Guide to Stripping Laundry: Benefits, Tutorial & Tips

Have you heard of laundry stripping? With this guide learn how to strip wash laundry and why it’s important for cleaner, fresher clothes and linens.

washing machine with basket and towels on chair

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Have you ever taken clothes out of the closet to find they smell musty even though they’re clean? Or do you feel like your towels have lost that freshly washed softness despite just coming out of the dryer? It might be time to strip your laundry. Although it’s super easy to do, many people have never done it. They assume that when the laundry leaves the machine, it’s clean. The truth is, if you want your laundry deep cleaned and super soft, you need to give laundry stripping a try.

What is laundry stripping?

Wash stripping laundry is a method of deep-cleaning clothing, towels, and other linens to remove build-up, bacteria, and other contaminants.

The term “stripping” is used as this process essentially strips away residue that has built up on the fabric over time. This build up is not necessarily dirt or grime but in fact the opposite. It is most likely to be caused by laundry detergent, fabric softener and hard water minerals from your usual laundry routine. This means they can’t be removed using your typical wash cycle.

There are a few methods, but generally laundry stripping involves soaking the items first in a mixture of hot water and cleaning agents, such as baking soda, borax, or washing soda. The soaking process is the vital step that helps to break down the residue build up. 

It also helps to release any deep dirt and bacteria that’s clinging to the fibers below the surface which a standard wash isn’t able to do. After soaking, the items are then usually washed as normal, and rinsed thoroughly to ensure that all residue has been removed.

Although laundry stripping is easy and effective, it’s important to note it should only be done now and again. Not only is it time consuming but not all fabrics can withstand this style of rigorous cleaning. It’s a powerful process that works best when done occasionally or on items that are particularly tough to clean, for example sports kits or pet bedding.

white laundry drying on clothes stand

Why should I try stripping laundry?

As mentioned, laundry stripping isn’t a regular task, but it is a necessary one. There are a few tell tale signs that your laundry needs you to step it up. These include:

  • Items that have been in storage, for example switching out your seasonal clothes, capsule wardrobe or after a house move.
  • If you have sensitive skin or suffer from skin irritation and allergies. Strip Washing your laundry can reduce build up in both your bedding and clothing. 
  • New baby items. To protect their delicate skin from irritation or exposure to any contaminants on the fabric, it’s also a good idea to strip wash any new baby clothing before wearing it for the first time.
  • If you notice your towels are not as absorbent as they could be. This also goes for cloth diapers. Strip washing is an excellent way to “reset” absorbency and strip them of any build up. 
  • Switching to a natural detergent. I also recommend stripping your laundry if you currently use traditional laundry detergent but are switching to a natural laundry routine. Strip your laundry before switching to a natural laundry detergent to remove any build up before you start and maximize the benefits. 

Benefits of Stripping Laundry

Although clean clothing that smells fabulous is great, the benefits of wash stripping laundry actually goes a lot deeper. It’s not just good for your appearance, but your health too and is especially beneficial to those who live in areas with hard water. The main benefits include: 

  • Removes Build-Up: As mentioned, over time, our clothing and linens can accumulate residue from detergents, fabric softeners, and other laundry products. Stripping laundry removes this build-up, which helps the fabric to feel softer and actually look cleaner.  
  • Eliminates Bacteria: Stripping laundry also helps eliminate bacteria and odors that can cling to fabric even after washing. This is particularly important for items such as towels or workout clothes as they can harbor bacteria and smell musty over time.
  • Restores Absorbency: Traditional fabric softeners can cause towels and other linens to lose their absorbency over time. Stripping laundry can help to restore their absorbency making them more effective. This also means you’ll reduce waste, saving you money as you won’t need to replace these items as often. 
  • Helps with Hard Water: If you ever find your laundry feels stiff or kind of scratchy this can be due to the hard water used to wash your laundry. Hard water can leave mineral deposits on fabric which reduces its softness overtime. Stripping laundry can help remove these deposits, making the fabric feel softer and more comfortable.
blue and white towels in jute laundry basket

