Stripping Cloth Diapers - Deep Cleaning
Updated: Apr 28
What does stripping of cloth diapers mean?
When you are cloth diapering there might be the time that you are unsure if your diapers are sufficiently clean. When this is indeed the case, you might want to deep clean these diapers to make sure they are fresh and clean again. Deep cleaning of cloth diapers is called stripping cloth diapers.
Should you strip cloth diapers?
Stripping your cloth diapers is pretty harsh treatment and should not be done regularly. This is because the cloth diaper stripping process is a soaking process that is pretty hard on fabric. Especially because the solution the diapers are in is rather caustic meaning it will deteriorate the fabric when it is done too often. Stripping is not a way you clean diapers regularly. If you have a good washing routine, stripping should not be necessary. Stripping of cloth diapers can be seen as a last resort to save your diapers when they have not been treated properly for months or even years on end. However, there are certain cases where it might be necessary to strip your cloth diapers.
When is it necessary to strip cloth diapers?
Stripping is often necessary when cloth diapers have been washed in hard water for a long time (without the use of a water softening treatment). Hard water is defined as water containing high amounts of calcium and magnesium carbonates, bicarbonates, and sulfates. Washing in untreated hard water could result in problems like a mineral build-up (of the previously mentioned minerals) within the diaper fabric. This can cause reduced absorption and bacteria growth in the diapers when these bacteria are not removed properly during laundry.
So reasons to strip your cloth diapers are:
Washing your diapers in untreated hard water for a too long time results in the above problems.
Reduced absorbency of the cloth diapers could cause leaking while the diaper does not look saturated.
Your diapers have a strong smell of urine that remains even when freshly washed.
Improper washing routine with a weak detergent like soap nuts or using fabric softener on cloth diapers. The latter gives fabrics a coat to make them feel soft but is also prevents absorbency.
Purchasing secondhand diapers from someone who might not have washed the cloth diapers correctly.
When do you not need to strip diapers?
If your cloth diapers are clean out of the wash meaning they smell fresh (or don’t smell at all).
Forgetting water softening treatment a few times.
Using a new brand of detergent (as long as it is a strong detergent).
Non-absorbent cloth diapers pieces like covers and pocket shells don’t need to be stripped as this is not absorbent material.
What do you strip cloth diapers with?
You don’t need lots of special chemicals if you want to strip your diapers. This method uses only 4 ingredients that are easily accessible in most supermarkets or maybe you already have them in your home. Either way, these are great additions to any household as they are very basic cleaning products.
Washing soda is sodium carbonate decahydrate. It is the main ingredient in lots of laundry detergents and other dry soap powders and it also acts as a water softener. The washing soda binds to the minerals that make hard water and allows the detergent to be absorbed into fibers properly to clean your diapers. This is not the same as baking soda.
This is a water softener that has sodium citrate as the active ingredient. The name Calgon is a combination of two words; Calcium Gone. This is precisely what sodium citrate does, it binds to calcium, one of the causes of hard water, so it is removed from the water.
Borax or sodium borate is another water softener that works a little differently from Calgon, therefore 2 water softeners are used.
Detergent (that has enzymes)
Use a laundry detergent that has good cleansing properties (aka no soap nuts) and enzymes. Enzymes are needed to break down protein (that are present in for example your food and therefore your (and your babies) poop) that might be present in your diapers.
How do you strip and reset cloth diapers?
First, we will be making our detergent mix. When you are using a sink for stripping you need less of this mixture compared to when you are using a (half full) bathtub. When using the sink I use 1 tablespoon of each of the above-mentioned ingredients (washing soda, Calgon, borax, and laundry detergent). For a half-full bathtub, I use 3 times as much so 3 tablespoons of each of the ingredients.
Start your stripping cycle with clean diapers (they don’t have to be dry as long as they are washed). We are only stripping absorbent part of the diapers as only those can have mineral build-up like fitted diapers, prefolds, pocket inserts, or all in one diapers.
Fill your sink with hot water. If you have many diapers you want to be stripped, you could fill a bathtub half full with hot water.
Add your detergent mix to the hot water and stir it so everything is dissolved.
Add your diapers and let them soak for at least 2 hours but preferable longer with a max of 8 hours.
Stir the diapers occasionally (once or twice per hour) to help release more of the build-up from the fabric.
Note that the water may change color and become dirty and smelly. This is normal as the buildup from the diapers is very dirty. It is also possible that you won’t see or smell a change, this is normal too as not all dirtiness is visible to us.
After the soak, drain the water and squeeze out as much of the water as possible.
After the soak, the diapers go into the washing machine. They need to be disinfected from all the dirt and buildup that has come loose. This can be done by washing the diapers at the hottest temperature possible on your washing machine. There is no need to add a laundry detergent as the diaper absorbed enough water softener and detergent during soaking.
After the hot wash, wash your diapers again using a regular cloth diaper washing routine so your diapers are nice and fresh again.
This procedure should have completely reset your cloth diapers and should benefit the absorption.
Sometimes there is build-up in your diapers that is not caused by hard water or improper washing routine but the too much use of diaper cream (or other oil-based creams) on your baby's bum. In this case, a more gentle treatment than the above-mentioned harsh treatment might be a better first try to see if this will fix the problem. In this case, we will only be using one ingredient; dishwashing soap. Make sure you use a decent brand that is known to get rid of all oil-based stains (btw never use dishwashing soap in your washing machine). If you live in an area with hard water or you are always doing laundry by adding a water softener, please also use that for this stripping method. If you don’t have hard water where you live, a water softener is not necessary (but doesn’t hurt either).
How to strip with dishwashing soap
Start with freshly washed diapers (they don’t have to be dry but they have to be clean).
Fill your sink with hot water and add a tablespoon of decent dishwashing soap. If you need to do lots of diapers you can fill half a bathtub. In this case, you will need to use a few tablespoons. Also, add a water softener (like Calgon) if you have lived somewhere with hard water.
Add the diapers to the hot soapy water
Let the diapers soap for a least an hour
If you have big stains you want to give a scrub, after the soak it the time to do it. Using an old toothbrush, scrub the stains so that all the leftover cream is on the diaper surface.
Rinse your diapers in the sink or tub to remove most of the dishwashing soap.
Wash your diapers with water only as they still contain some soap which should be sufficient to wash your diapers with. After this laundry, dry your diapers like you normally would and your diapers are good to go.
PS: Stains in cloth diapers does not mean that the diapers are dirty. Stubborn stains caused by the pigments in baby poop will attach themselves to the fibers of the cloth diaper. This causes discoloration but it does not mean the diapers are still dirty. After washing multiple times, this will wear off (if no new stains are formed). A day of bleaching in the sun can also do wonders on your diapers.