Mold on Cloth Diapers: Removal and Prevention


Parents have a lot going on. Finding a stray diaper under the car seat, or not getting to that laundry quickly enough happens occasionally. Unfortunately, when leaving wet fabrics to sit for a long time, it’s common for them to start to grow mold.

As common as it is, finding mold on your cloth diapers is a big deal and it must be dealt with quickly and safely to protect your child’s health.

As the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) explains, “Inhaling or touching mold or mold spores may cause allergic reactions in sensitive individuals. Allergic responses include hay fever-type symptoms, such as sneezing, runny nose, red eyes, and skin rash. Allergic reactions to mold are common.”

These are just some of the short-term effects of mold exposure, you can read more about the nasty consequences of mold on the Centers for Disease Control website here, but if you suspect mold on your cloth diapers, don’t fret, we can get rid of it so keep reading.

What’s the Difference Between Mold and Mildew?

Before I show you exactly what to look for to be sure mold and mildew are your problems, let’s make sure we are on the same page: Mold (or mould depending on where you live) and mildew are pretty much the same things.

According to the EPA, “Mildew refers to certain kinds of mold or fungus.  The term mildew is often used generically to refer to mold growth, usually with a flat growth habit.”

In other sources, mildew is often used to describe the beginnings of mold growth, and that’s how I’ll use it here.

What Does Mildew Look Like on Diapers?

Mildew growth on a cloth diaper cover (right) and diaper inserts (left).

Mildew will start out as little black specs on the surface of your diaper. Over time those specs will expand until the entire surface is black. See the above photos for an idea of typical mold growth.

What Causes Mold and Mildew Growth on Cloth Diapers?

Mold and Mildew flourish in places where three specific things are present: food, darkness, and humidity (moisture, heat, and a lack of air).

This makes a forgotten wet bag or diaper pail in a warm spot literally the perfect place for mold to happily grow, feeding off of the fabric and soil.

As the Canadian Conservation Institute (CCI) website explains, Fabric is very susceptible to mold growth, which can cause staining, weakening, or complete destruction of the fabric. It explains that cotton, linen, and rayon [like your bamboo inserts] are particularly vulnerable, but mold will even grow on synthetic fibers such as nylon and polyester [like your diaper covers] if they are soiled or if they have finishes that provide food for the organism.

“Although mould spores are always present in the air, they are able to grow only if environmental conditions are suitable. Relative humidity (RH) between 65 and 100%, warm temperatures, and poor air circulation promote mould growth,” the CCI website states. “Mould may appear as a white or coloured velvety growth and is often accompanied by a musty odour. Isolated disfiguring spots indicate early stages of mould.”

How Can You Prevent Mold from Growing on Your Cloth Diapers?

This information not only tells us the cause of moldy diapers but also how to prevent them.

To prevent mold growth you want to make sure you’re storing your cloth diapers properly, balancing the amount of air and light that can reach your diapers with the length of time you’re going to be storing them.

For example, if you want to use an airtight container, like a Diaper Dekor, which will provide the perfect dark and humid conditions mold needs to feed off your diapers, you must wash your diapers pretty much every day. If you choose to keep your diapers in an open basket with lots of airflow and light, you can go longer between each wash.

For more information on how to store cloth diapers to prevent mold and bacteria growth, you can check out my full article on cloth diaper storage solutions here.

What is Pink Mold on Cloth Diapers?

Pink and black mold on a diaper cover (right) and a diaper insert (left)

If you find pink or pinky-orange spots on your baby’s diapers it could be a lot of things, including “pink mold.” When you find that pink diaper can be helpful in knowing if it’s pink mold or something else. If you see the pink for the first time on a diaper in a forgotten diaper bag in the garage, it’s likely a pink mold.

However, if you see pink on your baby’s diaper soon after they wet a clean and fresh diaper, or on your diaper fresh out of the wash, there could be something else going on, including some things that require medical attention, so taking your baby to their pediatrician, along with a photo of that diaper, is the best course.

Pink mold is Serratia marcescens, which is not actually a mold but a bacteria that multiplies in dark, warm, and damp conditions (like a forgotten wet bag full of dirty diapers).

Like regular mold, this pink mold bacteria can cause discoloration and staining on fabrics, and if allowed to spread, can cause serious health problems. Urinary tract infections, wound infections, and pneumonia are complications that can arise from pink mold so if you see it it’s important to remove it fast.

Luckily the same procedure for killing black mold and mildew will work for killing pink mold bacteria, so keep reading.

How Do You Get Mold Out Of Cloth Diapers?

In order to remove mold and mildew from a cloth diaper, you first need to kill the mold spores (or bacteria in the case of pink mold) so that they don’t just begin growing as soon as they are allowed to be moist again.

To kill mold on fabric you need to use bleach.

If the mold is limited to a single tiny spot or two on one diaper, you can go ahead and just use a Clorox Bleach Gel Pen or other Hypochlorite Bleach gel pen on the spot, letting it sit before washing.

However in most cases, the mold will be significant and/or on several diapers, and a bleach soak will be necessary to make sure all spores, including the ones you can’t see yet, at killed.

Once the bleach soak is finished you can then tackle the stains, which won’t be removed from the bleach soak and/or regular washing.

Here are the instructions to kill the mold on your cloth diapers as well as how to remove the staining (in order):

How to Kill the Mold Spores on Your Diapers

1. Rinse your diapers if they’re soiled.

If your diapers were clean before the mold got to them you can skip this step, but if they are both soiled and moldy, you’ll want to rinse as much soil out of them as you can before bleaching them (the next step).

