Cheapskate Laundry?
January 29, 2008 7:44 PM   Subscribe

Can I do laundry with just ammonia alone?

I'm a broke student and am interested in using the spare bottle of ammonia to cut my laundry costs. However, the bottle's directions for laundry use are a little unclear, as is Google, as to whether or not it's a detergent substitute or just a laundry additive. Can anyone help me out?
posted by thisjax to Home & Garden (18 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Your clothes will stink.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 7:52 PM on January 29, 2008

When I was terribly broke I used shampoo a few times instead of laundry detergent. It seemed to work ok.
posted by kpmcguire at 7:58 PM on January 29, 2008

Not good for laundry. Not good for your nose. Go to a 99 cent store and buy some detergent.
posted by 6:1 at 7:58 PM on January 29, 2008

a big gallon of liquid detergent will cost you 4 dollars and will last for like 30 loads. go spend the 4 dollars. the ammonia will not clean your clothes - it will make them stink and might cause damage to some items of clothing.
posted by Stynxno at 8:00 PM on January 29, 2008

A little bit of ammonia (1/4 -1/2 cup) in a load of whites combined with laundry detergent can help get out perspiration smell and discoloration, but I would definitely not use it instead of detergent and make sure not to accidentally mix it with any laundry products containing bleach! You can always buy a box of cheap laundry detergent and use much less than recommended to stretch your dollar.
posted by pluckysparrow at 8:13 PM on January 29, 2008

The shampoo advice is fine. Dish soap, likewise. Soap is soap, and the different types are 90% marketing.

Stop stealing ammonia from the lab. It's not "free."

Plain water would work, too.
posted by rokusan at 8:27 PM on January 29, 2008

It is my understanding that ammonia can be used as a bleach replacement, but not a detergent replacement. You need the detergent to get rid of the ammonia smell, anyhow.
posted by rob paxon at 8:52 PM on January 29, 2008

Also, it can be used to prevent color bleeding IIRC, especially when first-washing darks.
posted by rob paxon at 8:53 PM on January 29, 2008

Despite what people above are saying, using shampoo is probably not a good idea.

Shampoo has things added to it to make it foam up, because that's what people expect. Washing machine detergent does not have such things added, and that's why the washing machine can agitate with detergent in the water for ten minutes without accumulating a foam head. If you use something in a washing machine which does create foam, it'll make a hell of a mess. So don't use shampoo, or liquid dish detergent, which also contains foaming agents.

(Just in passing, dishwasher detergent is like washing machine detergent. It doesn't foam at all because if it did, it would be a real problem.)
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 9:00 PM on January 29, 2008

Well, I imagine shampoo's probably not the best thing in the world to use on clothes, but it didn't make the washer explode, if that's what you mean. I did this every couple of weeks for a period of about 3 months back in 1999. For some reason I had a lot of shampoo lying around.
posted by kpmcguire at 9:07 PM on January 29, 2008

i doubt dishwasher detergent is like washing machine detergent in one very important way. Have you ever smelled dishwasher detergent? It reeks of bleach. I wouldn't substitute it to wash clothes.

If you're looking for cheapness, why not make your own laundry detergent?
posted by Stewriffic at 9:08 PM on January 29, 2008

Oh, for pete's sake. That characteristic ammonia smell is highly does not stick around to make your clothes stink. Generally, ammonia is considered a laundry additive. It is a cleanser, though, and yes, you can wash your clothes with it.

They will smell neutral, though, not like soap. It may be a harder on your clothes in the long term. You'll probably like the results better if you mix the ammonia with at least a little bit of laundry detergent.

Ammonia breaks down quickly and considered more environmentally friendly than commercial detergent. It is commonly recommended as an ingredient in alternative or homemade/non-commercial laundry detergent. (Fallen out of favor somewhat thanks to the danger of the Everything Clean Must Contain Bleach movement in commercially available cleansers.)

