How To Strip Cloth Diapers (And What You Should Try First!)

Have you noticed your cloth diapers becoming less absorbent over time, or smells lingering even after being washed? When this happens it’s time to learn how to strip cloth diapers, but what does that mean and when do you do it? Keep reading for everything you need to know about stripping your cloth diapers.

Stripping cloth diapers is a process that helps to remove any build-up or residue that may be left on your diapers over time. This can happen for multiple reasons, including using too much detergent, exposing your diapers to hard water, or simply not washing your cloth diapers consistently enough.

Fortunately, stripping diapers is easy and only takes a few simple steps! 

How to strip cloth diapers pinterest image

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Is stripping cloth diapers good practice?

Stripping cloth diapers is a process that removes buildup from diapers. It is not a gentle process, so it should be done as infrequently as possible. Some people never need to strip their cloth diapers at all if they’ve nailed the right wash routine.

If you find that you need to strip them, it’s time to adjust your wash routine and find the root cause of the build-up. We help you do that in this post!

RELATED: Do you know your prefolds from your AIOs? Your hybrids from your woolies? Check out our post, Cloth Diapering for Beginners: All You Need to Know for a full understanding of how cloth diapering works!

When to strip cloth diapers

Usually, a normal laundry routine is all that’s needed to keep your cloth diapers clean. Stripping cloth diapers is a harsh process that shouldn’t be done often, so it’s important to know when stripping is necessary and when it isn’t.

Luckily, there are some signs to help you figure out if you should strip your cloth diapers:

  1. They smell like a barnyard after machine drying and still warm, or even after they’ve been stored away for use
  2. Diapers are repelling moisture or not absorbing as well as they used to
  3. They feel rough and look dingy
  4. If your baby is experiencing persistent rashes, it may be an ammonia burn rather than a typical diaper rash
  5. There is an ammonia smell in the diaper(s) as soon as your baby pees.

These signs are the result of buildup in your cloth diapers.

What causes buildup in cloth diapers?

  1. Washing them in untreated hard water for a month or longer
  2. Build up over time from too much detergent, too little detergent, the wrong detergent, or using fabric softeners
  3. Washing with cold water
  4. Not using enough water in your rinse cycle to rinse away all detergent, this happens most with HE washers
  5. Using lower-quality diaper inserts such as microfiber which are prone to build-up and holding onto smells
  6. Not rinsing diapers right after they’ve been soiled or waiting too long between washes – this happens over a longer period of time, not right away!

RELATED: Do you have enough cloth diapers? Calculate it quickly here for your unique situation!

How to avoid the need to strip cloth diapers

  • Wash them regularly. Ideally, you should be washing your cloth diapers every 2-3 days, depending on how many you have and how often you use them. Every day would be even better! Never forget to rinse the diapers before storing them away for a wash.
  • Use the right detergent. Many mainstream laundry detergents are filled with harsh chemicals that can leave behind residue on your diapers. Opt for a natural detergent made specifically for cloth diapers instead, which will be much gentler on your diapers and keep them working at their best.
  • Utilize the correct washing routine. Follow any specific washing instructions included with your cloth diapers, such as how hot the water should be and how long you should wash them. Be sure to ditch the fabric softeners or dryer sheets also! This will help reduce the likelihood of damage to your diapers and keep them clean and effective.
  • Treat hard water. If you have hard water, be sure to use a water softener in your washing machine or add a water softening agent to your wash cycle every time you wash cloth diapers. This will prevent the build-up of minerals and prevent residue.
  • Pick better-quality inserts. Microfiber inserts are notoriously known for not lasting a long time and holding onto smells when compared to others. Read my post comparing all cloth diaper inserts and consider picking more durable inserts.
  • Use more water. Most common with HE machines, try using the bedding or jeans setting to get more water, the sanitize setting to get more heat, or simply add an extra rinse to your wash.

How to diagnose and fix cloth diaper wash routine problems

It can be so difficult to try and diagnose cloth diaper wash routine problems, but here is a simple overview of the most common issues and their root causes. Use these as a guide to adjust your cloth diaper washing routine. Once diagnosed, reset your diapers then adjust your wash routine as needed until your diapers consistently no longer smell.