You can just wash them using your Measure Method Cloth Diaper Wash Routine, but keep in mind this will put mold spores into your washer, meaning you’ll have to thoroughly clean your washer with bleach as well. This is a lot of cleaning and many may find it easier to just rinse the diapers as clean as possible in some sort of container or a bathtub, and then use that same container or tub to do the bleach soak.

Use your judgment here, but your goal is to remove as much soil and ammonia from your diapers as possible before putting them in bleach. Not only will the soil hinder the bleach’s ability to clean, but the ammonia that’s created from urine sitting in the same hot humid conditions that made the mold, will react with the bleach and let off a toxic gas. This won’t be a terrifying amount, but anything that creates a toxic off-gas should be avoided, especially at the same time you’re breathing in nasty mold spores.

You will be washing your diapers after the bleach soak, so thorough rinsing is adequate.

2. Do a bleach soak of your diapers.

Mixing cold or lukewarm water and bleach that has at least 5.25% sodium hypochlorite as the active ingredient, fill a bathtub or container with your bleach soak to the following ratios:

Measurements: 

  • Average bathtub – 1/2 cup to 3/4 cup of bleach to water filled to the halfway point (from the top of the tub)
  • Other containers (including washer)- 1-1.5 Tbs of bleach to 1 gallon (about 4 liters) of water

3. Wash your diapers.

Wash your diapers using your Measure Method Cloth Diaper Wash Routine. This is going to remove the bleach and mold spores.

4. Fully dry your diapers in the dryer.

This step is actually essential for making doubly sure the mold is dead. Remember, mold lives on moisture and a lack of air. Drying out your diapers in the dryer, until they are bone dry, will ensure the mold is dead and gone.

It’s true though that high heat can be damaging on some of the plastic parts of some diapers, (more about drying diapers in the dryer can be found here) so keep the heat to medium or lower, and lengthen the dry time until the diapers are very very dry.

How to Get Mold Stains Out Of Cloth Diapers

Once you do a bleach soak, wash them, and dry them in the dryer you may be upset because they won’t look much different. You’ll likely see almost all of the mold stain on your diapers as if you didn’t do much of anything at all. Don’t worry, this is normal. The mold is dead and gone, but the fabric is stained.

Mold stains are particularly tough to get out. I have two methods you can try outlined below:

1. Method One: Sunning

It sounds hokey but letting your diapers dry in direct sunlight is actually one of the best methods of stain removal out there. To do this, you simply dry your wet diapers in direct sunlight, be it outside or in a window.

Since you just dried your diapers in the dryer to kill the mold, you may want to put them back in the washer for a rinse and spin before sunning them as putting wet diapers in the sun works better than dry diapers.

Spraying them with a bit of lemon juice can also help the sun do it’s work.

2. Method Two: OxiClean paste

If you live far up north or otherwise can’t get a good sunning in, you can use stain removers on your diapers. Making a paste out of OxiClean works particularly well for mold. To do this just mix some OxiClean and water to a 2:1 ratio (two tablespoons of OxiClean to every one tablespoon of water), apply it and give it a scrub.

Let the paste sit on the diaper for at least an hour and then wash the diapers once more.

Using a stain remover can sometimes take a few treatments to work, so do it again if you still have some light staining.

FAQ

Can I Use Toilet Bleach Gel to Tackle Mold on Cloth Diapers?

From what I understand, this question comes up because regular “thin” bleach can be difficult to find in some areas. Though a bleach toilet cleanser may be easier to find in your area, I would not recommend this for your cloth diapers.

I understand why it’s tempting, both bleach toilet cleansers and regular laundry bleach have the same main active ingredient sodium hypochlorite however bleach toilet cleaner is made to stick to non-porous, ceramic (easily rinsed) surfaces, not to be rinsed clean away like laundry bleach.

So while it will kill the mold, those harsher chemicals may not rinse clean from your diapers and contain ingredients that can be irritating to your baby’s skin. Generally speaking, use only laundry products for your baby’s diapers as they are formulated to rinse cleanly away from fabrics.

Will the Bleach Ruin My Cloth Diapers?

Bleach does not ruin cloth diapers when properly diluted. It will also not remove any color from the PUL of your diaper covers. If you’re worried about the bleachability of your cloth diaper inserts, prefolds or flats you can perform a bleachability test, but know what either way, the mold spores need to be killed and the only way to do that properly on fabrics is with bleach (vinegar is only suitable on hard surfaces).
Here’s how to do a bleachability test:

How to do a bleachability test: add 2 teaspoons of sodium hypochlorite bleach to ¼ cup water; apply a drop to a hidden part of the items; wait a minute then blot with a paper towel. If there’s no color change, it’s safe to bleach. 

References

Dangers of Mixing Bleach with Cleaners. Washington State Department of Health. https://doh.wa.gov/you-and-your-family/healthy-home/home-contaminants/dangers-mixing-bleach-cleaners#:~:text=Mixing%20Bleach%20and%20Ammonia,Nausea.

Mold and Health. (2021). U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. https://www.epa.gov/mold/mold-and-health

Mould Growth on Textiles – Canadian Conservation Institute (CCI) Notes 13/15. (2019). Minister of Public Works and Government Services Canada. https://www.canada.ca/en/conservation-institute/services/conservation-preservation-publications/canadian-conservation-institute-notes/mould-growth-textiles.html

Safety Data Sheet [Clorox® Toilet Bowl Cleaner Bleach – All Scents]. (2020). The Clorox Company. https://www.thecloroxcompany.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/09/Clorox%C2%AE-Toilet-Bowl-Cleaner-Bleach-All-Scents_EN2.pdf

What is the difference between Mold and Mildew? (2021). Mold and Health. (2021). https://www.epa.gov/mold/what-difference-between-mold-and-mildew

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