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An amazing solution for dingy, gray laundry

Mary Hunt
Mary Hunt

The problem of dingy gray laundry is not foreign to my mailbox. In fact, it's a subject that shows up a lot. Why do bedsheets, towels, socks and T-shirts turn dull and gray, feel stiff and lose absorbency?

It's the 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 oil, deodorant, lotions, shampoo and conditioners that adhere to the fibers of the fabric, and what do we get? We get linens and clothes we think are clean but that may come out with lingering odors and poor appearance.

It's our laundry habits that cause these dingy gray results:

• Using cold water for every type of laundry load.

• Allowing bed linens and towels to become heavily soiled.

• Using too much detergent, fabric softeners and scent enhancers.

• Using laundry detergent that does not contain enzymes to break down soil.

• Never cleaning the washer.

"Laundry stripping" is a process of removing all the buildup and getting down to the bare 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.

Caution: The process of laundry stripping is not suitable for all fabrics. Do not attempt to strip any fabric that cannot tolerate hot water; delicate fabrics such as silk, spandex or lace that require hand-washing or the gentle cycle; or colored items that are not colorfast.

Start with clean laundry that has been separated into whites and colors. Do not mix whites with colors in this process. You can strip one 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.

Fill the bathtub or container 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.

For a standard-size bathtub, add 1/4 cup of washing soda, 1/4 cup of borax and 1/2 cup of heavy-duty laundry detergent with enzymes. Be sure to read the label: Popular brands of detergent with enzymes include Persil, Biz and Tide. If yours is a larger or deeper tub, double these amounts, making sure the ratio is always twice as much detergent as the other products.

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

Now the process begins. Once an hour and until the water is completely cooled (three to four hours or longer), stir the items with the spoon or broom handle. The color of the water may be shocking (even gross)!

As satisfying as this process can be, you may find this disgusting. Just keep in mind that the 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 to pull the plug. Let it drain.

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

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

Be amazed, because the results will be that dramatic.

I documented my first experience with laundry stripping with more detailed instructions and photos. Wow, you need to see this at EverydayCheapskate.com/laundrystripping.

Mary Hunt is the founder ofEverydayCheapskate.com and author of "Debt-Proof Living." Questions, comments and tips can be sent on her website.