The 5 W’s of Stripping Your Cloth Diapers

The term “stripping” cloth diapers refers to breaking down any residues on the diaper shells (and sometimes inserts) and these residues can build up because of urine and/or laundry detergents. If you do a search on the different methods to stripping diapers, some stripping suggestions can seem pretty extreme and intimidating, especially when chemicals are involved. Each diaper is designed differently and has a unique material composition, so what works for one diaper may not work for all. Stripping your diapers is something that will have to happen at some (or multiple) points during your course of cloth diapering, but it doesn’t need to be complicated, or difficult.

The two major reasons you might be trying to decide whether to strip your diapers include having diaper absorbency issues, and if your diapers are giving off a less-than-pleasant smell, sometimes compared to a barnyard. There are two different kinds of residue build-up, which can result in both absorbency issues and smelling issues. These are detergent residue and urine residue.

Over the course of a few months, laundry detergent can build up (or coat) the inside of your polyester or bamboo shell, which results in a reduction of wicking ability in your shells – in a sense, the shell is repelling the moisture instead of wicking it into the inserts beneath this layer. A few things to look for to determine whether you have detergent reside or not are:

  1.  Your diapers do not smell clean and fresh (have a barnyard-like smell to them)
  2.  The inside layer of your diaper might be discoloring
  3.  On a polyester inside, you see that the water is beading (as you would when you do the water-bead test to check insert absorbency)

Detergent residue is caused by an excessive amount of detergent being used in your wash cycle, or not using the correct “load” size, resulting in not enough water being used to rinse out said detergent. It can also be caused by using detergents or dryer sheets with oils, brighteners, or fabric softeners. Finally, using diaper rash creams on your diapers can also cause the shell to repell, as the point of most creams is to help keep moisture inside your baby – thus, it does the same thing to your shells. But don’t worry – we can fix both issues.

To remove a detergent residue build-up, you simply need to wash them 6-8 times in a large hot wash (do not boil!!!) without using any detergent, as you want to remove the detergent already in your diapers. Use the highest load setting that you can to have as much water as possible in your washer. If you are using a front loader, you can also add extra water by adding soaked sheets or towels to the load to increase the weight of the load overall, increasing the water.  Once you have finished washing and rewashing, dry them inside a dryer.

Alternatively, instead of a detergent build up, you might notice some left over cream spots from a diaper cream you may have used. Diaper rash cream, especially those with medical ingredients, should be used minimally, as they can cause water to stop being wicked through the inside layer. To remove this diaper rash cream from diaper shells takes a little bit of extra elbow grease. First, do a hand-scrub with Original blue Dawn liquid dish soap, or Original Sunlight liquid dish soap. Be sure that they are the original versions, and do not have the grease fighters, additives, or enzymes. Rinse all soap off before washing them in the washing machine. After you have removed as much of the cream as you can, continue with the rest of the steps for detergent residue build-up above.

On the opposite side of the spectrum, you might find that your diapers are starting to stink, and that is generally due to urine residue, which results in not using enough water or detergent to wash the urine out of the inserts or shells. Front load washers are notorious for causing this issue. If the diapers have an ammonia smell to them, it is time to strip away the urine residue, as it can cause diaper rashes due to the sensitivity of your baby’s skin.

To remove the urine residue, simply run the diapers and shells through a couple of warm/hot washes with as much water as you can get into the machine. As mentioned previously, if you have a front load machine, you can “trick” it into putting more water by adding some soaked-towels into the machine to increase the weight. Also, with Piddly-Winx diapers, you are safe to use a little bit of Oxyclean or botax to help with your strip – this will not void the warranty. (ADDITION: Mallorie made a suggestion on our Facebook page about those who are washing in hard water – if it is unsoftened, use Tide Free & Gentle (as it has a softener in it) and a short wash in cold, and then a soak in hot water does the trick for urine residue!)

To help prevent the buildup of urine residue, make sure to wash the diapers and shells in a large load of water, and add the appropriate amount of laundry detergent to the water. Not all detergents work the same, and personally, I have experimented with quite a few. My favourites are Purex White, Tide White, and Sunlight. The detergent that worked the worst for me was Arm & Hammer Cold Water. I do rotate detergents as they come on sale, so if and when you do switch, make sure to do a few extra rinse cycles after the first wash, as sometimes, the newer detergent loosens up some of the old detergent buildup, and the mix of detergents can cause a reaction or rash.


Who needs to strip diapers? Everybody!

What is stripping? Removing the buildup of detergent or urine residues

Where can I strip them? In your washing machine or bathtub

When do I need to strip my diapers? I would suggest doing a strip once a month for maintenance, but otherwise, as soon as they start smelling “off”

Why do I need to strip my diapers? It keeps them fresh smelling and reduces the risk of diaper rashes, and also increases the longevity of your diapers, increasing their value.

Have any additional suggestions? Leave us a comment!

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