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How to Strip Cloth Diapers

Medically Reviewed by Mary Sweeney, BSN, RN, CEN
Learn how, when, and why you should be stripping your cloth diapers.

Do your baby’s cloth diapers smell like a barnyard, or are they suddenly repelling urine?

If so, it might be time to consider stripping your diapers. Stripping your diapers can be a daunting task, but it’s also the golden ticket to eliminating buildup in your diapers.

In this article, we are going to break down everything about stripping. What it is, why it’s done, and most importantly, exactly how to do different methods of stripping.

What is Stripping?

When you hear the term “stripping”, you might think it only involves soaking your diapers in hot water with a bit of detergent. This is often the way people think of doing a big, deep clean of rugs or blankets. But stripping diapers is more involved than that.

Stripping is the process of removing buildup from your diapers. Buildup often accumulates from washing your cloth diapers repeatedly in untreated hot water. Buildup can also happen from using too much detergent or the wrong detergent, using a diaper cream that isn’t cloth-diaper friendly, or using fabric softeners or dryer sheets with your diapers.

How Often to Strip Your Diapers

Does stripping your diapers need to be a regular part of your washing routine? No, it doesn’t.

Unlike bleaching your diapers, which most manufacturers recommend you do once a month, stripping your diapers only needs to be done under certain circumstances. There is a chance you might never need to strip your diapers.

Why Strip Your Cloth Diapers?

While it’s not something you need to do every month, there are certain cases where it is necessary to strip your diapers from time to time.

If your diapers start repelling urine or are still stinky even straight out of the wash, you will need to strip them. You’ll also want to strip your diapers before putting them on your baby if they are pre-loved. This is because you do not know how their previous owner washed them, the hardness of their water, or whether or not they used a cloth diaper-friendly diaper cream.

You want to make sure your diapers are a clean slate before you use them to save trouble down the road.

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Do You Have Hard Water?

Before you strip your diapers, you need to determine the source of your problem. One of the most common reasons for buildup in diapers is hard water. Hard water is simply water with a high mineral content.

If you wash your diapers often in hard water, the minerals can then build up in your diapers and cause them to repel, or leak, and start to smell even after they are washed.

Ideally, you want to test your water’s hardness before you ever even prep your diapers, but if you haven’t, you shouldn’t fret. Testing your water takes less than a minute with strips you can purchase online.

If your test shows you have hard water, your diapers can be good as new again once you do a strip on them. After that, you just need to remember to add a water softener to your wash cycles to keep from having buildup issues again.

Here Is What You'll Do

For water hardness lower than 250 ppm, simply add ¼ cup of Borax directly into the drum of your washing machine for your pre-wash cycle, and ½ cup during the main wash. For water hardness higher than 250 ppm, add ½ cup during both the pre-wash and main wash cycles.

How to Strip Cloth Diapers

If you’ve determined you do indeed need to do a strip on your diapers, the next question is how? There is no one way to do it, but the following ways are often recommended.

The one thing you need to make sure of is that your diapers are clean before you start stripping them. This will ensure the stripping agent is not focusing on taking anything out of your diapers but the buildup.

1. Blue Dawn

Product Image of the Dawn Dish Soap Ultra Dishwashing Liquid, Dish Soap Refill, Original Scent, 2...

If your diaper issues are caused by a buildup of oils, such as using the wrong kind of diaper cream, good old blue Dawn dish soap can be your best friend. But a word to the wise, never put dish soap in your washing machine.

This can cause serious issues with your machine and can actually void your warranty — instead strip your diapers in the sink or the bathtub.

To strip your diapers with Dawn:

  • Use hot water: Fill your sink with hot water, then add one tablespoon of Dawn and stir it into the water. If you are using your bathtub, add a few more tablespoons of Dawn.
  • Add the diapers: Add your diapers and stir again to mix the diapers into the water.
  • Soak: Soak your diapers for at least an hour.
  • Break out the toothbrush: Scrub your diaper lining to make sure to get any leftover diaper cream off of the surface.
  • Rinse: Rinse your diapers out in the tub or the sink. Rinse them well so that all of the Dawn is out of the diapers.
  • Into the wash: Wash the diapers on hot in the washer with a little bit of recommended detergent. If there is still a bit of scum in your rinse water, repeat the process again.

2. RLR

Product Image of the RLR Natural Powder Laundry Detergent – Whitens, Brightens, Refreshes Baby...

RLR is a laundry additive that binds to the buildup in your diapers and pulls it out (1). It’s a stripping method that most only use if their buildup is caused by hard water because if you have soft water, RLR will result in a lot of suds.

To strip your diapers with RLR:

  • Count how many diapers you have: You will need one packet of RLR for every 30 diapers, so make sure you count how many you have in order to efficiently strip your diapers. You do not need to strip covers if you are using flats or prefold diapers, only the part of the diaper that is absorbent.
  • Prepare to strip: Fill your bathtub or top load washing machine with hot water, then add RLR and a small amount of detergent.
  • Add the diapers: Add your diapers to the water and then agitate the water so that the diapers get mixed in.
  • Soak: Soak your diapers for at least six hours, or you can soak them overnight.
  • Rinse: Rinse your diapers in hot water with no detergent until most of the bubbles have disappeared. This might take more than one rinse cycle to get all of the bubbles out.

3. GroVia Mighty Bubbles

Product Image of the GroVia Mighty Bubbles Laundry Treatment for Baby Cloth Diapers (10 Count)

GroVia Mighty Bubbles is a laundry treatment that comes in pod form. It was formulated specifically to remove buildup from diapers (2).

To use GroVia Mighty Bubbles to strip your diapers, you:

  • Count your diapers: One GroVia Mighty Bubbles pod can be used for every 24 diapers you have. If you have more than 24 diapers, divide them into separate strips for every set of 24 diapers you have.
  • Run your machine: Using the heaviest wash setting your washer has, wash 24 diapers with one GroVia Mighty Bubbles pod. Use hot water for the wash, then rinse with a warm or hot rinse.
  • Check your diapers: Once the rinse is done, check to see if your diapers still smell. If they do, repeat the strip cycle up to two or even three times.

4. Homemade Strip

If you’re on a tight budget, but still want to strip your diapers in a laundry additive that packs a big punch, you might want to consider making your own stripping agent. This agent is by far the cheapest per load option than the others, and it will go a long way to making your diapers be as good as new.

To make the homemade stripping agent, simply place 3 tablespoons each of washing soda, Borax, and Calgon into your washing machine or bathtub filled with hot water (3). Then simply follow the same instructions you would if you were using RLR to strip your diapers.

The best part of using this method? All of these ingredients can also be used to help clean the rest of your house as well, so they will not go to waste.

It’s Really Not Complicated

Stripping can seem scary. It’s something new, and it’s not a part of your normal routine. But just like we take medicine when we are sick, sometimes we have to treat our diapers in order to get them back to normal.

While there are several methods for stripping your diapers, some requiring more work than others, the way you do it is up to you!

Take a moment to consider why your diapers need to be stripped. Is it because you used the wrong diaper cream? Or have you been using too much detergent or washing them in hot water? Different problems might require different solutions.

Have you ever had to strip your diapers? Let us know what method worked for you.

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.