How to Strip Cloth Diapers

Hard water or laundry detergent can build up on cloth diapers, leading to less absorbency and odor. Here's how to remove the residue.

Do your cloth diapers always smell bad, even if they've just been washed? Or have you noticed that they're becoming less absorbent—maybe even repelling urine? If your regular laundry routine isn't solving these issues, you may need to strip your cloth diapers.

Read on to learn why you may need to strip your cloth diapers periodically and how to do it.

different types of cloth diapers stack
MissMessie/Flickr Creative Commons

Why Do Cloth Diapers Sometimes Need Stripping?

A cheaper and greener alternative to disposables, cloth diapers are meant to be washed and reused. But all that laundry detergent can stick to the fabric, resulting in a buildup that lessens the absorbency and traps odor-causing bacteria. Build-up can also occur if you regularly wash your diapers in untreated hard water, which has a high mineral load.

What Is Laundry Stripping?

Laundry stripping is a deep cleaning method that involves soaking textiles in hot water and specific chemical cleaning agents to remove the residue from laundry detergent, fabric softener, hard water minerals, and body oil that can build up on fabrics over time.

According to a 2014 article published in the International Journal of Consumer Studies, hard water is a problem when it comes to laundry because it interferes with the cleaning action of soaps and detergents, which can leave behind residue on fabrics.

Thankfully, you can remove all that icky buildup with a process known as laundry stripping. Appropriately done, stripping can make your baby's cloth 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 can take 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 is a result of a buildup on the fabric that is affecting its absorbency.)
  • 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 don't know if the previous owner had hard water.

How to Strip Cloth Diapers

Ready to strip your cloth diapers? Start by washing them, then remove any non-absorbent parts like diaper covers and pocket shells.

In general, you only need to strip the parts of the diaper that absorb liquid (prefolds, pocket diaper inserts, and the like). You can strip the entire thing if you're working with all-in-one diapers.

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). You can also make 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, occasionally stirring 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 as usual, and they should be good to go!

Preventing Buildup

If you want to prevent needing to strip your diapers again in the future, take preventive measures to avoid the buildup that causes odor and absorbency issues. If hard water is the main culprit, try adding a water softener to the laundry. If detergent buildup is to blame, try using less detergent per cycle and adding an extra rinse cycle (don't forget to skip the fabric softener!). Always make sure you're following the washing instructions for your cloth diapers.

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