Laundry stripping is an aggressive cleaning method designed to remove built-up soil, laundry detergent and fabric softener from “clean” laundry with a chemical solution and overnight hot water soak. 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 safely strip your laundry or avoid it altogether.

Sheets and towels soaking in a bathtub Sheets and towels soaking in a bathtub

Does laundry stripping work?

Laundry stripping is 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 build up on fibers over time and 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 simply adding less. 

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A Tablespoon of Detergent May Be All You Need

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 likely only need to fill it up to the first line for a normal load, which is about a tablespoon of detergent. If you’re filling up the whole cap, you could be using up to ten times the amount of detergent you actually need. 

Hand placing towel in a washer with a warning icon

Is laundry stripping safe for all of my laundry?

No. Laundry stripping is not safe for all fabrics or even most fabrics. It can be effective 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. 

 

Do not use this technique 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. 

 

Towels and sheets soaking in a bathtub

How do I strip my towels and other linens?

While an extended soak is an option in many washing machines, it’s hard to know how the laundry stripping solution will affect an appliance over time, so Maytag doesn’t recommend using this method in your washer. Before resorting to the full laundry stripping process, try a long hot water soak in your washing machine using traditional detergent and additives, then follow it with a rinse cycle rather than a full wash cycle. 

 

Step 1: Fill your bathtub or a large bucket with very 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: Place clothes in the soaking solution and stir. 

Step 4: Leave the clothes to soak overnight, 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. 

Woman carrying a pile of clean towels

How often should I strip my laundry?

Avoid using this method more than a few times a year to protect fabrics. Build-up shouldn’t accumulate fast enough for it to be necessary, 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.  

 

You can tell if fabrics need stripping mostly 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? Make sure you’re only stripping items that appear to need it.

Hand pouring detergent into a detergent dispenser

Is there a way to avoid build-up on my clothes?

Yes. You can avoid the hassle of laundry stripping by preventing 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. Maytag also recommends ultra-concentrated detergent like Swash™, that offers a Precision Pour Cap to prevent overpouring and waste.1 
  • 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 pack the washer any more than 3/4 full. You may not be getting an adequate final rinse if the washer is packed too tightly. 

MORE TIPS ON KEEPING FABRICS CLEAN & SOFT

Get to know your top load washer with these quick tips.

Decode the symbols on your clothing care tag to learn what they really mean.

Learn the ins and outs of using HE detergent in your washing machine.

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