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How To Strip Wash Laundry

by | Apr 1, 2024 | House Cleaning

If you’ve noticed your towels becoming dingy or your clothes feeling stiff and uncomfortable, you may need to add a step to your laundry routine.

It’s called strip washing or laundry stripping – a process that “strips” dirt, residue, and other build-up from your laundry. It also helps refresh fabrics, brighten whites, and revitalise colours.

How to strip wash laundry? Mix 1 part borax, 1 part washing soda, and 2 parts powdered detergent. Dissolve the products in a tub of hot water and let your laundry soak in the solution for a few hours.

Run the laundry through another rinse cycle before drying the items properly.

Learn all about strip washing your laundry, when it’s necessary, and other things you should know.


What is Laundry Stripping?

Clothes are soaked in basin to prepare for washing

Laundry stripping (also called “strip washing” or “strip soaking”) is a process where you soak your items in a cleaning solution. You can opt to do this before or after the wash cycle.

Stripping laundry is supposed to loosen dirt, lift stains, brighten whites or colours, and revitalise the laundry items. It also “strips” any body oils, detergent residue, and other build-up from the fabric.


Why You Should Be Strip Washing Your Laundry

Things like body oils, sweat, detergent residue, mineral deposits (from hard water), and other dirt build up on fabric over time.

Moreover, cheaper detergent or fabric softener may not break down fully in the washing machine. That leaves powder or sticky residue on the fabric.

Other poor laundry habits that lead to dull, stiff, or scratchy fabric include:

  • Incorrect washing temperatures
  • Fabric softener
  • Too much detergent per load
  • Irregular laundry schedules

Also, if you haven’t cleaned your washing machine in a while, dirt builds up inside it and transfers onto your clothes.

Strip washing removes all this build-up from your laundry, like a deep clean. That refreshes the fabrics and brightens the whites or colours.


How Often to Strip Wash Your Laundry

You should only strip your laundry every 4–6 months or so. You can also simply strip soak whenever the fabrics look dull or feel stiff.

For more heavily used items, like gym clothes or towels, you can strip wash once every 1–2 months. This also applies to items that have a lingering odour or discolouration that doesn’t come out in a normal wash.

You can strip wash most laundry items, including:

  • Clothes
  • Linens (such as bed sheets and pillowcases)
  • Towels
  • Nappies
  • Pillows

But you don’t need to do the process before every load, since the process is quite harsh on fabric and can prematurely age or wear the items. Only do so if you think a strip wash is necessary.


Before Strip Washing Your Laundry

background of white silk and lace wedding dress

There are some things you should not strip as you could damage the items. 

These include:

  • Delicate fabrics such as silk and lace
  • Fabrics that cannot be washed in hot water (e.g. wool)
  • Fabrics that are not colourfast or have unstable dyes

Wear rubber gloves while strip washing to protect your skin from the products used in the process. Work in a well-ventilated room.

Strip soak your colours separately from your whites to prevent any dyes from bleeding.

Use a laundry detergent without any fragrance or colour.

Do not use a laundry detergent that contains bleach as that will create a reaction that’s dangerous for your health.


How to Do Laundry Stripping

Ready to try your hand at laundry stripping?

Here are some recipes for a homemade strip wash and how to go about the full laundry stripping process.


What is the mixture for laundry stripping?

White towel in the laundry basket. Washing powder on the white background.

The most commonly used strip wash recipe combines:

  • 1/4 cup laundry borax
  • 1/4 cup washing soda (sodium carbonate)
  • 1/2 cup powdered laundry detergent (opt for one that’s enzyme-based)

This is enough for an average bathtub (about 300 litres or 80 gallons). For smaller containers (like a sink or bucket), scale the measurements down.

Just make sure to follow the 1:1:2 ratio of borax, washing soda, and detergent.

Note that it should be powdered detergent, not liquid. Liquid laundry detergents will leave additional residue and may not mix well with the other ingredients.

Looking for a good enzyme-based powdered detergent? Try Cold Power Advanced Clean Powder Laundry Detergent or OMO Ultimate Washing Powder.

If you want to strip wash without borax, you can either exclude it from the recipe or use one of these alternatives:

  • 1 cup of white vinegar mixed with 1/2 cup powdered detergent
  • 3–5 scoops of OxiClean


Does laundry stripping come before or after washing?

Most often, stripping laundry comes after the wash cycle. This will help cut through any soap scum or leftover detergent and make the fabric look brighter.

It does not matter if the laundry is wet or dry when you begin the stripping process.

On the other hand, you can strip-soak your laundry before washing it if you use a pre-soaker, such as the recipe given below.


How to strip wash laundry

Fill your tub, sink, or large bucket with very hot water. There should be enough water to completely submerge your laundry items.

This process will work to strip wash towels and sheets, as well as clothes.

Add the laundry stripper to the hot water and stir with a large spoon or by hand while wearing rubber gloves. Make sure the solution is completely dissolved.

Place the laundry into the tub and press the items down so they fully submerge. Let the items soak for up to 4 hours, stirring occasionally.

(NOTE: The water is going to look very gross – turning either grey or brown. This just means the process is working as the fabrics release the built-up dirt.)

Once the water has completely cooled, remove the laundry and squeeze out as much water as possible. Toss the items back into the washer on a water-only or rinse cycle.

Air dry your laundry on a rack, or put the items in the dryer. For towels and linens, do not use dryer sheets.

You may want to clean the bathtub or sink after draining it to remove any residue.


Laundry Pre-Soaker for Strip Washing

You can also make a DIY laundry soaker that “strips” your clothes and linens before washing. 

This is called a pre-wash soaker or laundry soaker, since you use it before the items go into the washing machine.

