When I had nappies to clean (a while ago now) I was very mindful of bacteria lingering in the wash. I came up with various ways of boosting the detergent without having to resort to a very high temperature. My favorite method at the time was a half to one capful of Zoflora. I would also add a couple of drops of tea tree oil to the nappy pail to stem the smell a bit.
Nowadays, I wash all my laundry in cold water. I started washing on cold as a test at first, and now it’s a permanent thing, especially since electricity has become so expensive. I haven’t found that my washing is any less clean than it was before the switch. However, I was concerned about bacterial growth and whether my laundry is as clean as it appears.
So, I’ve learned how to make homemade laundry sanitizer. Distilled white vinegar is my favourite for coloured clothing and for whites, I often add a Milton sterilizing tablet. Milton is designed for cleaning baby equipment such as bottles and teats, but it seems to work brilliantly as a laundry sanitizer and whitener too.
My homemade methods are much cheaper than using a shop-bought laundry sanitizer such as Dettol or Lysol. I found some very cheap sterilizing tablets in the baby aisle at Tesco that work just as well as Milton, so it doesn’t cost me very much at all to keep my laundry sanitary.
As I say, I wash everything cold and that includes my microfibre cloths. For those, I use a very small amount of washing detergent along with a Milton sterilizing tablet (or the Tesco version).
I could buy some proprietary laundry sanitizer I guess, but I’m very happy now with what I do instead. My machine doesn’t smell and there is no mold growing around the seal, so I must be doing something right!
In summary, this is what I do to sanitize my laundry:
For coloured clothing add 1/2 to 1 cup of distilled white vinegar. For whites, add one Milton Sterilizing tablet, or two for large loads.
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Is a laundry sanitizer necessary?
Laundry sanitizer isn’t necessary. Normal detergents or homemade detergents along with hot water do a great job on their own. If you tumble dry your laundry, then whatever bacteria remaining is killed at the drying stage. No dryer? Hang your washing outside and the sun’s ultraviolet rays will kill off the rest.
Your laundry is never going to be 100% sanitary, however hard you try. The minute you touch it, wear it, or an insect lands on it when it’s on the washing line, you introduce bugs.
The important thing, though is to make sure that anything that may be dangerous to others in your household or work is killed. Bugs like Covid-19, those that cause sickness and vomiting, or colds and flu to name a few.
Most of the time it’s fine when some bugs remain after you wash. But if you have sickness in your household, you don’t want germs to spread around. If you have someone at home with weakened immunity, or you work in the healthcare industry, you will want to be as careful as you can.
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Why make your own laundry sanitizer?
Adding a laundry sanitizer to your wash is one way to ensure that the bugs in your dirty laundry are squashed.
There are three quite big reasons why you might want to make your own homemade laundry sanitizer instead of buying a proprietary product:
- It’s cheaper to make your own.
- It’s one less thing lug home from the supermarket.
- You might be sensitive to the additives in shop-bought sanitizers.
- It’s more fun to make your own!
There are several alternatives available when it comes to sanitizing your laundry, and it will depend on what you are washing.
Let’s take a look at the options:
How to make homemade laundry sanitizer that’s suitable for all your laundry
Here are some options for sanitizing your laundry that you can use in any type of load.
1. Distilled white vinegar
Vinegar is gentle on your clothes and skin and is also antibacterial. It will naturally soften your clothes and keep your washing machine clean too. When washing my dog’s bed I always add a cup of vinegar to the wash because it gets rid of the doggy smell.
How to use vinegar to naturally sanitize your laundry
Add half to one cup of distilled white vinegar directly to the drum or the fabric softener compartment.
Borax is naturally antibacterial, plus it can make your washing detergent work more efficiently.
How to use borax to naturally sanitize your laundry
Add a half-cup of borax to your wash and then run your normal wash.
3. Oxygen-based bleaching agents
Laundry additives such as Oxiclean contain oxygen-based bleaches. They are more gentle than chlorine-based bleaches but don’t have the same germ busting power. Choose oxygen-based bleaching agents if killing every germ isn’t your priority.
How to use Oxiclean to naturally sanitize your laundry
Add a tablespoon of Oxiclean directly to the washing drum and wash as normal.
Zoflora comes in several different scents and has multiple uses around your home. Zoflora is highly concentrated. Generally, you would dilute it with water and use it as an antibacterial spray. Zoflora is also very useful as a laundry sanitizer.
How to use Zoflora to naturally sanitize your laundry
Add half a capful to the fabric softener compartment, and your laundry will be sanitized and smell gorgeous too.
Zoflora is also great for cleaning your dishwasher too!
5. Tea tree essential oil
I always used to use a couple of drops of tea tree oil in the nappy pail when the children were in washable nappies and it took the edge off the smell until wash day! Tea tree essential oil has natural antibacterial qualities.
How to use Tea Tree oil to naturally sanitize your laundry
Add a couple of drops of tea tree essential oil to the fabric conditioner compartment. Combine it with distilled white vinegar for added sanitation.
6. Pine oil (Pine-Sol)
I have to say that I have used all the items on this list for my laundry, apart from Pine-Sol. Pine oil isn’t commonly used here in the UK. The nearest you will find to it in the supermarket are toilet cleaners with a pine fragrance.
