No Laundry Detergent? Here’s What You Can Use Instead

You fill the washing machine with clothes and reach for your detergent, but the bottle is empty. Now you’re left wondering what to use.

There are many common household substitutes you can utilize in place of regular laundry detergent. Most of these don’t have the dirt-lifting power of laundry soap but can still get the job done in a pinch.

No laundry detergent

What You Can Put in the Washing Machine

We’ve broken down our list of laundry detergent substitutes by products that are suitable for washing machine use or hand washing only. You can add the following items to your washer to clean your clothes.


Oxiclean is a laundry booster that amplifies a detergent’s ability to break down dirt. While it doesn’t work like regular laundry soap, you can use it as a detergent substitute when you’re all out of the real thing.

Follow the directions on the package of our Oxiclean, or use about ½ scoop for a standard-size load of laundry. It’s best to wash your clothes in warm or hot water when using Oxiclean.

Baking Soda and Vinegar

Add one-half cup of baking soda directly to the washing machine’s drum. To soften your clothes, wait until the rinse cycle and add ½ cup of white distilled vinegar to the drum.

Baking Soda and Lemon Juice (For White Clothes)

Lemon juice has some bleaching power, making it a good option for washing white clothes. Start by adding ½ cup of baking soda to your washer. Then, add ½ cup of lemon juice during the rinse cycle.


Borax is a laundry booster and can work as a detergent substitute. Add a half cup to your drum at the start of the wash cycle.

Pretreat Stains and Wash in Water Only

Do you have a laundry stain pretreatment spray? If so, spray stains and smelly articles of clothing and then wash in water only. They won’t be as clean as if you used detergent, but they will be clean enough to wear.

Fill Your Old Jug of Detergent with Water

Those who use liquid laundry detergent can fill the bottle with water, give it a shake, and add it to the laundry. The leftovers will be enough to wash another load of clothes. (This doesn’t work for powdered detergent or laundry pods.)

What NOT to put in your washing machine:

  • Dish soap
  • Hand soap
  • Any type of liquid soap
  • Dishwasher tabs
  • Bleach (unless you’re cleaning whites only)

What You Can Use to Handwash Clothes

Those willing to hand wash their clothes have several detergent options. Most clothing can handle any type of liquid soap. Check care tags on delicate fabrics like wool or silk to be safe.

Dish Soap

Dish soap is our number one pick for handwashing clothes. It can lift dirt, grease, and grime. Hand wash your clothes by filling a sink or tub with warm water and adding a few drops of soap. Place your clothes in the soapy water and agitate them with a wooden spoon. Wring the clothes by hand, rinse with fresh water, and dry.

Baby Shampoo

Baby shampoo contains a general formula that’s safe for almost all fabrics. Add some baby shampoo to a sink of warm water, hand wash your clothes, and rinse well.

Baking Soda

Add about ½ cup of baking soda to a large sink full of warm water and allow it to dissolve before adding your clothes. Then hand wash as usual, rinse, and dry.


Vinegar aids in softening fabrics but can also remove sweat smells and lingering odors. If you don’t have soap, add ¼ cup of white distilled vinegar to a large basin full of warm water and wash your clothes. Rinse well.

(Since vinegar is an acid, we don’t recommend using it to hand wash delicates.)