9 Brilliant Ways to Use Vinegar in Laundry

You probably have a gallon of white vinegar on your shelf, so here's how to put it to work and use the vinegar in your laundry room.

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There’s really no reason not to stock your cupboard with vinegar. It’s one of the few foods that doesn’t have an expiration date. You can buy a large amount with no fear of waste. And, there is an enormous number of household vinegar uses ranging from cleaning piano keys to removing ballpoint-pen scribbles. It’s also cheap — a few bucks gets you a gallon jug! There’s also more acidic cleaning vinegar that’s 20 percent stronger than standard white vinegar.

That said, there are some items you shouldn’t clean with vinegar. And, never mix it with bleach, because it creates a toxic gas. But, one place where vinegar undeniably earns its keep is in the laundry room. And thankfully, that distinct vinegar smell won’t linger. It completely vanishes in the cleaning process, so your pajamas won’t smell like pickles.

Here are nine ways you can incorporate vinegar into your everyday laundry routine.

Stop the Stink

Certain clothes maintain that musty odor even when they’ve just been washed. You can shock them back to smell neutrality by adding 1/2 to a full cup of vinegar to the rinse cycle of your washer. One caveat: The acid in vinegar eventually can break down the elasticity of clothes, so don’t get into the habit of washing your smelly softball uniform in vinegar after every practice.

A Clean Machine

Forget the clothes — sometimes, it’s the washing machine that smells mildewy. If yours has developed an odor, use a rag dampened with white vinegar to wipe the rubber gasket clean.

And to disinfect the entire washer and remove soap scum, pour in 2 cups vinegar, then run the machine through a full cycle without any clothes or detergent. If your washer is particularly dirty, fill it with very hot water, add 2 gallons vinegar, and let the agitator run for 8 to 10 minutes. Turn off the washer and let the solution stand overnight. In the morning, empty the basin and run your washer through a complete cycle.

Remove Wrinkles

We’ve all been there — hitting the dryer cycle again because the clothes sat there for a while and wrinkled up. Instead, fill a spray bottle with a solution of 1 part vinegar to 3 parts water, and mist away the wrinkles before hanging the item to air-dry. Add some of your favorite essential oils to give the mixture a fresh scent. (Start light, say 10 to 15 drops to four ounces of water. You can always add more scent, but you can’t take it away.)

Clean Shower Curtain With Vinegar

Over time, plastic shower curtains and liners can develop ugly mildew stains — no fun to look at when you’re in the shower. Easy fix: Throw the curtain or liner and a couple of soiled towels in your washing machine. Add 1/2 cup laundry detergent and 1/2 cup baking soda to the load. Wash it in warm water on your machine’s regular cycle. Add 1 cup white vinegar to the first rinse. Before the machine goes into the spin cycle, remove the curtain and hang it back up to dry.

Whiten and Brighten

If your whites have gone dingy, here’s an out-of-the-washer solution: Add a cup of vinegar to 1-1/2 quarts tap water in a large pot, boil the mix, then pour it into a bucket and add the whites. Wash and dry them after they’ve soaked overnight, and revel in their like-new brightness.

Restore Towel Absorbency

It’s natural for towel absorbency to decrease as towels age, thanks to fabric softener, dryer sheet and detergent build-up. Strip them out to restore some of that just-bought feeling by washing them with vinegar. Wash a half-load of towels with a cup vinegar instead of detergent, but added the same way, and using hot water (or the sanitize cycle). Do the same again, but with a half-cup of baking soda instead of vinegar or detergent. Dry as usual.

Set Colors

To help prevent brightly-colored clothing from fading — or running into lighter colors in the wash — soak them in undiluted vinegar for about 15 minutes before their first wash. Bonus: This can help eliminate any dust and chemicals trapped in the fabric.

Fix Shrunken Sweaters

Whoops, you neglected the care instructions and washed your favorite sweater in hot water, or ran it through the dryer, and now it’s shrunk. Snap it back from toddler size by boiling it in a solution of 1 part vinegar to 2 parts water for 25 minutes. Gently stretch the damp garment, and let it air dry.

Don’t Sweat Sweat-Stains

Mellow your yellow! Yellow sweat rings on shirt collars and in armpit areas can be embarrassing. Make a paste with 2 parts white vinegar and 3 parts baking soda. Apply and let set for a half-hour before washing.

Gael Fashingbauer Cooper
Gael Fashingbauer Cooper, has been a journalist for 30 years. She is the co-author of two pop-culture encyclopedias, "Whatever Happened to Pudding Pops? The Lost Toys, Tastes and Trends of the '70s and '80s," as well as "The Totally Sweet '90s." She lives in a 90+-year-old house in Seattle in which she does home improvement projects with her husband and daughter. Gael loves the quirkiness of old homes.