How To Strip Your Laundry

Appearances can be deceiving, and that’s especially true (sometimes troublingly so) with laundry. Everything from bed sheets to sports bras can look clean enough, but may actually harbor invisible buildup preventing it from getting truly clean.

And if left unchecked, those stubborn residues can attract more dirt and oil, making your laundry even dirtier and causing musty odors too.

In this post, I’ll show you a simple way to strip your laundry of unseen oily residues. But in order to understand how to remove them, it helps to know why some residues are so dang stubborn to begin with.

Related: The 7 Most Likely Things That Will Ruin Your Bed Sheets

laundry stripping

Why Are Some Residues So Hard To Wash Out?

Our bodies produce sweat and natural oils at all hours of the day that get absorbed by the clothes we wear and the sheets we sleep on. When sweat and body oil combines with lingering detergent and fabric softener residues that can cling to laundry, it can form a stubborn oily buildup that is no match for your usual laundry methods.

Related: How To Get The Smell Out Of Musty Bed Sheets

Luckily for us, “stripping” that buildup out of your laundry may require some special attention, but it’s actually quite simple to do. With a few basic laundry products, some hot water, and a bit of patience on your part, those residues are as good as gone.

laundry stripping

What Fabrics Can I Strip?

This process for “stripping” laundry works best on white, light-colored, and colorfast fabrics. It’s also best reserved for thick or sturdy fabrics like towels and sheets. For safety’s sake, avoid stripping delicate items. (It’s unlikely they’ll ever need it anyway, as this type of stubborn residue is usually only found on thicker fabrics and fibers.)

In addition to towels and sheets, many people have had great success using this method with athletic fabrics and workout clothes. These synthetic materials can be tricky to rinse thoroughly, and their constant exposure to sweat and body oil makes them particularly susceptible to residue buildup.

How To Strip Your Laundry And Eliminate Buildup

laundry stripping

You’ll need:

  • Powdered laundry detergent*
  • Borax
  • Washing soda

*Note: For best results, use a powdered detergent that contains enzymes, like Tide, Defunkify, or Rockin’ Green. Enzymes aid in breaking down organic residues like sweat and body oil.


laundry stripping

Step 1 – Wash As Usual

You’ll get the best results when the items you want to strip are relatively clean to begin with, so toss them in your machine and wash them as usual.

laundry stripping

Step 2 – Soak

Next, you’ll soak the items for several hours, which you can either do in a deep sink, a large bucket, or your bathtub. Whichever you choose, start by filling it up with very hot water.

laundry stripping

Add powdered laundry detergent, borax, and washing soda in a 2:1:1 ratio. If you’re doing the soak in your bathtub, I recommend using 1/2 cup of detergent, 1/4 cup of borax, and 1/4 cup of washing soda. (You can easily scale down the amounts for a sink or bucket—just be sure to use twice as much detergent as borax and washing soda.)

laundry stripping

Add the clothes or linens to the soaking solution and allow them to soak until the water cools, or for at least 4 hours. Stir the items occasionally as they soak to encourage the fibers to release the loosened buildup.

laundry stripping

Step 3 – Drain And Rinse

After soaking, drain out the murky water and squeeze the excess water out of the items. Transfer the wet clothes or linens to your washing machine and start a rinse-only cycle.

laundry stripping

Step 4 – Dry

When the rinse cycle is complete, dry the clean items without dryer sheets or fabric softener. That’s it!

To prevent that stubborn buildup from returning in the future, make sure to use only as much detergent as you need when doing laundry to ensure that it all gets rinsed out in the wash.

laundry stripping

When Should I Use This Method?

You can use this method to remove residues and odors from clothes and linens that need it every few months or so. Don’t strip your laundry too frequently, as repeated exposure to hot water can shorten the lifespan of many fabrics.

If your sheets, towels, or clothing are suffering from oily buildup or residues, use this method to strip your laundry and see what a difference it makes!

What’s your best laundry tip?

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