Can You Use Shampoo as Laundry Detergent? – Yes, but…

You should never use shampoo as laundry detergent inside a washing machine. Using a milder shampoo for hand washing clothes is acceptable. 

When there’s no detergent at home, a mild shampoo (not a 2-in-1 shampoo/conditioner) is an alternative for a single wash. 

Here are 9 tips for washing your clothes with shampoo. Plus a step-by-step guide on how to wash clothes with shampoo for best result.

Putting shampoo into the washing machine drawer

Why You Should Never Use Shampoo in a Washing Machine

The latest washing machines are highly efficient. Washing detergents produce minimal suds during a washing cycle, helping to prevent the drum from clogging up. The reduced suds are key here.

Hair shampoo is the opposite. While it has cleaning properties, it produces an excessive volume of soapy bubbles. These eventually coat the laundry with a soapy or occasionally grimy film layer, which is difficult to remove. 

One or multiple spin cycles are necessary to remove the remainder of the soapy suds from your clothes. If unsuccessful, I recommend soaking clothes in water overnight. 

Your washing machine can break down because of excess shampoo suds in and around the drum. At this stage, an appliance engineer call-out is costlier than the proper laundry detergent would have been. 

Related: Can You Use Fabric Softener as Detergent?

9 Tips for Washing Clothes with Shampoo

Here is what’s useful to know before using shampoo to wash clothes:

  1. Only hand wash.
  2. Never put shampoo in the detergent dispenser tray. 
  3. Use a small amount of shampoo for a tub of water. 
  4. Hand wash only one or two garments simultaneously for better results.
  5. Check clothing tags individually to confirm special requirements for washing or drying, e.g., dry cleaning, air drying, and not the tumble drier, etc. 
  6. Perform a quick test on a garment to see how it reacts to a shampoo. Pick a spot where an adverse fabric reaction will go unnoticed. 
  7. Use baby shampoo or mild shampoo with less strong chemicals.
  8. Do not use shampoo made for dyed hair, special hair types, etc. 
  9. Stay clear of combination shampoo/conditioner “2-in-1” hair products. Conditioners damage garment fibers.
Hand washing with shampoo
Hand washing my T-shirt in the sink with shampoo

How to Use Shampoo as Laundry Detergent

When you have a load of laundry to do, and there’s no laundry detergent, shampoo is one alternative. Below, I run through how to use shampoo instead of detergent. 

What you need to get started:

  • Water access.
  • A clean, empty sink or a ready-to-use bucket.
  • Shampoo (milder the better).

Here are the steps I suggest you follow for great results:

  1. Let water flow into the bucket or sink. Confirm the correct temperature for hand washing the garment. Match the temperature as best you can. When uncertain, use cold water to avoid accidental shrinkage or color dyes from running.
  2. Use a teaspoon and deposit a single teaspoon of shampoo into the bucket or sink.
  3. Add the soiled clothing item to the soapy water.
  4. Agitate the item in soapy water and rub the fabric over itself. 
  5. Once it looks clean, remove the garment from the water. 
  6. Turn on the faucet. Thoroughly rinse the item to get out any remaining suds.
  7. Apply gentle, repeated pressure to the garment to expel water from the fabric. 
  8. Line dry or tumble dry the item. Again, check the attached tag for further instructions. 

Note: Washing one item at a time gets better results. 

Does Shampoo Stain Clothes?

Shampoo rarely causes stains. However, to avoid getting stains on your clothes when using shampoo, select the best product and test it.  

In the absence of a hand wash detergent, baby shampoo is often a good option for hand washing clothes. It does not include harmful chemicals. Other shampoos with special formulations to remedy greasy hair, excessive dandruff, and more could cause stains. 

It is a good practice to test a mild shampoo on a hidden area of clothing, such as a part that is normally tucked inside a pair of pants or a skirt. Using a tiny spot of shampoo, perform a stain test to avoid ruining a favorite item of clothing. 

Removing stains from shirt with shampoo
Me trying to remove a chocolate stain from my white T-shirt (See the result in the next image 🤞)

Removing Stains with Shampoo

Shampoo is a useful stain remover. Below, I explain what you need and the steps required to remove a stain using shampoo.

What you need to get started:

  • Water access.
  • New or clean cloth.
  • Shampoo (baby or milder are best).
  • Work area and/or a washing machine.

Here are the steps I suggest you follow for great results:

  1. Find a flat area to place the item to expose as much area as possible.
  2. Press gently onto the stain to collect stray dirt or other loose material. Manually remove parts of the stain that come loose.
  3. Use the cloth, dampen it, and add a small amount of shampoo to it.
  4. Apply the shampoo over the stained area and gently dab it without rubbing the stain itself.
  5. Continue this shampoo reapplication process until the stain has disappeared.
  6. Give the garment a good rinse.
  7. If available, thoroughly wash the garment using a washing machine.
  8. After hand washing or machine washing, dry the garment based on the information tag attached to it. 

Note: To expunge stubborn stains, multiple applications are often required. Extra shampoo works wonders in these situations. 

White t-shirt
The end result (Pretty happy with the result 😊)

Other Laundry Detergent Alternatives You Can Try

As well as shampoo, a few other laundry detergent alternatives include:

  • Baking soda and distilled vinegar: This potent combination offers excellent cleaning power and a zippy fragrance, too. Good for most items, except woolly or silky garments. 
  • Distilled white vinegar: Popular as a disinfectant, it’s a terrific stain remover. Also, if a soapy layer persists after washing clothes using shampoo, then distilled white vinegar shifts it. 
  • Body wash: Less flamboyant body wash products offer another approach. Heavy rinsing is necessary though. 

To Wrap Up

Shampoo is one of several alternatives to laundry detergent. In a pinch, it is adequate for your needs. 

Just be sure it’s mild or made for babies rather than an upmarket type. The milder and simpler, the better. 

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