What Is Laundry Stripping and Is It Worth Trying?

By: Alia Hoyt  | 
Laundry stripping
Laundry stripping removes built-up detergent, fabric softener and general gunk from your clean laundry with a good, long soak in a few simple ingredients. faridan hadi rukmana/Shutterstock

Indisputable visual proof is just the best thing ever, which is why most people are so bowled over by great before-and-after comparison pics. One of the more recent things to fall into this category is laundry stripping, which has been all the rage on TikTok in recent years. However, although it's become something of a social media sensation, this deep-cleaning laundry practice has actually been way longer than TikTok.

Dubbed an "aggressive cleaning method" by the experts at Maytag, the laundry stripping process is designed to remove any "extras" that otherwise clean laundry is holding on to, such as hard water minerals, body oils, excess detergent or fabric softener. When all of these things build up, they can make white or light-colored laundry look dull and dingy.


After a good laundry-stripping soak, the water is often visibly dirty, which is a shocking, yet satisfying visual to people who thought their textiles were already clean!

Sure Signs It's Time to Strip Laundry

Laundry stripping shouldn't be done very often, maybe a few times per year. That's because over-stripping can cause fabrics to break down. Key signs to look for that signal you should do some laundry stripping are if your towels are no longer absorbent or soft, or if any fabrics feel sticky to the touch. Also, stale odors or yellowing/brownish colors are dead giveaways that buildup is getting out of control.


How to Strip Laundry

Always wear gloves when stripping laundry, as some of the ingredients can be harsh and irritating on your skin. Some experts even recommend wearing a mask to avoid inhaling any caustic chemicals.

  1. Fill up a bathtub or large sink with hot water.
  2. Add borax, washing soda (sodium carbonate) and laundry detergent at a ratio of 1:1:2, in that order. For example, a good amount is 1/4 cup of borax, 1/4 cup of washing soda, then 1/2 cup of laundry detergent. Once all the ingredients are in the water, stir until they dissolve.
  3. Next, place clean laundry in the tub, then stir it occasionally. Allow everything to soak until the water has cooled completely, which can take four or five hours.
  4. Drain the water (after you've marveled over the dirty color) and wring out excess from the laundry items that were soaking.
  5. Finally, place the stripped laundry in the washing machine without any detergent or fabric softener and run a full cycle. Then dry them without any dryer sheets.

Anyone who doesn't want to go to all of this effort can also just do strip laundry in the washing machine. The only downside is that you won't be able to see the dirty water at the end, but it's a lot less messy and time-consuming than the bathtub method.


To strip laundry in your machine, select the "deep soak-and-spin" option (if it's a top-loading machine), or the "rinse-and-spin cycle" (if it's a front loader) and follow the same steps as above. It'll produce the same quality clean, but without all the dirty water and cleanup.

Laundry stripping
Borax is one of the few ingredients you'll need for laundry stripping.
Alexander Oganezov/Shutterstock


What Are the Best and Worst Items for Laundry Stripping?

As we've already pointed out, laundry stripping is a much harsher cleaning method than most fabrics are accustomed to. That means it's not ideal for any delicates or high-end clothing items. So, skip the laundry stripping process on lingerie or any other piece of clothing that lists "gentle" or "hand-wash only" instructions on the tag.

And it goes without saying that any "dry-clean only" pieces should never be subjected to the laundry stripping process. Additionally, wool, workout clothes and anything that should only be washed in cold water should never be stripped.


For other clothing items, make sure to separate lights and darks when laundry stripping just like you would during regular machine washing. Dark colors stripped with lighter ones will almost definitely wind up color-contaminating the batch. However, laundry stripping is really intended for textiles like light-colored sheets and towels that are showing their age a bit prematurely.


How to Avoid Laundry-stripping Altogether

Most experts say that laundry stripping isn't really necessary as long as you're doing your laundry correctly in the first place, meaning to avoid buildup. Here are some tips:

  • Resist the urge to cram everything you can in the washer. If it's more than 3/4 full the water and detergent won't be able to circulate appropriately. If the final rinse can't do its job, detergent and other gunk will stay stuck to the laundry.
  • For good measure, add one more rinse to the washing cycle on tough-to-clean items.
  • Don't overdo it on the detergent. Read the instructions on how much detergent is necessary for cycles of all sizes, then follow those guidelines. This goes for fabric softener, too, which should only be added in a separate compartment if the machine is advanced enough, or during the last rinse. If possible, don't add fabric softener at all!
  • Wash items judiciously. Don't launder really dirty clothes with those that are barely in need of a wash.

These simple steps are usually all that's necessary to prevent dingy build up. However, if laundry stripping still appeals to you, it's easy enough to do.


Laundry stripping
Once your clothes have soaked for several hours, run them through the normal cycle on your washing machine, dry and fold. They'll be cleaner than ever.
Rick Gayle Studio/Getty Images