Too Many Chemicals on Your Clothing? Vinegar as a Fabric Softener

Vinegar as Fabric Softener
Vinegar as Fabric Softener

In addition to trying to protect our environment and use less energy, I’m always looking for ways to simplify and save money.  Last summer I discovered that instead of fabric softener or dryer sheets or balls, many people use vinegar in the rinse cycle of their laundry.  This isn’t a new idea, people have been doing this for ages.  You’d be amazed at what people do with vinegar.  You might think that laundry would come out smelling horrible, but it’s been more than six months, and no one has caught a whiff of vinegar from our clothes, not even straight out of the washing machine.  Our clothes come out soft, without static and I feel good because I’m using fewer chemicals.

Why Use Fewer Chemicals?
First, I’m convinced that chemicals can’t be good for us and we just need fewer of them around.  There is a lot of research that chemical use is related to the increased rates of cancer, and particularly breast cancer.  The Breast Cancer Fund has a lot of information on chemicals and breast cancer.  In 2007, Wired Magazine published a post on breast cancer and common chemicals

Then I care about how chemicals affect our environment.  First there’s the making of things like fabric softener.  Factories that make it use energy, water and natural resources and release chemicals into our atmosphere and water.  Then there are the plastic bottles or cardboard boxes to store & transport it.  Then there’s the transportation to get it to you and all the fuel – oil or gasoline – that uses. 

After you use the chemicals, they rinse out of your clothes (mostly) and go down the drain.  Last summer I had the opportunity to visit a water treatment plant where I could see foam coming off the churning water – when I asked what it was I was told that it is chemicals that went down people’s drains.  This was the sort of thing the treatment plant was trying to take out of the water before it goes back into our ocean.  The key word there is trying.

How to use Vinegar as Fabric Softener

Add Vinegar in place of Fabric Softener
Add Vinegar in place of Fabric Softener

We put in the same amount of vinegar as we would liquid fabric softener in the section on our front loader washing machine.

We haven’t had any issues with static cling. I waited until the winter to write this post so that I could see how plain vinegar worked in the dry air of winter.  We are still quite happy with it!

Vinegar vs Fabric Softener by Price
I save money by using plain, basic vinegar instead of costly fabric softeners. I priced some out and found that ounce to ounce, vinegar is a lot cheaper (prices from unless otherwise noted):

Vinegar rating from EWG

More importantly for my family, and for those concerned with the unknown chemicals we interact with every day, vinegar is well known and isn’t full of a variety of chemicals, natural or man-made. It rates a 1 on the skindeep database, which is really good.

Cloth Diapers and Vinegar
I use cloth diapers and you should never use fabric softener on cloth diapers.  Fabric softener, and particularly dryer sheets, leave a residue on the fibers of your cloth that repels water.  This might be good for your clothing, but not for your towels or cloth diapers that are intended to absorb liquids!  If you use fabric sheets in your dryer regularly, your dryer will build up an invisible film of the chemicals and subsequently deposit that film on your diapers as you dry them.  Some people are very strict about never putting their diapers in dryers that use dryer sheets.  I take a more pragmatic approach.   When we travel, I just use the dryer that is there (just skipping the dyer sheets myself) if line drying isn’t feasible.

By using vinegar on with all my clothes, towels and blankets, I am ensuring that 

my diapers are not coming into contact with the chemicals that cause them to repel liquids or worse cause skin irritation.

I have occasionally washed my diaper liners with baking soda and vinegar to help take some of the built-up detergents that cause stinkies out of them.  It’s something that is recommended by some cloth diaper experts as a “once in a while” wash.  Check with your cloth diaper manufacturer for their recommendations.  Here are a few popular cloth diaper brands and their recommendations regarding vinegar:

Next time you are doing your laundry, try out a healthier and cheaper fabric softener you already have in the  kitchen, simple distilled white vinegar.

Happy Greening!

What besides cooking and science projects do you use vinegar for in your home?  Share your ideas in the comments below.

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  1. Vinegar is an effective and safe household cleaner. You can use it as fabric softner as well as a tile cleaner.

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  2. I had a wart on my finger for about 2 years. I had it frozen off at the doctor and it returned nearly immediately. I had heard of using raw apple cider vinegar for wart removal, so I tried pouring it on and then covering the wart with a bandaid overnight. I did this for several weeks, each night, taking off a night once a week or so. At first it got smaller, and after a few weeks, I tried applying it to a cotton ball and then covered with a bandaid. This way was so powerful, that some of my skin peeled off around the area, but then it disappeared after a few of the cottonball bandaid applications. Awesome stuff!

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  4. Hey man, was just browsing through the internet looking for some information and came across your blog. I am impressed by the information that you have on this blog. It shows how well you understand this subject. Bookmarked this page, will come back for more. You, my friend, ROCK!!!

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