Don’t Use Body Wash as Laundry Detergent (This Will Happen)

Doing a laundry load with body wash is a bad idea. The enzymes needed for stain removal are not present. What gets your skin clean is not as effective on fabrics, either. 

Potentially, the liquid clogs up washing machines, too. Even hand washing using body wash is imperfect. Either way, washed fabrics smell like your body wash… This is entirely different from the usual fragrance expected with freshly laundered clothes. 

Can You Use Body Wash as Laundry Detergent?

It is an unusual choice. But when there’s no detergent and the stores are closed, it might be your only option.

The body wash is designed to clean skin and adds a fragrance. The mild surfactants in body wash products avoid causing skin irritation. Laundry detergent uses far stronger surfactants to remove deep stains. Clothing laundered using body wash comes out smelling colorful but hardly stain-free. 

Biological molecules are lacking in body washes, too. Also known as enzymes, these work best on clothing stains, adding to the struggles that body wash has to effectively clean fabrics. 

Lastly, getting a little more technical, the pH levels are different. The acidic pH level in body wash does little to separate dirt from fabrics, which is a lost opportunity. So, the kid’s sports jersey likely still has the same grass stains and embedded mud it started with!

Related: Can You Use Fabric Softener as Detergent?

The Consequences of Using Use Body Wash as Laundry Detergent

Sure, you can use body wash as a laundry detergent, but there are consequences if you try.

Below, I detail the various consequences you might encounter:

Washing Machine Becomes Soap City and Prone to Breakdowns

Washing machines function poorly with an excess of soapy duds. This might seem counterintuitive. However, the process with laundry detergent is to clean effectively and then wash away after the final spin cycle. 

Depending on the type of body wash, a waxy layer may remain over the drum and other internal equipment. This doesn’t happen when using it in the shower because it’s rubbed on and almost immediately removed from the skin’s surface.

The same rubbing action isn’t supported inside washing drums, so an unwanted residue may remain. 

An early breakdown of your washing machine is possible too. They’re not intended for use with body wash products, even if you like the results. 

Costlier Per Wash

The cost per wash for body wash is higher than with most laundry detergents. 

A larger volume of body wash is required for garments, towels, and linens than with a perfectly formulated detergent.

Also, because most of us do not honestly know how much body wash to use for a half load or full load in the machine, it’s common to use excessive amounts. Using too much body wash results in extra residue. 

Accelerated Wear and Tear on Fabrics

Detergents are correctly formulated to wash effectively while not being rough on fabrics. Also, when combined with fabric softeners, the result is a softer, bouncier, fresher-smelling laundry with renewed fabrics down to the individual thread level. 

Body wash products work with regular or sensitive skin. They don’t treat fabrics the same way because their creators never intended people to shower in the clothes!

Odd Smell Attracts Unwanted Attention

Regularly laundered clothes give off a clean, freshly laundered smell…

Washing with body wash leaves your clothes with a stronger aroma matching that of the body wash. While this might be pleasant for a significant other, wafting this powerful odor across the office or inside commercial premises won’t go unnoticed.

And not in a good way…

Waxy, Filmy-like Layer on the Laundry

A scrub and rinse in the shower removes lingering body wash residue, but the same doesn’t apply here. Using a body wash for your laundry, a waxy or filmy-like layer covers the clothing. 

Multiple spin cycles or manual rinses are required to remove all the remaining body wash. Even then, it’s often unsuccessful. Also, there’s no quick fix to this problem. 

Subsequently, wearing body-washed upper layers, like shirts or blouses, feels different on the skin. Not exactly scratchy or itchy, but it does not feel the same. 

Duller-looking Clothing

The ingredients in body washes combine fragrances, oils, and moisturizers. 

These leave a layer over clothing fabrics, making them appear duller than their natural hue. While color-based detergents aim to revitalize fabric colors post-wash, expect the opposite here.

Expunging the grimy layer from fabrics allows the natural colors to return. 

I Only Have Body Wash, and I Need to Wash My Clothes!

