Cloth diapers have a lot of benefits, but there will come a time when they have to be stripped. Both cotton and bamboo diapers rinse beautifully when washed, thanks to their natural fibers, but microfiber, suede, and fleece don’t rinse as well. Hemp also develops a stench over time, but it’s highly absorbent.
Over time, these diapers will get a buildup from detergent that hasn’t rinsed fully, oils, and additives. This can cause significant odors that don’t come out from regular washing. Rather than replacing your cloth diapers, you can save them by stripping to get them back to their former glory.
How to Tell if Diapers Need to Be Stripped
- They don’t smell clean after the wash
- They don’t smell clean after drying in a dryer, or they smell worse from the heat
- They have a pungent odor after your child soils them
- Your child has a diaper rash with an unknown cause
- Your child had diarrhea recently
Contrary to popular belief, you don’t need to strip your diapers if you’re switching from one detergent to another or you’ve washed the diapers a few times in untreated hard water.
If you purchased used diapers and don’t want to take the time to strip, that’s okay! In this case, it’s most important that you bleach them for hygiene purposes. If you notice odor issues after bleaching, then consider stripping.
In general, non-absorbent diaper pieces, such as covers and shells, don’t need to be stripped. Because they’re not absorbent, they generally don’t retain odors.
Remember, stripping diapers rejuvenates them, but it’s not a gentle process. Constant stripping is hard on the fabric, so you don’t want to overdo it. Stripping isn’t intended to clean the diapers, which is reserved for the normal wash cycle. It’s an extreme process that’s used to correct improper washing or to remove stubborn odors.
How to Keep Diapers from Getting an Odor
All diapers will need to be stripped, but here are some tips to extend the time between stinky diapers:
- Clear your diapers out of the pail quickly. Don’t let them sit longer than 36 to 48 hours. The quicker they’re washed, the less chance they’ll absorb the stink.
- Use a dry-pail system.
- Change your child frequently. Don’t let urine or feces collect in the diaper.
- Dry diapers in the sun as much as possible, or use an air-drying rack.
- Use a clean-rinsing detergent that’s appropriate for baby skin.
- Use as few additives as possible. No fabric softeners or enzyme boosters should be used with cloth diapers.
If your diapers still stink, check out How to Strip Cloth Diapers: Part 2 for a full breakdown of how to strip your diapers properly.
How to Strip Cloth Diapers
If you have a top-load washer, it comes in handy for this process.
- Put all your cloth diapers in the washing machine and run a cold rinse. Even if you’ve just washed them, run them through another cold rinse.
- Squirt about one tablespoon of Dawn dish soap into the washer. With a top loader, you can just put it right on top. If you have a front loader, squirt the Dawn on top of the diapers, not in the detergent dispenser.
- Wash the cloth diapers on the longest, hottest setting the machine has. You need as much agitation and hot water as your machine can provide. If you miss either one, you may still have stinky diapers when the process is complete.
- Wash your diapers on another long-cycle wash without detergent. Only use Dawn dish soap and a plain wash cycle on hot.
- Rinse on cold over and over until all the bubbles are gone from inside the machine during the rinse cycle. You shouldn’t see any bubbles AT ALL. If you do, even if they’re tiny, run the rinse cycle again. This could take as many as four or five times.
- If possible, dry your diapers in the sun. This is a great way to remove odors of all types from fabrics. If you don’t have a spot to dry in the sun, use a drying rack.
What If My Diapers Still Smell?
You went through the entire stripping process, rinsed endlessly, dried in the sun, and your diapers still smell. What gives?
Here are some things you can do:
- Boil diapers on the stove for about 10 minutes. Use a large pot and bring the water to boil, then put your diapers in the pot. Stir it occasionally and try to keep the diapers submerged. After boiling, send your diapers through a regular hot wash cycle with no detergent, rinse, and dry in the sun.
- Use bleach. Generally, we try not to use bleach, but it may be the only option for seriously stinky diapers. You can wash the diapers normally and add a capful of bleach on a hot wash cycle. This is only for stripping and shouldn’t be part of your normal wash routine.
- Use the dishwasher. This is another “desperate measures” situation. Use clothespins to secure the diapers to the top rack and disable the Jet-Dry dispenser. Wash on the longest setting, or possibly two cycles. Once finished, take them out and use the spin cycle on your washer to get some of the excess water out.
Don’t Use Too Much Detergent!
The number one mistake we see parents make while cleaning cloth diapers is using too much detergent. Like most clothing, diapers are generally very delicate. Harsh treatment while cleaning can have a serious impact on the lifespan of your laundry – including cloth diapers.
There are three main reasons to moderate your detergent use:
- The main goal of washing cloth diapers is to remove the soil from the fabric. While detergent can help with this, excessive detergent can actually work against you. Excessive suds act as blockers – preventing the water from reaching the stains. These blockers might look like they’re helping clean. After all, we’re trained to associate suds with cleanliness. However, the suds are really acting as a wall to prevent water from reaching the soil. The less water that reaches the soil, the less likely the soil is to be removed properly. This means you are replacing your cloth diapers more frequently.
- Excessive amounts of detergent will cling to the fabric. This makes the detergent harder to rinse out. It also makes the soil and stains harder to rinse out – since the soil and stains are now coated by a layer of dried detergent on the cloth. The more detergent that is caked to the cloth means the cloth diapers will need to be replaced sooner since they are not being cleaned properly.
- Detergent that is not rinsed out can lead to irritation of baby’s sensitive skin. Delicate detergents have relatively balanced PH levels. However, most over-the-counter detergents have PH levels that can irritate the skin if not properly rinsed. Proper rinsing is key to keeping your cloth diapers for a longer clothing lifespan.
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