Inside: Learn how to strip laundry in 6 simple steps for fresh clothes and absorbent linens. Plus, read to the end of the article to learn one laundry stripping secret no one is talking about.

Have you ever washed a load of laundry only to pull it out of the washer and find it’s still… dirty? 

This could be the result of one of two things. Either:

A) Your washer is dirty and due for a cleaning (in which case you can follow my in-depth guide on how to clean a washing machine, here)

B) Your laundry is so gunked up with laundry detergent, scum, and dirt and it’s time to learn how to strip laundry

If you’re wondering how to tell whether it’s time to strip the laundry or if it’s time to clean your washing machine, here are a few tell-tale signs that your washer is due for a cleaning…

How do I Know If My Washing Machine Needs to be Cleaned?

  • It stinks. If you open the door and are met with an unpleasant odor, or worse yet, if the clothes you are trying clean in the washing machine are coming out smelling worse than when they go it, it’s definitely time to give your washer an internal scrub-down.
  • Laundry comes out stained and/or dirty. If the clothes and linens you’re trying to clean are coming out with mysterious stains on them, there’s a good chance that it’s because your washer is so gummed up with gunk that it can’t do a good job at cleaning your clothes and is instead leeching grime from inside the washer onto your clothes.
  • Mold and slime. With a front load washer, you’ll begin to notice spots of mold and slime building up beneath the rubber rim and/or inside the drum. If that’s the case, it’s certainly time to wash your washing machine.

If you think it may be time to clean your washing machine, head over to our How to Clean a Washing Machine article.

If your washing machine isn’t the culprit, but your laundry is still coming out of the washer dirty, stained, and/or feeling thick, the laundry itself may have so much build-up on it that it’s nearly impossible to clean, even when using the best washer and detergent.

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What is Laundry Stripping?

Laundry stripping is the act of removing major build-up that occurs on clothes and linens over time from dirt, detergent, fragrances, laundry softeners, dryer sheets, minerals from water, body oils, and more. 

If you find your laundry is still dirty or feels thick (it comes out of the wash and you can almost feel the built-up layer of grime on the supposedly-clean clothes) after being washed, that is a clear sign that it’s time to do some serious laundry stripping.

Proceed With Caution…

Laundry stripping is a vigorous process that requires soaking linens and clothes in a cleaning solution for extended periods of time, which can cause distress to the fabric particles, particularly on delicate materials. 

Laundry stripping should not be done very often. 

If done correctly, it shouldn’t need to be done more than a couple of times a year – at most. Some fabrics may go years before you ever notice they need to be stripped, while others fabrics will become stiff and require stripping more frequently.

What Laundry Should Not be Stripped?

Before we get to the Laundry Stripping: How to Strip Laundry portion of this article, let’s quickly go over what types of laundry you should never strip, for the risk of them wrecking.

Do not strip: 

  • Dark fabrics. The hot water used for laundry stripping can cause dyes to run, causing discoloration of materials and stains on neighboring laundry items.
  • Delicate linens and clothes. Any laundry items that you would normally hand wash or run on the delicate cycle are not suitable for laundry stripping.
  • Items that cannot be washed in hot water. Some fabrics are recommended to only be washed in cold, cool, or warm water. Laundry stripping utilizes hot water, and therefore may wreck these garments.

(For any items that fall under the aforementioned list, head to the bottom of this article to learn a gentle, yet effective, laundry stripping method that should be safe for all fabrics; even the delicate ones.)

The exhaustive list of linens and clothes that should not be stripped may be disheartening. But here’s a quick list of things that can benefit greatly from laundry stripping.

The Best Candidates for Laundry Stripping

  • Towels
  • Bedsheets
  • Hardy fabrics
  • Clothes that get dirty between washes
  • And more…

Now, on to the best part. Learning how to strip your laundry so you can enjoy clean, absorbent, fresh, crisp clothes and linens.

How to Strip Laundry: 6 Steps for Clean, Crisp Laundry

Material List:

*Click on any of the links below to see the product

1. Start With Clean Linens and Clothes

When it comes to laundry stripping, you will want to start with clean laundry, wet or dry. Laundry stripping is not an alternative to washing the laundry, but rather an added step to really helping your linens and clothes be as clean as they can be and ridding them of build-up.

2. Fill a Tub or Bucket

Depending on the size of load you are going to strip, you can use either a large bucket, a sink, or the bathtub. Start by filling the tub, sink, or bucket about half full with very hot water, as hot as you can get it.

3. Create Your Solution

The solution is made of 1 part Washing Soda, 1 part Laundry Borax, 2 parts laundry detergent.

