What Is Stripping Laundry—And How to Do It

White shirt and clothes soaking in a soapy tub

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Overview
  • Working Time: 30 mins
  • Total Time: 6 hrs
  • Skill Level: Beginner

The latest buzziest laundry term to pop out recently is stripping. Just like stripping paint or stripping off your clothes, stripping laundry means getting down to the bare fabric. Stripping removes any detergent or fabric softener residue, body soil, and body oils left in the fabric after your laundry routine.

Unfortunately, some of our usual laundry practices leave fabrics looking dull, feeling stiff, and reducing absorbency. Do your laundry habits include any of these? If so, you may want to strip your laundry.

  • You use a less expensive detergent that does not have sufficient ingredients to thoroughly remove soil.
  • You use a homemade laundry detergent that does not contain enzymes that break apart soil.
  • You use cold water for every type of laundry load.
  • You never measure and use more than the recommended amount of detergent, fabric softener, or scent enhancer in each load.
  • You allow weeks to pass between changing and washing bed sheets and towels and laundry loads are heavily soiled between washings.
  • You never clean your washer.

It's also important to know when not to strip your laundry and the types of colors and fabrics that you should avoid doing this with. While stripping laundry can work wonders on certain types of fabrics, do not attempt to strip these items:

  • Colored clothes or any fabrics with unstable dyes.
  • Delicate fabrics like spandex, lace, silk, or anything that you would normally hand wash or use the gentle cycle when washing.
  • Any fabrics that cannot be cleaned in hot water. Check the garment's care label.

How Often to Strip Laundry

The products used to strip laundry are powerful and the stripping process leaves fabrics in the cleaning solution for an extended period. The combination can be harsh on fabrics if done too often. Stripping should be done only a few times per year—perhaps once every four months or when fabrics feel stiff and look dull.

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

  • Bathtub, large sink, or large tub
  • Washing machine
  • Clothes dryer or drying rack

Materials

  • Laundry borax
  • Washing soda
  • Heavy-duty enzyme-based laundry detergent

Instructions

  1. Gather Items to Strip

    Start with clean laundry; it can be wet or dry. You can strip an average size load of laundry—about 12 to 15 pounds—at a time. The process of stripping is most beneficial for removing residue embedded in fibers, not set-in stains.

    Always strip a load of laundry that is the same color or colorfast. Mixing colors can lead to dye bleeding.

  2. Fill the Tub

    Fill the bathtub, sink, or large tub about half-full with very hot water. Ideally, you should start with a clean tub free of soap scum. (The stripping solution will cut through soap scum, but that's not the point!)

  3. Add the Cleaning Products

    For a bathtub of water, add one-fourth cup of borax, one-fourth cup of washing soda, and one-half cup of heavy-duty laundry detergent (Tide and Persil are highly effective brands). To adjust the amount of each cleaning product to the size of the soaking container, use a ratio of one part borax, one part washing soda, to two parts laundry detergent.

    Swish the ingredients through the water with your hand or a wooden spoon. Make sure that everything is fully dissolved and dispersed.

  4. Add the Laundry

    Add the laundry to be stripped. Make sure the fabrics are completely submerged and evenly wet.

  5. Soak and Stir

    Allow the laundry to soak until the water is completely cooled or about four hours. Every hour or so, use the wooden spoon to stir the fabrics through the water.

  6. Drain the Tub

    Don't be shocked at the color of the water. That is all of the dirty residues that were previously in your laundry. Drain the tub and squeeze out most of the water from the fabrics.

  7. Transfer to a Washer

    Transfer the freshly stripped laundry to a washer.

  8. Run a Washer Cycle

    Set the washer water temperature to cold and the cycle to normal. Run the washer cycle with no added detergent to ensure that all of the soil and cleaning chemicals are rinsed out of the fabrics.

  9. Dry the Laundry

    Dry the laundry in an automatic dryer, on an indoor drying rack, or a clothesline.

Tips for Successful Laundry Stripping

  • Stripping cotton laundry like bath towels, sheets, and underwear will offer the best results.
  • Never mix colors of fabric.
  • Do not strip garments that cannot stand up to hot water temperatures. Stripping can cause wear to the finish of fabrics.
  • Do not mix up washing soda and baking soda. You need to use washing soda which is much stronger than baking soda.
  • Stripping stinky gym clothes made from performance fabrics will work; however, you may see a loss of shine and some elasticity.
  • Using a heavy-duty detergent without dyes or fragrances will leave fabrics at their purest.