If you've been on TikTok much, chances are you've seen the laundry stripping challenge at some point or another on your For You Page. We don't blame you. It's pretty satisfying to watch what you thought were clean towels or clean pillow covers be stripped of the hidden dirt and grime right there for you to see with your own eyes. And it's pretty easy to do, which is why it seems like everyone is trying it on items that are due for a deep clean in their house.
So what exactly is laundry stripping? According to House Beautiful, it is the process of removing buildup from your textiles that your standard wash cycle isn't able to get rid of. That buildup includes residue from detergents and softeners, minerals from hard water, oil, dirt, and bacteria.
If you're looking to go viral on TikTok and clean your bathroom towels at the same time, our Chief Technology Officer, Karen Iveson, is answering all of your questions about this soaking method.
Q: What is laundry stripping?
Karen Iveson: Laundry stripping is a long soaking process that removes any deposits of detergent, fabric conditioner, body oils, stains and some water minerals (salts). These deposits can build up on fabrics over time and become entrapped in the weave of the fabric. Soaking the fabric in a lot of very hot water to swell the fabric, with the addition of chemical cleaners, helps remove these deposits. The most common chemical cleaner used is Borax (chemical name sodium tetraborate).
Q: Is laundry stripping effective?
Karen Iveson: Laundry stripping is effective on white or very light fabrics that have become grey or yellowed, and very color safe fabrics. Lots of videos show water turning satisfyingly brown with the “dirt” that is supposedly removed from fabrics during the stripping process. This dirt is usually the dye being extracted from colored fabrics. The chemicals used in the stripping process cause this dye extraction and the very hot water makes the extraction happen more quickly versus the usual temperatures in laundry machines. When different colored dyes mix together in water, they make a brown color – think of the water filled jars used by teachers to rinse paint brushes after craft time.
Q: Can you only do laundry stripping on sheets/towels or other items too?
Stripping works best on white, lights and color fast fabrics. It can be used to whiten shirts and t-shirts. Don’t mix the whites with any colored fabrics
as you may accidentally dye your favorite white clothes.
Q: How do you do laundry stripping?
Karen Iveson: Laundry stripping is often done in a large sink or tub filled with very hot water. The most common chemical used to strip laundry is Borax. When added to very hot water it can form hydrogen peroxide bleach that whitens clothing. Borax can also inhibit the growth of bacteria and mold so is great for strip cleaning active wear. Stripping is also effective at cleaning diapers and soiled bed pads. Check the fabric label before use to ensure dyes are color-fast and will not run.
Q: How is this different from washing items in the washer machine?
Karen Iveson: For environmental reasons, washing machine manufacturers now design machines to use less water in a normal cycle. In addition, consumers use warm or cold water when washing on a normal cycle. Stripping uses lots of very hot water which is better for deep cleaning. Washing machines use much less water which is often warm or cold.
Q: What safety precautons should you take when laundry stripping?
Karen Iveson: ALWAYS keep children, vulnerable adults and pets away from the location where the laundry is being stripped, because the water is very hot and the chemicals are alkaline can irritate skin. Read the label on the chosen chemical before use and wear appropriate protective clothing such as gloves, an apron and protective eye safety glasses. Rinse the fabric thoroughly to remove all chemicals. Thoroughly rinse the tub with hot water only (no cleaners), particularly if it is used for bathing.