I wouldn't advise using shampoo because it may foam too much. (Sudsing agents in the shampoo make all those bubbles to make us feel luxurious.) Shampoo will also build up on your clothes eventually and make them harder to get fresh-smelling...though this can be fixed by using, um, ammonia in the laundry.
posted by desuetude at 9:25 PM on January 29, 2008 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I have always found ammonia to be a depressing thing to have around my home. Perhaps it's the smell.

Anyway....I make my own laundry soap at and I have saved TONS of money by doing it this way:

1. Get a large cooking pot big enough to hold four gallons of water.
2. Find your local grocery store and purchase a bar of Fels-Naptha soap (should be 89 cents or so), and a box of Borax.
3. Grate the whole bar of Fels-Naptha soap on a cheese grater, right into the cooking pot.
4. You will not be cooking this, by the way.
5. Add three gallons of hot water (I use old milk jugs) and stir it with a whisk or a wooden spoon or a stick. Take your time. I like using my hands to stir it.
6. Add one measuring cup of Borax to the mixure. Stir it up.
7. This is when you can add about twenty drops of whatever essential oils you prefer (like cedar or lavender)..or add no oils whatsoever.
8. Let the mixture sit overnight or at least a good several hours. It will be the consistency of liquidy jello at first but stir it and it will become liquid again.
9. Fill bottles or jugs or whatever with the soap 2/3 full. I like to use old conventional laundry containers, for safety reasons and also as a reminder to myself of all the money I am saving for my family. (If there are little ones about please make sure you put MR.Yuck stickers all over the containers and keep the containers up out of reach.) I like to keep the big mixing pot next to the washer, so I can remove the container lids and just push the container I'm filling right into the pot and fill it up, put the lid back on, and run it under the washing machine water coming out at the start of the first cycle so I don't waste any soap. After using this recipe for a few years, I can notice my skin itching whenever I wear something made with conventional, store-bought laundry detergent.

If you have hard water like me, feel free to use two cups of this laundry soap per load. I sometimes like to add a little color-safe bleach if I am washing something that needs an occasional brightening-up. I learned how to make this soap from a recipe book made by Amish ladies in Wisconsin. I do a LOT of laundry and it has been a total lifesaver of a recipe!
posted by mamaraks at 9:47 PM on January 29, 2008 [11 favorites]

Best answer: You may find this Straight Dope on Laundry Balls interesting, specifically: The real surprise is that Tide didn't perform much better than plain water.

If you're broke enough to be searching around for non-detergent options just run the clothes through with water and don't bother with the ammonia.
posted by 6550 at 10:03 PM on January 29, 2008

I'm with Stynxno - odds are pretty good that there's some area within your budget where you can squeeze out the four or five dolalrs to buy regular detergent. Rent a movie instead of going out to see one, get water instead of soda the next couple of times out to eat, etc.

If you're already doing those types of things and truly can't afford the cost, maybe get a friend to spot you five bucks? Offer to do their laundry for a week or two alongside yours to repay the favor.

Doesn't really answer the question I know, but just wanted to offer an alternative solution.
posted by mjgrady at 5:28 AM on January 30, 2008

If you're using a coin-operated washing machine, rest assured that there's enough detergent left in the machine from all the previous washes to clean your load of clothes. The manager of a laundromat taught me this little trick once when I'd left my detergent at home.
posted by Floydd at 6:49 AM on January 30, 2008

Best answer: A couple of points:

detergent != soap

ammonia is a degreaser, and people grease is the reason clothes need washing. Maybe get some washing soda and/or Borax to spice up the mixture.

But (good) laundry detergents have fabric treaters, blueing, possibly enzymes and pretty smells. Buy good detergent and use 1/2 to 1/4 the recommended amount with some of that ammonia and your clothes will feel and smell great. If you're feeling nuts, use brand name liquid softener too. (Sheets will stain your clothing!)

The worst thing you can do for your clothes is use too much cheap detergent. That stuff is murder on natural fabrics.
posted by gjc at 6:37 PM on January 30, 2008

Response by poster: Thanks for the suggestions; IIRC, I just ended up washing everything with plain water until I got my paycheck.
posted by thisjax at 10:54 AM on April 24, 2008

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