How Does Laundry Stripping Work?

In laundry stripping, detergent, fabric softener, and built-up soil are removed by soaking the clothes in hot water overnight and using a chemical solution. First appearing on social media, this technique is often done in the bathtub, allowing you to see how the soaking water slowly becomes dark and murky as the fabric is stripped. While satisfying to see, laundry stripping is not safe for all fabrics and shouldn’t be necessary if laundry is done correctly. Read on to find out how to safely strip your laundry and when to avoid it altogether.

Laundry Stripping: Does it Work?

Laundry stripping's effectiveness is due to its chemical solution of Borax, washing soda and powder detergent along with additional hot water. There is no doubt that this method will break down accumulated dirt on clothes, but it may also leach out dye and natural oils from the fabric. Check the care tag on your item before using this method to make sure it can handle a hot water soak. 

When you are stripping laundry, a lot of what you are seeing is leftover detergent and fabric softener, which build up on fibres over time and may cause dirt to stick to the fabric. It's easy to use too much laundry detergent or fabric softener and build-up can be avoided by simply adding less.

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Make sure you read the instructions on the detergent bottle and on your washing machine. For a normal load, you probably only need to add one tablespoon of detergent, according to the detergent cap. Using the entire cap could mean you use ten times as much detergent as you really need.

Laundry Stripping: Is Safe For All Laundry?

A laundry bin with various clothing items

No. Most fabrics, if not all, should not be stripped in the washer. Light-colored towels and sheets can be successfully stripped. The larger, bulkier nature of towels and sheets makes them more likely to have detergent buildup that washes out partially in the washing machine. 

This technique should not be used on the following types of laundry:

  • Dark fabrics. Using hot water in this method may cause the dyes to run.
  • Exercise clothes. Laundry stripping solution PH affects spandex in particular, causing it to degrade over time. 
  • Wool. The lanolin in wool provides the fiber with protection, but will be removed when it is processed using this method.
  • Cold-water clothes. Don't use this method for items that can't be washed in hot water; check the care label.

Towels and Other linens: How Do I Strip Them?

A laundry bin with various clothing items

Maytag recommends not using the extended soak method in your washer since it's hard to predict how the laundry stripping solution will affect your washer over time. In lieu of the full laundry stripping process, try soaking your clothes in hot water and traditional detergent before rinsing your clothes rather than running them through the washing machine. 

Step 1:
Fill your tub or a large bucket with hot water.

Step 2:
Mix in 1/4 cup of Borax, 1/4 cup of washing soda and 1 cup of powdered laundry detergent. 

Step 3:
Soak clothes in the solution and stir them.

Step 4:
Soak the clothes overnight while stirring them occasionally. 

Step 5:
Drain the tub or bucket. Rinse clothes in your washing machine on a rinse only cycle or by hand until the water runs clear.

Step 6:
Dry clothes as usual.

When Should I Strip My Laundry?

A woman loads various clothings items into a laundry machine

You should not use this method more than a few times per year to protect fabrics. If you wash these items regularly in hot water with the right amount of detergent and/or additives, there shouldn't be enough build-up to warrant this step, especially if you use fabric softener and detergent boosters.  

The best way to tell if a fabric needs stripping is to feel it. Are they sticky to the touch? Do your towels lack softness and absorbency? Colour and odour are other signs. Does the colour of your sheets seem dull or do they smell old? Only strip the items that need it.

Is It Possible To Avoid Build-Up On Clothes?

A Maytag washing machine is seen washing various clothing items

Yes. Some of these techniques can help prevent laundry stripping by preventing build-up from occurring in the first place:

  • Reduce the amount of detergent and fabric softener you use. Overusing these products is very common. Check the bottle for suggestions on how much to use, or check your washer for a feature that automatically dispenses the right amount of detergent, like the Optimal Dose Dispenser by Maytag. Maytag also recommends ultra-concentrated detergent like Swash™, that offers a Precision Pour Cap to prevent over pouring and waste.1
  • Include an extra rinse in your cycle.
  • Do not mix detergent and fabric softener when adding products manually. It can create a “sludge” that builds up on clothes. Fabric softener should be added during the final rinse of the cycle. 
  • Do not use fabric softener when washing towels or workout clothes. Learn more about the do’s and don'ts of fabric softener
  • Do not fill the washer more than 3/4 full. If the washer is too tightly packed, you may not be getting a proper final rinse.

1. Swash and Maytag are owned and distributed by Whirlpool Corporation.