The Weird Reason Some People Are Putting Black Pepper in Their Washing Machines

published Aug 19, 2019
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Credit: Amelia Lawrence/Kitchn

If you’ve ever been frustrated by clothes that fade in the laundry far too soon, you’ve probably taken to Google to find effective color-saving methods. Enter: the internet’s strangest laundry tip, adding black pepper to your laundry cycle! Apparently, tossing a teaspoon of pepper in the wash with cold water exfoliates soap residue, which some bloggers say can cause colors to fade. 

To figure out if there’s anything to this trick, we talked to laundry expert Melissa Maker of Clean My Space.

“We’ve been in this space for years, and this is definitely one of the most bizarre and misguided cleaning hacks that we’ve ever heard!” Maker says. “This one makes no sense to me because, in reality, it’s abrasion, not soap residue, that causes color to fade.”

On top of being pointless — Maker says clothes don’t need to be exfoliated at all, and in theory, exfoliation could actually wear your laundry down more quickly — adding black pepper to a cycle could worsen your problems. “If you use pepper in your wash, you’ll actually end up with an extra cleaning situation that is removing copious amounts of ground pepper from the bottom of your machine, as well as the folds of your clothing,” Maker says. 

Soap residue caused by improper detergent dosing or a dirty washing machine CAN cause dinginess in clothing, but that’s easy to fix without enlisting your spice cabinet. Maker recommends dosing detergent more carefully by following the instructions on the container, and washing your machine with a cleaner at least once a season, ideally once a month. (Maker likes Carbona’s Washing Machine Cleaner with Activated Charcoal.)

Still concerned about color saving? If you’re looking for a DIY method, rumor has it that vinegar or baking soda can help brighten colors — but there are also plenty of effective store-bought color-saving detergents that won’t leave a mess in your washer.

“Sometimes there are hacks that work, and sometimes there are hacks that really ring true to their name — they’re ‘hacks’ that don’t work at all,” Maker says.

Have you tried this? Did it work?