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How To Safely Bleach Cloth Diapers

Medically Reviewed by Mary Sweeney, BSN, RN, CEN
Yes, it's possible to bleach your cloth diapers without ruining them!

Are you considering throwing in the towel when it comes to cloth diapers because of mold and yeast?

While it might seem impossible, these problems don’t have to mean the death of your cloth diaper journey. After all, cloth diapers are eco-friendly and cost-effective — it’s worth it to give them a fair shot.

If your diapers are in desperate need of rescue, it’s possible to save them with bleach. Yes, you read that right — good old-fashioned bleach.

I know the word makes many cringe throughout the cloth diapering community, but the truth is bleach gets a bad rap. It can be used to prevent and solve many of your cloth diaper problems.

Why Routinely Bleach Your Diapers?

Although bleach is often a taboo word in the cloth diaper world, many manufacturers actually recommend using it once a month to keep your diapers fresh (1).

Bleaching once a month can help break down yeast and ammonia, eliminate odors, and prevent detergent buildup before they become a larger problem and require tougher measures like stripping.

Many add bleach to their wash cycle, while others choose to do a full-on bleach soak — just to be safe.

Before You Bleach

While some manufacturers recommend bleaching cloth diapers once a month, others strongly discourage it. For some, using bleach may even void your warranty, so be sure to read the manufacturer’s instructions before using bleach.

Why Bleach Your Cloth Diapers?

While routine bleach soaks are an important part of your cloth diaper routine, certain situations require a bleach soak — planned or otherwise.

1. You’ve Bought Used Diapers

Buying your diapers pre-loved is a great way to stretch your budget further, and can be an especially good idea in the beginning when you’re trying different diapers to see which work best for your baby.

With used diapers, ensure you do a bleach soak before they ever touch your baby’s bottom.

The previous owner might have used a wash routine that wasn’t adequate or a detergent that irritates your baby’s skin. It’s possible their baby had a yeast rash that could be transferred to your little one.

There’s just no way of knowing for sure, so it’s best to do a bleach soak, starting the diapers fresh before you put them on your baby.

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2. Ammonia

Ammonia is hard to miss — if you have a problem with it in your diapers you’ll know almost immediately. The smell will knock you back with an eye-watering fierceness that can make you question using cloth diapers altogether.

The presence of ammonia can be caused by several different things, including mineral buildup from hard water, not using enough or too much detergent, or even your baby wearing a diaper for an extended period of time.

If you have ammonia in your diapers, you might be tempted to jump straight to stripping, but that isn’t necessary unless the ammonia smell is caused by hard water. Otherwise, a bleach soak will work to return your diapers back to normal.

3. Yeast

If your baby has a rash that lasts longer than 1-2 days despite keeping them clean, dry, and using rash creams, a yeast rash may be the culprit (2). Yeast can affect cloth diapered babies and babies that wear disposables.

Other sources might suggest hot washes, OxiClean, or essential oils, but the most effective way to get rid of yeast is a bleach soak (3).

It’s important to bleach your diapers right away if your baby has a yeast rash. This will prevent the spreading or reinfection of yeast.

4. Mold

Mold loves warm and humid environments, so it can occur in many different situations. If you leave a travel wet bag in the car or let diapers sit in the pail too long, mold can begin to grow.

If you ever experience mold on your diapers, you might be tempted to throw them out and start fresh with new diapers, but don’t pull out your wallet just yet. A bleach soak kills the mold and makes your diapers good as new again.

If a bleach soak doesn’t get out the mold stains right away, try a more concentrated bleach soak, or soaking diapers in Oxiclean.

5. Maggots

As much as it makes my skin crawl to write this, the presence of maggots is a possibility with cloth diapers if you’re not careful.

If you leave diapers in the diaper pail for too long or don’t remove the waste from a dirty diaper after changes, you’re creating the perfect environment for flies to breed.

Even cringe-worthy maggots don’t mean your diapers are ruined though! A good wash in hot water and a bleach soak will kill everything, making your diapers good as new again.

Which Bleach Should I Use?

Before we talk about how to bleach your cloth diapers, it’s important to remember that not all bleaches are made equal.

When bleaching your cloth diapers, it’s important to choose the original liquid bleach. It should say on the label that it’s a disinfectant.

Splashless bleach varieties will not disinfect your diapers, and will just cause you to have to repeat the process all over again.

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Where Should I Use Bleach?

Start Clean

Always start your bleaching process with CLEAN diapers. Don’t go bleaching a poop-stained diaper.

Your monthly bleaching doesn’t have to be a full-on soak. You can sanitize your diapers once a month by simply adding a quarter cup of chlorine bleach to your warm wash routine.

Just be sure to rinse your diapers thoroughly after the wash — an extra rinse cycle might be necessary to get all the bleach out. This is important as some harsher bleach products may cause a diaper rash for your baby.

An extra rinse is always a good idea — bleach can sometimes irritate a baby’s delicate skin, so make sure the diapers have been rinsed well!
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Editor's Note:

Mary Sweeney, BSN, RN, CEN

Bleaching With A Washing Machine

If you’re having an emergency situation such as mold or yeast, or want to ensure your diapers get a little extra TLC during your monthly bleach treatment — a bleach soak is the answer.

If you have a top-loading washing machine this is your easiest bleaching option.

To do a bleach soak in a top-loading washing machine, follow these steps.

  • Fill the washer: Fill your washer with cold water.
  • Add the bleach: Add the following amount of bleach, depending on the size of your washer.If your tub is small, use 1/3 of a cup of bleach. For a medium washing machine add 1/2 cup of bleach. For a large washing machine use 3/4 of a cup of bleach.
  • Soak the diapers: Allow the diapers to soak for at least 30 minutes, but do not exceed 45 minutes.
  • Rinse the diapers:  Once the soak is done, rinse your diapers with hot water and then follow with a hot wash. Make sure to use detergent in the hot wash to fully break down the bleach.

Laundry Tip

You can’t soak diapers in a frontload washing machine.

Soaking In A Sink Or Bath Tub

If you don’t have a top load washer you can still bleach soak your diapers. Use a sink or a bucket for small loads of diapers, or a bathtub for larger loads.

Soaking in a sink or bathtub uses the same general routine as soaking in a top load washing machine. Soak the diapers in cold water with bleach added. Rinse out the diapers with hot water, and follow with a hot wash in a washing machine with detergent.

The only thing that changes is the amount of bleach you add:

  • For a half-full bathtub: Add half a cup of bleach.
  • For a full bathtub: Add 1 cup of bleach.
  • For a sink or bucket: Add 1 tablespoon per gallon of cold water.

Hard Water And Bleach Soaks

Bleach soaks are a great way to sanitize your cloth diapers, but if you have iron hard water you need to avoid doing chlorine bleach soaks altogether.

Chlorine can react with the iron that has dissolved in your hard water and cause stains (4).

Instead of using chlorine bleach with your hard water use borax and peroxide.

For a half-full bathtub of cold water, add 4 cups of peroxide and 1 cup of borax. Rinse in hot water, and then follow with a hot wash that has detergent added.

Headshot of Mary Sweeney, BSN, RN, CEN

Medically Reviewed by

Mary Sweeney, BSN, RN, CEN

Mary Sweeney, BSN, RN, CEN is an oncology nurse navigator and freelance medical writer. Mary has 4 years of experience as an officer in the Navy Nurse Corps. including emergency/trauma, post-anesthesia, and deployment medicine.