Disclaimer: This post is based on Tara’s personal experience and information she collected while trying to solve the repelling and stink issues her diapers had at the beginning of her cloth diapering journey. The opinions and suggestions do not necessarily reflect the beliefs currently held at Padded Tush Stats. Stripping diapers, while sometimes necessary, should not be an accepted part of your routine. If you would like help troubleshooting your current wash routine to AVOID needing to strip your diapers in the future, consider joining the Padded Tush Stats Discussion Group on Facebook.
As exciting as this post 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 aren’t getting adequately clean for some reason. If you are having to regularly strip your diapers, then you still haven’t found your washing machine/detergent/washing routine soul mates.
But even if you HAVE a great wash routine right now, sometimes things happen that might necessitate a strip (you take your diapers on vacation and wash them at someone else’s house, you move to a location with different water composition, you decide to try a new detergent, your household water softener breaks, etc.). And in case that happens, here is what you should know!
If you use a diaper cream that is not cloth diaper safe, it creates a nasty film that needs a labor of love to get 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 fleece 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).
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 fleece 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).
This is one of the most common causes for a needing to strip your diapers. 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 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.
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 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 underneath the stay-dry top gets wet. If it is not wet, then it is likely that you have repelling.
Not Enough Hot Water or Not Enough Detergent
This is the other most common causes for needing to strip your diapers. If your diapers develop the infamous “barnyard stink” (smells just like it sounds!) or begin to smell like ammonia, then you are in need of a good deep cleaning (i.e. stripping). 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 to properly clean all the bodily fluids out of the diaper.
Basically, ammonia develops because bacteria is not getting killed quickly enough. When your baby’s urine meets the bacteria, it rapidly breaks down the pee into ammonia. Ammonia develops most commonly in night diapers, since the baby sleeps in them for an extended period of time and the moisture+heat can be prime environments for a bacteria bash. 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. (Sidenote: MOST overnight diapers or diapers that have been in the pail or wet bag long enough will smell like ammonia to some extent. This is totally normal, because all urine breaks down into ammonia given enough time and a warm or enclosed environment. The ammonia that is a concern is the kind IN the diaper that knocks the wind out of you. If you can still breathe when you greet your baby in the morning, you’re probably fine. If you feel like you’ve been punched in the gut, then something needs to change!).
Parents usually notice barnyard stink either when the diaper is peed in or when the diaper comes out of the dryer (it’s typically the warmth of the urine or the dryer that heats up the fabrics, and with it, any lingering poop or pee particles that were not entirely washed out of the material). The only time your diapers should ever smell like poop (or anything “barn” related!) is when your baby has pooped in them.
In the case of both ammonia and barnyard stink, not using enough detergent or not using hot enough water is very often to blame. (Bummis famous “Laundry Science” article has a good explanation of how these factors, combined with time and the physical movement of the diapers in the washing machine, are responsible for getting your diapers clean).
(Warning: some diapers come with instructions to NOT use hot water or specific, usually mainstream, detergents. 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 has a policy you think will still allow you to get your diapers clean).
Common Ways To Strip
There are a few methods that people use. But first of all, clean the diapers with detergent FIRST. Some people even do this with just a little bit MORE 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 problem).
This is one of the fastest, cheapest, and most all natural ways to kill the bacteria lingering in your diapers, 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 sturdy and durable fabrics – cotton flats or prefolds, microfiber, etc. Boiling more delicate fibers like bamboo or hemp inserts is not advised). You can boil the inserts for about 5-10 minutes, making sure there is adequate water in the pot to cover the diapers completely the entire time.
You can boil the inserts for about 5-10 minutes, making sure there is adequate water in the pot to cover the diapers completely the entire time.
If you have a top loader, hats off to you, just throw the stuff in for a good overnight soak with one of the additives mentioned below 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 of dirty water).
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 (and don’t confuse agitation bubbles for soap suds!) but there shouldn’t be many. Keep rinsing until almost all suds are gone.
Additives For Stripping
Some items can be helpful in stripping, but beware, as excessive use of these can hurt your diapers and some of them may void your diaper’s warranty. Using them judiciously on a regular basis may help you avoid the problems that necessitate stripping your diapers.
If you have hard water it’s best not to use this (it might actually backfire on you and make your problem worse!). 1/2 cup in the rinse cycle should be good if you don’t have hard water.
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.
This stuff is magic to diapers. It is gentle on them, helps with stains, and helps with the stripping process (as one of the byproducts of the breakdown of it is washing soda – see below). 1 scoop is good.
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 easiest for you to just wash them by hand with the blue dawn so that you can be sure they are getting properly rinsed (since front loading washing machines are notorious for not using enough water when rinsing diapers). Please be advised that using dish soap in a washing machine can not only void the warranty, but break the internal components. With that said, many people still choose to do it, but be aware of the risks before making that decision (and maybe just wash them in your sink or bathtub anyhow, just to be on the safe side!).
A water softener such as Calgon may help you hard water people. This will help with the mineral buildup that occurs because of hard water, both by dispelling current buildup and preventing further deposits from collecting.
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.
RLR or GroVia Mighty Bubbles Laundry Treatment
Both of these products are designed to bind to the buildup in your diapers and help rinse them away. The Mighty Bubbles Laundry Treatment is currently my favorite way to give my diapers a thorough deep cleaning, as it works perfectly in my water conditions and is incredibly easy to use. (You can see my complete review of the GroVia Mighty Bubbles Laundry Treatment in this post). RLR has been around much longer, though, and many people swear by it for helping get rid of accumulated mineral buildup.
New To Cloth Diapering And Freaking Out About This?
Don’t worry, once you figure your ideal wash routine out you won’t be stripping your diapers that much (if at all). But think of it this way, while you’re going through the trial and error of finding your perfect solution, 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.
- Help My Cloth Diapers Stink! Tips Resolving Whiffing Woes (Cloth Diaper Stink Flowchart)
- How Much Detergent Should You Use to Clean Your Cloth Diapers?
- Save Yourself the Stress: Washing Cloth Diapers With Tide
- Whether Or Not OxiClean, Calgon, Washing Soda, And Other Boosters Really Help With Washing Cloth Diapers
- GroVia Mighty Bubbles Laundry Treatment Review
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Tara moved on to other career endeavors in 2014 but can still be found online blogging about health and fitness at Fit Baby Steps.
Latest posts by Tara Porter (see all)
- Tara’s Farewell Post - August 1, 2014
- 10 Things I Wish I Would Have Known About Cloth Diapering Before I Started - July 31, 2014
- Tara & Carolyn’s Top Picks for 2014 – Covers (Part 1) - June 18, 2014