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How to Strip Laundry: A Complete Step-By-Step Guide

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If you are an ardent social media user, you couldn’t have missed the recent videos of a unique laundry cleaning method. In the video, a bathtub is filled with hot water and cleaning agents. Then, clothes are swished around, leaving murky water appearing in the bathtub.

Surprisingly, the whole process ends with crisp, clean clothes. So what’s going on? If you’re new to this laundry method, it’s “laundry stripping.” Luckily, you’re in the right place to learn everything about it. In this article, you will learn what it is, how to do it, and more.

What Is Laundry Stripping?

Laundry stripping is removing laundry off all accumulated debris from low-quality detergents, hard water minerals, fabric softener, and body oils, among others. A laundry stripping recipe combines the following cleaning agents and items to produce the desired results; borax, baking soda, powder detergent, and hot water in a bathtub.

Is Laundry Stripping Necessary?

Laundry stripping has its benefits but its downsides as well. Over time your laundry retains residues from different sources in the washing processes. Laundry stripping extracts these residues leaving a much cleaner, brighter, and whiter wash. However, laundry stripping is not frequently recommended on clothing owing to its negative effects. 

Below are the guiding factors to help you understand if your clothes need laundry stripping.

You Use Hard Water

If you have been washing clothes with hard water, most likely, your clothes have residues of soap scum. Soap scum is the substance resulting from the reaction of Mg and Ca ions in hard water. Once stuck in the clothes, it is hard to remove even under several rinse cycles. This leaves clothes that are dingy and sometimes discolored.

I wrote a guide on the best detergent for hard water and a really comprehensive guide on the best washing machines for hard water that may interest you.

Homemade Laundry Detergents

Using homemade laundry detergent has its benefits. Some are quite effective and can be produced on the cheap, making them a worthy alternative to the expensive store-bought varieties. Sadly, not all are as effective in washing and have other downsides as well. They leave hard-to-rinse soap residues, which can only be removed by a thorough laundry stripping.

If Towels Have Lost Absorbency

With time towels, bathrobes, and microfiber cloths lose absorbency. This results from frequent washing, drying, and using of clothes softeners. These detergents and softeners coat the fibers, reducing their ability to soak in fluids. This reduces its effectiveness in cleaning surfaces. By stripping, you remove this coating and restore its absorbency.

Dull-Looking Washed Clothes

While this may happen due to other reasons, mainly clothes appear dull as a result of unrinsed detergents and grime. This could be from a single wash or from several washes. If this is allowed to happen over a long period of time, there is a risk of the dullness becoming permanent. 

Furthermore, these residues create odor bacteria and mildew growth spots. But with the help of a deep strip, all these are removed, making the clothes whiter and brighter.

Laundry Stripping Recipe

For success in laundry stripping, diligently following a procedure ensures the process goes on smoothly. Here are the steps required in laundry stripping.

What You Will Need

  • Washing soda
  • Laundry borax
  • Bathtub or a large basin
  • Washing machine
  • Enzyme-based laundry detergent
  • Dryer 

Instructions to Follow:

Assemble the Items to Strip

It is important to gather all your items to ease the procedure, and also avoid extending the duration of laundry stripping. 

To start off, the items should be clean. Whether they are wet or dry doesn’t matter. Also, remember to sort them into different piles based on their compatibility with hot water washing, and colorfastness.

Fill the Bathtub

Before embarking on this stage, ensure the bathtub is clear of soap scum from previous use. If you are trying to strip soap scum and other residues, you do not want to add more in the process. Next, fill it with ½ to ¼ full of fabric-safe hot water, enough to submerge the clothes without overflowing.

Adding the Stripping Agents

Measure ¼ cup borax, ¼ cup of washing soda, and ½ of enzyme-based heavy-duty detergent and add to the hot water bathtub. However, as this also depends on your bathtub and consequently the load size, you will need to vary the ingredient ratios. The rule of thumb is to put 1 part each borax and washing soda, and 2 parts detergent. Afterward, stir briskly to ensure everything mixes up well.

Add the Laundry Items

Put the clothes into the bathtub, ensuring they are fully submerged in the basin. To ensure they are evenly wet, you can put one piece of clothing at a time and agitate it before putting on the next one. Dumping them all at once sometimes traps pockets of air, making wetting hard to do.

Soak the Item

Once soaked, there isn’t much else to do other than waiting for the stripping to take its full course, which can last an average of four to five hours. Meanwhile, you can play a game, watch a movie, or do other chores as you wait. But do not forget to regularly swish the garment around with a wooden stick once every hour to speed to ensure uniform stripping.

Drain the Water Tub

At the of the soaking period, it is time to drain the bathtub and remove the items. Once the laundry stripping has been completed, do not be surprised to see gross-looking water in the bathtub. That is the evidence of the residue contamination that was lodged in the fabric. Next, wring off the excess water from the clothes, and transfer the items into the washing machine.

Run the Clothes in a Wash Cycle

Next, wash the items under a normal cold wash cycle without any detergent. Adding detergent at this stage will redeposit more residues instead of stripping them out. Thereafter, run the clothes under a rinse cycle to completely remove the residues from the clothes.

Dry the Laundry

At this stage, you can opt to tumble-dry, dry in an indoor drying rack, or on an outdoor clothing line. In the meantime, your bathtub is covered with grime. Give it a thorough scrub as you wait for your clothes to dry. 

