It’s gone viral on TikTok: A woman’s voice asks, “Y’all ready to strip some towels?” as a spa bathtub whirls, cardboard boxes of laundry powder perched on its ledge. But what is laundry stripping? What does it do — and more importantly — do you need to do it?
What is laundry stripping?
The concept behind laundry stripping is actually not new: The idea is to soak dingy or stained textiles, or items that have retained an odor even after washing, in laundry detergent, a laundry booster — a product that’s used in addition to your regular detergent, usually to aid in stain removal or odor elimination — or a combination of detergent and boosters.
In the viral TikTok, the soaking solution consists of ¼ cup Borax, ¼ cup Arm & Hammer Super Washing Soda and 1 scoop of Tide Powder Laundry Detergent. Borax and Arm & Hammer Washing Soda are laundry boosters that serve to leach out hard water minerals in fabrics, while laundry detergents like Tide contain surfactants and enzymes that will break down and remove soils that build up on fabrics.
The soaking process can take place in a bathtub, as shown in the video, or anything large enough to fully submerge the items in water, like a washing bucket or utility sink. Soaking takes several hours and is intended to remove “dirt” left behind on fabrics even after they’ve been washed.
After soaking, drain the detergent solution — which will probably be a murky brown color — and wash the items as usual in the washing machine.
Should you do it?
In a word: No.
“While this laundry stripping trend seems to have gained popularity with many consumers, our research and laundry expertise suggests that there are more effective methods to remove buildup on fabrics,” Tide senior scientist Jennifer Ahoni says.
She explains that laundry residue is comprised of body soils and fatty acid salts — what we colloquially refer to as soap scum. But most significantly, buildup on clothing, towels and other textiles is typically just residue from past laundry product usage.
“Most of that is likely to be excess detergent and fabric softener,” Leigh Krietsch Boerner, a journalist with a Ph.D. in chemistry who has written about the chemistry of laundry, said after viewing the laundry stripping TikTok. “As for the color in the water after she took her stuff out — some of that is undoubtedly dye. Some is likely caked up detergent and fabric softener, which tends to have dirt sticking to it,” she says.
According to experts, not only is laundry stripping ineffective — and therefore a waste of time and money — it can cause damage.
“I would not recommend that people do laundry stripping regularly,” Ahoni says. “The hot water temperature can be damaging to fabrics and prematurely age them. It can also cause dye loss on some fabrics.”
She says to especially avoid performing laundry stripping on delicate items and on dark or brightly colored fabrics that can fade and lose their vibrancy, giving them an old, worn and dingy appearance.
Krietsch Boerner adds that laundry stripping should not be done on workout clothes that contain spandex. “Spandex is sensitive to both high and low pH, and either can degrade the fabric over time,” she says. (Borax and Arm & Hammer Super Washing Soda are high in pH.)
She also cautions against using those products on down-stuffed items, like comforters or pillows, as “a high pH will strip the oils from the down and make it crunchy.”
What to do instead
The type of buildup that would necessitate laundry stripping is generally caused by subpar laundry practices. If your clothes, sheets and towels don’t come out of the wash clean, these three tips might address the problem:
- Don’t overload the washing machine. A stuffed drum leaves little room for water to rinse dirt, body soils and detergent out of fabric.
- Curb the overuse of detergent to reduce the presence of soap residue in fabrics, which can lend a dingy appearance and cause skin irritation.
- Avoid using fabric softener, including dryer sheets, which leave residue that builds up over time, trapping bacteria and leading to odor retention.
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