Comprehensive Guide to Stripping Cloth Diapers for Optimum Results
What does it mean to Strip my Cloth Diapers
Stripping cloth diapers is the process of removing oils and build-up left behind by diaper creams, softeners, detergent and possibly urine. The build-up might cause for your cloth diapers to stink or not absorb baby’s urine sufficiently, anymore. So, the purpose of stripping cloth diapers is because your diapers do not absorb anymore, or they stink, or both.
However, stripping cloth diapers is not inevitable. In fact, if you have a good washing routine and you do not use fabric softeners and/or baby rash creams, you may never need to strip your cloth diapers. There are tons of horror stories about cloth diaper stripping, and it turns off parents who might have been very interested in cloth diapering. To some new parents, cloth diapering may seem hard but it really is not once you get the hang of it. If a mom of quads can cloth diaper – (that’s 4 babies), you can too.
Some believe that stripping is necessary. It’s not. You’ll never need to strip your diapers if they’re properly cared for. In fact, many manufacturers (including Grovia and even us at Baby Tooshy) cringe at the thought of stripping.
In this article, I’ll discuss how to strip your cloth diapers—the simple method, I’ll share some Important Tips you need to be aware of when you decide to strip your diapers, Alternative Methods of stripping, two Videos showing you how to strip, Reasons why you may want to strip, and Troubleshooting. Finally, please see our handy dandy – How to strip cloth diapers – Infographic.
Stripping Cloth Diapers—the Simple Method
- For best results, set your washer to the highest water capacity and the hottest water temperature.
- If your cloth diapers are soiled as well as in need of stripping, wash them first.
- Wash your cloth in the hottest cycle, with no detergent.
- Rinse several times in hot water and check for suds during the cycle. You may need several rinse cycles (2-4) to ensure there are no soap bubbles. No soap bubbles means that there is no build-up and detergent left, and your cloth diapers are stripped. They should be absorbent now.
However, if detergent build-up was not your problem and your diapers are still not absorbing (and/or stinks), you may need an alternative method of stripping – see Alternative Stripping Methods below. Before you use alternate methods, please make yourself aware of the following tips.
Important tips for stripping cloth diapers
- If you decide to strip your cloth diapers, stripping cloth diaper covers is usually not necessary because cloth diaper covers are not meant to be absorbent. Stripping them may void your warranty and it may damage buttons, PUL (waterproof fabric) and straps on your diaper covers. If you decide to strip your cloth diaper covers, use the simple method (above) first because this method is safest and has no additives.
- To ensure hotter water, consider turning up your water heater. (Do not forget to turn it back down afterwards for effective baby-proofing).
- If you have a top loader that does not lock, you could also boil water on the stove, to add to your washer. Friendly reminder—do not strip your covers because boiling water may melt the PUL (waterproof fabric). Also, do not include anything that has fasteners, elastics, or snaps, as the heat may end up damaging these as well.
- Stripping is easiest in older top-loading washers since you can open the lid partway through the cycle to check everything but you can effectively strip diapers using front-loaders or newer top loaders that lock—it may take a few extra loads to be sure they are done.
Stripping Cloth Diapers—The Alternate Methods
Yes, there are alternate methods of stripping but I encourage you to try the simple method first because the alternate methods may come with consequences. Please read the care instructions on your cloth diapers before you proceed because some manufacturers shy away from additives. Certain methods may also be harmful to your washer.
Pre-soaking your laundry is really helpful, especially for heavily soiled diapers because it helps release the soil.
Some moms recommend adding additives to the soaking water (see below) but this will depend on why you are stripping your cloth diapers in the first place. If you are stripping your cloth diapers because they are no longer absorbing because of detergent build-up, it is not a good idea to soak them in detergent for a few hours. However, if the problem is that it stinks, then detergent is a great idea. Here are some recommended additives for your soaks. Leave the detergent out if your problem might be detergent build-up::
- White vinegar and detergent.
- Grovia Mighty Bubbles
- Bleach and detergent (check your diaper’s labels before you bleach as it might void the warranty).