Laundry Stripping Ingredients

  • Borax – Borax (also known as sodium carbonate) is an alkaline mineral salt, which means it is ideal for fighting acidic stains when dissolved in water. It is a great way to brighten colors and remove tough stains naturally.
  • Washing Soda – Washing soda is sodium carbonate, not to be confused with baking soda which is sodium bicarbonate. Washing soda is particularly powerful as it can remove a variety of stains including coffee, blood and grease. It is ideal for laundry stripping as it helps to soften hard water deposits. Washing soda binds to the minerals in hard water, which helps to lift dirt and build up from laundry.
  • Laundry detergent –  I prefer to use my DIY natural laundry detergent as it is free from harsh chemicals which means it is kinder to not only my skin and clothing but the environment too. Unlike traditional laundry detergents, a natural alternative isn’t made using synthetic ingredients so won’t contribute to pollution or damaging ecosystems. It also means I know exactly what fragrances and cleaning agents I’m exposing my family too. 
  • Hot water – It’s important to use hot water for laundry stripping as it helps to kill germs and allergens. You’ll also find that the ingredients above won’t dissolve well in cold water, so hot water is best. 
natural laundry detergent in glass jar with oranges and jute basket

Laundry Stripping Recipe

There are so many laundry stripping techniques but for me, the best laundry stripping recipe is a non-toxic one. That is why this laundry stripping recipe has only three ingredients – borax, washing soda and laundry detergent. These ingredients are used in a 1:1:2 ratio. Ideally, use ¼ cup of Borax, ¼ cup of washing soda followed by ½ cup of laundry detergent.

I’ve also found that the majority of methods use a bathtub to soak the items first, but this isn’t necessary. You can strip laundry using a large tub or sink if you don’t have a bath or even just in the washing machine. I’ve included both options below.

I should note that the transformation when soaking them in a tub or bath is incredibly satisfying to watch as you can witness just how dirty the water is from your supposedly “clean” items. However, it does mean additional clean up so it’s up to you which method you prefer.

How to Strip Laundry

  1. Fill your bathtub, large sink or container with hot water.
  2. Next add the borax, washing soda and natural laundry detergent. Make sure to stick to the 1:1:2 ratio. 
  3. Then add clean laundry to the tub, making sure it is completely submerged in the laundry stripping solution. 
  4. Let everything soak until the water is cool. This usually takes around 4-5 hours. Don’t forget to stir the laundry occasionally as the movement helps to remove the dirt and release build up. 
  5. Drain the water and wring out any excess from the laundry items. 
  6. Add the stripped laundry to your washing machine with detergent but no fabric softener and run a full cycle, making sure it is on a hot wash option. 
  7. Once the cycle is complete, run the items through an additional rinse cycle. This will ensure that all of the cleaning agents and residue have been removed.
  8. Finally, dry your laundry as normal.

Laundry Stripping in the Washing Machine

Although marveling at the dirty water in the tub is incredibly satisfying, some people find it easier to strip laundry in the washing machine. It’s also a little easier as the dirty water automatically drains away so you don’t need to deal with it. 

To strip laundry in your washing machine instead, simply add the borax, washing soda and detergent to your machine and throw in the laundry. Select the “deep soak-and-spin” if you have a top-loading machine, or the “rinse and spin cycle” if you have a front loading machine. 

hands stripping laundry in basin

Laundry Stripping Without Borax

These are some of the most popular alternatives for those who want to try laundry stripping without borax. If you can’t find any in the store or you simply prefer not to use it, try adding one of these natural ingredients instead. Note, although these ingredients are natural, they are not suitable for all fabrics. They can still damage or react with certain materials so test a small, inconspicuous area first before submerging a full load. 

