How to Strip Cloth Diapers

Posted by Jason Rector on

Nothing can be more frustrating than your cloth diapers smelling bad even after you’ve washed them. The fact is, stinky diapers reveal a serious problem: the buildup of ammonia and bacteria that can be harmful to your little one’s skin. If you think your diapers smell funny, it’s time to clean them immediately through a process called diaper stripping.

Here, we learn what it means to strip cloth diapers, when it’s time to strip them, how to go about the process, and how to take preventive measures to avoid this icky buildup.

What Does it Mean to Strip a Cloth Diaper?

When you strip a cloth diaper, you rid it of any build-up that has accumulated within the layers of its fabrics. Once free of detergent residues and mineral deposits, the diaper becomes brighter and more absorbent.

Detergent and ammonia buildup are often the two main causes behind smelly diapers with reduced absorbency. Ammonia buildup occurs when you leave the diapers unwashed for too long (over 2-3 days), use too much laundry detergent, or wash them with hard water.

Ammonia smells usually arise after a diaper becomes wet. Your cloth diaper may come out smelling fresh from the machine. But you’ll notice the smell as soon as your baby wets the diaper. If left untreated, this could trigger rashes and chemical burns.

In some cases, diapers with buildup may exude a distinct ‘barnyard’ stink. This usually happens when a diaper is still warm from the drying cycle. This type of smell emerges when soil or bacteria are left behind even after the diaper has been laundered – a clear indication your diapers need stripping.

When to Strip Cloth Diapers

Stripping cloth diapers can be rough on the fabric so it’s not recommended to practice it too frequently. But stripping becomes important if you notice any telltale signs of ammonia or detergent buildup. These include:

  • Your diapers are stinky even after you launder them.
  • You washed your diapers using untreated hard water for multiple weeks. Hard water is full of minerals which disturbs your detergent’s ability to clean the diaper thoroughly. This leaves behind residue on fabrics.
  • Your diaper’s absorbency meter goes down. Remember though: there can be other reasons for a diaper to leak, including fit, sizing, and material issues. Stripping is a fix only if the diaper fabric faces absorbency issues.
  • Your detergent is not compatible with the diaper fabric.
  • You’ve used too much detergent and the residue failed to escape the fabric. Detergent buildup not only lowers the absorbency but also traps odor-causing bacteria. 

How Often Should You Strip Cloth Diapers?

Cleaning your cloth diapers with gentle detergents is typically enough to keep them clean and fresh. But to ensure your diapers work their best, it’s recommended to strip them once a month. If you’ve used an incompatible detergent for washing your diapers, it’s best to strip your diapers twice before switching to a more compatible product.

Parents who use hard water to wash diapers strip even more frequently. But this practice can damage the fabric and minimize the lifecycle of your diapers. To avoid these issues from rising in the first place, it’s best to take preventive actions such as avoiding hard water and using gentle, compatible detergents.

Your Guide to Stripping Cloth Diapers

You now know why diapers accumulate residues and when it’s time to strip them. If you’ve seen the telltale signs of a diaper that needs stripping, here’s your roadmap to clean it:

  • Start by washing the diapers. Then remove non-absorbent parts like pocket shells and diaper covers. Generally, you just need to clean parts that absorb liquids. These include pocket diaper inserts, penfolds, and the like. If you use all-in-one diapers, you can strip the entire piece.
  • Fill your bathtub or top-loading machine half-full with hot water.
  • Throw in the mineral remover solution. Make sure you follow the manufacturer’s instructions for the type of solution you can use. A common option is the laundry additive RLR but you can even DIY your own solution (we’ll discuss this below).
  • It’s now time for the diapers to soak for at least 4-6 hours. Make sure you stir the mix occasionally until the water cools down.
  • Use hot water for washing only until the detergent fully vanishes. This step may require some heavy-duty cycles.
  • Dry your diapers and they’re now squeaky clean!

Here are four options you can use to strip your diapers:

  • RLR Detergent. This is the most popular method for stripping diapers and one pack is enough to cover about 30 pieces.
  • DIY Stripping Solution. DIY solutions are just as powerful as the commercial ones. Mix one tablespoon each of Borax, washing soda, and Calgon. A DIY solution may require you to scrub absorbent diaper parts to ensure the solution gets fully absorbed into the fabrics.
  • 1 cup of white vinegar is a simple, yet powerful diaper stripping solution. When released in a rinse cycle, it erases hard water minerals, detergent residues, and ammonia build-up from urine.

Should You Use Bleach?

Bleaching is generally not recommended for cleaning cloth diapers. Chlorinated bleach may damage your diaper’s fabrics and cause the diaper’s color to fade. If your diaper’s pre-folds and flats face some serious residue build-up, consider using non-chlorine bleach instead. This can be a tricky step because most modern cloth diapers discourage bleaching. Make sure you proceed with this step only if the manufacturer’s instructions give you the green signal.

Preventive Measure = No More Icky Residues!

To avoid having to strip your diapers too frequently, it’s vital to care for them.

The best strategy to prevent build-up is to have a thorough wash routine. Avoid untreated hard water and fabric softeners to keep your diaper’s absorbency intact. Immediately rinse soiled diapers or keep them in a pail to before they’re ready for the washing machine.

Ensure proper agitation in your laundry machine during every cycle. To take extra care of your diapers, use cloth-diaper-friendly diaper creams and liners. When stripping your cloth diapers, exclude diaper shells as they have no absorbent parts.

Remember, it’s normal for diapers to get stained. If your diapers are free of odor and don’t leak, there’s no need for a hard stripping procedure even if you notice stains in them. A great way to combat stubborn stains is to dry your diapers in the sun.


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