How to Disinfect Laundry Without Bleach


Pam asked: How can I wash dark clothing and still kill pathogens? I work in a hospital where I must wear a dark blue lab coat and dark pants. The spores from harmful pathogens are on my clothing after work. Is there any way to kill these pathogens on dark clothing that cannot be bleached nor washed in hot water?


Bleach is of course the most common disinfectant used in households, but there are several other options available. Here are additional methods that will kill germs, bacteria and pathogens and keep your laundry fresh and sanitized.

Using Household Items

You Will Need:

  • 3% Hydrogen peroxide
  • Vinegar
  • Pine-Sol
  • Measuring cup
  • Washing machine

Steps to Disinfect the Laundry:

  1. Begin by filling the washing machine with warm to hot water. As it is filling, pour in one cup of hydrogen peroxide, Pine-Sol or white vinegar. Be sure to spot test the peroxide first as it can have a bleaching effect on some fabrics.
  2. Wash using the longest wash cycle available.
  3. Rinse and dry as normal.

Using Natural Products

You Will Need:

  • Grapefruit Seed Oil or Grapefruit seed extract (GSE), or Tea Tree Oil
  • Measuring spoon
  • Washing machine

Steps to Disinfect the Laundry:

Grapefruit seed extract is a lesser known disinfectant that is used in homes and hospitals to kill bacteria and germs. It has been found effective in killing Staph, Strep and MRSAs. It can be purchased online or at specialty stores.

Tea tree oil is also effective in disinfecting, but check the labels carefully. Be sure the product you purchase is a high quality, 100% tea tree oil, not a bargain mixture.

  1. Add ½ to 1 teaspoon of GSE or 2 teaspoons of tea tree oil to each load of laundry.
  2. Wash and dry the clothes using normal cycles.

Additional Tips and Advice

  • Because fabrics will react differently to these disinfecting methods, it is important to test a small area of the garment first to ensure there is no damage to the color or to the fabric itself.
  • Though we feel best when we’re adding a disinfectant to our laundry cycles, many times the washing and drying process itself kills the germs that are present. Using warm to hot water and drying on a warm to hot heat cycle will kill germs that are present on fabric.
  • Shaklee Basic-G is a germicide that some have found useful for disinfecting clothing. It only takes ½ ounce per gallon of water and is safe for the environment.
  • If you are concerned about the colorfastness of your clothing, wash them first with ½ – 1 cup of white vinegar. This helps to set the color and prevent clothes from fading.
  • Pine Sol is a well known cleaning product, but there are many pine oil products available including Fyne Pyne, White Cap and King Pine. All of these will remove germs and kill bacteria.



  1. Catherine says:

    I cannot find White Cap Pine Oil anywhere anymore, do you have any idea where I can order or purchase it?

