Why, when, and how to strip laundry naturally

August 14, 2021

How do you feel about August? Enough is enough? Or are you — like me — enjoying every last warm temp, sunny sky, and summer raindrop? Road trips are still on my calendar, outdoor plantings top my to-do list, and a backyard celebration is in the works! 

I have some household tasks to accomplish yet this month, too, before the fun fall tasks (leaves!) beckon. One of them is stripping laundry, which I like to do while I can still hang things outdoors to dry. Do you strip any of your laundry? I find it especially useful for refreshing towels these days, though when the kids were little I’d routinely strip their cloth diapers, too. 

When should I strip laundry?

Regular laundering doesn’t always get clothes, linens, and other laundry completely clean. That’s because the fibers in fabrics can trap and cause a buildup of sweat, body oils, body products (like lotion), and even hard water or detergent from the laundering process itself!

This buildup can cause odors, stiffen linens, and reduced absorbency for things like towels and cloth diapers. On top of all that, laundry might just not look and feel as clean and fresh as we’d like it to!

How can I avoid buildup before it happens?

To prevent the need for frequent laundry stripping, minimize the products, dirt, body oils, and chemicals your clothes and linens soak up. Bathe before bed, stick to natural lotions and body products, skip the fabric softener, and don’t use too much detergent.

Regularly adding a little vinegar to your laundry rinse cycle can help prevent buildup, too. We talk about refreshing your towels now and then by adding a couple cups of vinegar to the wash load in our article on towel care. And our article on cloth diapers describes how to strip diapers naturally using just hot water and vinegar.

Some experts say we shouldn’t need to strip our laundry at all, if we’re using natural products and laundering correctly! But I find that minerals in the water, soap (even from homemade detergent), and oils do build up over time. Naturally! I don’t regularly strip laundry, but I do occasionally strip specific items that are prone to buildup.

white laundry being placed in a washing machine

How do I strip laundry without harmful chemicals?

Most recipes for laundry stripping contain conventional detergent, borox (which, as I mentioned in this week’s post, I don’t recommend using), and other potentially harmful ingredients. Happily, there are some safe, effective, natural recipes out there, too! Some use washing soda and/or hydrogen peroxide. I use vinegar and baking soda (not together, unless you want a volcano in your washing machine!) Here’s how I do it (without worrying about exact amounts!):

  1. Wash items as usual so that they’re clean to start with. (You want to get out the extra ingredients; the everyday dirt doesn’t need stripping.)
  2. Soak items in a vinegar/very hot water solution. (Of course, only use hot water if your fabric allows. If you’re stripping synthetics or delicates, you’ll want to use warm or even cold water. Check the label for washing instructions, and use the temperature specified there). Use a couple of cups of vinegar for a small load of laundry. Don’t add detergent! I usually let the items soak overnight, but a few hours should do it. Do this in your top-loading washing machine, leaving the lid open, or in the bathtub or a bucket (depending on how many items you’re stripping).
  3. Drain the vinegar rinse and run the items through the rinse and spin cycles on the washing machine. (You can rinse well by hand, too, if you’re stripping just one or two items.)
  4. Soak the items in hot water and baking soda (again, no detergent) for about an hour. Use about half a cup of baking soda for a small load.
  5. Rinse well. (Again, run through the rinse and spin cycles on your washing machine or by hand, if you like.)
  6. Dry on a clothesline (the sun will freshen and brighten!) or in the dryer (if the items are dryer safe), or on a drying rack.

How often should I strip my laundry?

Your laundry will need to be stripped anywhere from monthly to almost never, depending on the type of laundry, what products you use, how you launder, what’s in your water, how active you are, etc. Once you successfully strip your laundry, though, you’ll have a better idea of what it feels (and smells) like when it’s truly clean! From there, you can adjust your habits to keep your clothes and linens cleaner, longer. Strip again when they’re no longer looking, feeling, or smelling their best!

Do you strip your laundry regularly, or do you find your laundry doesn’t need it? Do you have a favorite laundry stripping recipe that gets your clothes and linens extra fresh and clean? Share your insights below!

Take good care,

Headshot photo of Karen Mary with her signature in blue ink to the right

P.S. You can access all of the C2K weekly letters in the Newsletter section of the blog! Maybe there’s a topic you want to revisit or a link you want to find. Or maybe you just recently joined us and would like to catch up and/or sign up!

For the latest posts, be sure to stop by the blog every Tuesday — next week we’ll learn how to store zucchini! In the meantime, here are some posts you might want to visit this week:

Natural stain removal for clothing (new post!)

Washing machine care — How to make yours last

12 tips for washing kids’ sports uniforms

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