Water running on clothing in a washing machine

What is Laundry Stripping?

Laundry stripping is an aggressive cleaning method designed to remove built-up soil, laundry detergent and fabric softener residue from “clean” laundry with an overnight soak in hot water and a chemical solution consisting of Borax, powdered detergent and washing soda.

First popping up on social media, this popular technique is often done in a bathtub, allowing you to watch the soaking water slowly become dark and murky as substances are stripped out of fabric. 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 learn more about how to strip your laundry or avoid it altogether.

Hand placing towel in a washer with a warning icon Hand placing towel in a washer with a warning icon


Laundry stripping is not safe for all fabrics or even most fabrics. It can sometimes be beneficial on light-colored towels and sheets. Because they’re larger and bulkier, towels and sheets are more likely to have detergent build-up that didn’t rinse out fully in the washing machine.  

Avoid laundry stripping for dark fabrics to prevent color bleeding in hot water. Exercise clothes, particularly those with spandex, may degrade due to the stripping solution. Wool will likely lose the lanolin in its fiber, which is a natural substance that protects the fabric’s integrity. Cold-water clothes should not undergo this process as it may damage, shrink or distort the item.

Do not use laundry stripping methods on the following types of laundry: 

  • Dark fabrics: The hot water in this method may cause dyes to run.

  • Workout clothes: Spandex is particularly sensitive to the PH in the laundry stripping solution and will degrade over time. 

  • Wool: Wool contains lanolin, a natural oil that’s necessary for the protection of this fiber and will be stripped off with this method. 

  • Cold-water clothes: Check your item’s care tag for water temperature requirements and don't use this method on anything that can’t be washed in hot water. 

Check the care labels on your clothes for specific instructions and recommendations.

Maytag® washing machine agitator Maytag® washing machine agitator


Laundry stripping is often effective because of its chemical solution of Borax, powdered detergent and washing soda, along with extra hot water. This method will indeed break down build-up on clothes, but it could also leach out dye and naturally-occurring oils in fabric. Always check your item’s care tag before using this method to make sure it can handle a hot water soak.

Much of what you see floating in the water while stripping laundry is leftover detergent and fabric softener, which can sometimes build up on fibers if too much is used in the wash. Over time, this may cause dirt to stick to the fabric as well. It's easy to use too much laundry detergent or fabric softener and build-up can be avoided by double checking the proper dosage.

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Pay attention to the measuring instructions on your detergent bottle as well as your washing machine. If you use the detergent cap to measure, you only need to fill it up to the appropriate line/marker of the cap based on the load size and the detergent manufacturer’s instructions. If you’re filling up the whole cap, you’re more than likely using much more detergent than you actually need. Make sure to follow the instructions on the detergent and in your owner’s manual.


If you don’t want to worry about overdosing your laundry detergent, Swash™1 might be the solution you need. Simply squeeze your Swash™ detergent and allow the Auto-Stop Top to stop automatically when you have the right amount. No guess and no mess.


It is not recommended to use a stripping solution in your washing machine as it could damage your appliance. If you want to give your laundry an extra soak, there is an extended soak cycle in many washing machines. A gentler way to help breakdown and remove buildup is to try a long hot water soak in your washing machine using traditional detergent and additives, followed by a rinse cycle. This can make things easier, so you’re not going back and forth to your tub. Always check your garment’s care tag to make sure it can withstand hot water temperatures.


Laundry stripping can remove hard water minerals, oils and detergent build-up on clothes. While it may help improve the overall appearance of the fabric when done sparingly, its main purpose is not stain removal.

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Clothing washing in a washing machine Clothing washing in a washing machine


Use an enzyme-powdered detergent and very hot water to enhance results. Towels and linens that are light, white or colorfast are typically well-suited for laundry stripping because they tend to collect residue and can withstand higher heat. Avoid mixing colors with whites, as dyes can bleed in hot water.

1. Fill your bathtub or a large bucket with very hot water. 

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

3. Place clothes in the soaking solution and stir. 

4. Leave the clothes to soak overnight, stirring them occasionally. 

5. Drain the tub or bucket. Rinse well by hand.

6. Dry clothes as usual.

Person carrying a pile of clean towels Person carrying a pile of clean towels


If you are properly washing your items, you shouldn’t need to strip laundry at all. However, if you want to try this laundry fad, avoid using laundry stripping methods more than a few times a year to protect fabrics. Build-up shouldn’t accumulate fast enough for it to be necessary more often than that, especially if you’re washing these items regularly in hot water with the correct amount of detergent and/or additives like fabric softener and detergent boosters. Laundry stripping is harsh on fabrics and can cause damage if done too often.

You can often tell if fabrics could benefit from stripping by feeling them. Do they have a sticky feeling? Have your towels lost their softness and absorbency? Color and odor can also be an indicator. Do your white sheets look dingy or smell stale after washing? Make sure you’re only stripping items that appear to have build-up.

Hand pouring detergent into a detergent dispenser Hand pouring detergent into a detergent dispenser


You can avoid the hassle of laundry stripping by helping to prevent build-up in the first place with some of these techniques:

  • Use less detergent and fabric softener. It's very common to use too much product. 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 brand. You can also use ultra-concentrated detergent like Swash™ laundry detergent, which offers a Precision Pour Cap to prevent over-pouring and waste.

  • Add an extra rinse to your cycle.

  • If you add products manually, don’t add detergent and fabric softener together. It can create a “sludge” that builds up on clothes. Fabric softener should be added during the final rinse of the cycle. 

  • Never add fabric softener to loads with towels or workout clothes. Learn more about the do’s and don’ts of fabric softener

  • Don’t overfill the washing machine or tightly pack it with clothing. You may not be getting an adequate final rinse if the washer is packed too tightly.

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1. Swash and the recommending brands are owned and distributed by Whirlpool Corporation. Comment end