How to Remove Detergent Residue From Clothes

Updated February 21, 2017

Laundry detergent often can leave a lingering residue on clothing after washing---an invisible film that can cause itching, redness or even rashes on sensitive skin. Detergent residue can also damage clothing fibres over time, so ensure all remaining detergent residue is removed from your clothing with adequate, thorough rinsing. You can also purchase chemical-free detergent that is non-toxic, so residue will be less harmful to the skin.

Fill washer with hot water and one cup white vinegar.

Soak clothing in hot water and vinegar solution for at least two hours; overnight is best.

Select the extra rinse cycle in washer, if applicable, and rinse clothing thoroughly.

Add more water, and repeat the rinse cycle if necessary.

Hang clothes in the sunlight to dry.


Laundry detergent can be laden with chemicals; manufacturers are not required to list all ingredients on their detergent labels and are not guided by the fact that chemicals are not only absorbed through ingesting food, but are also absorbed through the skin. In fact, the skin is the largest organ of the body, and many chemicals can directly be absorbed into the bloodstream through the skin. For this reason, it's important to rinse your clothing thoroughly of detergent residue and to use chemical-free detergent whenever possible. So-called "green" detergents are also much kinder to the environment. Made from vegetable-based cleaning agents, they do not contain phosphates, artificial dyes or fragrances that can cause harmful chemical build-up in the water system. Most green detergent products are very effective. Detergent residue can also cause stains and spots to reappear on your clothing, as the stains were never properly rinsed away. This can turn your clothes dull and dingy, as well as sticky. To prevent detergent residue in your regular laundry process, add a cup of vinegar to the rinse cycle each time. Vinegar is a natural cleaning agent, working to break down organic material and dissolve mineral deposits. Vinegar also removes lingering odours, dirt and stains. Don't allow detergent residue to build up, as it becomes more difficult to remove the longer it's allowed to set.

Things You'll Need

  • 1 cup white vinegar
  • Hot water
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About the Author

Robyn Murray is a journalist based in Omaha, Neb. She has reported for national and international media including National Public Radio, Public Radio International and Business Day in Johannesburg. Murray holds a master's degree from Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism.