How (and When) to Strip Cloth Diapers


Stripping is a hot topic in the cloth diaper community. So much so, that often beginners get the idea that they will NEED to strip their diapers. but once you understand what stripping is and what it’s used for, you’ll know it’s actually something you should RARELY need to do if at all.

So what is stripping? In cloth diaper lingo, “stripping” means to remove build-up from the fabric of your diapers. It means to literally strip away any substances that have accumulated on the surface of the cloth diaper fabric.

How Often Should I Strip my Cloth Diapers?

How often should you strip your diapers? Stripping cloth diapers is a remedy, not a routine. Hopefully, you’ll never need to strip your diapers, but if you experience build up on your cloth diapers, it may be needed as a way to deep clean them and reset your diapers back to square-one.

What Causes Build-up on Cloth Diapers?

Any number of things can create a coating on the fibers of your cloth diapers, including:

  • Detergent, when more is used than can be washed away
  • Homemade laundry soap, which is often not strong enough to remove particles from diapers, and instead sits on top of the fibers
  • Fabric softeners, which are made to sit on fabric, coating it in “softness”
  • Minerals from hard water, if not bonded to softeners or detergent
  • Some diaper cream products, especially petroleum and zinc, which are made to repel water completely from the skin
  • Bacteria itself, if not completely cleansed

As you can see, some of the things that cause build-up are products you shouldn’t use on your diapers, but others are things you must use on them; so even if you are careful about what you use on your diapers, build-up can still happen.

How Do I know if I Have Build-up on My Diapers?

Most of the time you won’t know that you have build-up on your diapers until one of the three big problems it causes shows up. These are:

  1. Smelly diapers. Often the first sign of build-up is diaper stink. If left untreated, that smell will only get worse.
  2. Diaper rash. All that product, bacteria, and/or ammonia building up on your diapers will soon start to irritate baby’s delicate skin, and painful rashes can develop. The more sensitive the baby, the faster and worse the rash will be.
  3. Leaking diapers. A diaper needs to be super absorbent in order to be effective. Build-up on the surface of a diaper slows that absorption, eventually grinding it to a halt. If a diaper leaks before the insert is soaked through, and there are no fit problems, build-up is likely the cause of the leak.

Ok, But Do I Need to Strip?

If you have smelly diapers, rashes, or leaking, solving the problem is priority one, but stripping may not always be the solution.

Here is how to know if you need to strip or not in each case:

Smelly Diapers
StripDon’t Strip
If all of your diapers have a smell, either of fish tank, barnyard, or just a “dirty smell” and it’s getting worse over time, you likely have a build-up problem.

If the smell has been building for a while, it’s probably best to strip and reset the clock.
If the smell is only on some diapers, and comes on out of the blue, check out this post about smelly diaper remedies and work down the list of solutions first.

If the smell is ammonia, check for detergent buildup first, which is best solved with just rinsing.
Rashes*
StripDon’t Strip
If you suspect your rash is being caused by a washing problem that’s not detergent buildup, and not one of the many other causes listed under the don’t strip column of this table, stripping may be helpful.

With that said, a strip will only reset your diapers; if there’s an underlying wash problem, it will happen again unless you fix your wash routine. Here, we promote the Measure Method for washing cloth diapers, which you can learn about here.

If you strip but the rash does not clear at first (following the instructions below carefully) then it’s time to go back and reconsider other causes.
There are MANY causes of rashes whether baby is in cloth or disposable diapers.
Some of the many causes that a cloth diaper strip would not help with include, but aren’t limited to:
– Moisture sensitivities (most common rash cause)
– Diet changes/sensitivities
– Medications
– Teething
– Changes to baby products or washing products
– Yeast growth (If your baby has been diagnosed with a yeast or bacterial infection. In this case, bleach must be used to disinfect your diapers first).
Detergent buildup on cloth diapers

*NOTE: Consulting a pediatrician is always recommended as a FIRST COURSE I am in no way capable or claim to be capable of diagnosing skin rashes and this article contains no medical advice. For some rashes, like yeast, medication may be needed. ALWAYS see a pediatrician.
Leaking Diapers
StripDon’t Strip
If the diaper leaks well before the insert is soaked and you have ensured there are no fit issues.

If you drop some water on your inserts and it beads up instead of soaking in.
If the diaper is leaking and the inserts are completely wet. If this is the case, it’s most likely your leak is being caused by an absorbency issue. See here for a list of causes and fixes for leaking diapers.

How do I strip my cloth diapers?

To strip your cloth diapers you’re going to need a stripping product with sodium carbonate. There are a few products out there, but only two I recommend, and I actually go as far as cautioning against trying any others without a solid recommendation from a known and trusted source, as there are some bad ones.

The two I recommend are RLR Laundry Treatment and GroVia Mighty Bubbles, let’s take a look at each:

RLR Laundry Treatment

I had a pretty informative interview with a member of Cadie’s team. Cadie is the company that manufactures RLR. You can read that interview about RLR Laundry Treatment here to learn all about that product.

For the purposes of this post, all you need to know is that RLR Laundry Treatment is a laundry stripping product wherein the primary ingredient is sodium carbonate. RLR is primarily sold in small foil packages like this:

RLR photo of foil package
How To Use RLR To Strip Cloth Diapers

As you’ll often hear me say, cloth diapers are different from other laundry. Most clothing has just one layer of fabric and maybe a bit of dirt on the surface when it goes into the wash. Cloth diapers on the other hand are thick, multi-layered and tightly woven items, that get dirty deep down inside those layers. Urine, minerals etc., hide deep into the internal layers of the diaper and it takes a lot more work to get them clean inside and out.  

Because diapers are so difficult to clean, I recommend soaking them in the RLR, rather than just using it in a washing machine cycle. Here are some steps to follow:

IN A TUB OR BATHTUB

Don’t own a washing machine, or have a lot of cloth diapers to strip? Stripping them in a bathtub can be a great way to let them soak for a long time to get that deep clean and get all your diapers stripped at once.

Here’s the process:

  1. Put about 12-16 clean diapers in a regular size bathtub (less if you’re using a smaller tub or pail; just divide the package of RLR according to how many diapers you’re stripping).
  2. Fill the tub with HOT water until the diapers are covered.
  3. Add one package of RLR and stir until dissolved. If you have a large tub and are doubling the amount of diapers, double the number of packages of RLR too.
  4. Leave them to soak for about 5-6 hours. If you’re doing this after bedtime, it’s ok to leave them overnight.
  5. Wring them out gently and put them in your washing machine.
  6. Run two hot washes; one without detergent, and one with detergent.
  7. Dry as usual.
IN TOP-LOADING WASHING MACHINE

Top loading machines are great because they allow the load to sit immersed in water, making it easy to soak your diapers, but also eliminating the wringing, which is great! Here’s what I recommend to do if you are stripping using a top-loading machine:

  1. Choose a HOT cycle or water temperature, and allow the washer to fill up, making sure the diapers end up covered.
  2. Add a package of RLR (two if you have a huge washer and are doing more than about 20 diapers, and let the washer to agitate them a bit.
  3. Pause your machine and leave everything to soak for about 5-6 hours. If you’re doing this after bedtime, go ahead and leave them overnight.
  4. Restart the machine and allow it to run through the cycle, including the regular rinse cycle.
  5. Run another hot wash cycle with detergent.
  6. Dry as usual.
IN FRONT-LOADING WASHING MACHINE

Front loaders are a bit more challenging when trying to soak diaper since, when still some of the laundry inside the drum isn’t sitting in water. Here’s what you can do:

  1. Put roughly 12-16 clean diapers in the machine with a package of RLR either right on the diapers or in the soap tray (if it works well with powder; I’ve had a front loader that was horrible with powder and know that might not be the case).
  2. Choose your largest HOT water cycle, and allow the washer to fill up and begin spinning.
  3. Allow everything to turn for a minute or two, then pause the machine and let everything soak for a couple of hours.
  4. After an hour or two, come back, unpause the cycle and allow the machine to spin for another minute or two before pausing it again.
  5. Continue to let everything soak for about 6 hours, coming back every hour or two to unpause the machine and let everything agitate for a few minutes. This will make sure all of the diapers stay soaked in the water and RLR mixture for the whole stripping process.
  6. Restart the machine and allow it to run through the cycle including the regular rinse cycle.
  7. Run another hot wash cycle with detergent.
  8. Dry as usual.

Unfortunately, you won’t find RLR in large retail stores like Walmart or Target, but you can find it on Amazon or in many local cloth diaper shops. It does sell out regularly (it’s a small company), but will come back into stock, so keep checking.

RLR Laundry Treatment
$9.99 ($1.48 / Ounce)
We earn a commission if you click this link and make a purchase at no additional cost to you.
10/18/2021 03:42 pm GMT

As I discussed with Cadie in my interview with them here, you can also order RLR directly from them in cases of 144 at wholesale pricing. You can contact them for more information about that here.

GroVia Mighty Bubbles

Another product that is proven to work well to strip cloth diapers is GroVia Mighty Bubbles.

GroVia lists the ingredients in Mighty Bubbles as sodium carbonate, sodium percarbonate, sodium polyitaconate, surfactants, enzymes, oxygen bleach activator, and sodium silicate.

Over the years, GroVia has gotten a bad wrap in a number of cloth diaper communities, but that has more to do with the personalities behind those groups than the actual effectiveness of the product. In fact, some of the beef between GroVia and a few of the longer-standing communities has been documented before (check out this article from the Cloth Diaper Podcast about FLU and GroVia MB).

As I always say, when taking ANY cloth diaper wash advice, read carefully, and look for sources. If someone says not to use something, or that a product is bad, look for information on WHY they are claiming that.

How To Use GroVia Mighty Bubbles To Strip Cloth Diapers

GroVia Mighty Bubbles come in small pouches that dissolve in your washing machine. Because of this, they are often best for use in the washing machine, following the directions on the package, which are:

For use on clean diapers.
Place one pac in washer with diapers. Run a regular HOT wash with one extra rinse.
Once diapers are clean, return to regular wash routine.

According to GroVia, Mighty Bubbles can be used in addition to a normal wash cycle every 6-8 weeks.

You can find GroVia Mighty Bubbles directly on the GroVia website, at most cloth diaper retailers, or on Amazon.

We earn a commission if you click this link and make a purchase at no additional cost to you.

What About Bleach For Stripping Diapers?

Sometimes, someone in a cloth diaper group will recommend using chlorine bleach to strip diapers. Chlorine bleach should not be used for stripping diapers.

Bleach is for sanitizing; stripping is for build-up.

To put it another way, bleach does not strip fabric, it kills germs and removes color.

Think about how your hand feels after you get bleach on it. Kind of filmy, right? It takes a lot of rinsing to get bleach off your hand, and fabric as well.

Now, you may be thinking, ‘What if my buildup is bacteria, wouldn’t bleach be good for that?” And the answer is yes. If your little has been diagnosed with a yeast or bacterial infection rash, absolutely you MUST bleach your diapers.

For all other kinds of build-up however, bleach won’t do much but mask smells.

What about Blue Dawn Dish Detergent for Stripping Diapers?

I don’t know where the whole strip your diapers with Dawn thing started, but it is by far my biggest pet peeve recommendation out there because it is SO *&^%# WRONG!

I’ll confess, I use Dawn dish soap as a stain remover for grease stains on my clothing. That said, we’re talking about a small dab of the finger on a surface grease stain. But now, after doing some research for this post, I’m seriously rethinking even those small dabs too.

Here’s the deal; Dawn dish soap is amazing at washing out oil. After all, that’s what it does right, it washes crude oil off of ducks, and food oils off your dishes. It does it really well.  But it’s ONLY good for oil.

In the big list of things that will cause build-up on your diapers only one of those is oil based: petroleum and zinc diaper creams.

If zinc or petroleum is the cause of your build-up, you might be thinking about using Dawn to solve your problem, but I’m going to stop you there.

The amount of Dawn you’d need to strip an entire load is significant. Just like dish soap was not meant to go in a dishwasher, it really wasn’t meant to go in your washing machine either, because of the suds.

I contacted a few washing machine companies to hear if it would void any warranties, and the answer was yes. Here’s what LG and Samsung told me:

“This can affect the warranty as dish soap is a high sudsing detergent which can affect the unit over time, as well as result in oversudsing and the unit overflowing.”

Dave H. from LG Customer Service at LG Canada

“Samsung always recommends to use HE detergent in washer. The warranty will void when the unit is used beyond the instructions mentioned in the User manual. However, we don’t recommend to use dish soap in the washer. To clean the stains, grease, and mold you need to use self clean cycle on Samsung washer.”

Valerie, Samsung Customer Care

Can I Use Vinegar to Strip Cloth Diapers?

Vinegar is great for many things and is safe for use on cloth diapers (check out my full explanation about vinegar and cloth diapers here), but stripping, not so much.

I have a stripping experiment in the works, wherein I will show/test out using vinegar for stripping, so stay tuned for that. If you’re interested in real cloth diaper science experiments, you can check out my ongoing cloth diaper cream experiment here.

What to Do After Stripping Your Diapers

Once you’ve determined a strip is needed, and you’ve done a strip using RLR or Mighty Bubbles, it’s important to take some time to figure out the root cause of the build-up on your diapers.

Buying stripping products, running additional loads of laundry and doing lengthy soaks to strip your diapers are costly both in time and money. If you can find the root cause you can usually adjust your routine to fix it, meaning that you won’t have to strip again, and you’ll avoid future rashes, smells, and leaks.

Here’s a list of questions to answer, in order, to pinpoint the source of the problem:

  1. Are you using petroleum (Vaseline) as a diaper cream on synthetic fabrics? Have you used zinc and didn’t scrub the stains away? Are you using detergent with fabric softeners, liquid fabric softener, or dryer sheets? Are you using homemade laundry soap or a commercial laundry “soap” like Charlie’s Soap?

    If you answered yes to any of these, there’s your problem. All of these products will build-up on your diapers and they are on the “avoid at all costs” list.
  2. Do you have hard water? If you’re not sure, you can either test your water with simple test strips (like these from Amazon, which are quick, and inexpensive), bring a water sample to your local pool retailer to test, or if you’re on city-supplied water, you can contact your city, which should have the hardness rating of your water for you.

    If you have hard water, mineral build-up could be your problem. After stripping your diapers you can solve mineral build-up by balancing your wash ingredients (soap, water, dirty diapers) properly. Check out our measure method for washing cloth diapers here. It’s a delicate balance and it may take you some time to nail down, but you’ll find all your laundry will benefit from your figuring it out.

  3. Do you have no hard water or suds problems but your diapers are just not smelling clean out of the wash, smelling almost like a banyard? If so, it’s likely just that your wash routine just isn’t doing it’s job and your diapers aren’t getting clean enough.

    This could be caused by a number of things.  Not using enough detergent, or diapers not being able to agitate against each other in the machine are common causes. Making sure you’re getting some suds during the wash cycle (not too many) and that you have enough in the load to let your diapers rub against each other may be the missing link here. Again, using the measure method for cloth diaper laundry can help you get those ratios right.

Conclusion

Cloth diapers are the dirtiest and hardest to clean loads of laundry you’ll ever wash; it’s no wonder that sometimes things can go wrong and you need to reset them with a deep clean.

Cloth diaper stripping removes any build-up of minerals, products, or dirt from the fibers of the material, resetting your diapers back to square-one. Though it shouldn’t be used as a solution to any given build-up problem, once back to like-new condition, you’ll be better able to adjust your wash routine, and through trial and error, solve any rashes, smells, and leaks that begin caused by build-up on your diapers.  

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