  • Barnyard smells: Not enough water or not enough detergent. It’s most often too little detergent. You may want to also add an extra rinse cycle.
  • Stinky polyester, microfiber, or PUL: Too much detergent, not enough water to fully rinse, or you used only cold water to wash and rinse. Use warm to hot water. If you already are, add extra rinses to your load or lower the amount of detergent being used.
  • Ammonia smell or persistent rash/ammonia burn: Too little detergent, water was not hot enough, or not enough water. Make sure not to leave diapers sitting unwashed for too long, too.
  • Leaking or repelling: Buildup issue. Filmy residues from diaper creams or laundry additives like softeners, brighteners, dryer sheets, or oils. You may also be using a detergent not recommended for cleaning cloth diapers. Reset your diapers and remove all laundry additives, diaper creams, or detergents that are not cloth diaper approved.
  • Stiff, dingy diapers or smelly when freshly wet or smell when warm from the dryer: Hard water. Start using a water softening agent or add up to 1/2 cup of baking soda to each load.

You may even run into multiple of these issues at once. It makes things a little more complex at first, but you can fix it.

Baby wearing cloth diaper

Do this BEFORE you strip cloth diapers!

Hold on! There are effective natural options to deep clean and reset your diapers that you should try before you strip your cloth diapers with harsh chemicals.

I’ve seen so many ask how to strip cloth diapers naturally, and though true stripping can’t be done fully naturally, there are really effective ways to deep clean your diapers. These options work so well, that most people don’t need to move forward with stripping at all!

Try one of these before you strip cloth diapers:

  • Repeated hot rinses
  • Using vinegar
  • Baking soda
  • Hot rinses with vinegar or baking soda

My recommendation is to learn how to “strip” cloth diapers using the vinegar OR baking soda soak methods below, then follow the hot rinse method with no detergent. 

Always start with clean/washed/unsoiled cloth diapers.

Repeated hot rinses.

Try washing your cloth diapers 3-5 times on a hot cycle, without detergent, then lay them out in the hot sun to dry. Seriously try this first! This can help to remove build-up and get your diapers back into working condition without the need for stripping.

Using vinegar.

You can use vinegar to break down build-up on your diapers. There are two methods:

  1. Add 1 cup of vinegar to your washing machine and run a hot, full load of your diapers. Don’t worry, your diapers won’t smell like vinegar after they’re dry!
  2. Simply fill the washer with the hottest water possible and add 3 cups of white vinegar. Then soak the diapers overnight or at least 3 hours before washing on a hot cycle with no detergent in the morning.

Using vinegar as fabric softener: Some families use vinegar in every wash as a natural fabric softener, and some use it a couple of times a month. If using vinegar regularly to treat hard water, start with only using a teaspoon of vinegar and increase the amount if needed.

Baking soda or washing soda

Baking soda will neutralize acidic odors and remove protein-based stains. If you use bamboo rayon diapers, you might want to avoid baking soda or washing soda. There are two main approaches you can use:

  1. Simply add a couple of tablespoons of baking soda to the softener’s compartment.
  2. Dissolve 1-2 cups of baking soda into a small bathtub or basin filled with very hot water. Soak your cloth diapers in this mixture for at least an hour, allowing them to soak up all of the beneficial properties of the baking soda. Rinse thoroughly and launder as usual.

NOTE: Do not mix baking soda and vinegar when sanitizing cloth diapers. They will cancel each other out. In most cases, you do not need to strip or treat the diaper shells or covers as they do not hold onto smells like diapers themselves do.

How to strip cloth diapers

If you are looking to strip your diapers, there are a few different approaches you can take:

  • Rockin’ Green Funk Rock 
  • Homemade solution
  • RLR
  • Grovia mighty bubbles
  • Dawn dish soap

The general approach when stripping cloth diapers is to use a combination of water and one or more cleaning agents to thoroughly remove dirt, grime, and odors from your cloth diapers.

NOTE: Do not strip woolies or wool diaper covers as they’re far too delicate. Instead, learn how you can wash and lanolize them appropriately if you’re experiencing any unwanted scents with your covers.

Rockin Green Funk Rock

Stripping cloth diapers with Rockin’ Green Funk Rock 

Rockin’ Green is a popular natural laundry line that’s powerful, all-natural, and plant-based. Funk Rock is their additive that’s specifically formulated for stripping cloth diapers naturally. It contains mineral oil and citric acid, which helps break down the build-up of minerals and detergent residue from your diapers.

To use Funk Rock, simply place one scoop in the washer with diapers. Run a regular hot wash with one extra rinse. Dry as usual. That’s it!

Homemade laundry solution for how to strip cloth diapers

How to strip with a homemade solution

If you want to save money, consider making your own stripping agent with washing soda, Borax, and Calgon. This is by far the cheapest per-load option than the others, and it will go a long way to making your diapers as good as new.

