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How to Strip Cloth Diapers

Cloth Diaper Stripping Helps Avoid Stink & Repelling

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Stripping Cloth Diapers

Clean cloth diapers ready to be stripped using Dawn dish detergent.

2012, H.C.
As I attempted to nap next to my toddler son recently, I kept getting a whiff of something really unpleasant. It wasn't a dirty diaper, but was definitely coming from his cloth diaper. It's hard to describe the stink that occurs when cloth diapers get detergent buildup, but it's unique, and often occurs most noticeably when baby's urine soaks the diaper.

Detergent buildup can also cause cloth diapers to repel moisture, which is a bigger problem. My nose can handle yucky smells, but I really need those diapers to hold in the ick instead of repelling it! Whether you've got abnormal diaper stink or less absorbency, stripping your cloth diapers can help. This process helps remove buildup so your dipes smell fresher and absorb like they did when they were new.

Some diaper creams can also cause residue, stink, and repelling. Be sure you choose a cloth-diaper-friendly diaper cream, or use a diaper liner to protect your cloth diapers if you must use regular diaper rash cream. Residue from diaper creams might require some extra work to remove, even beyond these basic diaper stripping instructions.

Before You Strip Cloth Diapers

It's important to start with clean diapers. You want the stripping wash to remove the extra residues that haven't rinsed out before. If the detergents or wash water also have to work to clean the diapers of regular soil, stripping won't be very effective. Use your regular cloth diaper washing method before you begin.

Stripping With Dawn Dish Detergent

Using liquid Dawn dish detergent is my favorite method of stripping diapers. It's easy, works well, and the detergent is available at almost any store. Since Dawn is an excellent degreaser, it does a great job of removing any waxy or oily buildup that could cause repelling. Since that same buildup also causes stink in many diapers, Dawn dish soap often cures the gross smells, too.

Liquid dish soap makes lots of suds, so you don't need to use very mush to strip your cloth diapers. It's always tempting to use a lot of soap so you know the laundry is clean, but this can cause a huge mess in your washer.

For a top-loading washing machine, you'll need to add about a Tablespoon of Dawn. If you have a high efficiency washing machine, you only need about a teaspoon. You should check your washing machine instructions to be sure you won't void the warranty by using a little bit of dish detergent. I have not had any trouble using a small amount of Dawn in my HE washer, but your mileage may vary.

After you've added the Dawn, wash your diapers in hot water. Then set your washer for two or three extra rinses. I like to do two "speed wash" cycles with warm water, no detergent, after the hot water and Dawn cycle, just to help rinse everything out of the diapers. You can check the rinse water for suds to be sure the diapers have been stripped well enough.

Stripping Diapers With No Detergent

Some parents have good luck just using hot water to strip diapers. If the problem is detergent residue from previous washes, it might be enough to just wash your diapers in very hot water a few times, rinsing well each time. Again, watching the rinse water for suds will tell you whether or not there's still detergent coming out of your diapers.

Other Diaper Stripping Methods

Very hot water can be used outside of the washer to strip diapers. One of my friends put her prefolds in a pot of boiling water with a bit of Oxyclean, and says that method worked like a charm. Boiling water can damage some cloth diapers, particularly those with plastic snaps or waterproof laminate layers, so use caution with this method.

Some Oxyclean in your hot water wash can help wash out lingering detergent, as can a scoop of plain baking soda. Adding a half-cup of vinegar to your final rinse also helps break down common stink-causing residues.

Bleach also does a good job of removing residue. However, bleach isn't recommended by very many cloth diaper manufacturers, so you'll need to check on whether or not using bleach will void your diaper warranty. If you have really stinky dipes, or a big problem with repelling diapers, and nothing else is working, bleach might help. I have tried an occasional bleach load with my diaper stash, with no problems. The diapers come out fresh, and I haven't noticed any damage or additional wear after the bleach cycles. I have used just a small amount, about a quarter-cup, and lots of extra water in the washer. Again, your results may be different, so consider the type of diapers, the type of washer, the local water, and the level of stink/repelling problems before adding bleach to strip your diapers.

Reducing the Need

Rinsing your cloth diapers very well in your usual laundry system will help reduce detergent buildup. Regular use of Oxyclean, baking soda, or a small amount of vinegar also will help rinse your diapers clean. It's much easier to try to address residue before your diapers smell bad or start repelling moisture.

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