Can I Use Shampoo as Laundry Detergent?

Despite our best efforts, everyone sometimes forgets something. Even the most meticulous people may forget to buy a food or household staple during a busy week. While many products can be a headache to do without, laundry detergent is one of the worst. You may not notice you are out until you need a specific outfit for an event or run out of underwear.

If your local store is closed and/or you are in a hurry, what should you do? You may be tempted to substitute some other soap, like shampoo, for laundry detergent until you can buy more. Is this safe?

Yes, a mild shampoo can be used in place of laundry detergent in a pinch. However, you will want to handwash the clothes, as the shampoo can gum up the washing machine causing longterm damages.

Let us talk about which shampoos are safe to use, how to clean your clothes with shampoo, and what happens if you put shampoo in the washing machine.

Can You Use Shampoo as Laundry Detergent?

As I mentioned, you can use shampoo to clean your clothes, but make sure to be careful! Shampoo is a very sudsy cleanser that often has additives to promote healthy hair. The suds are satisfying when using shampoo on your hair because its easy to feel if you have been thorough with the application. However, these bubbles can be problematic when washing clothes.

The extra suds tend to be difficult to fully remove from the clothes and machine. Additionally, while your argan oil shampoo may make your hair shiny, it will just make your clothes feel sticky. This adds up to an unpleasant residue on everything. I would not suggest using shampoo in a machine or on delicate clothes. Handwashing is safer.

Can All Clothes Be Washed with Shampoo?

Can All Clothes Be Washed with Shampoo

Not all clothing is created equal, some fabrics are far more delicate than others. This means that shampoo is more likely to ruin some clothes. Delicate fabrics like wool, cashmere, silk, and lace are firmly on my no-fly list when it comes to washing with shampoo. This is because you will need to wash the clothes you use shampoo on a few times to get all the residue out, which these fabrics do not tolerate well.

Ideally, if you need to sacrifice some clothes to the shampoo gods, then choosing some inexpensive, durable clothes is a safer bet. When in doubt, following the directions on the label of your clothes is the best policy.

Can Shampoo Stain Clothes?

Yes! If you have certain types of shampoos, these will stain clothing. Harsher shampoos can contain agents that damage fabric. We will talk about which shampoos are the worst culprits and which ones are safe. However, if you are unsure, you can test your shampoo on an inconspicuous place on the garment first before doing a full wash.

What are the Best Types of Shampoo for Washing Clothes?

Shampoos come in a large variety, and while all are designed to be safe for hair, not all will be safe for fabric. When using shampoo on clothing, choose the most mild, simple shampoos. Some types of shampoo TO AVOID:

  • 2 in 1 shampoo
  • Tinting shampoo (commonly referred to as Color Bombs or Purple Shampoo)
  • Antidandruff Shampoos

Conversely, a shampoo that is mild will be an okay choice for washing clothes. These shampoos will be clear, additive free, and often have short ingredient lists. Some good examples are:

  • Baby shampoo
  • Sensitive Skin shampoo
  • Hypoallergenic shampoo

Can You Use Shampoo to Treat Stains on Clothing?

Shampoo can be used to replace a store-bought stain treatment for clothing, but it is usually not the best choice. If you have regular laundry detergent, soaking the stain in a 1-part detergent two parts water solution will be more effective in many cases. Lacking this, or if you need something stronger, use dish soap or white vinegar.

How to Use Shampoo as a Laundry Detergent?

Handwashing clothing is a skill most people have not had to learn in the modern world. However, it is not terribly complicated. To handwash your clothes:

How to Use Shampoo as a Laundry Detergent

1. First, check the temperature on the tag. Fill two tubs or sinks with water of the temperature on the tag. Make sure you can put your hands in the water without pain, even if the tag says hot.

2. Wet the clothes in one tub. They should be completely soaked, which may take a minute or two for dense fabrics.

3. Add your detergent (or shampoo) to the tub with the clothes, usually a tablespoon or two. Swish it around until it is slightly sudsy.

4. Swish the clothing around in the soapy water and rub it gently to remove dirt and stains. This should take 2 -3 minutes. Do not scrunch, twist, or scrub the clothing in the water, as this will deform the fabric.

5. Put the clothing into the other tub and rinse the soap out of the fabric. Keep using the swishing motion until the cloth is free of bubbles. If you are using shampoo, you may need to do this for awhile.

6. Lift the clothes out and let them drip. Do not twist the water out, this will damage the clothes.

7. Once most of the water has dripped out, hang the clothes to air dry or put into a dryer machine.

What Happens if You Use Shampoo in a Washing Machine?

