dull gray laundry

Dingy Gray Laundry is the Problem—This is the Solution!

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Laundry stripping—it’s a hot topic around the internet these days, especially on cloth diapering and laundry forums. So is laundry stripping just a trendy topic or a fabulous laundry technique to solve an age-old problem?

The problem of dingy gray laundry is not foreign to my email inbox. In fact, it’s a subject that shows up a lot. Why do bedsheets, towels, socks, and t-shirts turn dull and gray, feeling stiff, and losing absorbency?

dull gray laundry

It’s the residue and buildup of detergent, fabric softeners, and minerals from hard water that we’re not removing with regular washing methods. Add to that the accumulation of sweat, body soil, deodorant, lotions, shampoo, conditioners and more that adhere and get stuck to the fibers of the fabric, and what do we get? Linens and clothes we think are clean but may come out with lingering odors and poor appearance.

Laundry habits that cause dingy gray results

  • Using cold water for every type of laundry load
  • Going weeks between changing and washing bed sheets and towels, allowing them to become heavily soiled
  • Using too much detergent, fabric softeners, or scent enhancers
  • Using laundry detergent that does not contain enzymes that break down soil
  • Never cleaning your washer

If anything in that list looks at all familiar, you need to know what laundry stripping is and how to do it.

Laundry stripping

Laundry stripping is a process of removing all the buildup and getting down to the bare fabric. It’s a specific process that removes all that of the gunk that attracts more grime and residue—all of it remaining even after regular laundry routines. The results are nothing short of amazing.

As wonderful aa treatment laundry stripping can be, you need to know that it is a powerful process that if overdone can be harsh on fabric. It should be done only a few times a year, or when clothes and linens begin to show signs of getting stiff and dull.

The process of laundry stripping is not suitable for all fabrics. Do not attempt to strip the following:

  • Any fabric that cannot tolerate hot water
  • Delicate fabrics like silk, spandex, or lace that require hand washing or the gentle cycle
  • Colored items that are not colorfast (the dye has not been stablized and the process is likely to pull out the color and send it down the drain! Check the item’s label.)

Gather these items

Equipment

  • bathtub, large sink, or large bin
  • long wooden spoon, broom handle, or similar
  • washing machine

Ingredients

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Instructions

Gather the items

Start with clean laundry that has been separated into whites and colors (see above).  You can strip an average size load of laundry at a time in a tub, sink, or bin that is large enough to allow the items freedom of movement during the process.

Do not mix whites with colors. Separate colors so that you are stripping items that are the same color or that you know are colorfast.

Hot water

Make sure the tub is clean.  Fill it halfway with the hottest water available from the tap. Ideally, the water should be 140 F. If your water heater cannot be adjusted for the process, be prepared to add enough boiling water to make sure the water is very hot.

Add products

For a standard size tub, add 1/4 cup washing soda, 1/4 cup borax and 1/2 cup detergent with enzymes. If yours is a larger and or deep tub, double these amounts making sure the ratio is always twice as much detergent as the other products. Example: 1/2 cup each borax and washing soda to 1 cup detergent and so forth.

Add items

Drop items to be stripped into the hot water, making sure they are open and can move freely. Do not overload. Use the wooden spoon or broom handle to make sure everything is submerged and completely saturated.

Soak and stir

Now the process begins. Once an hour and until water is completely cooled (3 to 4 hours or longer), stir the items through the water. What you see and I mean the color of the water may be shocking. Even gross.

Drain the swamp

As satisfying as this process can be, you may find this disgusting. Just keep in mind that dark water is all of the dirty, graying, dulling residues that have built up in the linens and clothing. It really does look like swamp water. It’s time pull the plug. Let it drain.

Squeeze out the water

Wring and squeeze as much water out of the items as possible and transfer them to the washer.

Run a full washer cycle

Set the washer to Cold and run a normal cycle with an extra rinse if possible. Do not add any detergent or other products.

Dry the laundry

Dry the laundry as you normally do in an automatic dryer, on a clothesline, or drying rack.

Enjoy!

I cannot adequately describe the satisfying joy this process gives. I took notes and photos of my maiden voyage on the sea of laundry stripping. I made a couple of minor mistakes, but nothing that prevented absolutely lovely results … continued below

 

 

My first laundry stripping adventure

I can’t recall a time when I was excited and at the same time embarrassed to share my adventure with you. Excited because it’s a super dramatic solution to a common problem, embarrassed because it’s somewhat gross. Let me just put it this way: I would have sworn that I have the cleanest, whitest, softest laundry in town.

While everything I read and researched on stripping laundry suggested that every household has clothes and items that need to be stripped of residue and buildup, I didn’t really believe it. I didn’t have any dingy gray towels or sheets to test strip, or so I believed. But I do have these bathroom rugs.

Three heavy white bathroom mats have presented a total mystery. They’re at least 5 years old, and as often as I launder them—they have become less than brilliant white. Ah-ha! Those rugs would be my test items for laundry stripping.

