Plain old vinegar (not even talking apple cider here!) is one of the most versatile products you can keep in your household for cleanliness and other little life hacks. My household has a rule that anything that touches raw meat or eggs gets rinsed down with vinegar to prevent smells—experts say it’s a great way to deep clean your dishwasher, and it’s an easy way to avoid a fruit fly infestation. Something else vinegar is A+ at cleaning? Laundry.
“Vinegar is absolutely your secret weapon when it comes to redeeming difficult laundry quandaries,” says Marilee Nelson, an environmental consultant and co-founder of the plant-based cleaning products brand Branch Basics. Because vinegar is acidic, Nelson says it has properties that help remove lime and rust, can dissolve leftover soap, and has disinfectant qualities among a slew of other properties.
Vinegar is, in fact, so multifaceted as a cleaning product that you can find a laundry list of ways to use it below.
1. It’s a water softener
Hard water is a problem for many people depending on where you live. The phrase “hard water” essentially refers to water that has metals and mineral deposits in it. While you might know that it’s abrasive on your skin, “hard water is a laundry enemy as it dulls clothes, leaves mineral deposits and inhibits the cleaning power of your laundry products” Nelson says. To make the most of vinegar’s water-softening properties, Nelson suggests adding half a cup to a cup (depending on your load size) of white distilled vinegar to the final rinse of your washing cycle.
If you need to resurrect items from your wardrobe that have become dull and faded, here’s her pro tip: “Soak [your clothing] overnight in a vinegar and water solution. Then wash using half to a full cup of vinegar in the rinse cycle,” she says. This should be especially helpful from fulling darker colors.
2. It’ll neutralize even the most potent odors
Something as fragrant as vinegar doesn’t seem like an obvious candidate for an ingredient that will neutralize smells, but Nelson says that adding half a cup to a cup of the sour-smelling liquid to your laundry during the wash cycle can help remove strange odors without leaving an acidic one behind. “Vinegar is especially good with difficult smells such as pet, cooking, and smoke odors” she adds.
3. Vinegar’s a great add-on for that first wash
Nelson also recommends putting vinegar in with your first wash to help protect and set colors—especially on new clothing. “Soak brightly colored, new clothes (especially reds and blues) in undiluted white vinegar for 15 minutes before the first wash. This will reduce or eliminate future bleeding issues” she advises.
4. It’s an easy DIY stain remover
When you notice your whites starting to yellow, or you spot a stain, vinegar, like baking soda, can bring it back to life. For yellowing, soak the clothes overnight in a mixture of one part vinegar and 12 parts water. The following day, put it in the washing machine on the rinse cycle with half a cup of vinegar to really bring back the white.
For a stain spot treatment, Nelson says to “apply undiluted vinegar to stain and wash immediately. Add half to two cups of vinegar to the washing cycle as well to help remove tough stains.”
5. Vinegar is a fragrance-free fabric softener
“Conventional fabric softeners contribute to residues that trap bacteria and encourage the growth of mold and mildew (especially in front loaders)” Nelson says. For a DIY solution to this, put half a cup of vinegar in the fabric softener dispenser. Nelson says that not only will this keep your clothes soft and smelling good, but it also “removes detergent and mineral residues from the clothes as well as a conventional fabric softener. Best of all—there will be no toxic fragrance clinging to the fabric.” Add it to the list of toxic relationships your getting rid of in 2019.
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