Woman washing baby clothes

Learn how to strip (cloth diapers)

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I know everybody’s mind goes straight to that kind of stripping, but I can assure you that the type of stripping I’m talking about today does not involve poles, pasties, dollar bills, or moves called the swizzle…


Anyways, I’m talking about stripping your cloth diapers when they develop a layer of gunk.

What exactly does it mean to strip my cloth diapers?

Stripping is done by:

  • steeping your diapers in very hot water
  • adding vinegar or water softener to dissolve any built up minerals and deposits on the diapers
  • and then doing a couple rinses with hot water to make sure everything is flushed out

Why should I strip my diapers?

Stripping is a very labor and time intensive process so it’s not something you want to do unless absolutely necessary.

It’s time to strip when you get a build up of:

  • diaper cream
  • detergent
  • ammonia from urine and waste
  • mineral deposits from hard water

Man made fibers like microfiber will collect gunk and build up a lot easier than cotton and bamboo. That’s the trade off for extra absorbency. 🙁

When should cloth diapers be stripped?

It will be obvious when your cloth diapers need an extra deep cleaning. The signs you want to look out for are:

  • a sticky, tacky feeling on the cloth of your diapers
  • a strong ammonia smell that can sting your nose
  • inserts/prefolds/etc. that keep leaking even though you know they are not fully soaked
  • your baby starts getting red itchy rashes from the diapers even though they seem clean and you change them often
  • diapers that don’t come out clean no matter how many times you wash and rinse them

Sigh…I guess I have to spend an afternoon stripping. How do I get the build up of gunk out of my diapers?

It’s easy. You’ll need a large container that can hold very hot (but not boiling) water and your diapers. I like to use our giant stock pot. (don’t tell anybody else in my family about this!)

If your washer has a hot (not warm) water cycle, then you could try doing this in your washing machine. Unfortunately the water in most washers doesn’t get hot enough for diaper stripping.

You’ll also need some kind of water softener (Calgon, RLR) or a demineralizer (like vinegar). A water softener or vinegar will break up the mineral deposits and help flush out the gunk build up on your cloth.

If your build up is caused by oils from diaper creams, then you’ll also need some strong dish soap like Dawn Platinum.

If your diapers are yellowing, then you’ll also want to add some Oxiclean to remove the stains. Do not use regular chlorine bleach unless absolutely necessary. Bleach is a last resort when nothing else will work.

Most importantly, wash your diapers first in the washing machine. You’ll want to start with clean and washed diapers. Since we’re trying to get all build up out of our diapers, we’re not going to use any detergent during the stripping process. Please don’t try to strip nasty soiled diapers!

Heat up the water until it’s hot enough to steam, but not boiling. Do not use boiling water as this can melt the plastic linings and snaps on your diapers and covers!

If you are soaking diapers with plastic parts or a PUL layer like covers, then you’ll need to be careful not to soak for more than 60 minutes at a time as this can melt the parts. You can relax if you’re only soaking diapers with natural fibers like cotton, bamboo, and hemp. They can withstand a lot more abuse!

Add your vinegar/water softener/dish soap/Oxiclean to the pot. A good ratio of vinegar to water is about 1/2 cup to 1 gallon. If you’re using water softener, follow the directions on the packaging.

Then add your diapers. Let them soak for 30 minutes. You can also stir and bash the diapers with a wooden spoon to help flush out the gunk.

Do you see the water turning murky and gross?

Good! This means that the build up is getting stripped out.

Drain out the water and repeat the process until the water is clear. You might have to do this 2-3 times.

Finish with a rinse cycle in your washing machine.

Congratulations, you’ve now completed your first diaper stripping. You can now proudly call yourself a cloth diapering veteran.

In the future, how can I avoid wasting an entire day stripping my diapers?

It’s easy to prevent build up and the need to strip them out by:

  • Using only cloth safe diaper rash creams and lotions
  • Add vinegar or water softener regularly to your wash. This keeps the deposits from sticking to your diapers and forming a crust in the first place. This is especially important if you live in an area with hard water.
  • It also helps to do a pre-rinse and post-wash rinse with clear tap water every time you wash your diapers. This is a good tip for regular clothes too! It’s not uncommon for detergent to remain in your diapers and clothes after a regular cycle in the washer, especially with new high efficiency washers.

Check out my post about drying and washing diapers without wasting water or electricity if you’re worried about running up your water and power bill.

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