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I sometimes use some essential oil / extracts in my washing machine as they can have some disinfecting effect and give a nice smell to the clothes (e.g. a capful of eucalyptus oil for one load). However, I was wondering if that was counter-productive when it comes to saving detergent and efficiently washing clothes.

Is the detergent wasted on the added essential oil, given that detergent is designed to coat lipid droplets and render them soluble in the waste-water?

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Adding the essential oils during the rinsing stage of the wash cycle (when the detergents have already done their job) makes much more sense as even though the essential oils might not use up much more of the detergent, the detergent might actually get rid of some or most of the essential oils.

By adding the oils during rinsing, you minimize the chance of them "wasting" or binding detergent and prevent washing them out. Normally your washing machine should have a compartment for fabric softener that the water is only led through at the rinsing stage. Add the oils there (maybe with a bit of water so that they don't damage the plastic of the tray) before starting the machine and your good to go.

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If you don't add additional detergent to your wash (nor do additional wash loads because you believe your cloths come out without being cleaned as well) to compensate for any effects (real, imagined, or otherwise) of the added oils then you cannot be wasting detergent.

You are using the same amount of detergent whether you add the essential oils or not. The difference in detergent used is zero. Therefore, the essential oils are not a factor in detergent waste.

If you do add more detergent or run more wash cycles (with detergent) then the result is more detergent used. You could argue that this additional detergent is wasted.

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    Thank you for your answer. I understand my wording might be confusing, but when I say "Is the detergent wasted on the added essential oil", I mean "will my clothes be washed less efficiently"? However, I do vary my use of detergent if I notice that my clothes are particularly filthy. If the essential oil significantly competes with the lipids in my clothes, it is fair to assume that overtime I might actually waste detergent by intuitively putting some extra in as the recommended amount doesn't seem to do the job.
    – stragu
    Commented Mar 22, 2018 at 6:35
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I know this is old, but I think it should be mentioned...to avoid the possibility of the essential oil (EO) depositing on your clothes,EO should first be mixed with some sort of emulsifier before adding to the wash. Mixing with your liquid detergent does the trick!

Adding EO in the rinse cycle poses an even greater risk of staining, since there's barely even *trace amounts of detergent in the water! So an emulsifier is even more important.

Some say mixing with distilled vinegar works for the rinse. Another option is to add it to unscented fabric softener first to emulsify it which makes much more sense to me. However,I haven't tested either personally. FWIW, I do add a 3-6 drops of tea tree oil straight to the rinse water to disinfect my towels, but they are dark enough that if there are any spots, I'm not sure I'd even notice!

****NOTE: While I've seen where some suggest mixing EO with vinegar for the wash, others point out this is counterproductive: vinegar (an acid) would diminish the effectiveness of the detergent (alkaline).

I can try to return with reference links if there is any interest.

As to whether it "wastes" detergent (by which I assume you mean "diminishes its effectiveness)?
EO's are quite concentrated...Usually I add 3-6 drops depending on the particular EO, and the particular load. Frankly, anything more would be overwhelming in terms of scent! But even if one were to use 10 drops,I can't see how that would be any different than random grease stains from food that might be on clothing, table clothes or napkins.

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From what I've been able to read online, it doesn't look like the addition of a couple drops of an essential oil would be enough to affect the surfactants from doing their job, unless your clothes are soaked in oil and grease. I've just looked here and here and both sites recommend adding a couple drops, though I'm not sure how many drops would go in a capful. Hope this was helpful!

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    Those two sites just advocate the use of essential oils and do not raise and debate or investigate if this wastes detergent.
    – user2451
    Commented Mar 21, 2018 at 7:43
  • That is true, I did not find any sources that specifically looked into whether detergent was being wasted. However, I assume that if adding essential oils are advocated by these sites and if the laundry isn't completely covered in grease, then there would not be any "wasting" of detergent. I'm also assuming wasting detergent would mean using too much, and since the essential oil wouldn't be doing much in terms of wicking away dirt from the clothes, there is no need to worry about wasting detergent. Commented Mar 21, 2018 at 7:53

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