  • Baking Soda: There are so many uses for Baking soda and laundry stripping is one of them. Baking soda is a natural deodorizer that can help to neutralize any unwanted odors on the fabric. It is not as strong as borax or washing soda, but it can still be effective in stripping laundry.
  • White Vinegar: Although there are things you should never clean with vinegar, white vinegar is a natural cleaner and deodorizer that can help to remove build-up on fabric. It can be added to the washing machine during the rinse cycle to help remove any remaining residue.
  • Citric Acid: There are many ways you can clean using citric acid as it can help to brighten whites and remove stains. It can be added to the washing machine during the wash cycle to help remove build-up on fabric as well as brighten lackluster laundry. 

If you plan on laundry stripping without borax, simply follow the same steps as above. Mix the alternative cleaning agent with hot water and laundry detergent, soak the items in the mixture first, and then wash and rinse the items as usual. To reiterate, these alternatives may not be suitable for certain fabrics. Check the care guidelines on all items before strip washing any laundry. 

How often should you strip wash laundry?

There are a few factors that can help to determine how often you should strip wash your laundry. These include, how often you wear or use the items, how dirty they are, the quality of water in your area as well as your intention for strip washing. Is it a one off for second hand items? Or is an item subjected to heavy use for example, sofa covers that need stripping a little more often?

Generally, I would recommend strip washing your laundry once every few months. As it is a powerful and time consuming method of cleaning, it should be used occasionally and not too often.

By all means you can do it more often if you find your clothing has a lingering smell or your towels are losing absorbency fast but keep in mind that it may cause damage over time.

hands removing pink and blue towels from washing machine

What laundry should you not strip?

Laundry stripping works best on whites, lights and colorfast bath towels and bed sheets. It is usually safe on white and off white fabrics, but you’ll find that due to the hot water it can cause dyes to run and the fabrics to fade over time. This is often the case in those viral videos where the bath tubs look to be filled with particularly murky water. The water isn’t necessarily filled with dirt, but instead dye that has been stripped during the process. 

For best results, avoid laundry stripping delicate items or fabrics that may shrink in high temperatures and stick to clothing or bedding that you would usually launder on a hot wash. It may sound obvious but avoid anything advised as “hand wash” or “dry clean” only as these will not cope well with the somewhat aggressive strip washing method.

If you are searching for more gentle ways to clean these delicate items, consider using my DIY stain remover, natural bleach alternative or DIY fabric freshener. These natural cleaning products can help to remove stains and odor without such a rigorous process. 

Is laundry stripping bad for your clothes?

You may now be wondering if laundry stripping is bad for your clothes. The short answer is no. It is perfectly safe to strip wash your laundry if you use the correct methods, ingredients and do not do it too frequently. As it involves powerful cleaning agents alongside very hot water, you risk prematurely aging your clothes, so use it occasionally.

Tips to Avoid Build Up on Laundry

To lengthen the time between strip washes, there are several ways you can avoid build up on laundry. The first step is to ditch the fabric softener. Fabric softeners coat the fabric with a waxy film that makes the items feel soft on the surface, but this coating actually attracts dirt.

Strip washing will break down this grimey “film” but its best to prevent it forming in the first place. A great way of doing this is to use wool dryer balls in your machine. They will leave your clothing feeling soft and fresh without the need for fabric softener. 

Secondly, don’t overload your washing machine. Your laundry needs room to move around as this helps the water and detergent to circulate well and maximize their cleaning power. Less room to move means your items won’t be getting washed as well as they could be, resulting in build up. 

A final tip is to use proper laundry sorting techniques. This can add a little more labour to your laundry routine but by sorting the lights and darks as well as washing very dirty items separately from less soiled ones will avoid transferring colors and contaminants between items.

laundry drier balls with pegs and jar of laundry powder

Hopefully this guide has highlighted that strip washing is a simple yet effective method that can rejuvenate your laundry. Not only will it remove built-up residue and dirt but also help to brighten colors, restore absorbency of towels and linens as well as eliminate odors. With these benefits and tutorial in mind, its time to get your clothes and linens looking and feeling their best.

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