At one point or another, we all accept the never-ending cycle of laundry. That being said, when people start talking about new ways to make our household chores easier and faster, we're all ears. Enter laundry stripping, the latest cleaning method that the Internet can't get enough of.
Laundry stripping isn't new by any means: Long before it became a TikTok trend it was used by many cleaning professionals. In fact, the Good Housekeeping Institute Cleaning Lab experts use a version of this deep soaking method to remove residues from the standard test loads of bath towels, bed sheets and other fabrics they use for testing laundry detergents and fabric softeners. But laundry stripping really took off after MrsLaurenElms posted a before-and-after TikTok in early 2020 — and since then, TikToks about laundry stripping have racked up over 163 million views.
It's understandable why this soaking method has gone viral — the TikToks show tubs filled with murky brown water after letting clean laundry soak for a few hours. Not only is the transformation incredibly satisfying to watch, but it has also made many people question just how clean their sheets and towels really are. For that reason, folks have a lot inquiries about this soaking technique — some are straight and to the point (Can I strip other items beside towels and sheets? What is the best laundry stripping recipe?), while others are far more complicated (Is laundry stripping a hoax or is it actually effective?).
Before you grab your borax and get to work, read this guide by Good Housekeeping Institute Cleaning Lab Executive Director Carolyn Forte to learn the ins and outs of laundry stripping, including if it's actually the most effective cleaning method for your sheets and towels.
What is laundry stripping?
Laundry stripping is a thorough method of soaking that gets rid of any leftover detergent, fabric softener or minerals from hard water and natural body oils that have collected on textiles over a period of time. The process itself is rather lengthy: Towels and sheets sit in a tub of hot water, borax, washing soda (sodium carbonate) and laundry detergent until the water has cooled completely, about four to five hours in total. But while it's satisfying to see, laundry stripping isn't always necessary, especially if you're doing laundry correctly.
Is laundry stripping safe — and does it fade clothes?
Laundry stripping is safe but over time, the water's heat during the stripping process can cause the dyes in colored fabrics to run, which partly explains why it turns dark brown or gray in some of the online videos. That means, it works best on whites, lights and colorfast bath towels and bed sheets that can be cleaned in hot water without fading. If you still want to soak colored textiles, just don't mix them with whites to avoid accidentally ruining anything you don't want tinted.
While laundry stripping is suitable for any clothing or bedding items that can withstand high temperatures, you should avoid stripping delicate items — a standard wash and dry (or hand-wash for some delicates) should clean them completely.
How to effectively strip sheets and towels, step by step
What You'll Need
- Fill your bathtub, sink or a large bucket with hot water. The laundry stripping recipe involves adding borax, washing soda (sodium carbonate — not baking soda) and laundry detergent in a 1:1:2 ratio. For a bathtub, add 1/4 cup borax, 1/4 cup washing soda and 1/2 cup laundry detergent. Stir until it dissolves completely.
- Submerge your clean towels or sheets in the mixture and soak until the water has cooled, which usually takes at least four hours. Stir occasionally to dissolve and release the buildup on the fabrics.
- Drain the murky water, then wring your items and run them through a full wash cycle without detergent or softener or at least a rinse and spin cycle in your washing machine. Tumble dry without dryer sheets.
Is laundry stripping worth the trouble?
Laundry stripping is effective, but you shouldn't have to strip towels and sheets on a regular basis if you're washing them correctly.
There are some instances where laundry stripping may be necessary, especially if you notice buildup after washing with homemade detergent, frequent use or over-use of dryer sheets or fabric softener or you live in a hard water area and don't have a water softener installed in your home.
Think of it this way: Too much of a good thing (laundry detergent and fabric softener) can sometimes be bad, causing whites to turn yellow and dingy. Laundry stripping is an easy way to give towels and sheets new life — or at least, a refreshed look.
As a general rule, following smart laundry practices on a regular basis is the best regular cleaning method:
- Use a deep-cleaning detergent, like GH Seal star Tide.
- Don't overload the washing machine. Items need room to move.
- Don't use too much detergent or fabric softener. Always measure and follow label recommendations based on the size of your load and how dirty it is.
- Use proper laundry sorting techniques to avoid residue from building up. Wash very dirty items separately from less soiled ones.
- If you notice residue or want to prevent buildup, add borax or washing soda to a regular load during the wash cycle following the label directions for your size load and type of machine.
The bottom line, according to Forte: "If you have a lot of towels or sheets that need help, this is a good way to tackle them quickly. Then make sure to follow good laundering habits afterward, so you don’t have to do it again!"
Amanda Garrity is a lifestyle writer and editor with over seven years of experience, including five years on staff at Good Housekeeping, where she covered all things home and holiday, including the latest interior design trends, inspiring DIY ideas and gift guides for any (and every) occasion. She also has a soft spot for feel-good TV, so you can catch her writing about popular shows like Virgin River, Sweet Magnolias, Hallmark Channel’s When Calls the Heart and more.