  2. Sorry, but you haven’t answered the original question properly and I have the same issue. People that work in labs of any kind have to be cautious of what they bring home with them, that is a fact and I had a Samsung washer that worked on a completely different method to disinfect clothes than anything out there, but because of several reasons, Samsung stopped making that type and no one else will pick it up. So Pam has a very important question that I have been researching, how to not bring home pathogens, because I have a nine-year-old son with an autoimmune disorder. Basically, heat is the best, but like Pam, if you have dark colors, heat just ruins them too fast.
    For a normal washer/dryer, vinegar is the safest (and only) option. Pine Oil won’t do much; grapefruit Oil, tea tree oil and pine oil are just what they say…oil! They can do more harm than good on fabric of any kind. Our foremothers had it right; hang it out in the sun to dry! Now, that is wonderful if you have time and sun and it truly is the best, but barring that, white vinegar is the only safe additive that won’t hurt your washer, dryer or your clothes. Basically, you need to get any kind of fabric over the temperature of 130 degrees (give or take) and that means damaging hot water that will fade your clothes as well as shrink them fast. Bleach is fine for white, cotton fabrics, including underwear, but not even color-safe bleach will do much for “scrubs,” “lab coats,” and other medical clothing.
    If you have dark colors and you need to have them sanitized as badly as we do, try to invest in a washer that will give you bursts of steam and will have a cold water cycle that really works. LG is the best at this date. Kenmore is made by LG. Samsung (my personal choice for too many things that I admit; I should be buying USA products) is coming out with a new line that should be out in larger cities as we speak. Please be careful what model you buy of any HE washer because you want two things when spending that kind of money for everyone…an “allergen cycle” or a “sanitizing cycle” that will work with cold water and you want one that will allow you to leave your load in the washer without other things forming until you put it in the dryer. As a rule of thumb, you really do want to get them in a dryer ASAP.
    For those of us that are in labs and don’t make what a doctor makes and don’t want to spend a fortune on scrubs, vinegar is the only answer right now. I will admit that I haven’t researched or tried Shacklee’s product and I am going to get some ASAP to see what it has to offer. Vinegar also offers an additional boost to your dark colored clothes. It sets the dye so they don’t fade or the colors don’t run. About a cup in with the load will do a full load. Also, the more water you use, the better, so set the load on high even if you don’t have a full load.
    What happened to those nice days of not worrying about clothes washing, and everything was “wash and wear?” Well, they never really existed and we all got clothes that need a higher amount of care so they do stay nicer, longer. Most kids’ clothes do fine in warm water and a hot rinse, but for us people with clothes made of every kind of combinations of fabrics, there isn’t a great choice. They demand cold water, a wash on delicate and a cool dryer. Don’t put petroleum products in your laundry and anything that ends in “oil” happens to be one. It will mess up your more delicate clothes and really mess up your washer! I hope I’ve helped someone because we are not getting too “overcautious” about sanitizing. Some situations are not as needy as others, but you don’t want to lie your head on a pillow case full of minor mildew because you did everything right but left it in the washer too long. Then your hair adds all kinds of junk to the mildew, and believe me you don’t want to know what you breathe in every night. Yet jeans and t-shirts will always put up with enough heat to get them clean. It is the stuff you wear next to your body or use next to your body that are the things that are important.

  3. I simply ran a search on for “Disinfecting laundry detergent” and came up with a few products. They are rather costly and used as an additive to the laundry. I am not sure how safe they are for use with an HE machine though. If you find you will need to disinfect clothing regularly I would highly recommend investing in one of these products. Read all the info about them though, first. I have not purchased any, just looked them up now, because they are too costly. But as I said, it would probably be a good investment for someone working in a field where they are exposed to pathogens and such. My LG washer (I LOVE IT I LOVE IT I LOVE IT) has both allergen and sanitize but wash at high temps. I love that but with things that are “hand wash in cold water only” items? Hmm. With my present economic status, I have found myself hitting the Salvation Army once or twice in search of work clothes, etc. It never used to bother me and a lot of times in the past I never even bothered to wash the stuff I’d bring home but now I am super conscious about contamination. Anything that comes home goes directly from an airtight tied bag right into a dryer on high for 30-45 minutes, then washed. This leaves me still feeling unsure, though, about things like fungus, viruses, bacteria, etc. I know when dried on high, stuff in my LG dryer gets up to about 160. I am rather surprised that disinfecting laundry products have not really been developed and marketed. Of all the over the top ways they market the anti-germ campaign to OCD Americans who fear germs around their children at home, you’d think where we wash our laundry (generally a very dirty thing) would be the most relevant? People go out into the world, they sit on buses, in seats in public restaurants, etc. I worry more about that than what germs I might catch on my bathroom mirror from sprinkling it by accident with toothpaste from my own mouth. Ever see that commercial? It’s too much.

  4. Natural Gal says:

    Vicki, sorry but tea tree oil is a powerful disinfectant (as is Eucalyptus oil); do the research, it is out there. It does not harm laundry, I use it in every load. I make a mixture of Eucalyptus oil and Tea Tree oil and squirt in the soap dispenser as well as the fabric softener dispenser.

  5. Vicki, there is some really good research out there on GSE (grapefruit seed extract). You should also not confuse essential oils such as tea tree oil with regular “oils,” which are carrier oils. Essential oils are plant extracts using several methods of extraction that retain the immune systems of the plants they are taken from, are very powerful and not to be minimized. GSE is not itself an essential oil, but it is also very powerful in killing germs. This isn’t to suggest that vinegar might not get the job done, but it does not embody an immune system in it, does it? Vinegar might be okay, but it is not going to hold a candle to GSE or tea tree oil.

