Here’s how and when to strip wash dingy textiles without soaking them for too long.
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You may have noticed certain unsightly things around your house—like how dingy your bath towels have become or the fact that your bedsheets aren't as fresh and crisp as they used to be. Even when washed regularly with detergent, these linens never seem to get fully clean. Recently, there has been a renewed interest in laundry stripping, also known as strip washing.

Some bloggers and Redditors swear by strip washing, even posting images of how their supposedly "clean" sheets turned clear water murky brown once all of the soap scum and oil was removed. Basically, strip washing your laundry falls under the "grossly satisfying" category of cleaning tasks. So, should you try it? Can you actually be soaking your clothes for too long if you do? Here are some expert insights, adjustments you can make to your laundry routine instead, and a step-by-step guide.

What Is Laundry Stripping?

Essentially, laundry stripping is a method of washing that removes detergent residue, fabric softener, minerals from hard water, and body oils that have collected on your laundry over time. By soaking garments and linens in hot water with an at-home borax solution, the fabric is stripped of any residue.

Many cleaning bloggers have started strip washing because they use homemade laundry soap. Mixing up your own laundry detergent can help you avoid chemicals and plastic packaging and save you money. On the flip side, these formulas often don't wash off of fabric as well as store-bought detergents. Using DIY laundry soap will cause materials, like a cotton towel, to feel dingier over time, making them a prime candidate for a strip wash.

How to Modify Your Laundry Routine Instead

If you're feeling like your laundry needs to be strip washed because of buildup, try modifying your laundry routine first. If certain fabrics still feel dirty after a wash:

  • Try less detergent (follow the recommended amount).
  • Purchase a different detergent.
  • Skip the fabric softener.

It sounds counterintuitive, but more detergent does not make your laundry cleaner. In fact, soap residue that doesn't wash away will collect dust and dirt. Laundry stripping is an easy but time-consuming and sometimes abrasive task, so try these methods first to avoid the process.

How to Strip Wash Laundry

What You'll Need

  • Borax
  • Washing soda (sodium carbonate)
  • Laundry detergent

Steps

1. Gather some just-washed laundry, either wet or dry. You can strip wash the laundry either in a clean bathtub, a large bucket, or a top-loading washing machine.

2. Start by filling the tub with very hot water. Then, add a mixture of borax, washing soda, and laundry detergent, following a 1 to 1 to 2 ratio, adjusting the amounts based on how much water you're using. For a tub full, try about 1/4 cup borax, 1/4 cup washing soda, and 1/2 cup detergent.

3. Once the mixture has dissolved, add your laundry. Let the fabric soak until the water has cooled, about 4 hours, stirring occasionally. (This is the fun part where you'll see the dirt and residue come off into the water.)

4. Wring out the fabric as much as possible, then follow up by washing the items once more in the washing machine on a water-only cycle. Ta-da! Enjoy your ultra-clean bed sheets and bath towels.

Things You Should Avoid Strip Washing

Those who strip wash their clothing often warn that the process can cause dyes to run. Fabric that isn't colorfast is more likely to bleed the longer you soak it. For that reason, you might want to use strip washing for white bath towels and bed sheets only.

If you do try the method on colorful clothing, avoid mixing a red shirt with white socks—or else you could end up with accidentally dyed socks. Also, make sure you don't soak the clothing for too long, and check the clothing every hour for signs of the dye bleeding. 

Don't try this technique on delicate or fragile items. This method requires hot water, so check each item's care label first to make sure it's not dry clean only.