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How to Strip Cloth Diapers

The only guide you'll need for HOW, WHY, and WHEN to strip your cloth diapers - it's far less stressful than it sounds!

I want to thank our reader, Megan, for posing an excellent question regarding lingering smell issues on our post about how to wash cloth diapers. It made me realized I’ve never posted here about how and when to strip cloth diapers! Goodness. Please forgive me.

If you’ve ever hunted for information about cloth diapering (especially when you’re looking for help to troubleshoot an issue or problem), you’ve likely run across the instruction to “strip your diapers.” Some sources make stripping sound like a dire emergency, while other sources dismiss it completely. But really, it’s neither, so let’s take a quick look at what stripping is and when it’s useful.
 

First of all, what causes funky smells?

Funky smells come from lingering residue. That residue can be from numerous things: leftover moisture, lingering detergent residue, or even lingering uric acid that wasn’t fully washed off.

You can troubleshoot these fairly easily by classifying the smell:

  1. Your diapers just don’t smell fresh and clean, even when they’re totally dry and have just been washed
  2. Your diapers smell musty, even after a number of washes.
  3. Your eyes water when you open up the diaper to change your baby due to the strong scent of ammonia

Basically, if your diapers are just lacking freshness when they’re totally dry, that means there’s a detergent build-up on the cloth. It can also be related to mineral build-up if you’ve got hard water. This typically means there hasn’t been enough water or time present during the rinse cycle.

If your diapers smell musty, that’s generally a sign of moisture residue, which either means there wasn’t enough water or time in the wash cycle or the diapers didn’t dry fully.

Lastly, if your diapers smell fine when they’re dry, but your eyes water and your toes curl up when you open the diaper after your baby has soiled it, that’s the sign of ammonia residue, which is caused by not enough water getting through the diapers during the wash cycle. Those uric acid crystals can be stubborn little cling-ons, so you want to make sure there’s plenty of agitation during the wash and a long rinse to get rid of them sufficiently.

So, all of those can help you tweak your wash routine in the long-term, but it doesn’t necessarily help in the short term when you’re facing down a hamper full of diapers that aren’t quite right.

Thankfully, one quick and simple fix to these is simply a loooooooong, hot wash with nothing but water. However, sometimes that doesn’t quite do the trick, so enter…. stripping.

 

What is Stripping?

“Stripping” merely refers to the process that strips any lingering residues from the surface of your diapers. Residues can build up if you use a detergent that has additives or fabric softeners, if diapers aren’t fully rinsed after each wash, or if you have hard water in your area.

(Side note: Jennifer Labit recently wrote a fabulous little article on the science of detergent residue on fabrics from a manufacturer’s point of view. It’s a FASCINATING quick read, if you’re a cloth diaper geek like me. 🙂 )

Stripping isn’t a routine maintenance sort of thing – it’s only something you need to do if your diapers are suddenly leaking or if there’s an undesirable odor that lingers in your diapers even after they’ve been washed and dried. Some cloth diapering parents report that they’ve never stripped their diapers, while others do it about every six months. Both are normal, as there are often factors outside your control (such as the hardness of your water) that can contribute to the need to strip, so don’t feel any guilt if you find yourself needing to strip your diapers.

(You will want to take a look at your wash routine, however, just to determine you’re washing and rinsing sufficiently.)

PLEASE NOTE: Please check all warranties before you strip!

  • If your diapers are still under warranty, washing them on a hot cycle may void the warranty.
  • If your washer is still under warranty, using the Dawn soap option may void the warranty.
  • For either, using a detergent other than the one recommended by the manufacturer may void the warranty.
  • For that matter, singing while you load the washing machine, especially if your song is cheery, may also void the warranty.

Obviously, I kid on the last one, but I must do my due diligence to remind you that checking the warranties of your machine is YOUR responsibility and even though these methods have worked successfully without issue for thousands upon thousands of families, you would be wise to know your warranty’s clauses and fine print BEFORE you begin.

