Woman putting baby clothes in washer

How to remove stubborn stains from cloth diapers

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Stains are inevitable with cloth diapers. Some people have the ability to ignore the stains until it is time to resell their diapers, but not everybody can look the other way.

As annoying as it is to have to do stain removal every time you wash your diapers, regular treatments and spot scrubbing can be the most pain free way of keeping your diapers looking new. Delaying until the stains have had time to set in is a sure fire way to leave yourself in tears as you find yourself scrubbing a giant pile of laundry.

Prevent diaper stains from forming in the first place

As the old saying goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. The best way to keep your diapers from getting stained in the first place is with a reusable liner.

You can use anything from cheaper cloth diapers like Gerber birdseye prefolds, fleece, or microfiber for your liner. The liner will keep most of the poop and muck from reaching your diapers and inserts.

I will tell you right now that reusable liners are a lifesaver when it comes to runny newborn poop and breastmilk poop.

The point is, you want to use something that is easy to spray and wash. It should be something that you don’t really care about staining.

Even if you do care about stains on your liners, you don’t have to worry about treating them with stronger stain removers that may damage your more expensive diapers.

Ways to make cloth diapers white again

This is how you soak cloth diapers

The first step to getting rid of stains is a spot treatment and soak. This doesn’t have to be complicated or time consuming. You’ll want to do this as soon as possible after you notice stains forming since old stains can be stubborn and difficult to remove.

Total Time Needed :



Things Needed?

– A brush or a washcloth
– Laundry detergent
– A concentrated dish washing detergent
– OxiClean
– Hydrogen peroxide
– Bleach (optional)

Steps to soaking cloth diapers

Step 1: Scrub stubborn stains with a detergent paste

Use whatever laundry detergent you use and mix some of it with some water until you get a toothpaste consistency. For spot treating stubborn greasy stains, you can try adding a couple drops of dish washing detergent. Dab this mixture onto the stain and use a brush to scrub the stain with this paste. If a brush will tear up the fabric, then use a washcloth instead.

If the fabric or your paste is too dry, add a couple drops of water.

You want to scrub out the surface gunk of the stain. You won’t be able to get rid of all of the stain, but it should life the majority of the gunk out of the fabric.

Scrub until no more stains come out.

Step 2: Soak in OxiClean or peroxide

After scrubbing, soak the diaper in a tub of warm water with OxiClean or peroxide mixed in. Let the diapers soak for at least two hours.

This will give the stain time to bleed out of the fabric.

You can then let the diapers soak overnight or proceed to washing the diapers normally. I like to use a portable washing machine to wash my cloth diapers.

Step 3: If all else fails, use bleach

A properly diluted bleach solution is safe and will not ruin the absorbency of cotton, microfiber, bamboo, polyester, or PUL.

The bleach will also disinfect your diapers. This is important for sanitizing second-hand diapers and getting rid of infections that can be spread through skin contact such as thrush or yeast infections and ringworm.

There is a chance that bleach will bleach (duh!) the dyes in your cloth diapers. This is more likely to happen with natural fiber diapers, but it is merely an appearance issue.

If you do use bleach, do not mix it with any other cleansers or acids! Definitely do not add bleach to your spot treatment scrub.

There is one situation when you absolutely do not want to use bleach. If you have lots of iron in your water, then the bleach will bind the iron to the fibers in your diapers and turn them orange! If you’ve been having problems with bleach turning your white clothes yellow, then you may have iron heavy hard water. In this case, you will want to stick with peroxide or OxiClean.

Other cloth diaper safe stain removers

Okay, so what if you don’t have or don’t want to use peroxides or bleach? You can give some of these natural stain removers a try. They won’t be as effective, but depending on the type of stain, it may be enough to lift the stain from your diapers.


Vinegar is useful if the cause of your stains is hard water. Hard water can interfere with laundry detergents and make them useless. Adding a cup of vinegar to your wash will negate the minerals in your water and keep them from binding to your detergents.

If your diapers are coming out less than clean because of hard water, give them a wash with the vinegar treatment first, and then try spot treating and soaking the diapers.

WARNING: Never mix vinegar with bleach.

Over the longer term, you’ll need a way to fix your hard water problem. If your detergent is not compatible with your water, then you may need to switch to a cloth diaper safe detergent for hard water.