For a bathtub half-full, add 1/4 cup washing soda, 1/4 cup Borax, and 1/2 cup laundry detergent (either liquid or powder is fine).

Gently stir everything together until well combined and no powder remains visible.

4. Add the Laundry

Place the linens and clothes you are stripping into the tub, swoosh them around until they are fully submerged and incorporated. Be sure to keep like-colored items together, don’t strip a bold pink shirt with a white one, as the dyes can run and ruin your other clothes.

5. Soak & Stir

The next step is waiting. Let the laundry soak until the water has completely cooled, about 4 – 5 hours, or overnight. Occasionally (about every hour, unless soaking overnight) stir the laundry around in the water.

6. Drain & Wash

Drain the murky water and wring excess water out of the laundry. Then, transfer the stripped laundry to the washing machine and wash on the rinse cycle. Do not add detergent.

As an alternative, you can rinse the laundry by hand until the water runs clear.

Finally, toss the laundry into the dryer and dry as per usual.

How to Avoid Having to Strip Laundry

If you want to avoid the inconvenience of stripping laundry, the most substantial thing you can do is avoid as much build-up on the laundry as possible, which is often easier said than done. However, there are a few things you can do to lessen detergent, oil, soil, and other build-up:

  • Use two rinse cycles. When washing your laundry, add an extra rinse cycle to the wash to get as much of the grime and detergent washed away as possible.
  • Use less detergent. Speaking of detergent, we often use far more than is necessary. Try halving the amount of detergent used per load of laundry. If you find the laundry isn’t coming out clean, then try adding only 3/4 of the amount of detergent you usually used. More times than not, halving the amount still cleans the laundry just fine.
  • Cut the fabric softener. While fabric softener may seem like it’s needed for comfy, soft clothes, it really isn’t always necessary. More times than not, you can get away without the fabric softener. Not only will this eliminate build-up on your clothes, but it will also save you a few bucks. (If you’re convinced you need fabric softener, consider using white vinegar. Adding even just 1/2 a cup to the final rinse cycle, white vinegar acts as a natural fabric softener and leaves no residue on the clothes.)
  • Wash smaller loads. When the washing machine is packed completely full, it doesn’t give the laundry the opportunity to get fully cleaned, or rinsed. Wash smaller loads, no more than 3/4 the washer capacity.

A Gentle Laundry Stripping Alternative

If you aren’t sure you want to take the risk of prematurely aging your garments or possibly wrecking your favorite blouse by aggressively stripping them, there is a much gentler, still effective, alternative to laundry stripping.

And it’s an easy one.

All you do is simply add 3 – 4 cups of white vinegar to your load of laundry, along with a 1/2 – 1 cup of baking soda.

You will be pleasantly surprised by the results.

The laundry won’t come out smelling like vinegar, it also won’t come out gritty, from the baking soda.

But it will come out smelling clean.

If clean had a smell, this would be it.

(Trust me, for years our family’s laundry smelled subpar. It wasn’t dirty, but I didn’t want to infuse those extra chemicals into my wash water that made laundry smell good. So we got by with laundry that was clean, but didn’t really smell clean, or like anything at all. And I always craved the enticing smell other people’s laundry had. Lavender & Vanilla Bean, Moonlight Breeze, Downy Fresh…  ahh, those chemical-induced fragrances smelled so good. Until I discovered the simple, yet powerful method of using a bit of vinegar and a bit of baking soda to make our clothes smell incredible. Finally, our laundry smelled good and clean, and I didn’t have to use toxins to get it there.)

Be sure to add the vinegar and baking soda to the washing machine after it has filled and drained once. (Most washers will do an initial fill, then drain, before filling with the water that will be used for the wash cycle.)

How to Strip Laundry: Conclusion

Now that you learned how to strip laundry to leave it not only smelling clean and fresh, but actually clean and fresh, here’s a quick run-through of the steps to get you started quickly:

  1. Gather the (clean) laundry that you will be stripping
  2. Fill a tub, sink, or large bucket with incredibly hot water, 1 part Washing Soda, 1 part Borax, and 2 parts laundry detergent (liquid or powder are both fine)
  3. Add the laundry to the tub, swish around until it is soaked through
  4. Let it sit for 4 – 5 hours or overnight, stirring every hour (except through the night)
  5. Drain water, wring laundry out
  6. Put laundry into washing machine & turn on rinse cycle (or a cold wash cycle, with no detergents), or hand rinse until the water runs clear
  7. Dry as you normally would

And just like that, you’ve successfully stripped your laundry!