Monday, April 24, 2017

Stripping: Laundry Style

I've posted a few times about using homemade laundry detergent, something we've been doing for almost 4 years (version 1, version 2).  Other than a bottle of baby detergent that we were given when Luke was born and we used on his clothes for his first year, we've used homemade detergent on all our laundry loads for 4 years, including cloth diapers.  I've made two different kinds and reported back and have never experienced any problems with it.  It was cheaper and fairly easy to make and worked out great.

A few weeks ago my sister, who also used homemade detergent, sent me a link to this article about how supposedly homemade detergent doesn't get your clothes clean.  Her chemistry teacher husband had read it and agreed with all the science in the post and so they did the stripping and went back to using store-bought detergent.

I was starting to run low on homemade detergent and figured I'd use up what we had and then investigate this whole stripping and buying detergent thing.  About two weeks ago we were running super low and I realized laundry day was coming up.  Thanks to Prime, 48 hours later I had some 7th Generation powder detergent on my doorstep (not sponsored, just sharing what we bought!).  I picked that because I wanted powder detergent as well as being free & clear, and biodegradable. 

On Saturday morning I went to start my laundry.  It had been at least a few weeks since I read the post about stripping and had pretty much forgotten that any additional steps were needed besides just starting to wash our clothes with the store detergent.  I quickly figured that out (after a lot of texting with my sister) and got to the beginning of a very long laundry process.  Here's how you strip your laundry.

1) Wash a load. 
I used this as a way to use up the last of my homemade detergent.

2) Get the strip ready
Fill your bathtub with HOT water, about half full.  Add ¼ cup washing soda, ¼ cup Borax, and ¼ of water softener (I used some Calgon passed on from my sister).  If you don't have water softener (which I didn't for my first batch) then hopefully your detergent has water softener in it (mine did) OR just use ½ cup each of washing soda and Borax (you may notice that most of these stripping ingredients are the same as what I used to make detergent...I get the irony).

3) Start carting lots of laundry up and down the stairs
Put the wet, freshly "washed" laundry into the bathtub.  Start another load in the washer and add that to the tub.  (I'd do two full washer loads in each bathtub load.)

4) Let it soak in the tub about 4 hours.
Stir it every 45 minutes - an hour to agitate it and help loosen dirt and bacteria.

5) Wring it out and wash it all again.
I'd fill a laundry basket with still pretty wet clothes, cart it downstairs and then rewash and dry as normal.

6) Refill the tub and repeat.

You might be thinking to yourself.  "That's a lot of work!"

Yes, yes it is.  I did 20 loads of laundry over 3 days, as well as 5 bathtub cycles.   I wrung out so much laundry that I got a blister and popped it.  It's gross.

Your next thought: was it worth it?

Well, I'm glad you asked because I took a surprising number of pictures of my bathtub filled with clothes.  Because, why not.

Here's a load early in the bathtub cycle.  Not too gross:

Here's a load later in the soak cycle:

And that was a supposedly "clean" load of laundry that had been "washed" with homemade detergent right before it went in the tub.  And I even scrubbed the tub before putting the clothes in, which it then needed multiple times in the process because the laundry grime was leaving rings in the tub.

Here's more pictures of the tub filled with clothes:

I was initially really grossed out by how dark the water got with the darker loads BUT I'm fairly certain some of it was dye, not just really dirty clothes.  I mean, some of it was pretty dirty BUT the water was blue at one point and I don't think we had enough blue dirt to do that. 

Still, that's pretty gross.  I was convinced.

Initially I was just thinking about washing just the normal weeks' laundry but then realized that wouldn't  nearly cover everything.  Which it how it turned into 20 loads and a multi-day project.  I washed the normal laundry.  The sheets that had just come off our bed.  Then it was all socks and underwear.  Then the flannel sheets that had been put away for the spring.  Then ALL of our shirts.  All of my workout clothes.  All of Luke's currently fitting shorts (and he was THRILLED that I pulled those out of the attic early).  All of the bath/kitchen/hand towels.  All rags.

It went on and on and on.

Things I didn't strip:
My dresses since I rarely wash those anyways (since they don't get worn enough to wash).  Matt's jeans and shorts (he told me not to bother) and all of Luke's outgrown and yet to be grown into clothes.  I figure I'll mess with the too small stuff when it's needed and the too big stuff never got washed with homemade detergent.  (Although I feel like I've read that you should strip your clothes before wearing them the first time soooo...maybe I should?  I haven't yet...)

I still need to strip the sheets currently on our beds and all lap blankets but then I think I am done.

Am I still glad we used homemade detergent for 4 years?  Yes.  I'm glad I tried it and it did save us a lot of money, especially in the cloth diaper stage (and I did strip those about once a month with bleach, as recommended by the maker).

Do I think anyone could strip their laundry and have the water come out gross?  Yes.  Especially for the "tends to be dirtier" stuff like socks, workout clothes, and anything worn by little boys (huge fan of dirt, at least in our house).  I plan to do this again next spring, specifically on those items and maybe some towels and sheets too, just to test my theory.  I will, of course, be reporting back.

Did I notice a difference in all this extra clean laundry?  Once it was rewashed and dry?  No.  I really didn't.  Nothing really smelled, looked, or felt different.  If I hadn't seen all the dirty stripping water and wrung out a couple hundred items of clothing I'm not sure I would have believed it was necessary.  But I did see the water and I did wring out all that clothes and carry a couple (hundred?) pounds of wet laundry up and down the basement stairs.  I know they are cleaner now.

I did more laundry in a few days than I typically do in a month but it's pretty refreshing to have all clean.  Also, a good way to Kon-Mari it and touch every. single. item of clothing.  And I don't mind laundry (blisters are another story) and it was a good bonus arm workout hauling all that laundry!  Overall, no regrets.  And I'll feel a little more justified when my strip comes out dirty still next year. 

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