Lemon juice

Does anybody here remember trying to bleach their hair by brushing lemon juice into their hair and laying out in the sun?

Well, undiluted lemon juice can be a natural bleach when exposed to sunlight. Pour lemon juice directly onto the stain and then place the fabric under direct sunlight. It can take a couple hours, but by the time the fabric is dried under the sun, the stain will be gone.

You will want to wash out the lemon juice before using the diapers again.

Just remember that lemon juice will only work on some stains.


The easiest and most natural way to get rid of diaper stains is with the sun. Sunlight is nature’s disinfecting UV light. Best of all, it’s free!

For lighter stains, you can try sunning the diapers to see if the stains vanish once the fabric dries. Simply lay out the diapers with the stained side up on a sunny day instead of drying the diapers in the dryer. That’s all it takes!

Sunning is usually effective for light yellowing or brown stains. If the stain is not completely gone, you can wet the diaper and lay it out in the sun until it is dry again.

DIY cloth diaper stain remover

You can make your own cloth diaper stain removing paste by mixing together the following:

Add water until this mixture forms a sticky paste. Wet the fabric you want to treat and then scrub the stain with this paste until the stain comes out.

Because OxiClean and peroxide both degrade rapidly, you’ll need to mix up a fresh batch of stain remover each time.

Treatments for different types of diaper stains

Other common causes of stained diapers

Can panadol/tylenol/acetaminophen really leave a brown stain?

Yes! Baby panadol/tylenol/acetaminophen contain an ingredient called sorbitol which can leave a brownish stain when it gets pee’d out. *ahem*

Sorbitol is a natural sugar found in fruits, so it is safe for your babies, but it’s not so kind to fabrics. To make sorbitol stains even more mysterious, it doesn’t happen to every baby who ingests it, nor does it happen every time!

Sorbitol staining actually resembles a red wine stain or a coffee or tea stain. Because the substance comes out in urine and not poop, there’s no way to prevent sorbitol from staining your diapers even if you use a liner.

Since sorbitol staining is an organic stain like most diaper stains, you can treat with a peroxide soak and then sun bleaching the diapers.

What are those pink spots on my diapers?

The pink stains are caused by a bacteria called Serratia marcescens. This strange pink stain doesn’t come out on freshly soiled diapers, but after they’ve been washed. S. marcescens is commonly found in the gastrointestinal tracts of children. It is also abundant in damp humid environments. Though the bacteria can be eradicated with antibiotics, if your baby is not showing any symptoms or fussiness, then there is no need to worry.

The pink staining can be removed with an oxygen based bleach and time under direct sunlight. To prevent an overgrowth, wash damp and dirty diapers as soon as possible and dry them quickly either in a heated dryer or under intense sunlight.

Why did my diapers turn yellow after I washed them?

This is the result of too much bleach or detergent especially if you have iron rich well water. Natural fibers like cotton and bamboo are actually a creamy white color instead of snow white. Over time, bleaching or hard water deposits can damage the fibers and turn them a dingy yellow color. You can try turning dingy whites white again by sunning them. If that fails, then an old timey trick to make whites look white again is with a bluing agent.

How to wash cloth diaper covers

Cloth diaper covers come in a range of materials from wool to PUL, so washing instructions will vary, but there is one common theme among them all.

All diaper covers should be hand washed and air dried. Tossing them in a laundry machine and heated dryer will destroy the materials. You can wash PUL covers in warm water, but you will want to use room temperature water for wool.

To avoid damaging the waterproofing properties, avoid using any fabric softeners, bleaches, or heat to clean your diapers. A gentle wash with dishwashing detergent, castilee soap, or softener free laundry detergent is all you need. Hang diaper covers out to dry after washing.

Tricks to get stains out of diaper covers

You’ll want to spot treat with safe stain removers that will not ruin the waterproof layer of your covers. So that rules out harsh scrubbing, chlorine bleach, and scalding hot water.

The treatments remaining for dealing with stained cloth diaper covers are oxygen based bleaches like OxiClean, or enzyme based spot treatments like Zout. After spot treating, lay the diapers out to sun bleach. Just a warning though, that the UV rays from the sun can damage plastics like PUL over time and cause them to break down.

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