  6. I reiterate what Natural Gal said about oil.
    Vicki, do you even know what oil is – you seem to think it can only be petroleum derived! I have an antibacterial magnetic silver ion wash ball in my washing machine, which lasts a really long time and is ridiculously cheap. It’s complicated science though, so you’d need to do some research into the science and particular products and suppliers. They are not readily available in the UK, but tend to be in other parts of Europe where this has caught on. Silver has known antibacterial properties. I wonder if going over clothes with a steam cleaner or garment steamer would have a disinfecting effect; I have read that it does. You can even garment steam silk. Also, the antimicrobial properties of grape seed extract are only derived when it undergoes refining where a chemical is added or some kind of chemical process happens (can’t remember the details), so if you buy it unrefined and cold pressed, it won’t work!

  7. I use Lysol Concentrate and it kills anything. Awesome at getting rid of offensive odors, and effective with vomit stains in laundry. I use a capful for a large load.

  8. My son is was diagnosed with Hand, foot, and mouth disease and we want to disinfect, basically, everything we can launder. Will vinegar kill this virus? Also, do you add the vinegar (actually, any of the recommended products) with your usual laundry detergent and softener or use it by itself and run the washer. May seem like common sense, but I’ve never done this before. Thank you!

  9. Mari,
    Vinegar is recommended for disinfecting hand-foot-and-mouth disease, as is tea tree oil. Washing the clothes with hot water should help kill any of the virus that the vinegar doesn’t kill. I would not recommend using the vinegar simultaneously with laundry detergent because vinegar can react with various chemicals, particularly chlorine (bleach).

    Source: Modern Alternative Mama

  10. No one bothered to mention that the original person (Pam) mentioned SPORES, which are very hard to kill. They are a problem in hospitals, where we have access to the most powerful disinfecting products available, so I doubt any of these “home remedies” are going to affect spores.

  11. You need to do your homework. These remedies are only partially effective (or not effective at all).

  12. Concerning the treatment of work clothes which pose a risk of any sort, the employers should arrange at their own cost a reliable means of having the clothing of their employees cleaned and disinfected effectively to avoid the spread of infectious diseases, viral, fungal, whatever. People who are prepared, out of compassion, to work with and care for those who are sick, should not have to endure any extra risk to their own health, or that of family and friends. Neither should they, through no choice of their own, be carrying diseases via contaminated material to the public at large as they make their way from work to home. This is an important health and safety at work issue and should not be ignored.

  13. My husband’s dermatologist said that my husband has staph and that his dark shirts must be disinfected. I have always added vinegar to the wash with hypo-allergenic laundry soap. I don’t know if this is actually killing the staph. Any ideas? Thanks.

  14. I’m going to break it down here to avoid the confusion that seems to be going on. The original question is how to disinfect colored clothing in cold water. That’s the nutshell. Colored-clothes…disinfect…cold-water. Please…if one more person talks about heat I’m going to scribble all over this page. Let’s pretend heat doesn’t exist…aaand…GO.

  15. Common Sense says:

    First of all, Pam, when you work at a hospital, you are not allowed to wear your street clothing under your scrubs or lab coat. And you throw the scrubs in the dirty bin every day after your shift. If you follow that, you wont have to worry about contaminated clothing. You should never take your scrubs home with you. Secondly, if you want to disinfect your clothing, use a UV lamp for 15 minutes; that will kill any bacteria or viruses on the clothing.

  16. Has anyone noticed that the temperature of the hottest wash water from a new EPA approved wash machine is only around 90 degrees. That’s the mix that is set by the makers to meet the EPA requirements. We had a repair man out twice to see why we could not even get lukewarm water with the temperature on the machine set to hot. He said that is the way they are designed to save energy. If I want hot water to go into my machine, I have to turn off the cold water going in and just have the hot water faucet turned on. I think the EPA is making it impossible to sanitize stuff. No wonder people are getting sick more!

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