How to Strip Cloth Diapers

In order to strip your diapers effectively, you just need to loosen the residues and rinse them with copious amounts of hot water.

There are various methods for stripping your diapers depending on your type of machine. Do your normal wash and dry first, as in order to strip effectively, you need to start with clean, dry diapers.

Also, with any of these methods, you will need to add 1/4 – 1/2 cup water softener if you have hard water – just to make sure minerals aren’t continuing to cling to the fabrics with all the extra rinses.

HOT water with no detergent (top-loader)

Wash your diapers in the longest cycle your machine will allow using the HOT wash cycle (not SANITIZE, as it may damage your fabrics) and either HOT or WARM rinse (and remember, NO detergent).

Lift the lid every once in a while to check for soap bubbles – you need to rinse until you no longer see soap bubbles or a film on top of the water during the rinse, which may take as many as 3-4 rinses. But once the soap bubbles no longer appear, your diapers are fresh and fully stripped!

Rock-a-Soak (top-loader & HE)

I typically make it a practice to not mention specific brands in posts unless I have very good reason to do so (as posts are often read years after they’re written and brands come and go quickly!) However, in this case, I want to mention Rockin’ Green Funk Rock, as I’ve had hundreds of cloth diaper families that I’ve counseled come back to say Funk Rock really does rock the funk. (And no, I’m not getting paid to tell you that. I’m up-front about our paid promotions and this isn’t one of them!)

Soaking your diapers for just an hour or two with Funk Rock or even just plain washing soda can be a super-effective way to get rid of lingering funk and residues. This isn’t the old-fashioned “soak” where you leave your diapers in water in your diaper pail while they wait to be washed, but this is a short, intentional soak designed specifically to loosen residues and prepare them for wash.

To do a soak in a top-loader, fill the tub with hot water, add 3-4 tablespoons of Funk Rock or plain washing soda, toss in your diapers, and let them sit for an hour or so. After the soak, run them through a hot wash and rinse cycle 2-3 times.

In a front-loader, add your diapers to the basket and put 3-4 tablespoons of Funk Rock or washing soda in the detergent area of the detergent drawer. Start a quick wash cycle and hit “stop” or “pause” as soon as you notice that the Funk Rock has been washed into the basket and the water has been added in the cycle. Let this sit for an hour or so, then start a long, hot wash and rinse without adding anything else. You will likely need to wash and rinse 2-3 times.

Vinegar (top-loader & HE)

You can also add 1/4 – 1/2 cup of vinegar to one of the rinse cycles. This is a gentle way to neutralize the acids and odors lingering on your diapers and it will help lift away the residues. You can add this via the detergent drawer or if you have a fabric softener ball that releases the liquid during the rinse cycle, just place the vinegar inside and toss it in on top of the diapers.

Dawn dishwashing liquid (top-loader only)

In a top-loader, you may also add one EXTREMELY SMALL squirt of Original Dawn dishwashing liquid to the wash cycle. Note: Check your warranty first!

Dawn has been formulated as a degreaser, so it does very well in lifting off fatty or protein-rich residues, which can indeed exist on diapers. (Also, if your child has recently discovered Vaseline or petroleum-based diaper creams and smeared them all over his or her diapers, Dawn is also a very effective way to deal with that laundry issue!)

Dawn creates lots of suds, however, so although some manufacturers say it’s ok to use Dawn in your washer, dish soap is not designed for use in the washer and can cause damage to the machine. If you prefer not to put Dawn in your washing machine or want to use this method with a front-loader, just handwash them with the Dawn first, then rinse and wring them as much as you can before placing them in the washer to start the strip.

As with all the other methods, once the diapers are in the machine, wash on hot and – you guessed it – rinse, rinse, rinse.

That’s It, Folks

So, as you can see, stripping your diapers doesn’t take much more effort than a regular load of laundry and doesn’t need to happen often. The only key is rinse, rinse, rinse! And the best way to prevent needing to strip in the first place is just to make sure you’re using a long rinse in your normal wash routine or by occasionally adding a second rinse to your routine.

