I love white towels. They’re attractive, easy to clean and I don’t have to think about picking a color when I buy them. My hot water laundry routine can’t keep up forever, though. And with four animals and a gardening habit, I recycle dingy towels a lot.
But what if I didn’t have to? Could I bring them back to their bright, glorious beginnings?
TikTok says I can, with a trend called laundry stripping. “Strippers” say the practice removes dirt, grime and oils that build up on our clothes, sheets and towels. It seems like a miracle, judging from videos like this:
@mrslaurenelms Who’s here for the towel stripping? 🙋♀️ #laundry #cleanfreak #laundrymagic #laundrystripping #tide #borax #armandhammer #diycleaning ♬ original sound – MrsLaurenElms
Does it work? Is this real? I could save a ton of money by not feeding my white towel habit, so I decided to talk to an expert and try it out.
On This Page
How Laundry Stripping Works
Laundry stripping uses water softeners, detergent and hot water to lift and remove residues embedded in cloth fibers. These residues include built-up fabric softeners, excess detergent and minerals from hard water.
If you have hard water — and most of the U.S. does — over time your clothes can appear dingy, off-color and stiff. Hard water reduces the effectiveness of detergent, too, so people use more.
Fabric softeners and dryer sheets, which coat fabric fibers with a lubricant, add artificial softness. Over time, this “residue snowball” can cause problems, from itchy skin to dirty washing machines.
Laundry stripping works because water softeners — two of the three ingredients — have chemical properties that grab on to hard water ions like calcium and magnesium. This softer water helps the third ingredient, detergent, pull the grime and residues out of the fabric.
What Pros Say
“Laundry stripping works — with a caveat,” says The Laundry Evangelist Patric Richardson. People who use a lot of detergents, pods, fabric softeners and dryer sheets will notice dramatic results. If you’re already a minimalist, the effect will be minimal.
Laundry stripping isn’t necessary, says Richardson. Simply switching to clean-rinsing soap will eventually break down accumulated residues from fabric softeners and excess detergents. But laundry stripping does it all at once.
For the best laundry stripping experiment, Richardson says to start with cotton towels (yes!). It tends to be dramatic, because cotton’s long, loose fibers hold on to residues. Did you know fabric softeners reduce towels’ absorbency by 80 percent?
“Fabric softeners and fragrances are meant to linger on fibers,” Richardson says. Since they don’t rinse out and we add more with every wash, all that build-up prevents fabrics from seeming like themselves. “I want my cotton to feel like cotton, and my wool to feel like wool,” says Richardson.
After talking to Richardson I felt good about my laundry routine. I don’t use fabric softener and I’m miserly with detergent. Dryer sheets, though? Guilty. Dallas, where I live, has hard water, too. Whiter towels, here we come.
To start, I filled my bathtub with really hot water. I followed the recipe in the video — one-quarter cup Borax, one-quarter cup washing soda and one-half cup powdered detergent. I muddled that around with my wooden spoon and added four towels. Mine were dry, but that doesn’t matter as long as they’re clean.
I agitated the towels to make sure they were saturated with the stripping mixture. The water already looked suspiciously gray. I came back every hour to stir. After about five hours, I threw the towels in an extra-long rinse cycle.
The verdict? It worked! While the water stayed a relatively stable, spring-rainwater tinge, the laundry stripping concoction did its job. After a rinse and then a spin in the dryer, my towels were much fluffier and looked brighter.
Use Less Stuff
Do people want to do this every few months? I stripped a few towels and it took all day. The last thing I want to do is strip my entire linen closet every few months.
Doing laundry should clean our clothes, not add artificial coatings we have to strip off later to trick us into thinking the clothes are clean. To end the laundry-stripping cycle, Richardson says to follow these tips for fresh, residue-free laundry:
- Get rid of fabric softeners: You don’t need them, and they just make your clothes dirty.
- Cut back on the detergent: Most people use way too much. A medium-sized load only needs two tablespoons.
- Use soap flakes: Soap rinses clean, so you can’t overdo it.
- Make dryer balls: Aluminum foil eliminates static and can be recycled.
- Clean your washer: Start fresh by de-gunking your washer. Run one pound Borax and one gallon vinegar through the longest, hottest wash cycle.
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