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How to Disinfect Laundry Without Bleach

by Bill Welles

When allergies and colds strike, the first thing you want to do is wash away the pollen and bacteria off your clothes. And when summer is in full effect and you’re constantly washing tablecloths and napkins to remove mustard stains from hot dog night, laundry seems to be a never-ending cycle.

Washing your clothes is a good start, but a simple wash cycle can’t do the job on its own; it takes a safe and powerful disinfectant. Along with your laundry detergent, you may use bleach in your wash cycle, but if the harsh chemicals and fragrances cause skin irritation or damage to your clothes, there are alternatives to bleach that can eliminate bacteria and remove tough, stuck-on stains.

White Vinegar 

When you’re washing whites or running a cycle in cold water, bleach can be a go-to disinfectant; however, it can be too harsh of a chemical to use regularly. If you’re looking for an everyday disinfectant, start with vinegar. White vinegar has an ingredient known as acetic acid, which can kill viruses and bacteria so they can be easily washed away during the cleaning cycle. A half cup of white vinegar can act as a disinfectant and a deodorizer—removing those pesky germs and working to soften your fabrics. Vinegar is also effective at cleaning both whites and colored items, so your clothes will come out bright, soft, and smelling good every time.

Hydrogen Peroxide 

You’ve probably had the same bottle of peroxide buried in the back of your cabinet for the last 10 years that you only bust out for the occasional cut or scrape, but you might not know that it works great as a disinfectant for your laundry. Wipe the dust and cobwebs off your peroxide and add one cup to your load of whites after the machine has filled with water. Peroxide has bleaching properties, so don’t pour any directly on your colored clothes unless you want a tie-dye wardrobe. Be sure to spot test the peroxide first to avoid any unwanted bleaching.


Borax can be used in addition to your regular detergent to disinfect laundry.  Start by filling the wash bin with your laundry and set the wash cycle to warm water. Then add ½ cup of borax to the washing cycle. The hot water is what activates the cleaning power so the minerals can fully dissolve and evenly cover all your laundry items. 

Pine Oil 

No more ruining your favorite sweater in the wash, just a splash of pine oil is effective to disinfect the largest loads of laundry. Add one cup to the washer after it has filled and make sure the solution you’re using is 80% pine oil or else it will be ineffective. Do not use on any specialty fabrics such as silk or wool as it can cause damage to the material.

After the wash cycle is complete, a slight pine odor may remain—try running a second rinse cycle to remove any remaining residue if you are sensitive to fragrances. It can sometimes be allergenic so use caution when using and keep away from pets as it can be toxic to animals. 


Sunlight is another natural sanitizing property that people might not think of. When you hang your clothes outdoors to dry, the heat from the sun is actually killing surface bacteria as well. About 30 minutes in the sun is all you need for an extra disinfecting boost. It’s doesn’t take long for sunlight to absorb the remaining moisture in your clothes, and too much sun exposure can cause fading, so stick to the 30-minute mark when leaving your laundry in the sun.

Essential Oils 

Essential oils are all the rage nowadays, and they’re making their impression felt in the laundry space. These natural oils not only add a pleasant scent to your laundry, but they have plenty of pathogen-fighting properties. They can be antibacterial, antifungal, and antiseptic, so these oils prevent the growth and spread of bacteria. Adding 2 teaspoons of 100% tea tree oil is all you need to disinfect your laundry. A few drops of lavender oil act as an antibacterial element for your clothes and thyme oil has been known to kill E. coli and MRSA, so it will certainly remove any foul-smelling odors from your fabrics. 

Using Heat to Sanitize 

It goes without saying, heat and temperature kill germs and bacteria better than most cleaning products. The physical action of your washer machine cleaning and creating friction inside the wash bin help to disinfect any laundry item. Hot water sanitizes much more thoroughly than cold, and longer exposure to hot water increases the sanitizing effect. If the water in your home doesn’t seem to get hot enough, the prolonged exposure of heat from the dryer will also kill pathogens.

There are also plenty of washing machines that feature a disinfect cycle. This will run for much longer than a regular wash cycle and will use the highest temperature possible. This is a convenient feature to have when you need to wash colored clothes but don’t want to risk staining or bleaching your fabrics. The hot water from the wash cycle is best for disinfecting clothes, and if you prefer to follow your clothes label and stick with a regular detergent wash, the heat will still work to eliminate the germs living on your clothes. 

Clean and Whiten 

If you’ve been wearing the same shorts or capris since the Fourth of July and they’re starting to look and feel less crisp, or those t-shirts and tank tops are taking on a dingy tone, these laundry cleaning hacks can also help to restore color and whiten your fabrics. When you don’t want to use bleach to disinfect or whiten, there are plenty of options to achieve the same restorative look.

If you need new laundry appliances to help you properly disinfect your clothes, give us a call or stop by our store to shop our entire catalog of washers and dryers. We have everything you need to make laundry day a breeze. Visit us today.