So, there’s the quick and not-so-dirty rundown on how to strip cloth diapers.

Have you ever stripped your cloth diapers? What did (or did not) work for you?
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This post may contain affiliate links, including those from Amazon.com, which means we earn a small commission off your purchases. And here's the thing: We only mention services and products that we think are truly worth your attention, whether they're free, paid, or otherwise. This site relies on YOUR trust, so if we don't stand behind a product 110%, it's not mentioned. Period.

Comments

  1. Christine hunter says

    It’s sad that you are using your blog to tell people the wrong information. Dawn is a degreaser and will not strip diapers unless your child poos grease. I could get past that but you decided to reference a diaper brand that is in itself evil and more concerned with profits and less concerned with the delicate nature of babies bottoms. Sad.

    • Kresha Faber says

      As for the Dawn, you’re exactly right. But surprise, surprise – there CAN be fats in poop (aka grease!), along with the proteins and other items the body has ushered out as waste. And those are what are clinging to your fabrics over time.

      And as for diaper brand, I’m a bit confused and bring it up only because you have made a serious accusation in a public arena. However, I didn’t reference any diaper brands in this post. I referred to Rockin’ Green, a laundry company – are they the evil corporation of which you speak? Or is it because I reference Jennifer Labit, the owner of CottonBabies?

      Please don’t accuse a company in public of wrong-doing without being specific about your complaints – for one, that’s how rumors get started, and for two, you obviously bring it up because you think it’s wrong for it to be mentioned here. And yet, I, as this site’s administrator, have no information with which to evaluate your statement and then re-evaluate my own statements. Obviously, if you’d prefer to not have your comments public, you can use the “contact us” form instead, but if you’re going to speak in public, please be clear. It’s just plain honest.

  2. Danielle says

    I am using homemade laundry soap and I wonder if it’s my problem, because my diapies are staining & not absorbing as they should.

    I make the soap with shredded ivory soap & baking soda. Has anyone heard if this is not good?

    Thanks for the info on stripping. Didn’t know it would be as easy as hot water, maybe some vinegar!

    Thank you & God bless.

    • Kresha Faber says

      Yes, that’s a common problem with homemade detergents that use shredded soap. Soap is notorious for coating fibers, so you need something with a non-soap-based surfactant. The recipe I use is in my free e-book, Clean Naturally! http://www.nourishingjoy.com/clean-naturally/

      Once you change detergents, it usually takes 4-6 washes before you’ll notice the difference in absorbency. If at that point you still notice leaking or reduced absorbency, then you could strip.

      I hope you get squishy, sponge-y diapers again soon! 🙂

  3. sarah says

    I also make my detergent, bit with one bar pink fels-naptha,washing soda, Baking soda, and oxyclean. My diapers (mostly pocket inserts) smell so much like ammonia when my girls pee, it’s awful. I’ve boiled them, stepped them with dawn in the bathtub, I’m at my wits’ end. Help!

    • Kresha Faber says

      Oh, that’s so frustrating! I feel your pain, Mama!

      The first step is to get rid of the soap (the Fels-Naptha). It can be great for regular laundry, but for diapers, it’s notorious for coating the fibers and causing exactly all the problems you’re listing.

      Second, definitely do a few washes with no detergent whatsoever with the hottest water you can to get that soap residue off. It may take several washes, but hopefully that will get you back to a fresh start.

      I’ve got the recipe for the laundry detergent I make and use in my free e-book of homemade cleaners – just sign-up for our newsletter and you’ll get the link to download it (you can unsubscribe right away if you like – no hard feelings! 🙂 ) – http://nourishingjoy.com/clean-naturally-free-guide-to-natural-homemade-cleaners/

      Good luck!!!

  4. Stephanie says

    what’s your take on using listerine for cloth diapers? I’ve heard of it used for colored panties instead of using bleach (which I try to stay away from anyway) to clean/disinfect. What say you?