Congratulations! You made your white clothes whiter and the colored clothes brighter. The only thing remaining is to store them in a clean closet.

Expert Tips for Successful Stripping

For best results, you need to be keen on certain considerations. Take a look at a few below.

Put the Right Wash Load

Just like with the case of a washing machine, overloading the bath tab will not produce the results you want. While it may appear more convenient to load everything once, this only makes it hard for the wash solution to permeate the clothes. Consequently, the stripping chemicals do not get to work as expected. The thing is to load more than once to avoid this problem.

Strip White and Dark-Colored Clothes Separately

Classifying them in different batches avoids problems such as dye bleeding. Additionally, even for the color clothes, read the wash instruction labels to ensure they are colorfast. Otherwise, you risk your whites getting ruined by dye bleeders.

Stripping Bath Towels and Bathrobes

Stripping especially works well on bath robes, bath towels, and sheets. These garments are made of thick fibers that hide detergent and soap scum. Moreover, if you regularly use clothes softeners, you’ve even a better reason to strip them. Clothes softeners coat their fibers, reducing their soaking abilities. 

However, putting them under this process breaks this coating and increases their absorbency. Another benefit of laundry stripping towels is to eliminate odors. Using laundry stripping agents such as borax eliminates the musty smells common in towels. 

Read Wash Instructions

Most clothes have an ideal wash temperature range indicated in the wash instruction label. This is critical in stripping since hot water might make some clothes shrink or damage some of their parts. Be especially careful with clothes made of spandex, polyester, vinyl, and nylon or clothes with waistbands.

Do Not Use Baking Soda

Most people confuse baking soda with washing soda. These two are different in terms of composition and their mode of action. While baking soda is sodium bicarbonate, washing soda is sodium carbonate. And while both can be used for laundry stripping, washing soda is stronger and more effective.

Use Alternatives to Bathtubs

If you do not have a bathtub, you do not have to shy away from laundry stripping. There are other items you can use and successfully strip your clothes. A perfect example is a top loader washer. And in the absence of any of those, you can still use a large basin or a sink. What is important is a large container to hold the stripping solution and the clothes.

Which Clothes Can Be Laundry Stripped?

In general, the thicker and fibrous the garment is, the greater the surface area for absorbing residues. That is why cotton and wool are more likely to harbor greater residues than synthetics and thinner garments. These are the kinds of clothes that need laundry stripping the most. Here are some examples.

  • Sheets
  • Bathrobes
  • Wash clothes
  • Blankets
  • Cloth diapers
  • Bath mats
  • Bath towels
  • Hats

Also, as we found above, not all clothes can be laundry stripped. Clothes made of those fabrics are not hot water safe, and laundry stripping them should be avoided. Here are a few of them.

  • Rowing suits
  • Swimsuits
  • Some types of denim
  • Surgical hose
  • Socks 

Caution should also be taken on laundry stripping stained clothes. Of course, some fresh stains may come off by luck. But the aim of laundry cleaning is not to remove stains, but non-stain residues caused by detergents and clothes softeners. Also, separately removing all stains before laundry stripping avoids the problem of stain setting.

How Often Should I Strip Laundry?

Laundry stripping is a deep cleaning process that makes the stripping agents permeate deep into the clothes’ fabric. Often these cleaning agents and the hot water weakens the clothes fabrics wearing them out faster than usual. For that reason, stripping is recommended only once every few months a year. 

Can You Avoid Residue Buildup?

Due to the negatives we mentioned above, avoiding residue build is preferable to laundry stripping. Follow a few tips below to reduce or avoid the residue load on your clothes. 

  • Using the right detergent and softener dosage means a cleaner rinse, and less residue gets lodged into the clothes fabric. To avoid this problem, you can use washers designed with a mechanism for determining the right detergent dosage. 
  • Buy liquid detergents with ergonomically designed detergent dispensers. 
  • Avoid mixing some cleaning agents that might react. Such reactions create solids that might lodge into the fabric even after rinsing. 
  • Rinsing more than once helps to remove any remaining residues after the first rinse cycle. 
  • Avoid washing with powder soaps since they do not dissolve completely, making them stick inside the fabric.
  • Do not overload the washer, as it restricts the free flow of the washing solution around the clothes. This means some parts get more detergent accumulation than others.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can I Strip Laundry With a Washing Machine?

Yes, you can strip laundry with a washing machine. In the absence of a bathtub, add the ingredients in the top loader washing machine as you would in the bathtub. Thereafter, go through the same laundry stripping procedure before draining the water, rinsing, and drying.

Can I strip laundry with vinegar?

Laundry stripping with vinegar is possible. All you have to do is use it as an alternative to the stripping agent in the recipe. Vinegar is effective in removing detergent residues in the clothes and also, cleans up the washing machine limescale and mildew buildup. Plus, vinegar is more eco-friendly than borax.

Can I Strip Laundry Without Borax?

Borax is used as an ingredient in the laundry stripping procedure in combination with laundry detergent and washing soda. If you wish to strip laundry without borax, all you have to do is to put ¼ cup of vinegar instead. Thereafter continue with the other stages of the stripping recipe as usual.

Next, you can check out my guide on washing laundry with bleach.


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