Hard water or laundry detergent can build up on cloth diapers, leading to absorbency issues and an unpleasant odor. Learn how to remove the residue by stripping your cloth diapers at home.

By Nicole Harris
November 16, 2020
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Do your cloth diapers always smell bad, even if they’ve just been washed? Or have you noticed that they’re becoming less absorbent and repelling urine? If a proper laundry routine doesn’t solve these issues, you may need to strip your cloth diapers to get rid of bacteria build-up. Here's what you need to know.

Credit: MissMessie/Flickr Creative Commons

Why Do Cloth Diapers Sometimes Need Stripping?

A cheaper and greener option to disposables, cloth diapers are meant to be washed and reused as your baby grows. But all of that laundry detergent sometimes becomes trapped, resulting in a build-up of odor-causing bacteria that lessens the absorbency. This might also happen if you regularly wash the diapers in untreated hard water, which has a high mineral load. 

Thankfully, parents can remove all that excess icky build-up with a process known as stripping. Done properly, stripping can make your baby's diapers as good as new.

When to Strip Cloth Diapers

In general, laundering your cloth diapers in the washer and dryer is sufficient enough to clean them. Stripping diapers also takes a toll on the materials, so it's not something you should do too frequently. However, here are a few telltale signs it's time to strip your cloth diapers:

  • Your diapers always smell, even after they’ve been washed.
  • Your diaper seems less absorbent. (Leaks are common with cloth diapers, and they often happen when your baby pees a lot. Stripping won’t necessarily fix your leakage issue unless it results from a build-up of some kind.)  
  • You’ve washed the diaper in untreated hard water for a few weeks. Hard water is full of minerals, which can adhere to your cloth diapers over time.
  • You used laundry detergent that’s incompatible with cloth diapers.
  • Detergent has built up on the diapers; this might happen if you regularly use too much detergent.
  • You just acquired used diapers, and you don’t know if the previous owner had hard water.

Instructions for Stripping Cloth Diapers

Ready to strip your cloth diapers? Start by washing them, then removing any non-absorbent parts like diaper covers and pocket shells. In general, you only need to strip parts that absorb water (prefolds, pocket diaper inserts, etc.). If you’re working with all-in-one diapers, you can strip the entire thing. Here’s what to do:

  1. Fill your top-loading washing machine, bathtub, or another container half full with very hot water.
  2. Add mineral remover solution, following the manufacturer's instructions. One popular option is the laundry additive RLR; one pack works for about 30 diapers. If you want to save money, consider making your own stripping agent with washing soda, Borax, and Calgon (3 tablespoons each). Some websites also suggest adding one-half cup of detergent for maximum effectiveness.
  3. Let the diapers soak, stirring occasionally, until the water cools. Keep the diapers in the container for about 4-6 hours.
  4. Wash the diapers with hot water only until the detergent fully disappears. This might take a few heavy-duty cycles.
  5. Dry the diapers, and they should be good to go!

If you want to prevent needing to strip your diapers again in the future, take preventive measures to stop the odor and absorbency issues. For example, if hard water causes the problem, try adding a water softener to the laundry. What’s more, if detergent build-up is to blame, you might need to add less detergent per cycle. 

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