This method supposedly deep cleans your garments and linens—and leaves some shocking residue in its wake.

Laundry stripping may be popular in certain circles, but it's important to understand the science behind the deep-cleaning practice before you decide to give it a try. Ultimately, stripping some fabrics (like silk and wool) can actually do more damage than good—and utilizing this method too frequently can prematurely age your garments. To dig into the science behind laundry stripping, we tapped three professionals. Here is everything you need to know about this popular trend, which allegedly leaves an incredible amount of soil and residue in its wake.

clean white sheets and towels in basket
Credit: Ktmophoto / Getty Images

How Laundry Stripping Works

Laundry stripping involves soaking your laundry to remove dirt, grime, and detergent or softener residue, explains Ryan Lupberger, the CEO of Cleancult. There are a few different ways to approach the method. The first, which is the more natural route, involves using baking soda, a plant-based detergent, and very hot water, says Lupberger; ultimately, this route isn't very effective.

Then you have your "standard" practice, which Marilee Nelson, a cleaning expert, environmental consultant, and co-founder of Branch Basics, says involves filling a bathtub with scalding water, the garments you want to treat, a stripping mixture—which might include Borax and a chemical washing soda—and the liquid or powdered laundry detergent of your choice. Take caution, she says, "This can be hard on linens and fabrics if done too often."

Lupberger advises against the practice altogether, especially if you were considering Borax. "It's one of the products people often use to strip laundry, but is also an irritant. It can lead to skin irritation or a rash and respiratory side effects," he says, noting that there are concerns for exposure to humans, as well as pets.

How to Strip Your Laundry

If you are considering giving this method a try, proceed with caution, share our experts—and if you decide to work with Borax, which is part of most DIY recipes, wear elbow-length rubber gloves and keep your pets (and little ones) away from the tub while you work. Pro tip: It's best to strip clean laundry—but whether it is freshly washed and damp or already dry when it enters the tub makes no difference.

What You Will Need

  • 1/4 cup Borax
  • 1/4 cup washing or baking soda
  • 1/2 cup powdered detergent

Laundry Stripping Recipe

  1. Fill your bathtub with scalding hot water
  2. Add your laundry and submerge in the water
  3. Add the Borax, washing or baking soda, and powdered detergent to the tub; mix well
  4. Stir regularly over the next three to six hours
  5. Drain water and wring out clothes
  6. Load garments and towels into your washing machine; run a water-only cycle
  7. Thoroughly clean your tub to rid it of leftover residue

The Pros of Laundry Stripping

The shock of laundry stripping is the water—the process results in a dark, seemingly disgusting pool of filth. In reality, this discoloration is largely caused by hot water leeching the dye in your clothes, causing them to run. Stripping can, however, help remove dirt, lingering body oils, detergent residue, and hard water minerals; together these soils do contribute in part to that brown-gray water, says Lupberger.

The Cons of Laundry Stripping

According to Tide scientist Jennifer Ahoni, "Our research and laundry expertise suggests that there are more effective methods to remove build-up on fabrics." Per Tide's findings, continues Ahoni, the stripping process can actually cause issues with many textiles. "The mechanism by which washing soda precipitates out water hardness can actually form new soap scum residues on fabrics," she says. "Additionally, we have learned that low wash pH is an effective method for soap scum removal, and washing soda raises wash pH—which is the opposite direction." Not to mention the fact that washing soda can also deactivate some detergent components, preventing your wash from getting extra clean in the first place.

Items That Are Safe to Strip

As for which garments are safe to strip? "It can be great for any dingy towels or sheets or clothes that get worn or become dirty a lot," Lupberger says. "It's also a good way to refresh workout clothes every now and then." But here's the thing: If you are already washing your clothes mindfully, there's likely no reason you'll need to strip your laundry, he adds.

Comments (2)

Martha Stewart Member
June 24, 2021
How about adding a bit of vinegar to the first rinse cycle? Works for hair after shampoo occasionally to remove residue build up.
Martha Stewart Member
June 24, 2021
How about adding a bit of vinegar to the first rinse cycle? Works for hair after shampoo occasionally to remove residue build up.