The reasons for not using shampoo in a washing machine are varied. If you are lucky, you will still at least have to run the washing machine several times to fully remove the extra suds. This is costly in water and electricity as well as time. At the end of the ordeal, you may find it would have been faster to just handwash the clothes in the first place.

However, most of the time you will not be lucky. Shampoo is so sudsy, that it is highly likely to overflow the washing machine and push bubbles and water back out the detergent compartment and/or the top of the machine. Every inch of the internal mechanics will be covered in soap, as well as the floor around the machine.

The washing machine is unlikely to be able to rinse itself out thoroughly enough after this ordeal. The result is that everything, and I mean everything will be sticky for months. It might even burn out the motor or snap off parts because pieces that are meant to move are stuck.

What About Front Loading Machines and Shampoo?

A front-loading machine is especially prone to damage from using shampoo instead of laundry soap. In many cases, a front-loading machine will not even tolerate some of the more old-fashioned types of laundry soap because they are too sudsy. Front-loading machines allow more contact between the cleanser and the opening of the machine because they do not take advantage of gravity like top loading machines. The drum is also usually smaller, meaning less room for the suds before it overflows.

The result is that soap frequently gets into nooks and crannies it may not reach on a top-loading machine (such as the door seal, hinge, and around the outside edge of the drum). For laundry soaps, this is mostly okay, as they are designed to wash away easily during the rinse cycle. However, a shampoo will stick around, and the effected nooks and crannies will be infinitely more numerous on a front-loading machine. Bottom line? Please keep shampoo far from your washing machine.

What to Do If you Accidentally Used Shampoo in a Washing Machine?

If you did not find this article until after you put shampoo in your washing machine, my condolences. To fix the damage, you will need to give your machine some tender love and care. This may be costly, but not as costly as buying a new machine. First, assess how bad the damage is. If your shampoo has additives like oils, moisturizers, or coloring agents, skip the first option even if the machine did not overflow.

The Machine Did Not Overflow and the Drawer is Clean

This is the best-case scenario. The amount of shampoo you used did not suds up enough to overload the machine completely, and there was no soap left in the washing machine drawer after the cycle was over. In these milder cases, you may be able to get away with letting the machine run empty (no clothes, and no soaps) 5-6 times. Hot water is best to remove residue.

Once you have done this, feel the inside of the machine with your fingers, checking for any tackiness or stickiness. If there is, run the machine again or consider having the machine professionally cleaned. If not, then you can go back to using the machine as normal.

The Machine Did Not Overflow but the Drawer is Soapy/ Your Shampoo has Additives

This is the most common outcome. At this point I would say that simply running the machine might not be enough to clean it and may do more damage than good. The presence of additives in the shampoo and/or a complete filling of the machine with bubbles means there is going to be sticky residue on all the mechanical parts and bits that you cannot see. If you continue to run the machine, something could get stuck and break the machine.

Instead, a professional will need to take apart the washing machine and clean it with an industrial cleaner. An appliance repair shop or laundry repair shop will be able to give you a quote for this service.

The Machine Overflowed into the Room

The Machine Overflowed into the Room

This is the most expensive/time consuming option. You will need to have a professional clean your machine, just like above, but you will also need to clean the room the machine was in thoroughly as well to prevent it from becoming sticky and gross for months to come. To do this:

1. Remove everything from the room. Sort it into piles according to what got wet. Some useful categories might be:

  • Not Effected
  • Fabrics and Upholstery
  • Hard surfaces like Wood and Metal
  • Unsalvageable objects (paper, cardboard, photos, etc.)

2. Use towels to clean up all the water that you can, add these to the fabric pile when you are done.

3. Make a paste of two parts white vinegar and one part baking soda to clean the worst of the mess. This is safe to use on painted walls and other colored surfaces while still being strong enough to remove the stickiness.

4. Clean the room with your normal cleaners (i.e., mop with pinesol and wipe down surfaces with multipurpose cleaner. Be sure to get the corners and small spaces.

5. Use this vinegar and baking soda paste followed by usual cleaners on all the hard surfaces, let them dry, and put them back into the room.

6. Use a carpet cleaner or steamer on the upholstery and handwash the fabric until all the soap is removed. Let them air dry and put them back.

Can You Use Conditioner as a Laundry Detergent?

No, you cannot use conditioner as a laundry detergent. Conditioner does not have any scrubbing agents, so it will not remove dirt and oils from the clothes. Not only that, but conditioner has oils in it that will make your clothes dirtier.

Final Thoughts

Shampoo is not an ideal replacement for laundry detergent, as it needs to be used with additional care. However, in an emergency it can tide you over until you can get more laundry detergent. When using shampoo, handwash your clothes and avoid delicate fabrics. Try to use as mild a shampoo as possible. Never put shampoo in your washing machine, as this can do a lot of damage.

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