Disclaimer: When it comes to detergents and cloth diapers, opinions bounce all over the place on what you should and shouldn’t be doing. This post is based on my personal experience and information I have collected from while trying to solve the repelling and stink issues my diapers used to have. Please do not hold me responsible for any issues that may happen to your diapers.
As exciting as its title may sound, stripping diapers is NO fun. This is definitely one of the downsides to cloth diapering. If you have to strip diapers, then that means that your diapers have some kind of buildup on it that requires lots of water to flush through them to get rid of the bad stuff. Many would argue that if you are stripping diapers, then you still haven’t found your washing machine/detergent/washing routine soul mates. Such a statement is difficult to prove, given the many water type/washing machine/detergent combos that we have out there. One could definitely argue that some detergents may decrease the amount of stripping that someone would have to do, and we will learn more about that as the Cloth Diaper Washing database rolls out later this month here at Padded Tush Stats. (Update: You can now see information on various detergents on our Detergents Statistics page).
But I want to give you some basics on stripping diapers:
1) Diaper creams – if you use a diaper cream that is not cloth diaper safe, it creates a nasty film in it that needs a labor of love to get it off. Try cloth diaper safe creams like CJ’s BUTTer or Grandma El’s. If you have a machine that is a front loader that doesn’t get much water running through it, you may still have some repelling issues. In that case, use a liner whenever you use a cloth diaper safe cream, just for extra protection (uh-oh, did an unknowing friend use Desitin on your baby? First off, SORRY, second, you may need to give it a gentle scrub with an old toothbrush).
2) Detergent buildup – This is one of the most common causes for a needed diaper strip. Basically layers of detergent develop on top of the diaper and without adequate amounts of water washing through it, detergent slowly (or quickly) builds up and begins to repel any liquid that touches it (i.e. pee). This can be very common if you have a pocket or all in one diaper with a stay dry top. Many people say to flick some water at it and see if it beads up, but these stay dry fabrics need a little compression on them to truly test to see if repelling is happening. So just pour a little trickle of water on it and then put something waterproof (like a balloon or plastic toy) on it (making sure there are no gaps anywhere) and see if the insert under the stay dry top gets wet. If it is not wet, then it is likely that you have repelling.
3) Not enough hot water/not enough detergent: If your diapers start to smell like ammonia or barn, then you are in need of a good strip. This is because bacteria is building up and you either don’t have hot enough water to kill the bacteria or you aren’t using enough detergent. Basically bacteria is not getting killed quickly enough, and so when your baby’s waste hits that bacteria, a funky chemistry experiment happens that results in either knocking people out when they enter their baby’s rooms in the morning, or making Moms look creepy for sticking their nose in a diaper to get a good whiff of it as it comes out of the dryer. The bacteria happens most often in night diapers, since the baby sleeps in them overnight and the moisture+heat can be prime advertisements for a bacteria bash (most often the bacteria throw their frat parties in the wet bag). Diapers that are VERY absorbent (i.e. very thick inserts or fitteds) are most susceptible to this since it is difficult for water to flush through the very inner fibers of the fabric. The best tip to avoid this is to rinse out the morning diaper. (Warning: some diapers come with instructions to NOT use hot water and if you do so, you void the warranty. If you have hard water and a front loader and you want the comfort of a diaper warranty, then make sure that the diaper you are buying does not have that policy).
How to strip
There are a few methods that people use. But first of all, clean the diapers with detergent FIRST. Some even do this with just a little extra detergent than what they normally use, just to ensure that the diapers are clean enough (kind of counter-intuitive if you think you have detergent buildup-I know, but it is worth it to ensure that the issue isn’t that the diapers have a bacteria+detergent buildup).
1) Boiling: This is one of the fastest and cheapest ways to strip, but ONLY if a diaper is not made of a waterproof fabric like PUL or TPU. If you stick either of those materials in there, it melts like the Wicked Witch of the West. You also should not boil anything with snaps, fasteners, or elastic as the heat will damage them. (So you can basically boil fabric – flats, prefolds, plain inserts, etc.). You can boil the inserts for about 5-10 minutes.
2) Soak: If you have a top loader, hats off to you, just throw the stuff in for a good overnight soak with a little bit of vinegar or oxyclean and that should help. If you have a front loader, then soak them in the bathtub overnight (but make sure the door is closed so a baby or child can’t get in there and fall in a full tub).
3) Wash wash wash – Wash your diapers several times in hot water without detergent. The more water getting through the diapers, the merrier. Keep looking in at the last rinse cycle for suds. SOME suds are OK, but there shouldn’t be many. Keep rinsing until almost all suds are gone.
Some items can be helpful in stripping, but beware, as excessive use of these can hurt your diapers and could void warranties:
1) Vinegar – If you have hard water, it’s best not to use this, it actually might backfire on you and make your problem worse. 1/2 a cup should be good if you don’t have hard water.
2) Bacout – This helps kill bacteria. Some people even spray the morning diapers with this before putting it in the wet bag, others put a little squirt in with the detergent every time they wash their diapers. About 1 teaspoon is good. Some babies are sensitive to the enzymes in this, so if your baby is sensitive to enzymes, you may want to steer clear of it.
3) Oxyclean – This stuff is magic to diapers. It is gentle on them, helps with stains, and helps with the stripping process. 1 scoop is good.
4) Blue Dawn – Second to breast milk, many people would argue this is liquid gold. Not pink dawn, green dawn, or yellow dawn, but for some freakish reason, BLUE DAWN does the trick. Just ONE LITTLE DROP, that’s it. It helps strip the diapers of residue. If you have a front loader, it may be easy for you to just wash them by hand with blue dawn, so you can run it under your bathroom faucet to get a bunch of water through it (since front loaders essentially spit water on the diapers).
5) Water Softener – A water softener such as Calgon may help you hard water people. This will help with the buildup that occurs because of hard water
6) Washing soda – This stuff is like a therapist for pH balance and gets it stabilized a bit. This is especially helpful if you have odor issues with your diapers. 1-2 tablespoons is good.
7) GroVia Mighty Bubbles Laundry Treatment – This is currently my favorite way to strip my diapers. It works perfectly in my water conditions. You can see my complete review of the GroVia Mighty Bubbles Laundry Treatment in this post.
New to diapering and freaked out by this? Don’t worry, once you figure out your best routine, you won’t be stripping your diapers that much. The results of the Washing Diapers survey should help you out a bit. But think of it this way, you are still saving money with cloth diapers, helping the environment, putting fewer chemicals against your baby’s skin than disposables, and so much more.
And, of course, let me know if you have questions. I ended up having to strip diapers the day little man came home from the hospital (GRRR!) and I have the unlucky combo of hard water + front loader + terrible machine, so I have been through it all. In case you are wondering: the answer to all my issues came with adding 1 scoop of oxyclean and 1 tablespoon of washing soda to every load.
I want to hear from you now…how do you strip your diapers? How often?
Special thanks to Michelle at Green Diaper Demos for editing this document.