Do you ever feel like your clothes are never really clean, no matter how many times you wash them? You're not alone! In fact, this is a common problem that can be solved with a simple and natural solution: laundry stripping with vinegar.
It's 10 am; you're scrolling through your TikTok feed, minding your own business while watching kittens being adorable when suddenly a random video pops up on your screen. You notice a bathtub full of what seems to be clothes, towels, and water almost pitch-black... Yuck! What’s that?!
I'm talking about something that not only exists on the #cleantok side of the popular app but has been floating around the internet for several years now. Something that has spread like wildfire among cleaning threads as an infallible method to remove dirt from any kind of textile... That's right. I'm talking about laundry stripping.
After watching that first video, you start researching, and you realize that thousands of people claim that their items underwent a big "before and after" after subjecting them to this "miraculous" treatment, but... Is there a natural way to jump on the laundry stripping bandwagon? Almost all the videos and articles out there mention ingredients far from being eco-friendly — like Tide and Borax —, but here's the good news: there is a natural alternative! And as you may have already read in this post's title, it involves one of my all-time favorites from my eco cleaning kit — vinegar.
But before you roll up your sleeves and start stripping... Your laundry, of course. Let's find out exactly why there is so much hype surrounding this technique.
What is Laundry Stripping?
When you take your clothes out of your washing machine, they smell and feel clean, right? Well, they might smell like they're clean, and they might feel like they're clean, but underneath the surface is another type of "dirt" that clings tightly to the fibers, which is difficult to remove in a typical wash cycle. This is where laundry stripping comes in, which is basically a deep cleaning method that removes that "dirt" from fabrics by soaking them in a cleaning solution over some time.
I say "dirt" because what most people don't realize is that what comes out of the laundry is mostly not dirt, but rather years of built-up detergent, natural body oils, fabric softener, and minerals derived from hard water. In fact, of all the residues that can be found in the laundry, the worst of them all — and the most prevalent — is fabric softener.
You see, fabric softeners don't soften the fabric. Instead, what they do is coat the fabric with chemicals and a waxy film that not only makes the fabric feel soft to the touch but also attracts and holds dirt. When you strip that fabric, that's when the waxy coating breaks down and releases all the dirt and residues. How cool is that?
How Often Should You Strip Laundry?
While laundry stripping is an excellent way to get rid of nasty buildups, you shouldn't use this method too often, because it isn't a regular cleaning method, rather it is a time-consuming and somewhat aggressive one. Thick, tough, and mostly white items won't be negatively affected, but if we talk about colored items... That's a whole different story.
Remember that pitch-black water sitting in the bathtub of all the videos you binge-watched after you tapped the #laundrystripping hashtag? Well, besides traces of minerals, fabric softener, detergent, and such, that's mostly caused by a dye that leaks out of colorful items. To prevent this from happening, it's best to be conservative with the number of times you strip your laundry, limiting yourself to doing it only 2 to 3 times a year. There is no need to hype yourself up and do it every week or so.
Why would you want to strip laundry?
You want to strip laundry if:
- You have really dirty items that have been stored in a dusty place for a long time and smell kinda funky
- You suffer from a skin condition / have sensitive skin and your clothes or sheets started to bother you
- You notice that your towels do not absorb liquids like before
The reasons for carrying out this cleaning method are not only aesthetic or functional like the last one I mentioned, but mainly to protect the skin from all traces of accumulated substances on the fabrics. Built-up dust, minerals, detergent, and fabric softener can be bad for sensitive skin, especially if there are children at home, as this can lead to allergic reactions. So to reduce any discomfort, it doesn't hurt to do this procedure at least once.
Non-Toxic Laundry Stripping
There are hundreds of techniques and hacks to perform the best laundry stripping possible, but TBH, the best laundry stripping technique is the non-toxic one, period.
Ever since I first read about this procedure, the words "Borax", "pollutantdetergentname" and "washing soda" kept popping up in every post I visited, and while washing soda is an eco-friendly and non-toxic compound, neither Borax nor most detergents are. That's why I decided to go with two ingredients — besides non-toxic and biodegradable detergent — to make my DIY natural version, one that is already used in most recipes, and another that I just love — washing soda and vinegar.
Probably some of my readers have never heard of washing soda before, but it's nothing more than sodium carbonate, a cousin of baking soda that is commonly used to remove stubborn stains from clothes but can also help fight all kinds of built-up dirt and grime. Most washing soda is sold under the Arm & Hammer brand, but if you don't want to go to your nearest grocery store, guess what — you can make it yourself! All you'll need is baking soda, an oven, and this easy tutorial from The Spruce. If you are in Canada, you can find it a well.ca. And in the USA you cab grab it on Amazon.
If vinegar is good for loosening limescale and even mold and mildew inside washing machines, some detergent build-up and dirt on fabrics is no challenge for this wonderful liquid. Its acidic nature is perfect at penetrating the fibers of any textile without contaminating waterways or being highly harmful to us, but where it really shines is when it's mixed with washing soda, thus creating a powerful solution that will be your best ally during the laundry stripping process.
P.S: Vinegar is without a doubt the best natural option for laundry stripping, but if you don't want to use it, hydrogen peroxide is also an ingredient you can use to deep clean your laundry. A few days ago, I talked about it in a post related to laundry day, yet I have to give it an honorable mention here as it is a disinfectant, brightener, and deodorizer that will give you good results in laundry stripping without having to use something as acidic as vinegar.
