No one wants to put more time and energy into cleaning than they have to. That’s exactly why most of us throw our laundry into the washer and dryer, and call it a day. But sometimes (key word: sometimes), it may not seem like a standard wash and dry gets the job done. Enter laundry stripping, the latest cleaning method that people — TikTok users, especially — are obsessing over.
Laundry stripping isn’t new by any means: Many people, including Good Housekeeping Institute’s Cleaning Lab, have used this soaking method for years to remove detergent residue, fabric softener, minerals from hard water, and body oils from textiles. But one viral before-and-after TikTok by MrsLaurenElms started a cleaning movement in recent months, causing TikToks with #laundrystripping to rack up 18.5 million views.
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It makes sense why this soaking method is taking off — the TikToks show tubs filled with murky brown water after hours of soaking clean laundry. This prompted many people to wonder if they’ve been unknowingly wrapping up in dirty sheets and towels all this time.
Just like other of-the-moment trends, there are tons of questions about this soaking technique — some are straight-forward (Can I strip other items beside towels and sheets?), while others are more complicated (Is laundry stripping effective?). Before you head to the bathtub with borax in hand, read through this how-to guide by Good Housekeeping Institute Cleaning Lab Director Carolyn Forte to determine if it’s the most effective cleaning method for your sheets and towels.
What Is Laundry Stripping?
Essentially, laundry stripping is a thorough method of soaking that gets rid of any leftover detergent, fabric softener, minerals from hard water, and natural body oils that have collected on textiles over a period of time. The process itself is rather lengthy: Towels and sheets sit in a tub of hot water, borax, washing soda (sodium carbonate), and laundry detergent until the water has cooled completely, about four to five hours in total.
Over time, the water’s heat causes the dyes to run, which explains why it turns brown or gray. That means, it works best on whites, lights, and colorfast bath towels and bed sheets. You can still soak colorful textiles — just avoid mixing bright colors with whites to avoid accidentally dyeing anything. While laundry stripping is suitable for any clothing or bedding items that can withstand high temperatures, you should avoid stripping delicate items — a standard wash and dry (or hand-wash for some delicates) should clean them completely.
How to Effectively Strip Wash Sheets and Towels
- Fill your bathtub, sink, or a large bucket with hot water. Add borax, washing soda (sodium carbonate), and laundry detergent in a 1:1:2 ratio. For a bathtub, add 1/4 cup borax, 1/4 cup washing soda, and 1/2 cup laundry detergent. Stir until it dissolves completely.
- Submerge your clean towels or sheets in the mixture and soak until the water has cooled, which usually takes at least four hours. Stir occasionally to release the buildup on the towels.
- Drain the murky water, then throw your towels or sheets through a rinse-only cycle in your washing machine. Tumble dry without dryer sheets.
Does Laundry Stripping Actually Work?
In short, you shouldn’t have to strip towels and sheets on a regular basis if you’re washing them correctly. There are some instances where laundry stripping may be necessary, especially if you notice buildup after washing with homemade detergent, frequently use dryer sheets or fabric softener, or live in a hard water area and don’t have a water softener installed in your home. Think of it this way: Too much of a good thing (laundry detergent and fabric softener) can sometimes be bad, causing whites to turn dark and dingy. Laundry stripping is an easy way to give towels and sheets new life — or at least, a refreshed look.
As a general rule, following smart laundry practices on a regular basis is the recommended cleaning method:
- Use deep-cleaning detergent like GH Seal star Tide.
- Don’t overload the washing machine.
- Don’t use too much detergent or fabric softener.
- Use proper laundry sorting techniques to avoid residue from building up.
- If you notice residue or want to prevent buildup, add borax or washing soda to a regular load in the washer.
The bottom line, according to Forte: “If you have a lot of towels or sheets that need help, this is a good way to tackle them quickly. Then make sure to follow good laundering habits afterward, so you don’t have to do it again!”
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