What Is a Vinegar Rinse and Why Is It Effective for Laundry?
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Bathing laundry in a vinegar rinse involves exactly what you would expect: pouring in a half-cup of white distilled vinegar during a load's rinse cycle. You might be wondering why this is such a popular practice. After all, won't stinky vinegar rob freshly-washed garments of their clean scent? It's an understandable question, but the solution is actually the ultimate post-wash ingredient; it has a low pH, which makes it an effective tool against stubborn residues, odors, and other buildup. Ahead, two experts explain why a vinegar rinse is a must on wash day.
Why We Rinse with Vinegar
Ultimately, white distilled vinegar has many laundry-related benefits. Some opt to use it as a detergent to remove stains and brighten whites while others turn to the ingredient to remove odors. Most commonly, it is added to the barrel as a rinse, during the final moments of a wash cycle, notes Lauren Simonelli, a cleaning expert and the co-founder of ThreeMain. This softens garments and removes any leftover soap residue, restoring laundry to its soft and bright former glory. "It is known to be effective and incredibly versatile," she affirms.
Simonelli notes that vinegar is safe to use on most fabrics and materials, but that you should always dilute it with water before adding it to your wash. This is actually why the ingredient is most commonly applied during the rinse cycle, "when there is water already being dispersed," she notes. But if you're really worried about a delicate item? She suggests treating a small, hidden area with a diluted vinegar-and-water mixture before submerging it completely, during the rinse cycle or otherwise. "As vinegar is an acid, it's best to use it in moderation," Simonelli says.
While using vinegar for laundry is a common practice in plenty of households, Sammy Wang, a Tide Senior Scientist and a representative of 9 Elements, does not recommend adding store-bought vinegar into the regular wash cycle alongside a detergent. "Most detergents are formulated at a specific pH to work best, and directly adding vinegar can interrupt the active ingredients and actually create more problems, like discoloration and poor cleaning," she says, noting that the ingredient is impactful when used correctly. "Vinegar has a low pH (typically three to five), so it can help dissolve away residues that bind body soils to fabrics."
Here's the thing: While vinegar might help remove stale, musty odors caused by the breakdown of body soils that become trapped in fabrics, it is mostly water—and only between four and five percent acetic acid. According to Wang, this means that adding the ingredient to the water in your washing machine won't lower the total pH enough to reap vinegar's full benefits unless you use five or more cups at a time (which is not recommended). "And using vinegar with your laundry detergent in the washing machine can decrease your laundry detergent's ability to clean away food stains by impacting cleaning ingredients called enzymes, so you may need to rewash the item," she adds. For these reasons, Wang says vinegar should only be used as a pre-treatment or during the rinse cycle—and it should be added infrequently to avoid cleaning issues and additional buildup.