How to Strip…Laundry ;^)

I’ve posted about this on YouTube, but apparently, no blog post. So for posterity, here it is.

Why should I strip my laundry?

Fabric picks up oil from use. If it’s a kitchen towel, think about all the times you wipe your oily hands on it. If it’s a bath towel, thing body oils and lotions. Etc, etc. Fabric also gets “detergent build-up” from repeated washings. It’s normal. If your towels/clothes/bed linens no longer feel crisp or smell “off”, they probably need to be stripped. Once done, your fabric will be softer, more absorbent, and be brighter. If it’s still not white enough for you, then you should “blue” your laundry. (more below)

An aside: I first learned the benefits of stripping because I cloth diapered my child, and diapers become “off” REALLY fast, so I decided to apply that learning to the rest of my laundry.

Stripping vs. Blueing

If you search for “how to make my whites whiter” you’ll read a lot about blueing. However, one thing to clarify: stripping eliminates the problem whereas blueing makes your fabric “optically” whiter. An analogy: if you have a pimple, you want it to go away, you don’t just want to use foundation to cover it up. Blueing tricks the eye, but doesn’t eliminate the cause of the yellowing/dingeyness.

How to Strip

Get a giant pot and fill it about 3/4 with the fabric and cover with water. Add about 3tbl vinegar, 1tbl oxygen bleach, and 3tbl washing soda. Buy washing soda on Amazon here. Bring to a boil and then simmer for a few hours, stirring once an hour to move the fabric around. If your fabric is light you might need to weigh it down. Once it’s done boiling, run it through your washing machine.

You can also do this in your washing machine by boiling water on the stove and adding it to the wash on an extended wash and then adding boiling water during a rinse cycle. Run a second rinse cycle too. It works pretty well this way, although not the same as boiling for three hours (of course). But this was how I did my kids diapers and it worked well.

Then hang your laundry out to dry. NOTHING bleaches like the UV rays of the sun! And they also further neutralize odors. If you don’t like the “crispy” feeling of hung dry laundry, bring it in when it’s 90% dry and throw into your dryer.

How to “Blue” Your Fabric

Blueing is a process where you add a bit of blue tint to your washing machine to “cancel out” the yellow. It’s Color Theory 101. My mother-in-law is a big fan of blueing, whereas I am satisfied with my level of whiteness from stripping/hang drying. If you want to blue, here’s the product my MIL has used for decades which is really just blue tint (from minerals) and water…so not toxic.



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Building Your Own Laundry Line

Design at its core is about solving problems. A very important thing I learned in my design classes was to evaluate your “site” and exploit its strengths and minimize its weaknesses. Sometimes you can even turn a weakness INTO a strength.

Well I have an inferno hot “dog run,” or alley space if you prefer, that runs along the west side of my house. Why is the westerly direction worth noting? Because it gets tons of hot late afternoon sun. In fact, it gets so hot here in the summer time that the only thing the place is good for is storing our trash cans and our empty flower pots. The beauty of my “site” is that this space is surrounded on both sides by white walls. What does white do? It reflects sunlight and heat, and so these two white walls effectively bounce heat off each other like crazy.

Another thing about my site. This alley space is directly off my laundry area. So one day I thought to myself, “You know, if I were really smart, I would harness all of that freaking heat…hhhmmmm….what to do, what to do…..hhhhmmmm…” and then finally, after lots of thinking it hit me: A LAUNDRY LINE. Oh my gosh, why didn’t I think of that sooner. A laundry line. PERFECT. I could use my designer’s mind and turn a weakness (a blazing hot dead space) into a strength (a super ecofriendly alternative to my gas/electric dryer.)

So I enlisted my trusty partner in crime, my husband, to help me do it. But I didn’t want one of those huge umbrella shaped clotheslines because this space is narrow. I also didn’t want any of those retractable lines because they always seem to sag or break. So I told my husband I wanted a clothesline that would be sturdy and that had two long lines and he went to our local home improvement store and he bought:

– Two 5-gallon buckets (you could use leftover ones from plants you’ve planted if the plastic is sturdy enough)
– Two 50-pound sacks of quickdry cement
– 50-feet of clothesline
– Four-8 foot fence poles (this is a standard size, no cutting involved)
– Four-looped fence pole tops (that’s probably not their technical name, but look at the pictures and you’ll know what I’m talking about
– Four caribeneers

We then simply dug holes so that the buckets would be fully buried. We then put the buckets in the dirt and I held two poles in the bucket with about six inches between them while my husband poured in the cement and water.

As soon as the cement and water were in I could let go of the poles. We then let the poles cure overnight in the cement (the label of the cement bag said 24-hours) and the next day we backfilled the rest of the buckets with dirt so that the buckets were completely covered and invisible. We then put the caps with the loops on top of the poles, tied the clothesline to the carbineers and then hooked the carbineers to the loop. You could skip this last step and put the clotheslines directly on the loops, but we liked the carbineers because it allows us to remove the lines whenever we want and makes it a little easier to make the line super taut.

Voila, that day I did my first load of laundry that I hung dry with my perfect little wooden clothespins. In terms of estimating how long your line should be. My poles are 14 feet apart and initially I had two laundry lines for a total of 28 feet of natural clothes drying excellence. However, I found that with my high capacity laundry machine I actually needed a third line, which I strung on the same loop as the first line but made it much lower so that the laundry would dry properly. On this low line I hang rags, socks and other small items that won’t hit the ground. With the three lines (42 feet of clothesline total) I can hang one laundry load at a time. On a hot summer day I can dry 3 loads and on a sunny fall or winter day I can do a single load.

There is something very simple and perfect about hanging your laundry out…it’s almost meditative. And I love the smell of air dried laundry…and I love my $8 gas bills too. But more on that in my entry “Singing the Praises of a Laundry Line.”

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