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How to Clean Your Diaper Pail

Medically Reviewed by Mary Sweeney, BSN, RN, CEN
Cleaning diaper pails may be a smelly job but leaving them unattended can be worse.

Do you have a diaper pail that keeps the nasty smell contained but once that door opens, the poop smell hits you right in the face?

You paid good money for that diaper pail, so you probably don’t want to get rid of it. Plus, you need a diaper pail because it’s not always ideal to run dirty diapers to the trash outside – especially not in the middle of the night or if you have multiple little ones who can’t be left unattended in the house.

So how can you clean your diaper pail effectively to get rid of the bacteria and the stink?

In this guide, you will learn why it’s important to keep your diaper pail clean and the exact steps to clean a standard pail (like the Diaper Genie or Ubbi) and a cloth diaper pail too!

Dirty Diaper Pails – A Health Hazard

Diaper pails, especially those with a closed system, have the potential to become a mold battlefield.

Take Note

The combination of moisture from all the wet diapers and lack of airflow can promote the growth of mold and other fungi, which could cause serious health problems for you and your precious infant.

Mold has been known to cause respiratory issues, headaches, dizziness, fatigue, and allergic reactions (1). So, it’s important to clean your diaper pail regularly and store it in a well-ventilated area.

If you are already dealing with mold, find cleaning products to kill and prevent it. Luckily, I’ve already done the hard work for you and can tell you that a combination of water, borax, white vinegar, and tea tree oil works amazingly well! To make this cleaner, follow these steps:

  1. In a spray bottle, add 2 Tbsp. of borax.
  2. Add 2 cups of warm water.
  3. Swish around for about 30-60 seconds or until the borax is fully dissolved.
  4. Add ¼ cup of white vinegar.
  5. Add 20-40 drops of  tea tree oil.
  6. Be sure to shake before spraying.

Minimize Odors In Between Cleanings

Most people don’t do this, but whether you use cloth or disposable diapers, you should be dumping the poop into the toilet. Dumping feces into the toilet eliminates odors, reduces bacteria growth in your diaper pail, and is better for the environment.

Another way to minimize odors is to use regular scented trash bags instead of the diaper genie refills. This saves you money too, as those refills are quite expensive. It’s fairly simple to hack your diaper genie to use regular trash bags.

Another idea is to put the dirty diapers in a dog poop bag first before tossing them in the diaper pail. You can get cheap, effective ones at any dollar store. Also, keep a roll in your diaper bag for when you are out in public and restrooms don’t have a dedicated diaper pail.

While doggie poop bags are nice to have on hand for wet clothes, either from swimming or accidents, don’t forget to take them out immediately when you’re home. I’ve left them in for a couple of days before and it was tough to clean my diaper bag again.

Store your diaper pail in a dry, open room as well. The more airflow, the less diaper stink.

Life Saver

When it comes to diaper pails, believe it or not, the more open, the better! For cloth diapers, you can use a lidless trash can or a laundry basket with holes all the way around it with your cloth diaper pail liners. You’ll be surprised how much the airflow will reduce the diaper stink.

They also make deodorizing discs to keep in your diaper pail. Some diaper pails have a special compartment for these discs but for others, you’ll have to be creative. Ours were lightweight, so taping one to the inside of the pail worked fine.

How To Clean A Diaper Pail

This can be a smelly job, but if you don’t take steps to deep clean your diaper pail thoroughly, you will be dealing with even worse smells and potentially mold and mildew.

I know you’re busy, mama, so just try to clean it about every three months using the following method:

  1. Get rubber gloves ready – this is going to get dirty.
  2. Open your diaper pail, remove, and dispose of the dirty diapers outside.
  3. Remove the bag cartridge from the top of your diaper genie.
  4. Take your diaper pail either outside or to the bathtub for cleaning.
  5. Using either your garden hose or showerhead, rinse off the exterior and interior of your diaper pail.
  6. Squirt some Castile or any dish soap on hand all over the interior and exterior of your diaper pail.
  7. Sprinkle some baking soda all over the interior of your diaper genie to neutralize the bad odors.
  8. Let sit for about 5 minutes to let the soap and baking soda penetrate.
  9. Using an old, clean rag or sponge, scrub the interior and exterior of the pail.
  10. Then, rinse out the interior and exterior of your diaper genie.
  11. To prevent mold and mildew, spray the inside of the pail with the borax, vinegar, and tea tree oil concoction mentioned earlier and rub it in using circular motions with another cleaning rag.
  12. Re-spray the inside with borax, vinegar, and tea tree oil combo.
  13. Let the inside of the pail air dry as long as possible. If not dry by the time you need it, dry it off with a towel. You can also dry the outside of the pail with a towel right after rinsing.

Cleaning A Cloth Diaper Pail

Cleaning your cloth diaper pail is pretty similar to the above steps for cleaning a diaper pail. There are just a few key differences:

  1. Wash the pail liner in the wash with your cloth diapers like you normally would.
  2. Using either your shower head, diaper sprayer, or garden hose, spray down the inside and outside of your diaper pail.
  3. Be sure to leave some water in the bottom of the pail.

From here, follow steps 6-13 listed above.

Keep Things Fresh

If you put in some elbow grease every three months or so, you can have a clean diaper pail that’s free from bad odors and bacteria.

Prevent the dirty diaper smell in between cleanings by always disposing of feces in the toilet, using scented garbage bags instead of the expensive diaper pail refills, tying up the dirty diapers in doggie poop bags, and using deodorizing discs.

When was the last time you cleaned your diaper pail? We promise we won’t judge!

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.

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