- DIY cloth diaper mix for One Cloth Diaper Strip:
The below measurements is for one cloth diaper strip but this mix can be used in your regular washing routine – simply add detergent. It’s extremely effective for washing cloth diapers. Simply mix equal parts of each and have it ready for your next wash. It’s also very cost effective.
3 T. Borax
3 T. Calgon (Water softener to be used for hard water)
3 T. Washing Soda
3 Easy Steps to Soaking your Cloth Diapers
- Start the soak with the hottest water you can manage and add whatever additive (from above) that you decide to use.
- Soak your diapers for 2-6 hours or until it cools down.
- After the soak, finish with a Water Only wash cycle to remove all detergents and minerals.
Many cloth diapering moms, including the folks over at FluffloveUniversity.com, recommend a cold water bleach soak. I personally think this is effective but you will need to check your manufacturer’s care label if you are concerned about warranties. According to fluffloveuniversity.com,
This will make sure any bacteria (attached to the trapped minerals) that have been brought to the surface are killed. When this step is bypassed, rashes and burns can happen. After your bleach soak, its recommended to wash everything 2-4 times. These back to back normal wash cycles will ensure that all the minerals are pulled up and rinsed away.
Taking your diapers to the Laundromat for a strip load is another possibility. Laundromats have larger machines than most homes and are often hooked up to a hotter water supply. Keep in mind that on top of the price of actually washing your clothes, you may want to run the Laundromat washer while it is empty first, just in case it has its own soapy buildup—Yikes!
Dishwasher – NOT RECOMMENDED
Some parents say they get good results from using their dishwasher. This is possibly because of the high water temperatures in the dishwasher but PLEASE NOTE it is NOT RECOMMENDED because it is a FIRE HAZARD.
Boiling is considered to be the cheapest and fastest way for you to kill any bacteria that is lingering in the diapers. Once again, however, boiling should only be for inserts, prefolds, flat diapers and other absorbents—not for your diaper covers. Ensure that you do not boil diapers made from delicate natural fibers, such as hemp or bamboo inserts.
If you choose to boil the inserts, ensure you do not boil them for more than 5-10 minutes, and take care to confirm that there is enough water in your boiling pot to cover your diapers. Boiling your diapers can be dangerous and is a fire hazard – be sure that you stay close to watch over it.
Stripping Cloth Diapers – Adding Additives to your Laundry
Reasons why you may need to strip your Cloth Diapers
You Cloth Diapers are not absorbing
The trouble with cloth diapers is that over time and with repeated washes, they can build up a layer of gunk that keeps them from absorbing what you really need them to absorb. The purpose of stripping cloth diapers is to ensure that they absorb baby’s urine. If it’s not absorbing, it’s repelling, which means your diapers will leak. By stripping them, you are giving them the opportunity to once again perform at their best.
Your Cloth Diapers smells of ammonia or barnyard
The ammonia smell is not uncommon—many parents have had to deal with it but it’s not cause for alarm. In many cases but not all, the ammonia smell in diapers is because of urine not properly washed out of the diapers. In other cases, it may be due to the length of time the diaper sits before being washed.
The stink is caused by bacteria, which has started to build up, and either you are not using enough hot water to eliminate the bacteria, or because you are not making the best use of the detergents to clean the fluids that are present on the diaper. (Yes, there are stories about using half the recommended amount of detergent to wash cloth diapers but if you have any doubt as to whether you use the recommended amount or half, feel free to test. Half the recommend detergent will result in half a cleaning job).
Not Enough Water Used to Wash Your Cloth Diapers
This is a common reason for needing to strip cloth diapers. Many of us use HE (high efficiency) washing machines when washing our cloth diapers. The problem with that is – HE machines use less water. To solve this problem, you may want to run your diapers through an extra wash and rinse cycle. Below is a great video showing how to wash your diapers in a HE washing machine.
