When buying vinegar to use in the laundry, choose distilled white vinegar with 5 percent acidity. It's is a great addition to laundry for lots of reasons:
Plain distilled white 5 percent vinegar runs around 2.5 cents per ounce in the typical supermarket when purchased by the gallon.
Name-brand liquid fabric softeners come in at about 8 cents per ounce—around three times the cost. If you don't use liquid softener, dryer sheets are a cheaper way to ruin your clothes and linens: On average, they are about 4 cents per sheet.
This type of vinegar is a natural fabric softener. The acid helps remove detergent and soil that's left clinging to fabric fibers, which is what allows clothes and linens to come out feeling soft and clean.
Commercial softeners work just the opposite. They are designed to coat fibers, leaving behind their scented residue. The residue can build up over time, rendering those items nonabsorbent, dingy gray, and anything but soft.
Adding 1/2 cup of white vinegar to the final rinse, on the other hand, will soften fabrics and leave no residue at all. Pour it into the washer reservoir marked for laundry softener. A light scent can be added, if you want, with a few drops of lavender oil. Either way, once dry, your laundry will not smell like vinegar.
It's Safe to Use
In my opinion, distilled white vinegar is safe to use in both standard and high-efficiency washers. At 5 percent acidity, it is 95 percent water, which makes it only mildly acidic. Once added to the washer, food-grade vinegar becomes even more diluted as it mixes with gallons of rinse water.
Vinegar in the laundry is not only safe in septic tanks, but also beneficial to your septic system and the environment.
It Whitens and Brightens
The acetic acid in distilled white vinegar is mild enough to not harm washable fabrics while dissolving the alkalis left by soap and detergent. And it contains no natural plant dyes that can stain clothes.
Adding 1/2 cup of vinegar to the final rinse will result in brighter, clearer colors. Add it to the fabric softener dispenser, or add it manually at the beginning of the rinse cycle, if your washer gives you that option.
It Reduces Odor
Wet towels left sitting in a hamper or forgotten in the washer can produce a sour, moldy smell. To get rid of that problem and get those towels smelling nice and fresh, do this:
Fill the washer with hot water and add 2 cups of distilled white vinegar. Run one complete wash cycle with no detergent, and then run a second complete cycle with detergent added.
This works well for minor situations and small loads. For more serious problems, you'll want to use a more aggressive treatment known as "laundry stripping," which I wrote about in a recent column, and have also posted for you at EverydayCheapskate.com/laundrystripping.
It Releases Lint, Pet Hair
Just 1/2 cup of distilled white vinegar in the rinse cycle helps prevent lint and pet hair from clinging to clothes. The vinegar helps the fabric fibers relax and "release" the hair. For the same reason, it helps get rid of the excessive lint if you accidentally wash something dark with something that produces lint, such as towels.
Would you like more information? Go to EverydayCheapskate.com for links and resources for recommended products and services in this column. Mary invites questions, comments, and tips at EverydayCheapskate.com, "Ask Mary." This column will answer questions of general interest, but letters cannot be answered individually. Mary Hunt is the founder of EverydayCheapskate.com, a lifestyle blog, and the author of the book "Debt-Proof Living." Copyright 2020 Creators.com