Will Vinegar Kill Bacteria On Clothes?

When it comes to keeping clothes clean and germ-free, many people wonder if using vinegar is a good solution. After all, we use it for many things, aside from the most delicious salads!

To answer the question, although vinegar can make your clothes smell fresher and reduce the number of germs, it’s not as effective for killing bacteria as some products and methods. Using a hot wash, drying on a high setting, or using bleach are far better ways to disinfect your fabrics. 

Let’s go into more detail in this article!

Is Vinegar Effective For Killing Bacteria On Fabrics?

Vinegar, especially white vinegar, is known for its cleaning power. It’s made from acetic acid, which can kill some types of germs and bacteria. 

The acetic acid in white vinegar can help kill some strains of bacteria, such as Salmonella and E. coli. However, it’s not an all-round solution that will entirely get rid of all bacteria types, especially tough ones like staphylococcus, which can cause infections.

Instead, white vinegar is good for making clothes soft and less irritating on the skin. Hence, it’s a wonderful alternative to fabric softeners. 

How To Make Use Of Vinegar To Help Disinfect Garments

As I said earlier, vinegar cannot completely kill bacteria, especially since it will be diluted in the laundry process. However, it can help disinfect your garments in a way, as long as you do it properly. 

Did you know that bacteria can thrive on sweat, skin cells, and food particles stuck in your clothes? Luckily, the 5% to 8% acetic acid in the white vinegar can break down these substances and reduce the bacteria living on your garments.

trousers with bacteria

Of course, there are factors that can affect the effectiveness of the vinegar, such as:

  • The type of fabric
    Vinegar works better on natural fibres like cotton and linen than on synthetic materials like polyester.
  • The concentration of vinegar
    More concentrated vinegar (with higher acetic acid content) can kill more bacteria.
  • The contact time
    The longer vinegar is in contact with the clothes, the more bacteria it can kill.

To use vinegar for cleaning clothes, you can use it in three ways:

  1. Spot Cleaning
    Apply vinegar directly to stains or smelly areas on clothes. Let it sit for a few minutes before washing.
  2. As a Washing Machine Additive
    Pour a cup of white vinegar into the fabric softener compartment of your washer during the rinse cycle. It helps to disinfect clothes and can also act as a natural fabric softener.
  3. Soaking Clothes
    For heavily soiled or smelly clothes, soaking them in a mixture of vinegar and water (1 part vinegar to 4 parts water) for 30 minutes to an hour before washing can be very effective.

TIP: Never mix vinegar with bleach. This combination can create harmful gases that are dangerous to breathe in.

Best Ways To Kill Bacteria On Clothes

Since vinegar is less effective against viruses and bacteria, you will need to make use of other methods and products if you want to disinfect your fabrics. 

Just make sure to always patch test and to be careful with your delicate garments. 

Soaking Fabrics Before Washing

Soaking fabrics before washing them can greatly reduce the bacteria on your clothes, especially when using antibacterial agents like an enzyme-based detergent or bicarbonate of soda. 

The soaking time also matters, as longer durations are more effective in killing bacteria. If you’re using a gentle product such as bicarbonate of soda, you can allow most fabrics to soak overnight without risking damage. 

To kill bacteria by soaking your garments first, do the following:

  1. Start by choosing a product like your usual detergent or bicarbonate of soda.
  2. Prepare a soaking solution in a large tub or sink by diluting the detergent/bicarbonate of soda with water as directed. 
  3. Place your clothes in the solution, ensuring they are fully submerged and in contact with the detergent/bicarbonate of soda. 
  4. Leave them to soak for around 15 to 30 minutes. 
  5. After soaking, rinse the clothes thoroughly under clean water to remove any residual product, then proceed to wash them in your washing machine as usual.

Using At Least 60°C Temperature In The Washer

Washing your clothes in hot water, at least 60 degrees Celsius, helps kill germs and viruses. This works best for cleaning things like towels, bed sheets, and clothes that are worn a lot or when someone is sick. 

60 Degree Wash Cycle

To kill bacteria using a hot wash, do the following:

  1. Check the care labels on your garments to make sure they can withstand this temperature. 
  2. Set your washing machine to the appropriate hot wash cycle and use a detergent that’s effective at higher temperatures. 
  3. Wash as normal.

