began carpooling together. Every time we used her car, there was this weird bitter smell in it and I always wondered what it was. Then in a strange turn of fate, another friend of mine bought the coworkers house and moved in. She complained about the strange bitter smell and how it was in the entire house and she couldn’t get rid of it and it made her sick. Finally she complained to the realtor who then inquired and it with the coworker and turns out that she washed everything in vinegar! It took my friend six months to get the smell out of the house even after she had trashed the curtains. The coworker was so used to the smell that she never realized people could smell it. After the friend told me what had caused the smell, I recognized it immediately.

    • I haven’t had a problem with a vinegar smell even since the first time I started using it to do our clothes. I did read about people who had the smell problem and it was suggested to them to try rinsing their clothes/laundry more thoroughly to get the smell out. I don’t love the smell of vinegar and definitely wouldn’t want it to linger on my laundry. Maybe you could try it for yourself and see what you think – feel free to come back and let me know how it goes for you. :)

    • dawn diego says:

      The response to why everything smelled was that she WASHED everything with vinegar. If she washed everything in vinegar perhaps she was using too much… and maybe she literally washed everything, not just laundry, in vinegar. It is good for cleaning all sorts of stuff, but it needs to be diluted. Also, needs to be white distilled vinegar… I used apple cider vinegar once to wash the windows… the house smelled like pickles for days! For use as a fabric softener, only half a cup is needed in the rinse cycle.

  3. I used vinegar for years, with no lingering smell of any kind. If the scent did linger, I’d blame the washer for not rinsing properly, rather than the vinegar itself.

    I now use Natura dryer sheets. They are reusable, chemical free and every bit as effective as vinegar or conventional fabric softener.

  4. I have been using vinegar in my washer’s fabric softener dispenser for about a month. I appreciate the fact that the vinegar takes out any laundry detergent build-up. I smelled my laundry the very first time I used the vinegar and there was no odor. It’s economical & beneficial.

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  6. I think you’re turning me into a vinegar convert! I’m going to try this with my next load of laundry, and I’m hoping it will also help with that musty smell that front-load washers sometimes get. I never close the washer door completely (except when it’s running–LOL) to let the washer dry inside and keep that smell at bay, but I suspect the vinegar may help, too. Thanks!

    • I never thought about the front loading machine smell being helped by vinegar. I bet you are right! We moved into a house with a front loading machine so I was afraid I’d have issues with smell. But now that you mention it, I never have had any smell problem. I wonder if it’s because I use vinegar in the wash. That is a really good theory! I also do like you do and keep the door open when I’m not using it. Vinegar is one of the best household cleaners for sure. So many uses.

  7. I just moved to the country and am on a well. I was finding oil-like spots on my clothes and finally determined it is due to hard water. After much online reading, and shopping for things like washing soda specifically designed to work with hard water or iron in the water, I bought a jug of white vinegar and have been adding it in the water softener compartment when I start the wash. And VOILA! No more spots. Laundry smells fresh from the detergent I am using. The brown residue in the water compartments of the washing machine is also starting to disappear. I’m sold on the use of white vinegar to address the issues of hard water.

    • I absolutely love vinegar in the laundry too. I am glad you found something that works with your well water. We had well water for years that made it really hard to clean clothes (and just about anything else around the house – the minerals cause a gradual buildup that I’d literally have to scrape away!). Thanks for stopping by and leaving your helpful comment. -Nicole

  8. I didn’t know that vinegar could be used as a fabric softener. A huge thing for me though is the smell of my laundry. When I first saw this post I was worried about my laundry smelling like vinegar but, if it really doesn’t than I think its worth a try.

    • Hi Johnny – I use vinegar in every single load and my laundry never has the slightest hint of vinegar when it comes out of the washing machine. I love fresh smelling laundry, too, so it is hard to give up the fabric softener/dryer sheets. But as long as you use a scented laundry detergent, you should still be able to get the clean laundry smell you love.

  9. I have a septic system. Any one know if it is OK to use that much vinegar in a septic system over and over?

    • Hi Cheryl! Hopefully someone who knows about septic systems will stop by and answer this for you. I did a bit of online research on your question about using vinegar with a septic system. Nothing I have seen so far would make me think vinegar is bad for a septic system and in fact, some people recommend using vinegar to help keep your septic system healthy.

      Other points people said that made sense to me: 1) Vinegar is better for your septic system than using other harsh chemicals. and 2) The small amounts of Vinegar used for cleaning and laundry is SO diluted with water that your septic system won’t even notice.

      I hope that helps. Good luck finding an official answer to your question. If you are still worried, I would suggest calling a septic tank manufacturer or cleaning company and asking for their opinion.


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