At the last minute, I decided to throw in a pile of face cloths that have tattletale make-up stains and also a set of bedsheets I took them off our bed to make the process even more challenging and or successful.

Notice that the items do not appear to be noticeably gray or dirty—except for those rugs.

pile of white laundry

 

Here are the exact products I used. My local supermarket did not have a free and clear version of Persil with enzymes in stock, I acquiesced to this “Original” version. It does contain fragrance, which we do not prefer. I will use this version in the future.

laundry stripping products

 

Next, I filled the large, deep bathtub with hot tap water and a few pots of boiling water—plus the three ingredients: 1/2 cup super washing soda, 1/2 cup borax and 1 cup heavy-duty detergent. (That tub is huge and for that reason I doubled the amounts from those stated above.)

 

I added the items and stirred them to get everything submerged and saturated. It didn’t take long to realize I had way too many items for one stripping session, but by now everything was soaking wet. So, I added more hot water.

 

Within about 15 minutes, this is what happened. Did I say “embarrassed?” More than that I was stunned. Shocked!

dirty laundry stripping

 

After an hour, look at this.

 

It took a good 5 hours of soaking and hourly stirring for the water to completely cool. It got darker and blacker with each stir and hour of soaking. What on earth?! I could not believe what was happening. Gross! But, I must admit, quite satisfying.

I drained the swamp, squeezed and wrung out the water, and proceeded to do three loads through the full washer cycle set on Cold (as above). By the time everything was dry and folded this really did take the better part of a day. But oh, the results!

My very old white bath rugs look like new! They are fluffy, soft, and brilliantly white.


Look at that!

 

white rugs after stripping

 

The sheets and towels? Better than new.

Maintenance

I will continue to use my homemade laundry detergent and wool dryer balls. And every 3 or 4 months, I plan to strip those rugs and all the bedsheets and the towels we use on a regular basis.

Next, I am going to research laundry detergent enzymes further. It’s possible I will add enzymes to the homemade detergent recipes. I’ll keep you posted.


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18 replies
Newer Comments »
    • Pearl says:

      You know works? WineAway. It’s an organic stain and needs something that will work on that. You got to put a little scrub action on the stains too. Recently I had a big red wine spill and no Wine Away and dumped Woolite instaclean w Oxy carpet cleaner for pet stains. The red wine went away like magic. No scrubbing. This is probably less expensive if it works for tire tracks. I buy the Wine Away on Amazon.

      Reply
  1. Phyllis says:

    I’m gonna try this, but I think borax makes my fingers break out in a blistery rash. Hopefully, the post-stripping wash/rinse in the machine will remove any borax residue. If not, the rash doesn’t last forever (sigh). Thanks for the details!

    Reply
  2. Kristi McGree says:

    I did this today with a bunch of yucky sports socks and kitchen potholders. When I started, everything was tired, worn out, and kind of stinky. Wow!!!! The water became Dis-gusting(!!) and the clothes became A-mazing. I am a new fan!!

    Reply
  3. NANCY KEETON says:

    I make my own laundry soap with your recipe — borax, washing soda & blue Dawn. Will this substitute for this soaking method? In other words, does blue Dawn include the necessary enzymes? I haven’t noticed graying in my laundry for several years.

    Reply
  4. MARIE TAPSCOTT says:

    Your process brought back memories of my Mom washing lace curtains for people ,she had a plunger (yes the one for plugged drains) to stir items around. Same outcome. ( She only used that plunger for cleaning the curtains).

    Reply
  5. Betty says:

    Is this a dumb question? Could I use Cascade powdered dishwasher detergent in place of Persil? It contains sodium carbonate, sodium silicate and enzymes.

    Reply
    • Mary Hunt says:

      You could but I wouldn’t recommend it. First, there is other stuff in Cascade, it’s not in the right proportions you need for Stripping Laundry and it’s pretty pricey! The way I see it, Laundry Stripping takes a lot of time and energy. Don’t cut your results short by taking shortcuts that will most certainly affect the outcome!

      Reply
    • Mary Hunt says:

      Hi Martini … I am on a mission to come up with an enzyme addition to our DIY laundry detergent, which I think would the answer to your question. But at this time, I don’t have that option for you. Stay tuned!

      Reply
    • Ed says:

      I googled it while in the detergent aisle at Walmart Arm & Hammer with OxiClean (but only the kind with OxiClean). The small bottle (25 loads) was under $3.

      I have old hardwood floors (from before polyurethane finishes existed) and I use about a quarter cup of washing soda in the mop water. I get that same satisfied feeling after mopping that Mary describes. It pulls up so much more gunk than regular cleaners do. It gives you a sense of accomplishment when you empty the bucket. I always keep a box on hand.

      Reply
    • Mary Hunt says:

      Hi Wanda … Many washers do not give the option for water hot enough to make this process work well. Add to that, front loaders especially use so very little water with no option to increase that, which also makes laundry stripping pretty much non effective. Third, even if you were to do this and turn the washer off for the duration required, many have an automatic drain feature upon stopping and if not, a locked washer cannot bet “stirred.” All of those actions are requred for best resultsl

      Reply
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