Stripping Cloth Diapers Isn’t as Difficult as You May Think

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Stripping cloth diapers

A lot of times when people want to strip their cloth diapers they think they need to add blue Dawn and then everything will be hunky-dory. I see this so much on cloth diaper groups that I belong to and I’m not sure where the blue Dawn as a cure-all came to be but this is not necessarily the case. In my humble opinion, it isn’t even usually the case.

Don’t get me wrong, there are times that blue Dawn will help, but not for most of your cloth diaper problems. Blue Dawn is a degreaser so it will help when you need to remove diaper creams from your cloth diapers but in most other cases it probably won’t help you very much.

It has been my experience that if you have a good wash routine your diapers should rarely if ever need to be stripped and that the majority of your cloth diaper woes is likely to be too little or too much detergent, with the former being most common. This article from Diaper Junction on the correct amount of detergent to use on your cloth diapers is great. By adjusting your detergent amounts or switching detergents you will likely fix your problem. 

But first you will need to fix the problems you are currently having before troubleshooting your wash routine. 

Hot water

This is my first course of action since it’s the easiest. If your diapers are burning your nose hairs out from the smell after your baby pees, you probably need to up the amount of detergent you’re using but you also may have some detergent that’s been left behind. What do you do if you have some detergent left over on your laundry or dishes after washing them? You rinse them again. The same goes for cloth diapers. If you have residue then you will want to do a HOT rinse or wash cycle without detergent.

If you see soap bubbles then keep rinsing in just plain old hot water until the bubbles go away. Depending on the amount of residue you have in your diapers, this could take a few washes. What is the difference between detergent bubbles and agitation bubbles? Agitation bubbles dissipate pretty quickly once the machine stops. If you open the lid and let the water sit for 10-20 seconds or so and you still have bubbles or a film, these are likely detergent bubbles. 

In the future you can use a little less detergent or add an extra rinse. You may need to try both to decide which is the best course of action for you because too little detergent can also lead to ammonia from the urine not being cleaned out of the diapers or lead to other unsavory odors like barnyard stink. If you have an HE machine you may need to add more water to your rinse cycle to get all of the soap out. 

Laundry Treatment

If using plain old hot water doesn’t help with odor issues that you may be having, you can soak them in RLR. RLR isn’t a detergent, it is a laundry treatment meant to remove ammonia and other odors. Mighty Bubbles from GroVia, Eco Nuts Ammonia Bouncer, and Funk Rock from Rockin’ Green are other good options.

Used Diapers

It is good practice to strip any used diapers you have purchased since you really don’t know where they came from. First I do a hot water rinse to see if there is any residue. If so I keep rinsing until my water is clear of soap bubbles and then I treat diapers for yeast to be on the safe side. 

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  1. My diapers are leaking out the middle of the crotch…ideas? Should I use tea tree oil or should I keep rinsing them?

    1. Hi Nikki, are the inserts soaked when the diapers are leaking? If so I would add more absorbency. My son has started wetting very heavily at times and what looks like leaking at the crotch for us is actually just leaking a lot through the legs. If not then I would look into whether or not they are repelling if it’s all of them and if it’s only a few then I would look into delamination. If they are repelling then I would give them a rinse and see if there are bubbles and if so you likely have some residue build up and rinsing until the water is clear of bubbles should do the trick. Tea tree oil is a disinfectant and likely won’t help for leaking issues.

  2. +1. I’ll take level headed advice from someone who knows how to research than from a “chemist” any day.

    I’ve used cloth diapers for nearly four years. I have stripped my own diapers very rarely and strip for a charity weekly. I have never used bleach.

    1. I agree that diapers should very rarely need to be stripped. I have only needed to do it twice in almost 3 years. Once when I was using too much detergent and not enough rinses and one other time when I was troubleshooting a rash and wanted to see if it was a detergent reaction. I only felt the need to try bleach during our rash troubleshooting and since then have been able to disinfect without using bleach. If one needs to strip and/or bleach diapers regularly then something is very wrong with their wash routine.

  3. You are right in saying blue dawn won’t help unless its a grease problem on your diapers. You are wrong when it comes yo the ammonia. To much detergent would not give your diapers amonia, its by not getting them clean enough. Either not using enough detergent or to much water or both. To get rid of barnyard or amonia a bleach soak is needed. 1 Tablespoon bleach per 1 gallon of cold water soak for at least 30 minutes. A bath tub is a good option dilute bleach first then add diapers. Rlr can help if you have really hard water, but will not rid the stink its to get rid of minerals. Do the rlr soak then a bleach soak if you have hard water. To prevent having to ever strip wash diapers in a mainstream detergent with the proper amount for your load size even a touch more and water level. Think diaper stew. I got my information from The Cloth Diaper compendium on facebook. Its run by a chemist and I have never stripped using the advice given. Only used diapers I have bought.

    1. Caitlin, thank you for your comment but I do not advocate the advice of The Cloth Diaper Compendium on this blog. Yes, many people don’t use enough detergent which you will note that I mentioned upping the amount of detergent will likely help. I am an advocate of using the correct amount of detergent and whatever detergent works for you, use it. Mainstream or not. I also do not think bleach is necessary in most cases. I have only felt the need to use bleach one time in almost 3 years. However ammonia can be caused by too little or too much detergent. If someone uses too much detergent or doesn’t rinse thoroughly leaving detergent behind it can emit a noxious odor when your child pees in the diaper. This odor smells like ammonia. I know this because I experienced it first hand when I first started out and had a very small stash. I used too much for my load size and they started to stink to high heaven. 🙂

  4. The GroVia Mighty Bubbles Treatment is one I like because it has detergent in it, too (so it’s designed for only occasional use, but you use it in place of your regular detergent and don’t have to do multiple cycles with the same load of laundry) 🙂

  5. I often dislike reading about the drama of the right/wrong way. Your posts are always level headed and that’s why I like reading here. I don’t have the ammonia smells but I do have the stinky smell right now after the washer.

    1. When I had stink issues it didn’t quite smell like ammonia but not quite barnyard either. The hot water rinses worked like a charm – my diapers needed to be rinsed 4 times to get all of the bubbles out. I was using a liquid detergent but haven’t used a liquid since.

      How much detergent are you using? If your diapers smell closer to a barnyard then you may need to use a little more detergent. This article from Diaper Junction is great. It was published after I wrote this post about the real amount of detergent people should be using. Often people don’t use enough.

  6. I have a HE machine and just got some used FLIP microfiber inserts off Craigslist… Can I use the sanitary cycle and bleach to treat these, before actually using them?

    1. You can use the sanitize setting on the inserts ONLY. The heat from the sanitize setting could potentially ruin or PUL and/or elastic if you use it to wash a cover. Bleach is also okay. I have an HE top loader that fills the drum and I have seen that 1/4 cup of bleach is recommended. I did this once and everything was fine. I’m not sure how much you would use in an HE front loader. Here are the bumGenius bleach recommendations and they don’t specify what kind of machine

  7. I’m really confused as to how detergent can cause ammonia. I would think it would make the pee smell better! LOL!

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