Add 3 tablespoons each of washing soda, borax, and Calgon detergent into your washing machine or wash tub filled with hot water. Follow the same instructions as the RLR method for maximum effectiveness but replace the RLR pack with your homemade stripping solution.

RLR laundry treatment to strip cloth diapers

Stripping cloth diapers with RLR

An RLR soak for cloth diapers is another popular method. These products are formulated to break down buildup from things like detergent residue, hard water minerals, and mildew without damaging the fabrics. One packet works for about 30 diapers, so you may need to adjust the amount depending on how many diapers you’re stripping.

In a sink or wash tub: fill up the tub or sink with hot water then add the recommended amount of stripping solution on the packet with a 1/2 cup of detergent. Submerge your cloth diapers, agitate them in the water and allow them to soak for at least 4 hours or overnight. Then, rinse your diapers in the washer with hot water and no detergent. Run another wash cycle this time with detergent and rinse as needed until the bubbles have disappeared. It might take more than one wash or rinse cycle to get all the bubbles out. Dry as normal.

In a top-loader: Choose a hot wash cycle and allow the washer to fill enough to submerge diapers. Add the recommended amount of RLR with a 1/2 cup of detergent. Let the washer agitate the diapers a bit. Pause the machine and allow them to soak for at least 4 hours or overnight. Then, restart the machine with a hot wash cycle using no detergent. Run another wash cycle with a bit of detergent this time, and add rinses as needed until no bubbles appear. Dry as usual.

In a front-loader or HE machine: Add the recommended amount of RLR right on the diapers and run the hottest wash cycle. Allow everything to turn for a minute or two, then pause the machine and let everything soak for 1-2 hours. Unpause the cycle and allow the machine to spin for another minute or two before pausing it again. Let soak for about 6 hours, coming back every hour or two to unpause the machine, and let everything agitate again for a few minutes. This makes sure the diapers stay soaked in the mixture. Then, restart the machine and allow it to run through the cycle including a rinse cycle. Run another hot wash cycle with detergent. Dry as normal.

Grovia mighty bubbles for cloth diapers

How to strip cloth diapers with Grovia Mighty Bubbles

If you’re looking for a powerful and versatile option, Grovia Mighty Bubbles is another great way to strip your cloth diapers. Grovia is well known for its hybrid cloth diaper system and has created a product specifically for use on cloth diapers These little pods are pre-measured with the right amount of detergent and water softeners, making them easy and convenient to use.

To use Grovia Mighty Bubbles, simply place one pod in the washer with diapers. Run a regular hot wash with one extra rinse. Dry as you normally would. That’s it!

Dawn dish soap to strip cloth diapers

How to strip cloth diapers with dish soap

Beware as this can often void the warranty of both your diapers and your washer! This dawn dish soap method is best to remove oil buildup. For all other types of buildup, other methods are recommended.

In the washing machine:  Rinse cloth diapers in cold water. Then, add 1 tablespoon of dish soap to your regular wash cycle and allow the diapers to run through a long, hot, full cycle. Rinse with hot water repeatedly until all soapy bubbles are completely gone. If you have a front-loader or HE washer, squirt dish soap on top of the diapers – don’t put it in the detergent dispenser!

In a sink or wash tub: Fill your sink with hot water, add 1 tablespoon of Dawn dish soap and stir it into the water. Add diapers and let soak for at least an hour. Scrub diapers with a toothbrush if needed to get any leftover residue off. Rinse well. Then, wash the diapers on hot in the washing machine with a little laundry detergent. Repeatedly rinse until the water is clear and soap-bubble-free, then dry as usual.

What about bleach for stripping diapers?

Bleaching is not used to strip cloth diapers, and should only be used in very few circumstances, like when you’ve acquired used diapers or if your little one has been diagnosed with a yeast or bacterial infection rash.

Bleaching eliminates things like viruses, bacteria, and yeast, while stripping eliminates buildup.

Can I use OxiClean to sanitize my cloth diapers?

No, oxygen bleach does not remove yeast and therefore isn’t effective at thoroughly sanitizIng cloth diapers.

Can I use borax to strip cloth diapers?

No, Borax is primarily a water softener, not a stripping agent.

How to strip cloth diapers conclusion

In conclusion, we’ve hopefully covered all there is to know about stripping cloth diapers from how to avoid stripping cloth diapers and what to try before stripping to diagnosing wash routine issues as well as all the ways to go about stripping cloth diapers. If there’s anything we missed or is unclear – please let us know!


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