Your go-to laundry stripping guide so your towels can actually get clean

Our bodies live in our clothes, our sheets, and our towels, so it’s important that our laundry is fresh and clean. You may have seen the trending videos of TikTokers filling their bathtubs with clean towels and linens, only to find that it produces a gross, murky water a few hours later. If so, you’re probably wondering what kind of dirt and grime might be hiding in your clean laundry and whether laundry stripping will help. We’re here to tell you everything you need to know about laundry stripping and how you can strip your bathroom towels.

What is laundry stripping?

Laundry stripping is a cleaning practice that employs the use of soaking to rid fabrics of hidden dirt and grime that sticks stubbornly to your laundry. Typically, laundry stripping recipes use hot water, Borax, washing soda, and laundry detergent to really get in and clean those fabrics thoroughly. It’s a lengthy and time-consuming process, but after you strip your laundry once, you shouldn’t have to do it again for a long time.

Should you strip your laundry?

The longer you have those towels or sheets, the more they absorb and retain stubborn dirt, hard water minerals, body oils, and soap residue, and the more likely a standard wash cycle will struggle to rid them of the grime. Here’s how to know if you should strip your laundry:

You have hard water

If you have hard water in your home, it means your water has higher levels of minerals that are deposited onto the fabrics you wash. Excess minerals make fabrics feel stiff or rough, and they are difficult to get out.

You use homemade laundry detergent

If you use a homemade laundry detergent, you may notice a sticky film on your laundry. This film occurs because homemade detergent doesn’t rinse off of fabrics as thoroughly as store-bought detergents, so if you haven’t been diligent with the rinsing process, a buildup of residue occurs. If this is the case, a good laundry stripping session may do your fabrics good.

Your towels aren’t as absorbent as they once were

After a lot of washing, drying, and laundry products, your towels get a film that prevents water from being absorbed into their fibers. Stripping your towels will remove the film and restore your towels to that gloriously absorbent state that you bought them in.

Your fabrics seem old and dingy

If your towels and sheets don’t seem all that fresh and clean, even right out of the wash, it might be because of hidden dirt and grime in the fibers. This tends to happen over time, but it can also occur due to ineffective detergents or overloaded washing machines. Hidden dirt and bacteria can cause a stiff feel, a discolored appearance, and even an old and musty smell. Stripping these fabrics will give them a deep clean to rid them of the grime.

Folded towels on a bathroom shelf
WichitS/Shutterstock

How to strip towels

Since towels tend to be made with dense, thick materials, they often absorb and retain residues and grime quicker and in higher amounts. For this reason, we think your towels are a great place to start your laundry stripping journey. You can strip your towels in the bathtub, in a top-load washing machine, or even in a bucket that’s large enough to hold the stripping load. In general, you’ll use:

  • 1 part Borax
  • 1 part washing soda
  • 2 parts laundry detergent of your choice

The below instructions are for a bathtub of standard size.

What you’ll need

  • 1/4 cup Borax
  • 1/4 cup washing soda
  • 1/2 cup laundry detergent
  • Long stirring tool (ie. stick, broom handle, etc.)

Instructions

  1. Collect the clean towels you’ll be stripping.
  2. Fill your bathtub halfway with hot water.
  3. Pour in Borax, washing soda, and laundry detergent, and stir until the powders dissolve into the water.
  4. Place your towels into the mixture and make sure they are completely submerged underwater.
  5. Let the towels soak for up to 5 hours until the water has cooled completely.
  6. Remove the towels and transfer them to your washing machine.
  7. Run them through the rinse cycle (you don’t need to add more laundry soap since they are already cleaned).
  8. Transfer to the dryer and dry the towels like normal.
  9. Drain and wipe out your bathtub.

Warnings for laundry stripping

The process of laundry stripping does tend to be fairly harsh, especially since hot water is used. There’s a chance that any dyes in your fabric could bleed out and discolor lighter items. There’s also the possibility that clothing items with special care instructions may become damaged. For these reasons:

  • Don’t strip colored and white fabrics in the same batch.
  • Don’t strip delicates or other fragile fabrics.
  • Don’t overload the bathtub or the stripping process won’t be as effective.
  • Check care instructions on fabric labels before stripping.

You may have thought laundry stripping was simply a fad, but the process — which existed long before TikTok — actually does deep clean your laundry quite effectively. If your towels are feeling rough, not absorbing water, or looking dingy lately, it may be time for a nice towel stripping. With the recipe and instructions we’ve discussed, stripping your towels will make them softer, fluffier, brighter, and of course, cleaner, so you can enjoy your towels as you did when they were brand new.

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