In an emergency, it is probably okay to do a load of laundry using body wash and not detergent.

However, I wouldn’t make a habit of doing so, otherwise, your washing machine and clothing will suffer. 

Here is how I would go about washing clothes using body wash:

  1. Find a body wash with the least objectionable fragrance or weakest fragrance (whatever your preference). If one has less moisturizer, this is also a winner. 
  2. Select a couple of your least favorite garments to wash, which are stained in noticeable ways.
  3. Use your washing machine to wash the selected items using a small, measured cup of body wash. Use less, not more, for the first test wash. Note down exactly how much you used. 
  4. Run the washing cycle.
  5. Check the finished product to see how it came out. Are the stains gone or partially removed? Is dirt no longer present? Do they look cleaner?
  6. How do the items smell? An overwhelming aroma, or is it manageable?
  7. Do the garments need rinsing under cold water to remove any residue? If so, was there a strong enough water pressure to remove the residue?
  8. Now consider that there’s a trade-off between using less body wash for less fragrance but a reduced cleaning ability, using more, or keeping it similar. Make the best adjustment to suit your needs or preferences.
  9. Repeat the process by washing a greater number of garments and increasing the volume of body wash. 
  10. Rinse and repeat (sorry, I couldn’t resist the pun).

As you can tell from the steps explained above, there is a certain degree of trial and error involved in obtaining the best results. It’ll never be perfect. 

What About Hand Washing with Body Wash?

Hand washing with body wash is a safer approach than using the washing machine. 

However, you’re restricted to one or two items at a time. So, it’s slow going but protects your household appliance. 

Here are the steps to complete a hand wash using body wash:

  1. Find a deep plastic bowl or tub to wash the items. If recently used, wash it first, dry it by hand, and ensure no unwanted residue or coloration remains. 
  2. Add a small, measured amount of body wash to the tub or bowl. 
  3. Half-fill the bowl or tub with warm or hot water. Use cold water instead if you’ve never used a body wash on clothing before and you’re a naturally cautious person. 
  4. Agitate the water. Rub the clothes together to get a light scrubbing action going. Do not damage the fibers when doing so. Gently does it!
  5. Once you believe an item is clean, remove it from the soapy water. 
  6. Give it a rinse under a cold tap.
  7. Look for patches of remaining body wash or a filmy layer. If need be, continue rinsing.
  8. Smell the garment to confirm it doesn’t smell too strong.
  9. Set the items aside for hanging up or for further rinsing later.
  10. Repeat the process with the remaining laundry items. 
  11. If one or more garments need soaking overnight, clean the tub or bowl, or use a second one, fill it with water, and let the items soak. This helps to loosen body wash residue stuck to fabrics. 

I prefer this method because while I must set aside a Sunday afternoon to complete the chore; it doesn’t put my laundry machine at risk.

Other Laundry Detergent Alternatives to Use Instead of Body Wash

There are other alternatives to body wash if you’re out of laundry detergent.

Here are a few suggestions:

Baking Soda: For regular fabrics, not silk or wool, baking soda is effective for cleaning. To disinfect and re-odorize a wash, add some distilled white vinegar too. 

Lemon Juice: An unusual one is freshly squeezed lemon juice. It’s a natural stain remover, destroys mold, leaves a pleasant odor, and does wonders for enhancing your fabric’s colors. 

Baby Shampoo: For hand washing only, baby shampoo works fine. It’s free of chemicals and cleans reasonably effectively. When it’s all I’ve got, I use it.

Related: How to Use Shampoo as Laundry Detergent

Laundry Soap: Specially formulated laundry soap is effective in hot water. Bath bars are also good. Shave a sliver off the bar and let the sliver fall into the hot water to quickly melt. I like the Zote pink laundry soap bar; using it avoids oils, fatty acids, or softeners getting into my hand wash. 

To Wrap Up

It’s not recommended to use body wash as a laundry detergent replacement. It is usable for a one-use wash cycle. I would suggest only hand washing to protect your washing machine appliance. Other alternatives, like laundry soap or baking soda, produce a cleaner wash. 

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