Shower gel in bathroom

Can You Wash Clothes with Shower Gel?

You’ve spent the day hiking through muddy fields. Your socks are saturated, stinking, and caked in what you hope is earth, not poop.

You head back to camp to wash your socks and realise you’ve left the laundry detergent at home. What are you going to do, you need the socks for tomorrow’s hike?!

Hang on, you’ve just spied a bottle of shower gel. Would that serve as a good alternative?

The short answer is that it’s okay to use shower gel to clean clothes in an absolute emergency, but you shouldn’t do this too often.

Find out more about cleaning clothes with shower gel below.


Can You Clean Clothes with Shower Gel?

Shower gel in shower

At their core, both shower gel and laundry detergent are surfactants. They’re made from a bunch of chemicals that help to reduce the surface tension of water, making it easier for unsightly stains and grime to be removed from surfaces.

However, the composition of shower gel is tailored towards cleaning skin, not fabric.

Shower gel often contains added moisturisers, fragrances and other ingredients that are meant to pamper your skin, not necessarily your t-shirts and jeans.

Laundry detergent, on the other hand, typically contains enzymes, bleaching agents, brighteners and fragrances and is designed to clean tough stains and everyday dirt from material, not skin.

After washing your clothes with shower gel, they will most likely smell nice. But your garments might not have the same softness or that ‘just washed feel’ that regular laundry detergent gives them.

As mentioned above, shower gels are designed to clean skin, not laundry. So, the gel won’t be able to effectively remove tough stains or preserve the fabric’s integrity like a proper laundry detergent would.

Your clothes aren’t likely to be free from germs and hygienic either because shower gel doesn’t contain the right blend of ingredients that can penetrate and remove the unseen grime on your laundry!

At best, your laundry will be fragrant and slightly better looking after it’s been washed with shower gel.

However, don’t expect the stains on your outfit to disappear. They’ll still be present after the wash because the shower gel doesn’t have the power to banish them.

The shower gel is, after all, supposed to be a mild skin cleanser. If it contained chemicals that could eradicate stains, it wouldn’t be safe for use on skin!  

In addition to not cleaning and taking care of your outfits as well as can be, you must also consider the following:

1. Shower gel could cause skin problems

Shower gels contain dyes, fragrances and other additives that may be gentle on the skin but harsh on fabrics.

This means that the ingredients in the shower gel could react with the material and bring about skin irritation and reactions.


2. You can’t use shower gel in a washing machine

Washing machines are supposed to work with laundry detergent, not shower gel.

If you use shower gel in your washing machine, you could seriously damage the appliance. Excess suds and soap-related blockages can occur in the machine.

Consequently, you will have to repair the machine’s extensive damage, which will be costly.

Also, you’ll likely void any warranties you have, too. If you’re going to use shower gel to clean your clothes, you should hand-wash them. Don’t use a washing machine because the risks are too significant.


3. The costs involved with using shower gel

It doesn’t make financial sense to wash clothes with shower gel anyway. It’s often cheaper to buy regular laundry detergent and to use that.

Detergent comes in bigger bottles and contains many uses. Shower gel usually comes in a small bottle and varies in price.

Plus, you have to consider additional costs involved with using shower gel.

For example, you’ll need to use cleaning products to wash out your washing machine more often and might need to get repairs done on the appliance. It’s not an economical swap in the long haul.

If you find yourself in a pinch, it’s okay to use shower gel to clean one or two dirty items. But in the long term it would be more beneficial to look at using other alternatives to clean your laundry rather than shower gel.

For example, you could use bicarbonate of soda, white vinegar and vodka to refresh lightly soiled clothes.


4. The effect shower gel has on fabrics

Some materials, like cotton, may hold up better when cleaned with shower gel. In contrast, the ingredients in some shower gels may aggravate delicate materials. For example, the gel may discolour or stain the fine fabric.

On that note, shower gels come in different colours. By washing your clothes with a colourful shower gel, you risk dyeing your garment. In addition, depending on what’s in the shower gel, your laundry may end up with a waxy feel and a dull appearance after the wash.

Unless you know what’s in your shower gel and how the ingredients will react with the garments you need to clean, it would be better to steer clear of it because you don’t know if there’ll be a bad reaction. Is the risk really worth it?


5. Shower gel isn’t going to treat stains

As noted earlier, shower gel isn’t going to have the punch to eradicate blemishes from laundry.

In this case, you’ll have to pre-treat your laundry before washing it. You may have the necessary solutions at home to remove the marks, but if not, you’ll have to pop into a shop to buy stuff.

So, while you’re there, you might as well pick up some laundry detergent and use that instead of shower gel. 


6. Shower gel can’t clean large loads of laundry

In an emergency, you can use shower gel to refresh a few lightly soiled items, say, a pair of socks or a T-shirt. But shower gel can’t be used to wash a whole load of laundry. Why?

The easiest way to clean a large pile of washing is to wash it in a washing machine. Since you can’t use shower gel in a washing machine, you must wash all your clothes by hand, which will take ages!

Even if you took ages cleaning the load of washing with shower gel, it wouldn’t be that clean anyway. You’d have to re-wash it or repeat this activity.

Plus, you won’t be able to wash every single piece of laundry using shower gel because the material won’t react well to it, and it would work out really expensive for you.

Using shower gel to clean large amounts of laundry just isn’t practical. It’s okay to use in a pinch, but that’s about it. 


How to Clean Clothes with Shower Gel

Shower gel and clothes

If you’re absolutely set on washing your clothes with shower gel instead of normal laundry detergent, follow the method below.

Note: Do not put shower gel in a washing machine. You must hand wash your items of clothing with shower gel.

Steps to follow:

  1. Grab a shower gel that’s fragrance-free and has no-to-little moisturiser.
  2. Do a patch test: Grab a damp cloth and put a little blob of shower gel on it. Then, find a discreet patch on your item of clothing and dab the cloth onto it. Wait and see what happens. If there’s a bad reaction (obvious damage and discolouration), stop and find an alternative cleaning solution. Continue if all is okay.
  3. Fill a clean bowl with lukewarm water.
  4. Add half a teaspoon of shower gel to the water.
  5. Mix the gel into the water.
  6. Place your item in the water.
  7. Agitate the item in the water and carefully rub the material between your fingers to remove dirt. Pay attention to the very dirty sections.
  8. Rinse the garment clean.
  9. Dry the item of clothing.
  10. Repeat the steps for your other garments.

Note: The method above is most suitable for lightly soiled garments that don’t require a deep clean. It isn’t going to clean your clothes that well. In fact, it may have very little effect on most items of clothing.


Can You Wash Clothes with Shampoo?

can you use shampoo as laundry detergent

You can substitute laundry detergent with shampoo in an emergency. The shampoo will be able to clean lightly soiled laundry to a relative standard, for example, a pair of socks, a few t-shirts and shorts.

However, you shouldn’t use shampoo to clean your clothes all of the time. Shampoo is okay to use when you’re in a pinch, but it should never be considered a complete substitute for laundry detergent.

Shampoo doesn’t really contain the right kind of ingredients to thoroughly clean your laundry. It cannot penetrate and remove tough grime and stains. Nor can it remove bacteria from garments. Plus, you can’t put shouldn’t inside a washing machine!