Can You Use Fabric Softener as Detergent? No! (4 Alternatives)

You should not use fabric softener as detergent. Using fabric softener instead of detergent will leave your clothes unclean.

If you are out of detergent, there are better alternatives, including:

  • Distilled White Vinegar
  • Baking soda and Lemon juice or vinegar
  • Hydrogen Peroxide
  • Body wash or a Basic Shampoo

These are great alternatives to detergent that you can use as a temporary solution.

Why You Can’t Use Fabric Softener as Laundry Detergent

Fabric softeners do not have the same type of enzymes and other compounds as laundry detergents. Softeners mainly include a mix of emulsifiers, fragrances (if it’s not fragrant-free), and an active agent to create a softer feel. 

Washing garments in a fabric conditioner alone does not get them clean enough. The warm water and washing cycle help release some dirt. 

However, fabric conditioners lack the vital surfactants, enzymes, and alkalis to clean effectively. 

Read also: Can You Use Fabuloso in Laundry?

What’s Different About Fabric Conditioners?

The role of a fabric conditioner vs. laundry detergent is similar to that of a shampoo vs. hair conditioner.

I find it’s a good way to remind myself about the differences. I bought the wrong brand once. Then stuck with it for many weeks before someone at the launderette asked me where my detergent was. 

I pointed to what I had been using, only to get red-faced when informed it was a fabric conditioner. Lesson learned!

Fabric conditioners are designed to revitalize fibers. When repeatedly washing them with strong detergent, the fibers wear down. Fabric conditioners protect and strengthen garment fibers. 

They’re also softer to the touch, so they’re not scratchy when wearing the clothes. I like that. 

What’s in Laundry Detergent and Not Found in Fabric Conditioner?

Laundry detergent has a composition designed to make fibers cleaner through a wet wash process. There is no overlap with the most common ingredients found in detergents vs. fabric conditioners.  

Here are a few of the ingredients found in most commercially available laundry detergents:

  • Enzymes: Breaks away dirt and, once separated, reduces its size in water.
  • Alkalis: Base compound and salt solution to remove dirt and stains from garments.
  • Alcohol and sulfates: Known as surfactants, they are excellent at holding released dirt in water and preventing it from reattaching to garments during the wash cycle.
  • Preservatives and conditioners: Keeping fabrics safer from hard water damage. 

Accidentally Put Detergent in Fabric Softener Compartment

Most of us have probably made this mistake before. But what happens if you put detergent in the wrong compartment? Absolutely nothing. You won’t damage your clothing or washing machine.

Simply rewash your clothes, and make sure to add detergent to the correct compartment this time.

Related: What Are the 3 Compartments in a Washing Machine Drawer? 

Alternative Laundry Detergent Options

If you have a well-stocked home, then some homemade or cobbled-together detergent might be a temporary solution for a single wash. 

Here are a few suggestions:

Distilled White Vinegar: Using distilled white vinegar is excellent as a disinfectant and general cleaning solution. It’s necessary to dilute it first with a cup of water. Vinegar is especially effective in stripping away soapy suds and as an all-purpose stain remover. 

Baking soda and Lemon juice or vinegar: Either combination delivers cleaning power coupled with a little fragrance to go with it. Baking soda is an old standby from decades ago. I’d avoid using it on silk or wool garments, though. 

If the laundry basket has been sitting full for too long and is a little pungent, the combo is also a great bad odor remover. 

Hydrogen Peroxide: Only use on fully white clothes, such as white dress shirts, business shirts, or blouses. 

Note: This will remove color dyes from your clothing, so use it carefully. 

Body wash or a Basic Shampoo: If you’re stuck and cannot get to the store, try using shampoo or body wash in a tub of warm water. The less fancy fragrant versions, the better. These have enough cleaning ingredients to do the trick. 

However, the washed items require very thorough rinsing afterward. Otherwise, they’ll leave a soapy layer over the clothing.

To Wrap Up

Mistakenly using a fabric conditioner instead of laundry detergent is a simple mistake. Once done, there’s no fixing it. Just rewash with detergent.

However, if there’s no detergent left and you cannot get to the store, try a homemade solution for your next wash. 

Any of the recommendations above are better choices than using a fabric conditioner and hoping for the best. 

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