Laundry 101: Part 4 – Laundry Boosters and Water Softeners

Clean Clothes Washed with Laundry Boosters and Water Softener.
How to Get Clean Clothes Despite Having Hard Water.

Everything Your Mom Didn’t Tell You about Laundry Boosters and Water Softeners

Laundry boosters or water softeners are additives that soften and condition the water to help make detergent work more effectively, keep your clothes from looking dingy and help remove that powdery residue that washing in hard water can leave on your clothes.

Hard Water – What is It? and How to Deal with It?

Hard water is water that has high mineral content that causes problems with cleaning because it reduces detergent effectiveness. Soap does not lather well if the mineral content is high and that has a direct effect on how clean your clothes will be after washing.

More than 85 percent of homes in the U.S. have hard water. The mineral levels, ph levels and (of course) the smell and taste of water are subject to various factors. Water that comes from a well, in particular can have very high levels of minerals and odors that cannot be buffered with water softeners or filtered out.

Hard water causes soap scum to form instead of the sudsy lather you need to get your clothes clean. Specifically, calcium and magnesium combined with sodium in the detergent to form a sticky solid that is difficult to rinse and adheres to all surfaces: clothing, the washing machine, and even in plumbing as lime scale build up.

Water softeners and laundry boosters reduce hard water’s adverse effects; reducing the formation of soap scum and increasing the effectiveness of the detergent.

Many detergents already contain water softeners, but it’s frequently not enough to counteract heavy mineral levels in the home’s water supply.

Water softeners work by removing calcium and magnesium ions, and replacing them with sodium or potassium ions. This exchange results in a physical softening that you can actually feel, the water literally becomes softer to the touch.

Typical Water Softeners and Laundry Boosters

  • Baking Soda
  • Washing Soda
  • Borax

The chemistry may be elemental, but if your clothing looks dingy and feels stiff you may not have a clue where to start. Let’s review how to fix your hard water problems and super charge your detergent.

Using Baking Soda as a Water Softener

Baking soda is a salt called sodium bicarbonate. It’s most commonly used in baking as a leavening ingredient. Baking soda is also a deodorizer and is a safe and natural ingredient used for cleaning in many homes today.

Sodium bicarbonate is a excellent surfactant and a water softener. The addition of baking soda to the wash load softens hard water by adding sodium which competes with the magnesium and calcium ions present in hard water. The additional sodium stops magnesium and calcium from binding with the detergent, and so allows the detergent to lather and clean more effectively.

Baking soda is similar to washing soda, but they are not the same. Washing soda is caustic and can cause burns. Baking soda is safe, or at least as safe as a kitchen food staple can be. Baking soda won’t burn you and you don’t need to wear gloves or eye protection when using it.

I’m sure you can see where I’m going on this, I use baking soda to soften the water and boost my laundry detergent. I don’t have anything against washing soda but if I have two choices and the result is the same: I pick the safest one, and that’s baking soda.

How to Use Baking Soda in the Laundry

You can find baking soda in the baking section at the grocery store, Arm and Hammer is one of many other brands. Simply add 1 cup of baking soda along with your regular detergent to soften water and increase detergent effectiveness.

Baking soda will:

  • Naturally soften hard water   
  • Improves the cleaning power of detergent
  • Removes oil and grease
  • Reduces hard water deposits
  • Deodorizes

Using Washing Soda (Soda Ash) to Soften Water

Washing soda or soda ash is sodium carbonate which is a salt of carbonic acid. Washing soda comes in a powder form which comes from plant ashes (this is why it’s called soda ash) and it can also be made from sodium chloride a.k.a. table salt.

Washing soda is similar to baking soda, but they are not interchangeable. Baking soda is a salt called sodium bicarbonate used in food preparation, and washing soda is 2 times stronger than baking soda and cannot be used in food preparation. It is used primarily as a water softener for washing laundry.

Washing soda neutralizes acid, raises water pH levels and is an effective laundry booster and water softener. Washing soda works to soften hard water by adding sodium that competes with magnesium and calcium ions present in hard water.

Washing soda is extremely alkaline. It has a pH level of 11. This means that it is caustic and it can burn your skin or eyes. Use gloves and protective eye wear when using it. Don’t pour washing soda directly on laundry in the washing machine tub. Pre-dissolve the washing soda along with the laundry detergent in the wash water before adding clothes.

How to Use Washing Soda in the Laundry

You can find washing soda in the laundry section of the grocery store, one brand that comes to mind is Arm and Hammer. Add 1/2 cup of washing soda along with your detergent as the washing machine is filling with water so it may dissolve. It will help to soften water and improve your detergents effectiveness.

Washing soda will:

  • Naturally softens hard water
  • Improves the cleaning power of detergent
  • Removes oil and grease
  • Reduces hard water deposits
  • Deodorizes
  • Removes wax
  • Removes lipstick

Using Borax to Soften Water in the Washing Machine

I love Borax. It’s inexpensive, and a natural laundry booster.

Borax is a natural mineral (sodium borate, sodium tetraborate, or disodium tetraborate) and a salt of boric acid. Borax is found deep underground with clay and other substances. It is a white powder that dissolves easily in water.

Borax is safe enough for baby clothes and delicate and strong enough to get rid of tough stains like grease and oil as well as those annoying grass stains that used to ruin my kid’s jeans.

Borax is alkaline and has a pH of 9.5. It softens water a little but its “extra special powers” are in supercharging your detergent. The pH level assists in removing stains, and borax actually breaks down into oxygen bleach which helps keep clothes bright and white. Borax is safe to use with additional chlorine or oxygen bleach as well.

How to Use Borax in the Laundry

You can find borax on grocery store shelves next to the laundry detergent. One brand that comes to mind is called 20 Mule Team.

Borax is a laundry detergent booster. Add 1/2 cup of borax along with detergent to your wash load to help to soften water and improve your detergent effectiveness.

Borax will:

  • Naturally softens hard water
  • Improves the cleaning power of detergent
  • Helps to remove stains
  • Helps to remove odor

These are a few natural ways to help soften the water used to wash your clothes and to boost your regular laundry detergents effectiveness.

Related Articles:

Laundry 101: Part 5, How to Use Laundry Detergent