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How to Strip Cloth Diapers

Medically Reviewed by Mary Sweeney, BSN, RN, CEN
Updated
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? We know that smell all too well, and we’re too familiar with the wet pants from repelling diapers.

It sounds like it’s time to consider stripping your diapers. Stripping diapers can feel like a daunting task, but it’s also the golden ticket to eliminating buildup in your diapers.

In this article, we’ll explain how to strip your cloth diapers and how often to strip them. We’ll also discuss why they need to be stripped in the first place.


What is Stripping?

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 Should You Strip Your Diapers?

Stripping your diapers does not need to be a regular part of your washing routine.

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, certain cases require you to strip your diapers occasionally.

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 were pre-owned. This is because you do not know how their previous owner washed them, the hardness of their water, or whether they used a cloth-diaper-friendly diaper cream.

You want to make sure your diapers are in a clean slate before you use them if you wish 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. Hard water is one of the most common causes of buildup in cloth diapers. Hard water is water with a high mineral content.

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

Ideally, you want to test your water’s hardness before you prep your diapers. But if you haven’t tested your water, you shouldn’t fret. It takes less than a minute to test your water with testing strips you can purchase online.

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

The Hard Water Solution

For water hardness lower than 250 ppm, 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

You need to make sure your diapers are clean before stripping them. This will ensure the stripping agent is not focusing on taking anything out of your diapers but the buildup.

There are several ways to strip your diapers. These are a few of our favorites.

1. Blue Dawn

Product Image of the Dawn Dish Soap Ultra Dishwashing Liquid, Dish Soap Refill, Original Scent, 56 Fl...

If your diaper issues are caused by an oil buildup, 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 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 ensure you get any leftover diaper cream off of the surface.
  • Rinse: Rinse your diapers in the tub or sink. Rinse them well so all the Dawn comes out.
  • Into the wash: Wash the diapers on hot in the washer with a little laundry detergent. If you find any scum in your rinse water, repeat the process.

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 so you can efficiently strip your cloth diapers. You do not need to strip your diaper covers if you use 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 agitate the water so the diapers get mixed in.
  • Soak: Soak your diapers for at least 6 hours, or you can soak them overnight.
  • Rinse: Rinse your diapers in hot water with no detergent until most of the bubbles have disappeared. It might take more than one rinse cycle to get all 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).

This is how to use GroVia Mighty Bubbles to strip your diapers:

  • Count your diapers: You can use one GroVia Mighty Bubbles pod for 24 diapers. If you have more than 24 diapers, divide them into separate strips for every set of 24 diapers you have.
  • Run your machine: Using your washer’s heaviest setting, 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 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 as good as new.

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

The best part of using this method? You can also use these ingredients to clean other parts of your home, 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 everyday routine. But just like we take medicine when we are sick, sometimes we have to treat our diapers 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.

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.