You might recognize the phrase "laundry stripping" from its time trending on TikTok in recent years. Videos of people soaking workout clothes and towels in the tub only to be faced with murky, dirty water in mere minutes quickly garnered millions of views. But does the viral deep cleaning trend actually work as an effective alternative to washing your clothes the old-fashioned way?
To get the run down on laundry stripping, Shop TODAY spoke to Jessica Ek, director of communications at the American Cleaning Institute, about what laundry stripping is, how to do it properly and whether or not you should do it at all.
What is laundry stripping?
"Laundry stripping is the process of removing built-up residue," Ek explained. Built-up residue can occur from having hard water, using too much laundry detergent or fabric softener or years of grime build-up, she told us.
If you choose to strip your laundry, it would replace a regular wash cycle on that day, but Ek advises against doing it on a regular basis. She calls it a "harsh way to do laundry," so her advice is to do it as rarely as you can. If you have hard water, she says doing it once or twice a year might be beneficial.
"It can be really helpful, [but] it's not always necessary. If you're doing your laundry on a regular basis, you shouldn't have that build-up to begin with if you're doing it properly," Ek said.
Laundry stripping recipe
The recipe for laundry stripping only has three ingredients: borax, washing soda and powdered laundry detergent. These ingredients are used in a 1:1:2 ratio, so 1/4 cup of Borax, 1/4 cup of washing soda and 1/2 cup of laundry detergent.
Borax removes hard water deposits, dirt and tough stains. It even deodorizes and freshens your laundry. You can also use it on countertops and appliances to tackle grease and grime.
Ek has seen some laundry stripping mixture recipes that call for baking soda instead of washing soda. While both options work, washing soda is the better choice because it's a more alkaline solution that is intended for washing, she told us.
While you may be tempted to use liquid laundry detergent, Ek recommends sticking with powder because, since liquid detergents vary in concentration, it can be hard to determine whether you're getting the right ratios each time.
Frequently asked questions
Which materials work best for laundry stripping?
"If you have a hat that you haven't cleaned in a few years [and] you want to get it back to looking new, this is a great way to do it," she told us. "But a better way is taking care of it and regularly cleaning it so it doesn't get to that point."
She's also noticed people doing the process on their workout clothes. "It can help to get some of those odors that can linger, but the spandex might not last as long if you do that," she warned.
Another thing to be conscious of? White garments. The process is a great way to get whites looking their best if you don't want to use bleach, but be sure to keep processes for white clothes and dark clothes separate. Since laundry stripping is done in hot water, it can cause the dye from darker clothes to bleed and, before you know it, your whites are varying shades of other colors. It's like the age-old problem of discovering a red sock that snuck its way into a load of white laundry and finding all of your clothes have now turned pink. Not ideal.
If you are set on doing one load for the process, Ek recommends just going with lighter-colored clothing to lower the possibility of dye bleeding.
How do you strip laundry properly?
"If laundry is done properly, you shouldn't need to do laundry stripping," Ek told us. "Properly" in this case means using the right amount of detergent, not using fabric softener on things you want to be absorbent like towels and not overloading the washing machine.
Once you've got your mixture together, Ek recommends using water that is "as hot as is safe for the fabric." While this process is usually done in really hot water, she notes that not every fabric is appropriate for that. Checking the garment labels will tell you what the fabric can handle, which will help keep you from damaging it.
After you settle on the ideal water temperature, all you have to do is let your garments soak for several hours, popping in occasionally to stir it. "The stirring is like the agitation in your washing machine," Ek explained.
When the water has cooled (and you're likely looking at some shockingly murky water), drain and rinse the area you're soaking everything in along with the laundry, and then machine-dry them according to your garment's label. She stressed the importance of making sure your laundry is completely dry. "They sat in this warm, wet environment where mold tends to like to grow, so you want to make sure you dry it completely because it's been soaking up all that water," she said.