Ammonia is a versatile laundry additive, vanquishing stains and dissolving grease as well as whitening whites and softening your bath towels. But its fumes and dangerous reactions when mixed with other household cleaners mean you need to be careful when using it. To start, only use clear ammonia for your laundry -- colored products can potentially stain fabric, especially lighter colors. Avoid using ammonia on wool or silk. Ammonia eats through proteins, including those that make up both fabrics.
Do not mix ammonia with chlorine bleach. Combined, the two produce a toxic gas. Skipping chlorine bleach when using ammonia in laundry is a no-brainer, but bleach is found in other cleaning products as well, including some dish soaps. Before mixing ammonia with dish soap as a stain treatment, read the soap’s product label carefully: If it lists chlorine bleach, chlorine, sodium hypochlorite or hypochlorite on the product label, don’t mix it with ammonia.
Ammonia makes certain types of stains disappear with minimal effort on your part.
Make an all-purpose stain remover by combining equal parts water, ammonia and liquid dish detergent or your regular laundry detergent in a spray bottle. Spritz this on food spills, ink stains, barely-there grass stains and other marks at least 30 minutes before rinsing the solution out and laundering.
For a gentler version that doesn't need to be rinsed out, combine 1/2 ounce of ammonia with 1 ounce of detergent and 2 cups of water. This contains less soap, so it is less effective, but perfect for minor discolorations.
Tackle blood, grass and urine stains by combining equal parts ammonia and water. Apply the solution to the mark with a soft cloth or sponge and wait about 30 minutes before laundering per usual.
Treat perspiration stains by applying undiluted ammonia directly on the stain with a cloth. If the item is made of spandex, a common fabric used in workout gear, jeans and cotton-blend shirts, dilute the ammonia with water in equal amounts.
Use distilled water when making ammonia-based stain treatments for the best results.
Whiten Without Bleach
Chlorine bleach is often touted as the best way to whiten whites, but not all white fabrics can handle bleach. It turns some materials yellow after the first use and with continued use may turn even classically bleachable fabrics like cotton a buttery shade. Adding 1 cup of ammonia to your wash cycle in place of chlorine or oxygen bleach brightens whites without harming the fibers of most materials, and it won't turn your favorite white shirt a dingy color.
Fix Scratchy or Nonabsorbent Towels
When your once-plush bath towel suddenly feels as if it's exfoliating your skin, it probably has hard water residue. The minerals cling to the towels, causing the terry cloth's piles to clump together. Ammonia dissolves the deposits, releasing the stuck-together fibers so the towel glides gently across your skin again.
If you notice that your towel is starting to smear water across your skin rather than whisking it away, it probably has a buildup of wax from repeated uses of fabric softener and dryer sheets. Ammonia dissolves the wax, refreshing the towel's absorbency.
Fix both issues by adding 1 cup of ammonia to your laundry cycle along with your detergent.
Prevent hard water buildup by investing in a water softener or adding 1/2 cup of baking soda to each load of laundry. To maintain your towels’ absorbency, skip fabric softener and dryer sheets; instead, add white distilled vinegar to your washer’s fabric softener dispenser to minimize static and increase softness.
Did you splatter grease all over your favorite shirt when cooking or accidentally spill oil on your jeans when changing the oil in your car? Ammonia can help. Dab the affected area with equal parts grease-fighting dish detergent and ammonia, and launder with 1 cup of ammonia and your regular detergent. Again, make sure that your dish detergent doesn't contain bleach.
Set your washer to run an extra rinse cycle to ensure all of the ammonia and excess soap suds rinse out of the fabric.
Amanda Bell spent six years working as an interior designer and project coordinator before becoming a professional writer in 2010. She has published thousands of articles for various websites and clients, specializing in home renovation, DIY projects, gardening and travel. Bell studied English composition and literature at the University of Boston and the University of Maryland.