Laundry Day | Using Vinegar Around the Home

Friday is Laundry Day. For the most part it gets all the work clothes cleaned up before the next week, and gets all the weekend clothes cleaned before the weekend. Weekend clothes aren’t as exciting as you might think; it’s mostly exceptionally dirty jeans with pockets full of juniper needles, snow pants caked in mud, seventeen pairs of socks – per person – and every pair of long underwear in the house. I’ve actually taken up ironing, too. But don’t tell anyone. It’s one of those overly domesticated activities that I feel should be done in full make-up and heels while wearing a button-down dress and an apron. I have  a love for ironed hand towels, though, and the only way to get those neat corners is to – well – iron. But again, don’t tell.

So vinegar. I am really finding it to be one of the cheapest, most versatile liquids to have on hand; both in and out of the kitchen. Besides the obvious uses in the kitchen, it can be used to clean windows and has amazing uses in the laundry room. So far, I have used it to clean and deodorize, and in place of fabric softener and dryer sheets.

We bought a house and moved last October. The previous owners were snow birds and only lived here during the summer. During our negotiations, we were able to get some furniture from the previous owners, and also the washer and dryer. They are a pair of lovely front-load machines, but I can only imagine that the washer sat closed all winter and – in all likelihood – they didn’t care for the washing machine like I do. The washing machine has “that smell.” You know the one – slightly musty with an overpowering scent of detergent. Having a sensible (or sensitive) nose it started to overwhelm my nasal cavities and the whole back of the house. Something had to be done. I followed the directions in the manual and used the “self clean” function where it blasts everything out with scalding water and bleach, but to no avail. I started doing some research on Pinterest and found several articles discussing the uses of vinegar. Before I proceed, I urge you to Google “using vinegar in laundry” and read for yourself, because there are warnings that you may wish to heed. There have been reports of vinegar corroding rubber tubes, so just make the decision for yourself. I’m not looking for a lawsuit because I told someone to use vinegar in their laundry and suddenly their washer flew to pieces and sprayed fragments of rubber from here to the end of the street.

So. Vinegar is a natural deodorizer. It contains acetic acid which, like all acids, donate protons and break down organic molecules. My washer had that particular “mildewy” smell and – where does that smell come from? Organic molecules. Mold, mildew, whatever. So, I decided to brave the warnings posted by concerned citizens on the internet and add vinegar to the bleach dispenser in my machine and hope for the best. After all, my high end espresso machine recommends running vinegar through to decalcify it once in a while. And really, how different are an espresso machine and a washing machine? Nevermind – this not the time nor place for that discussion. After a rinse, the machine smelled a little better, but not anything to write home about. I had a look inside the rubber gasket around the door and was beyond horrified at what I saw. Apparently water collects in several puddles inside the gasket and whatever nasty little microbes are present have been having a field day. I mean wild parties of microbes running rampant inside of my washing machine and having their way with the rubber and leaving a mess. Completely horrifying. I couldn’t even take a picture it was so bad. But here is what it looked like after I attacked it with a combination of dish soap, vinegar and water liberally applied with a toothbrush and rag.


This is the “after” shot. Those are stains. I cannot even explain the vile sludge that came out of that seal. It was like grease. No wonder my clothes didn’t come clean. But I digress… in my compulsive Pinterest search and internet browsing, I came to discover that – in addition to vinegar being an excellent deodorizer – it can also be used as a fabric softener and works in place of a dryer sheet. I don’t generally like fabric softeners mostly because they smell so strong. I haven’t noticed any overly compelling evidence in my own laundry to use it. We do have a bottle that sulks in the cabinet and doesn’t get used. There was some discussion in our house about the use of fabric softener last year when we didn’t own a dryer. Fabric softener was used in the wash cycle and clothes were hung on the line and one of us thought it was the greatest invention in laundry history and the other one of us couldn’t tell the difference. Again, I digress… The wealth of internet opinions on vinegar is overwhelming. I did read that it reduces lint accumulation and cling when used in the rinse cycle of the laundry. Since dryer sheets also seem to offend my sense of smell, I was certainly looking for something that would reduce the amount of lint clinging to everything in the dryer. So, I added it to the rinse cycle of the wash (also known as the “fabric softener” dispenser) and proceeded with laundry. I put it in the dryer (without a dryer sheet, just to test) and when I pulled everything out there was no static! I was ecstatic!

I have to tell you a little about the static situation that comes out of my dryer on a regular basis. It’s painful. It’s noisy. I don’t like it. Considering that our winter wardrobe consists of fleece, wool blends, and some sort of polyester-blend long underwear, static is a constant nuisance in the house. It has something to do with the climate, too. Yes, it’s dry (the humidity today is actually on the upper end of normal at 52%; summer humidity drops into the teens and single digits on a regular basis), but I can’t imagine that’s the only factor contributing to this painful phenomenon. I can walk barefoot across the wood floor and shock myself on a plastic light switch. There is no kissing in our house without discharge of static electricity on the nearest wall. Dog noses are known to be excellent conductors of electricity. Somehow dryers magnify the effects of static cling in ways I have never seen. Cotton socks become velcroed together. There is much swearing when separating articles of clothing. Jeans have been known to arc electricity in my house. Dryer sheets are pretty much a necessity unless you’re a masochist. So, you see my shock, awe, and amazement when I pulled removed the dryer-sheet-free laundry and was not instantly the fashion victim of the “finger in light socket” look. Vinegar, folks. It’s amazing. It turns out that static cling occurs in fabric when two insulating fabrics rub together and essentially “exchange” electrons. While dryer sheets and fabric softener prevents static cling by coating the fabric, creating a type of barrier between fabrics, vinegar operates under a different principle. By changing the wash water from a base to one slightly acidic, it makes conditions less favorable for an exchange of electrons and reduces static electricity. Amazing.

One additional use for vinegar in the laundry room is removing the hard water calcification from your iron. Over time – if you’re an avid ironer as I am starting to become – the steam vents can become plugged with calciferous residue, essentially reducing the effectiveness of the steam function of your iron. Quick fix: Fill the water reservior with 50% water, 50% vinegar and run it back and forth over a towel, making sure to push all the buttons for steam and spray on your iron enough to flush the vinegar solution through all the tubes and holes. While you’re at it, you can also remove some of the gunk on the hot plate of the iron by sprinkling salt on a paper bag and ironing that. I have’t tried it yet, but I understand it removes the gunky build-up on the iron. Try it, let me know how it works.

Anyway, I hope this helps everyone out there who is dealing with an appalling amount of static and mildew in their washer and dryer. Hopefully I have saved you all from minor cardiac events every time you separate your socks.