Not Enough Detergent Used to Wash Your Cloth Diapers
Many parents have also heard well meaning moms talk about using half the detergent necessary to wash their cloth diapers. This is in an effort to prevent detergent build-up but you have to look at it this way – if you use less detergent, your diapers are not going to get sufficiently cleaned. You need the detergent to get the yuckies out of your diapers. If you are worried about detergent build up, run your diapers through more than one rinse and/or use a mainstream detergent like Tide, that is recommended by cloth diapering moms.
You bought Used Cloth Diapers
If you bought your diapers used and you find that they are not absorbent, you may need to strip them. However, this will depend ENTIRELY on whether it’s absorbing or repelling baby’s urine. Buying used diapers does not automatically mean you need to strip. Bleaching used diapers may be enough to ensure they are ready to use in your own home.
Diapers washed in untreated/ hard water
Hard water contains calcium and magnesium. The more minerals in your water, the harder your water and hard water makes some laundry detergent less effective, which means you will have a hard time getting your cloth diapers cleaned. (If you are concerned about water harness in your area, check out the USGS Water Quality site).
However, a few washes in hard water will not mean stripping is necessary; consider it after a month or more of washes, if you are having absorbency troubles. If you change detergents between mainstream brands and have not had trouble, do not jump to stripping your diapers.
Don’t be too concerned about hard water. For one—most big name commercial laundry detergents (like Tide) contain water softening agents to combat hard water, and many cloth diapering moms swear by old fashioned detergents like Tide. Secondly, if you’re really concerned, you can get a water softener for your laundry or your home.
You will know that your cloth diapers have been affected by the hard water, if it stinks and/or it’s not absorbing baby’s urine.
Fabric softener and/or diaper creams used
Commercial fabric softeners don’t soften water. Instead, they make your clothes soft by coating the surface with a thin layer of chemicals that make the fabric feel smoother. This is not good for cloth diapers because that coat reduces the absorbency of natural fiber diapers. This is why using a fabric softener is a definite no-no when washing your cloth diapers.
When you use a diaper rash cream that is not cloth diaper safe, it will end up creating a nasty film, which will require lots of labor to remove. (If your baby is teething and has developed a diaper rash, or if your baby’s bottom is sensitive and you need to use diaper rash creams, it is recommended that you use cloth diaper liners to add a barrier between the diaper rash cream and your cloth diapers).
If you have used fabric softeners and/or diaper rash cream and you find that your cloth diapers are repelling baby’s urine, instead of absorbing them, stripping may be necessary.
How to Prevent Stripping Cloth Diapers
Above all – if you have a good washing routine, stripping should not be necessary.
However, if you are unable to stick to a routine, it is recommended that you run your diapers an extra wash cycle, at least once a month. This is not necessary but it gives your diapers a better chance of staying in peak, absorbing condition.
Also, try soaking your diapers before washing them, especially if you are having a problem with urine residue. A simple soak in hot water might do the trick or a laundry aid like Oxiclean may help fight residue and stains. Some cloth diaper moms recommend adding vinegar and baking soda to a detergent-free wash cycle (3 cups vinegar, ½-cup baking soda) to help fight stains and odors, but check the care labels on your diapers before you do this. Whether to add something to your wash routine or not is up to you; you may find it is a big help, or simply an unnecessary extra step.
If you strip your cloth diapers and they still stink to high heaven, you may need to reconsider your washing strategy. The good news is that if you have a good washing strategy, stripping cloth diapers will not be necessary.
If you have hard water and add vinegar to your wash loads, the vinegar and water could be interacting to stink up the diapers; this can be prevented by adding a water softener to the load, and either cutting back on the vinegar or not using it at all.
Another possibility is that you’re not using enough detergent in your regular washes. Upping your detergent may require a couple more rinse cycles, but it should help kill the odor!
In conclusion, stripping cloth diapers is not inevitable if you follow a good washing routine. But, if you find that your cloth diapers are not absorbing as it did before, strip it using the simple method first. If that is not effective, resort to the other more extreme methods but more often than not, the simple method is most effective when stripping cloth diapers.
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