How to Create a Laundry Stripping Solution
Before I share my natural laundry stripping recipe, I need to briefly point out that almost all of the viral laundry stripping videos floating around the internet feature a bathtub, but if you don't have one, don't worry — your top-loading washing machine can work too.
To create the laundry stripping solution in a bathtub, first, fill it with hot water, and pour in vinegar, washing soda, and your preferred eco-friendly laundry detergent following a 1 to 1 to 2 ratio, adjusting the amounts based on how much water you're using or until you feel it's good. Oh, and let me tell you one thing right off the bat: your bathtub will momentarily turn into a fizzing science experiment but don't panic, the reaction will settle down in a few seconds. Then, all you have to do is stir the mixture, and that's it.
Now, to create the laundry stripping solution in a top-loading washing machine, you need to select the hottest setting and add ¼ cup vinegar, ¼ cup washing soda, and ½ cup detergent as it fills. Again, if you feel it's not enough vinegar, feel free to add a little more.
Once your cleaning potion is well combined, you are officially ready to give your laundry the makeover it needs.
How to Naturally Strip Laundry
You already have your natural solution sitting in your bathtub, you know what items you're going to soak, and you're determined to beat every build-up there is, but... You don't know where to start. If that's the case, just read on and follow these simple steps:
- Wash the items you want to strip like normal, just taking the fabric softener out of the equation if you normally use it.
- Submerge your just-washed laundry — it doesn't matter if it's wet or dry — into the solution and give it a good stir with a broomstick.
- From here, you just have to let everything soak and wait. Patience is key in this step, as you have to wait about 4 to 6 hours for the mixture to take effect.
- Every hour or so, give it another good stir to really loosen the buildup. This is the fun part, because every time you stir it, you will see how the dirt and residue come off into the water and turn it gray or even brown.
- Once the hours have passed, and the water has cooled down, drain and wash everything one more time in the washing machine on the water only cycle, without using detergents or fabric softeners.
- Dry your laundry as you normally would.
Bonus step: Record this whole process to upload your reaction to TikTok and gain thousands of followers!
If you are laundry stripping with vinegar and washing soda in your top-loading washing machine, the process is exactly the same, except you have an additional advantage: you don't have to relocate the clothes! Once the hours have passed, just close the lid and let the machine do its thing. Then, run an extra wash cycle if necessary, and finally, throw the items into the dryer or let them dry in the sun. It's a time-consuming task, but you have to admit that it's very easy to do.
Laundry Stripping FAQs
Can I Strip Clothes?
On TikTok, people strip everything, from curtains to pillowcases and even vintage dresses. But can you actually strip those old denim jackets that have been hanging in the back of your closet for over a decade? The answer is yes, you can strip clothes, but there are a few things you need to keep in mind before you go soaking your entire closet in the cleaning potion sitting in your bathtub.
First of all, keep your favorite recycled cashmere sweater out of this activity. The main component of laundry stripping is hot water, and as you may already know, hot water is one of the worst enemies of delicate fabrics. I'm talking about silk, cashmere, rayon, heirloom, or anything that has a "cold water wash only" label — such as spandex —, as it can damage or shrink it. Long story short, check your item's care tag for water temperature requirements first!
As I mentioned earlier, even if you use a natural laundry stripping solution, the ingredients in it can lead to color fading in dark items. Yes, I know it's gross but kinda satisfying to watch your bathtub fill up with dark water, but some of that is just dye that leaked out of your colored clothes. I won't claim that you should definitely avoid stripping your colorful clothes — because plenty of people have done it successfully —, but I'm just letting you know what might happen if you try it. What I do suggest you avoid is mixing whites and colors in the same batch — it's better to be safe than sorry.
Oh, and if you are a fan of wool — ethically sourced, of course —, I also suggest you don't use this method, as washing soda has a high pH and can strip off lanolin, and natural oil that protects the fiber.
Can I strip Towels and sheets?
You can absolutely strip both towels and sheets, in fact, those are some of the most commonly stripped items in the hundreds of viral TikTok videos. They are thick, absorbent items that we all use every day and wash frequently, so it's no surprise that they easily collect a buildup of body oils, fabric softeners, and detergents.
The only "but" I can say about stripping towels and sheets is that after using this method, you need to rinse each item with plenty of water if you have sensitive skin so that no vinegar or washing soda remains. And if your sheets are made of silk or any other delicate material, remember to avoid laundry stripping.
Does laundry stripping actually work?
I have tried this method several times, and in my experience, laundry stripping works, but it isn't absolutely necessary. It isn't something you have to do religiously every week, or else your clothes and towels will be covered with dirt and bacteria that will make you hopelessly sick, rather it is something that should be done whenever your textiles really ask you to do it.
Honestly, most of the time, I would rather prevent the need for stripping altogether. It only takes skipping toxic fabric softeners and using less detergent, which is not too hard to do. However, if you want to strip your clothes, your sheets, your towels, or even your baseball caps, go ahead! Laundry stripping with vinegar is an excellent natural way to perform this intensive washing method if you feel like doing it.
And if you love to clean like me, you must take a look at these awesome articles:
How To clean a very stained toilet bowl naturally
How to clean a hazy mirror
How To Clean A Washing Machine Naturally Without Vinegar
How To Clean A Top Loading Washing Machine With Vinegar And Baking Soda
How To Clean A Mirror That Is Hazy, Naturally
Eco Benefits of Steam Cleaning (Plus the Best Handheld Steamers!)
Eco Friendly Cleaning Products That Disinfect
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