If Pine-Sol is available where you live, then you can use it to sanitize your laundry and as a stain remover.
How to use Pine-Sol to naturally sanitize your laundry
Add 1/2 a cup of Pine-Sol to the washing drum and wash as normal.
Pine-Sol has lots of uses for cleaning around your home, but does that include the dishwasher? Find out here: can you use Pine-Sol to clean your dishwasher?
Homemade laundry sanitizer for whites
Here are some laundry sanitizers that are best used on white laundry.
1. Milton sterilizing tablets
Milton sterilizing tablets are my personal favourite. Add one or two tablets to your wash along with your normal detergent it will sanitize your laundry and bleach out stains. I use these on white loads due to the bleaching effect they have.
How to use Milton Sterilizing tables to sanitize your laundry
Add one tablet to your laundry (or two for large loads) along with your normal detergent and wash as normal.
2. Hydrogen peroxide or chlorine bleach
If you have some hydrogen peroxide or household in your cupboard, you can use it to sanitize and whiten your whites at the same time.
How to use hydrogen peroxide or bleach to sanitize your laundry
Add half a cup directly to the drum after it has filled with water. If you are using bleach, reduce the amount by half due to the extra suds it produces. Only use it on whites because it has a bleaching effect.
Natural ways to sanitize your laundry
If you are wondering, can you sanitize laundry naturally? The answer is yes, you can, and you might already be doing it!
I’ve already mentioned some natural solutions, such as distilled white vinegar, but you may not have thought of how much the sun is playing a part in sanitizing your laundry. If you use a tumble dryer, then you are very probably already achieving a good level of laundry sanitation.
Here are some natural ways to sanitize your laundry:
1. Using the sun’s rays to sanitize your laundry
The sun has amazing sanitizing powers! Put out your laundry on a sunny day and the ultra-violet rays from the sun will naturally sanitize and whiten.
2. Using your tumble dryer to sanitize your laundry
Using the high heat setting on your tumble dryer should kill off any lingering bacteria from the wash without having to use chemicals.
If you are used to using a tumble dryer to dry your laundry, know that 30-45 minutes in a hot dryer will further sanitize your clothes.
Of course, there are downsides to dryers too. They use a lot of electricity, and they can shrink and wear clothes out.
3. Sanitize your washing using high heat
Using higher washing temperatures will give you better sanitation without having to add anything else. A minimum of 140F/60C is best but go higher if you can, although that isn’t suitable for all types of laundry.
How to make homemade Lysol laundry sanitizer
Doing your laundry can become quite expensive when you add in the price of a laundry sanitizer. Adding distilled white vinegar to your wash makes a great alternative to Lysol laundry sanitizer.
Vinegar is composed of 5% acetic acid, which is why it can be used to kill bacteria. The acetic acid in vinegar kills off bacteria and viruses by chemically breaking down their proteins and fats.
You can add vinegar directly to the washing drum or add it to the fabric softener compartment. It will naturally soften your laundry (so there is no need for a fabric softener).
How to disinfect your washing machine
We can be super-careful about adding the right detergents and sanitizers to our laundry, but if the washing machine itself is full of soap scum and bacteria, we are fighting a losing battle!
You can clean your washing machine with vinegar or bleach (but not both together).
Here’s how to disinfect your washing machine with bleach and vinegar:
- Make sure your machine is empty.
- Add half a cup of bleach to the drum.
- Run your hottest cycle.
- Add some distilled white vinegar to the rinse compartment.
Don’t be tempted to add vinegar directly to the drum. You mustn’t mix bleach and vinegar because it produces toxic fumes. The best time to add vinegar is in the rinse cycle after the bleach has been washed away.
Here is another very effective way to sanitize your washing machine using washing soda crystals or baking soda and vinegar - How To Make Homemade Washing Machine Cleaner (a natural recipe).
Frequently asked questions
Does baking soda disinfect laundry?
Baking soda or bicarbonate of soda isn’t a disinfectant. If you need to kill bacteria naturally, distilled white vinegar is a more effective option.
Does Oxiclean disinfect laundry?
Oxiclean contains oxygen-based bleach which can help to kill germs but isn’t as effective at killing germs as chlorine-based bleaches.
Does borax disinfect laundry?
Yes, borax can kill bacteria. Borax can kill mold and mildew. Use it in the wash directly or in the rinse cycle.
Can I put disinfectant in the washing machine?
You can put bleach in your washing machine to disinfect clothing. You should be careful not to add too much due to the extra suds that can build up inside your washer and the bleaching effect it will have on your clothes.
Is vinegar a good disinfectant for laundry?
Yes! Adding 1/2 to 1 cup of distilled white vinegar to your wash or the rinse cycle will naturally disinfect your laundry and keep your washing machine sanitary too.
Does the dryer disinfect clothes?
The high heat in a tumble dryer can kill germs. So whatever your washing machine didn’t kill your dryer should finish off.
The problem with a tumble dryer, of course, is that it tends to wear out fabrics, and it’s expensive to run. If you are trying to reduce your electricity bill (who isn’t these days?) then the dryer isn’t an option.
If you have a garden/yard, a great place to dry clothes is outside on a line. The sun’s rays will naturally sanitize clothes and bleach out stains.