    • Kresha Faber says

      Oh, goodness! I’ve never heard of such a thing, but my gut reaction is that I would NOT recommend it. It’s not that it would necessarily harm the diapers, per se, but it has been manufactured for oral health in mind, not washing machines, fabrics, elastics, or anything else, so I would keep it as a mouthwash. 🙂 That’s my two cents.

      If you’re washing your diapers well (see our tips at http://nourishingjoy.com/how-to-wash-cloth-diapers-and-why-its-different-than-washing-clothes/), you shouldn’t need to disinfect them regularly, anyway, so it’s one less thing for you to worry about in your routine! Typically a disinfection is only needed after a bacterial or yeast infection where you really want to kill bacteria or spores that may linger on the fabrics.

      So, is that helpful at all? :-/

  5. Marissa says

    I use prefolds with all in 2 pul covers. I don’t use a wet pail system or soak but I do prerinse with cold water and wash with a free and clear detergent then another rinse with vinegar every time I wash. My daughter’s 19 months old and has way more leaks than she used to so im not sure if it is the diapers need stripping or the fit/absorbency r wrong. Ive tried multiple inserts and liners together and still have the problem with leaks. We have used a zinc based rash cream and previously had to dry in the drier and now the prefolds r stiff and not super soft so I’m wondering if 1 of those r the culprit and if u can suggest a solution to the problem?

    • Kresha Faber says

      It sounds like you have a good routine down, and you mentioned that the leaks have increased, so yes, I would suspect either the rash cream or the fit. If you’re sure the covers are fitting well right in the folds of her thighs and around the back and there aren’t any gaps, then yes, do try stripping the diapers.

      Also, you might want to check your free & clear detergent. Some still have enzymes and brighteners, which will leave residues, unfortunately.

      I hope that helps!

  6. Dorothy says

    I used cotton gauze cloth diapers on my 6 children, who are all grown now. To help with the strong ammonia smell, I have a few tips I used. Always pre-wash (if you don’t have a pre-wash cycle, just run a rinse cycle) to get rid of some of the ammonia before washing the diapers in hot water (if they are cotton) using a good detergent and borax or water softener if you have hard water. Always rinse at least twice until all the detergent is rinsed out. Add vinegar to the last rinse and hang them in the sunshine. You have to get them clean every time you wash them and the vinegar counteracts the ammonia and the sun disinfects them.

  7. Stefanie says

    I’m curious to know if the washing soda route will fade the coloring of my dipes. I have a wonderful wash routine, however, I have recently purchased some used Twinkie Tush dipes. I’d like to get them as disinfected as possible before using them on my baby boy. Any thoughts/advice?

    • Kresha Faber says

      I’ve used this method for hundreds upon hundreds of washes and a handful of strips and I have not once experienced fading from the washing soda. That said, you might call Twinkie Tush to ask about washing soda with their specific fabrics. They’ve got great customer service (or so I’ve heard), so I would imagine that would be the best way to find out.

      Good luck!

  8. Katie says

    How do you care for bamboo/cotton prefolds? They’re soft, and I followed to prewash/prep instructions that came with them, but they smell odd. It’s almost a musty odor, but the were like that right out of the package. It’s faint when they’re fully dry, but when the baby wets them they are noticeably stinky. Does bamboo just smell different? I used a dry pail, cool rinse, hot wash with fragrance free Tide pods. Thank you for any suggestions!

    • Kresha Faber says

      Your wash routine sounds good, so if they were like that straight out of the package, then I would suspect something left over from the manufacturing process. At this point, I would recommend a strip as outlined above to be sure you’ve gotten rid of any oils, chemicals, or other residues before pursuing other tactics (such as changing detergents, frequency of washes, or even dietary changes).

      Otherwise, you should be able to care for bamboo (or hemp) prefolds in the same way you care for 100% cotton ones!

      I hope that helps!

  9. Beachsylv says

    You cannot know how helpful this post has been on every level! I can breathe a sigh of relief now when I use the diapers, and I’ll be sure to wash/ rinse as instructed in future!

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