Vinegar as an All Natural Fabric Softener

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.  


  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.

  10. Ingeborg Harms says:

    I own a Electrolux Front load Washer and have been using distilled vinegar as a fabric softener. Then I read that the vinegar will eventually corrode the seals and hoses. Got in touch with the manufacturer and one person said: NO vinegar, another that I could safely use vinegar in the rinse cycle.
    Has anybody had problems with the washer seals and hoses needing to be replaced after a few years?

    • That’s a great question. I think you did the right thing to contact your manufacturer to see what they said about it. BUT that’s odd you got two different answers. I know vinegar can be corrosive on rubber seals, but it has not been a problem for me (at least not yet.)

      For what it’s worth, I have been using vinegar in my washer for more than 4 years and do anywhere from 6 to 12 loads of laundry a week. I haven’t ever had to replace my washing machine’s seals or hoses (or had to do any washing machine repairs yet, knock on wood!) My washer is probably 10 to 12 years old and I’m the second owner.

      Hopefully other readers will comment with their input. I have not experienced any rubber seal or hose problems and plan to keep using vinegar in my washing machine. Thank you for stopping by and asking your question, hope we can find some answers for you! –Nicole

  11. Jennifer Sweat says:

    Is there an alternative to vinegar? I absolutely hate the smell. I mean I really hate the smell! We sometimes give our dogs a vinegar rinse and I have to haveyou hubby do it. The smell makes me gag. I mean, I really hate it and can’t get pass it. I am a stay at home mom and do a lot of laundry for our family of five. There has to be a different, natural product to use beside vinegar. Please, tell me there is.

    • Hi Jennifer! I am not a fan of the vinegar smell either. I haven’t ever had a problem with my laundry smelling like vinegar (I hope you aren’t having that issue.) But to answer your question, YES there is another natural fabric softener alternative I think you will be happy to know. It is cheap: Baking Soda (buy it in the large bulk bags usually found in the laundry aisle)
      Here’s what you do: Add a 1/2 cup of baking soda to the water in your washing machine and let it dissolve prior to adding your clothes. The baking soda acts as a water softener and will also soften your clothes.

      Another idea to try that I also used to do and liked is to get some wool dryer balls. Invest in about 6 to 8 balls and they should last a really long time. Years and years.
      Hope that helps! Good luck!

  12. Angie Brown says:

    I’ve been using white distilled vinegar for 6 months I’m not giving up yet but my clothes are FULL of static any ideas why?

    • Hi Angie, Good question, I’ll try to give some answers. 🙂 I have found that vinegar works well for softening clothes, but not so great at getting rid of static cling. Ours is especially bad in the winter because the air is drier, and that can make static worse. To be honest, I haven’t really tried too hard to eliminate static cling with our clothes in awhile. But, here are some things I have tried with results:

      I have used wool dryer balls in the past and they seemed to help cut down on static a little bit. They also help reduce drying time, so I liked them for that reason.

      I have also tried making my own tin foil dryer balls (simply make a tightly rolled ball of aluminum foil about 2-3 inches around) and put a couple in the dryer with every load. (You can reuse the balls for months.) Some people say that works really well for them. I didn’t notice it making a difference for static in my laundry, so I quit using them. But – I think it’s worth a try and would be an inexpensive thing to make and see if it works for you.

      Hanging clothes to dry is the only sure way to not have static electricity in them (since static is from clothes rubbing together in the dryer). Another tip is to try not to over-dry clothes because they will get more static-y the drier they get.

      If I find a great way to get rid of laundry static, I will definitely post about it here! Good luck, I hope that you find something that works for you. Thanks for stopping by! –Nicole

  13. I have tried this today – put the white vinegar into the last rinse cycle – EVERYTHING NOW STINKS OF VINEGAR!! Ive tried putting the laundry in the dryer, but the smell is STILL THERE so now I have to wash everything again 🙁 And before you ask, yes I used the correct amount.

    • I don’t know why that would happen other than the rinse cycle isn’t using enough water to rinse the clothing well enough. It really shouldn’t leave any vinegar smell at all once the laundry is properly rinsed. Sorry that I can’t be of more help, that’s all I can think of that went wrong.

  14. sharon kyriacou says:

    I stopped using fabric softeners years ago for two reasons. Primarily because one of my sons has dermatitis, and the second reasons was I needed to replace my washing machine and when I saw the inside of the last one it was evident how bad commercial fabric softeners are for machines, that alone the environment. However, my washing isn’t as soft as friends and families washing. Add that to the fact that I have also stopped using my dryer our clothes and towels are really becoming hard and scratchy. Then to top it off, my eldest son came home yesterday from a friends house and commented on how nice and soft their towels were. So I got up this morning and began looking for alternatives and found vinegar. As I was reading through countless sites that suggested vinegar I quickly ran to see where my wash cycle was up to – grabbed a bottle of vinegar and popped some into the fabric softener part. I have literally just pegged them on the line and I already notice a distinct difference in the feel of them. I’m seriously excited to see how they dry up. I also grabbed my youngest son and my daughter for a ‘sniff’ test and they couldn’t smell a thing! I’m really grateful for this and other sites. I feel that I have found a solution to the problem.

    • Hi Sharon! Thank you so much for taking the time to tell us your story. I am so happy that you gave vinegar a try and that it is helping your laundry feel softer! I do it the way you do by adding it into my fabric softener cup on the machine. I hope you have found your solution. Vinegar is my go-to fabric softener, I haven’t bought the commercial kind in years. Thanks again for your comments, I am sure they will help someone else who reads them. –Nicole


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