Using The Hot Setting In The Dryer

Drying clothes at high temperatures helps kill any remaining bacteria, making the drying process an important step in the disinfection routine.

After washing, immediately transfer your clothes to the dryer, select the hot setting, and make sure to always check the fabric care labels to ensure the garments can tolerate high heat. After all, you wouldn’t want your shirt to suddenly be two sizes smaller, would you?

Using Bleach Products

When using bleach to disinfect your clothes, it’s important to choose the right type. Use chlorine bleach for whites and colour-safe bleach for coloured fabrics. 


To kill bacteria using bleach, dilute the bleach according to the instructions before adding it to the wash, using the machine’s dispenser or adding it during the wash cycle at the appropriate time. Always give the clothes a good rinse afterwards to remove any bleach residue.

SEE ALSO: How to How to Bleach White Clothes (easy method)

Using Hydrogen Peroxide Or Essential Oils

Don’t want to use bleach? For a gentler method, hydrogen peroxide and essential oils are effective alternatives that are safe for most fabrics. 

To use hydrogen peroxide, add it to the wash water or the bleach dispenser before starting your machine. Just take note that it is only for white and light-coloured garments, as it can bleach your clothes. 

If you prefer a natural approach, essential oils like tea tree or eucalyptus can be added to the detergent or fabric softener compartment. These oils have natural antibacterial properties and can leave your clothes smelling fresh while helping to kill bacteria. 

Just add about 2 teaspoons to every load and you’ll have cleaner and fragrant clothes once they’re done in the wash.

Using Laundry Sanitisers

Laundry sanitisers, like Dettol Antibacterial Laundry Sanitiser, are said to be able to kill off around 99.9% of bacteria in a 15C wash cycle.

Dettol Antibacterial Laundry Cleanser, Sensitive, 2.5 Litre
  • KILLS 99.9 PERCENT BACTERIA AT 20 DEGREE CELSIUS: Dettol laundry cleanser liquid disinfectant is proven to work in rinse cycle temperatures as low as 15 Degree Celsius saving energy and money whilst preventing colour fading and leaking
  • 20 WASHES: Two capfuls per wash in the fabric softener drawer of the washing machine. Dettol Laundry Cleanser is designed to be added to your laundry, along with your regular detergent

This can make it one of the safer ways to kill off bacteria on your clothes, as it’ll help prevent colour runs/fading and be cheaper on your utility bills too.

Make Your Laundry Days More Effective!

White vinegar is a good choice for cleaning clothes because it’s safe for the environment and doesn’t cost much. However, it won’t get rid of all the germs but can help make your clothes cleaner and smell better. 

Just remember, if disinfecting your fabrics is your priority, pre-soaking, doing a hot wash, using heat in the dryer, and using products like bleach or laundry sanitisers would be your best options. Just make sure to do them the right way to avoid damaging your clothes.  

Do you have questions? Feel free to ask them below!

Frequently Asked Questions

How do you kill bacteria in clothes?

To kill bacteria in clothes, you need to use methods like washing at high temperatures (at least 60°C), using bleach or other disinfectants, and drying on a hot setting. These methods are more effective than using vinegar alone.

Is it bad to leave vinegar on clothes?

Leaving vinegar on clothes is not necessarily bad, but it should be used properly. Vinegar can help make clothes smell fresher and act as a natural softener. However, it should not be left on clothes for too long before washing, as it can weaken the fibres over time.

Can I put vinegar in with laundry detergent?

It’s better to add the vinegar during the rinse cycle or in the fabric softener compartment. This way, it can help disinfect and soften the clothes without interfering with the detergent’s cleaning power.

Can you soak clothes in vinegar to disinfect?

You can soak clothes in vinegar to help disinfect them, especially when combined with water (like a 1:4 ratio of vinegar to water). While it may not kill all bacteria, soaking can help reduce the bacterial load and break down body soils and residues.

Does vinegar turn clothes white?

Vinegar does not turn clothes white. While it can help remove some stains and brighten clothes, it’s not a bleaching agent like hydrogen peroxide or chlorine bleach. Therefore, it won’t significantly change the colour of your clothes.

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