Simply combine:

This solution will be more concentrated, you’ll only need a small amount for a full tub. Store the rest in an airtight container.

To use, fill the tub with hot water, then add 2–4 tbsp of the strip-soaker solution. Submerge your laundry thoroughly for a few hours.

Squeeze out the excess water before tossing the laundry items into the washing machine on their typical cycle.


Laundry Stripping for Different Items

hand pick up light brown underpants for show middle for washing from soak in water with green bowl

The stripping process can be different for certain items – particularly baby nappies, pillows, and period underwear.

For nappies and underwear, you won’t need the strip washer recipe. On the other hand, for pillows, you’ll need to be mindful of the drying process.


How to strip wash nappies

Stripping nappies only works for cloth or reusable nappies. It is a deep clean process that helps remove any ammonia build-up, detergent scum, and any other dirt.

Unlike regular strip washing, the process for nappies does not require combining different products.

Here’s how to strip wash baby nappies:

  • Soak the nappies for 4 hours in a baby-safe laundry soaker (like OxiClean Baby Stain Soaker) and hot water
  • Place them in the washing machine without detergent, and run a rinse cycle or cool quick wash
  • Run another wash cycle with detergent and hot water (about 40º–60ºC or 104º–140ºF)
  • Then run another hot water-only cycle with no detergent
  • Rinse the nappies if there’s any leftover suds or detergent

Dry the nappies according to the brand’s instructions.


How to strip wash pillows

White pillow in washing machine.

Does laundry stripping work on pillows? Yes, but only ones that can go in the washing machine – so pillows with synthetic or cotton filling.

Do not strip feather or memory foam pillows.

Follow the laundry stripping process for clothes and linens. Soak the pillows in a tub with very hot water and the laundry stripper solution.

Run the pillows through a rinse cycle to remove any residue, then put them in the drier on the lowest setting. You can add some tennis balls to prevent the filling from bunching up.

Stripping your pillows is a great deep-cleaning method to remove stains from natural oils, sweat, and dead skin cells.


How to strip wash period underwear

Period panties or period underwear have become a more popular alternative to single-use tampons and pads. They’re washable and reusable, making them an eco-friendly option for anyone who menstruates.

You generally don’t need to strip wash your period panties, but here are some signs to look out for:

  • Less absorption than usual
  • Strange odours
  • Itching or discomfort while wearing

To strip wash your period underwear, soak them in a mixture of 3 parts warm water to 1 part vinegar. Let them sit for an hour, then squeeze out excess water.

Do a cold rinse in the washer, then a regular wash with full detergent. Go as hot as the care label allows (usually 30º–40ºC or 86º–104ºF).

Follow that with another water-only cycle to rinse them out, then hang the period panties up to dry.


FAQs About Laundry Stripping

Got more questions about how to strip wash laundry? 

Here are some other things to know before you toss your clothes or towels into that tub.


Is laundry stripping necessary?

Wicker basket with dirty laundry on floor indoors

If you have a good, regular laundry routine and wash your laundry correctly, you won’t need to strip wash that often – if at all.

You can avoid needing to strip laundry by using a good laundry detergent, not overloading your machine, and separating items appropriately.

Avoid using fabric softener, since this usually leaves residue that attracts dirt and sticks to fabric fibres.

If you live in a hard water area, consider installing a water softener. 

You can also use a commercial product like Calgon 3-in-1 Water Softener Tablets, or use additives (e.g. borax, washing soda, or vinegar) in a laundry load.

Laundry stripping as a deep cleaning method works best for things like:

  • Clothes that have built up soil from the outdoors
  • Gym clothes with lingering odours and sweat stains
  • Heavily soiled towels and sheets


Is laundry stripping safe?

For the most part, stripping laundry is a safe enough process. Just make sure not to mix in any products other than the recommended recipe, and do not use any products with bleach.

Stripping is not safe for delicate fabrics and anything that cannot be washed in hot water.


Does laundry stripping fade colours?

So long as the dye is colourfast, the stripping process should not fade coloured fabrics.

However, consistent stripping and washing – plus general wear and tear – will eventually cause colours to fade over time.


Can you use liquid detergent for laundry stripping?

No, you cannot use liquid laundry detergent as this could leave more residue. Liquid detergents might also not combine well with the other ingredients.

You can use liquid detergents as a pre-soak to loosen dirt and stains before putting the laundry in the washer.


Will baking soda work instead of washing soda for strip washing?

No – baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) is a completely different product from washing soda (sodium carbonate).

The latter is much more alkaline and therefore a more powerful product. It’s less water-soluble and not edible in any form.

You can make washing soda from baking soda, though! Start by spreading a thin layer (about 0.5–0.6cm) thick) of baking soda on an oven-safe tray or container.

Bake the powder at 200ºC (400ºF) for 30–60 minutes, depending on how large a batch you’re making. Stir the powder occasionally to ensure uniform heating.

When you see the powder has become coarser and grainier – kind of like sand – your washing soda is done. Allow it to cool before storing the powder in an airtight container.


Does laundry stripping remove odours?

Yes! The laundry stripping process helps remove odours from fabrics thanks to the ingredients.

In fact, it’s a great way to tackle any funky smells from gym clothes or soiled linens.


Does laundry stripping remove stains?

Not really. It may help lift old or set stains from fabrics, but stripping is more about removing odours, residue, and build-up.

To remove stains, use a good laundry soaker or laundry stain remover.

About Author

Sophie Franklin

Sophie is the subject matter expert within Maid2Match. Most importantly though she is our biggest fan girl and generous in sharing what she knows.


About Author

Sophie Franklin

Sophie is the subject matter expert within Maid2Match. Most importantly though she is our biggest fan girl and generous in sharing what she knows.