The Ultimate Laundry Stripping Recipe

Everything you need to know about the gross-but-satisfying laundry trend.

May  6, 2021
Photo by James Ransom

I remember the first time “laundry stripping” went viral. I was just out of college, and all of a sudden, my Facebook timeline was filled with videos of people swirling towels around in their bathtubs, leaving behind murky brown water. That was a few years ago, and once again, laundry stripping is all the rage—this time thanks to TikTok!

It’s no secret that #CleaningTikTok loves a good laundry hack, so it was only a matter of time before they got everyone interested in laundry stripping. After all, it’s sooo satisfying to watch all the dirt and grime come out of (seemingly) clean clothes or, in the case of TikTok user @emmast_john’s viral video, used couch covers. Ick! If you’re ready to try the trend out for yourself and see what gunk is hiding in your linens, here’s the best laundry stripping recipe and some insights into the process.

What Is Laundry Stripping, Exactly?

If you watched a laundry stripping video and thought to yourself, “I don’t get it,” let me shed a little light. It entails soaking clean laundry—typically linens like sheets and towels, but sometimes, clothing—in hot water with a mixture of laundry detergent and laundry boosters. Why? The goal is to remove leftover detergent, fabric softener, minerals (from hard water), natural body oils, and other dirt that might not have been rinsed out in the wash. It’s typically done with laundry that’s already been washed to remove the brunt of its dirt, so think of it like a deep-clean for your laundry—if those viral TikToks are any proof, it works!

What Kind of Laundry Can You Strip?

On TikTok, you’ll see people stripping everything from couch covers to baseball hats and workout clothes. However, there are a few things to keep in mind before you pick out the items to clean.

Join The Conversation

Top Comment:
“add some white vinegar, the cheapest stuff, to your rinse water. It's good for your clothes and it gets rid of scum in your machine. I never use softener as it is bad for your machine. There is no vinegary smell and my towels come out soft and without smell. I prefer that to the plastic flower smell of washing powder and softener. Try it. It's cheap and it works.”
— Lindie

First, laundry stripping uses hot water, which can damage delicate clothing, so please don’t try this with your favorite cashmere sweater or heirloom scarf. It can also lead to dye loss in colored items, so you’ll want to avoid mixing whites and colors in the same batch. (Some people say you shouldn’t strip colored fabrics at all, but others have done it successfully, so we’ll leave that decision up to you.) Second, the ingredients used in laundry stripping have a high pH that can be damaging to spandex, lace, silk, and down feathers, so stick to hand-washing those.

The Only Laundry Stripping Recipe You’ll Ever Need

You only need a few ingredients to get all the hidden residue out of your laundry. Here’s the most popular laundry stripping recipe that's enough for a bathtub:

You’re also going to need a large container filled with hot water. Most people simply use their bathtubs, which means they’re using around 30 gallons of water (yes, that's a lot of water), but you could also use a large plastic bin or laundry basin—just adjust the proportions.

How to Strip Laundry, Step-by-Step

Start by filling up your bathtub or wash bin with hot water—not just warm, but as hot as you can! Once the container is full, pour in the ingredients and stir them around to dissolve.

Next, submerge the items you want to strip into the water and give ‘em a good swish. Many people use the handle of a broom as a stirring rod for this! You should see the water get cloudy and brown as the dirt starts to come out of your laundry.

From here, it’s just a waiting game. Allow your laundry to soak until the water is completely cool, stirring it around every 30 minutes or so for a couple of hours. From here, you can remove the clothing and run it through the washing machine on a rinse cycle. Oh, and don’t forget to snap a photo of your disgusting bathwater to send to your friends.

How Often Should You Strip Laundry?

While laundry stripping can be fun and super satisfying, you should really only do it on an as-needed basis. The process is fairly harsh on fabrics, which can cause them to degrade faster or lose their color if you strip them too often.

Instead, you may want to consider ways to optimize your laundry routine and make sure all the dirt, oils, grime, and detergent is being removed from your clothing in the wash. In particular, you’ll want to avoid overloading your washer, which doesn’t leave enough room to rinse out fabric, and using too much detergent, which can leave behind soap residue.

What's the one item in your home that needs this? Tell us in the comments.

Your washing machine could use a deep clean, too

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See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Hdeckwerth
  • cmbrn69
  •  RisenWell
  • Lindie
Freelance writer, product tester & baking enthusiast.


YMLINDAHL May 20, 2023
At the risk of sounding “out of touch” with new “trends,” I have to say…**What!?** Why? Clothes are probably cleaner than they have been in the past. And last I checked…no one is dying because they didn’t strip their sheets or towels. So, I guess I’ll pass on the waste of water and time that would be devoted to this unusual practice…
Hdeckwerth October 4, 2022
Why couldn’t I do this in my washing machine basin?
cmbrn69 April 25, 2022
I have great luck doing this in small batches in a small cooler.It holds the heat for hours.
RisenWell August 31, 2021
Oh dear. In this overheating world of disappearing resources, perhaps a new motto could be " Good enough is good enough". As someone who lives in a drought-wracked state and is collecting cooking and shower water to salvage a few beloved plants,the idea of a extra 20-30 gallons of water going to this purpose is obscene. Perhaps you live somewhere that water is abundant (for now). Great! But "Plenty " is rapidly becoming " Lack" all over the world and wasting water on optics is heartbreaking.
Ircorva September 11, 2022
RisenWell- Your heartbreak reminds me much of the grief we got here in Ohio while the rest of the country derided those of us in “The Rustbelt” as business and manufacturing abandoned Ohio and headed for the now drought- wracked “Sunbelt.” Here in Akron, our rainwater feeds both the Great Lakes AND the Mississippi River. In my 68 years, even in dry summers, I’ve never experienced water rationing. I’m trying a laundry stripping soak on a dozen T-shirts at the moment, and have no trouble investing the 20 gallons to rescue them. I’ll continue to cope with a little winter and plentiful water while you folks enjoy your heat and sun.
Lindie May 21, 2021
add some white vinegar, the cheapest stuff, to your rinse water. It's good for your clothes and it gets rid of scum in your machine. I never use softener as it is bad for your machine. There is no vinegary smell and my towels come out soft and without smell. I prefer that to the plastic flower smell of washing powder and softener. Try it. It's cheap and it works.
KarenSiena May 11, 2021
Would washing the laundry twice in your washing machine, using small loads on high capacity water setting, following the above directions produce the same result? I'm not sure I could carry the heavy wet items. I have a regular washing machine (I distrust front loaders).
louise61 May 10, 2021
Can this remove set in stains?
/anne... October 4, 2022
The hot water is more likely to set the stain than remove it
magill May 7, 2021
Given the extremely low amount of water used by high efficiency washers - no one should be surprised that nothing really gets clean.
Mary E. May 11, 2021
I have one setting on my washer that uses more water, and that’s the one I use. The alternative to me is to take the laundry down to the river and beat it on rocks. I don’t understand dry cleaning either so I don’t use it. More open to cooking methods I don’t understand.
myartistry May 6, 2021
Old but still useful bed sheets. They need this soooo bad!