Stripping Cloth Diapers: The Ultimate Guide

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Cloth diaper stripping is a topic that consistently comes up in the cloth diapering community, so I decided to do some research and summarize everything you need to know about the cloth diaper stripping process in one place.

As a general rule, you will need to soak the absorbent diaper parts for up to 12 hours with products intended especially for treating laundry or making a do-it-yourself stripping agent out of your home cleaning supplies

Read on to learn what cloth diaper stripping is, when you should do it and check out the table below that will help you determine the best method for the residue you are dealing with and a complete step-by-step guide for each method. Don’t skip the following paragraph to learn how to prevent the need for stripping your diapers. 

What Is Cloth Diaper Stripping?

Cloth diaper stripping is an intense process where the absorbent parts of the diapers are treated with a stripping agent that removes different types of residue that are typically causing leaks and/or very strong smells. Stripping is meant to leave the diaper clean and residue-free.

Stripping does not apply to pail liners, wet bags, PUL covers, or pocket diaper shells since they are not absorbent.

It is not always obvious which type of residue is causing the unwanted leaks or smells, but the most common ones are:

  • Mineral build-up from prolonged washing (more than one month) in untreated hard water,
  • Oil build-up from using diaper creams that are incompatible with cloth diapers, using an incompatible detergent or a fabric softener,
  • Detergent build-up (either incompatible with cloth diapers or using too much of the compatible one), 
  • Urine/poop residue due to insufficient detergent and not rinsing the nighttime diapers and poopy diapers after each use. 
Smelly clothes being put into the washing machine.

Should I Strip My Cloth Diapers?

There are several signs that your cloth diapers might be ready for a stripping session:

  • the diapers will start to get that “barn-yard” or ammonia smell, especially nighttime diapers,
  • the diaper starts to repel water and starts leaking in a very short time (e.g. 20 minutes), 
  • the baby gets diaper rashes, 
  • you can see suds in the water when you cold rinse a clean diaper,
  • you bought preloved cloth diapers, and you suspect the washing routine might not have been good. 

If you experienced any of the above signs, I recommend you rethink your washing routine and try to improve it before deciding to strip all your cloth diapers immediately. Check the last chapter of this post for tips on implementing a proper washing routine. If you can not see any changes after 2-3 washes with an improved routine, stripping your cloth diapers will probably be necessary. 

How Do I Know Which Type of Residue Is in My Cloth Diapers?

Before we go any further into the stripping process, we must know which residue is causing problems in cloth diapers. This information will be vital in choosing the best method for your issue.

Cloth diaper issueMost likely type of residue
“barn-yard” or ammonia smell, especially nighttime diapersurine
water repellent diapers, leaks start in a very short timeoil
diaper rashmineral / oil / detergent / urine / poop
suds appear in the water during rinsingmineral / detergent
very stiff cloth diapersmineral
orange-brown stains on absorbent partsiron (mineral)
A table showing the most likely residue type depending on the signs of cloth diaper issues.

How Do I Strip Cloth Diapers?

Check the table and choose the method that applies most to your situation.

Follow the procedure for the residue you’re dealing with (paragraphs under the table).

Method / residue typeMineralsOilDetergentUrine/poop
Water + agitation✔️✔️
Liquid dish soap✔️
RLR (Laundry additive)✔️✔️✔️
Grovia’s Mighty Bubbles✔️✔️
Rockin’ Green Funk Rock Ammonia Bouncer✔️✔️✔️✔️
DIY (washing soda, Borax and Calgon)✔️
Vinegar✔️✔️✔️ (urine)
A table showing the suggested method of stripping cloth diapers depending on the residue type.

Make sure you are always stripping clean diapers (wet or dry).

Hot Water and Agitation

What it is: Just a lot of plain hot water and agitation. 

How it works: Using a lot of hot water and agitation to wash away the detergent and urine residue. 

How to do it: Wash on hot (60 degrees Celsius) with a higher water level. Repeat 2-4 times in a row. Dry the diapers. 

Use for: Detergent and urine residues. 

Don’t use for: Mineral build-up from untreated hard water and oil residue. By doing this method in untreated hard water, you’re going to wind up with even more mineral build-up since the detergent isn’t going to help binding to at least some of these minerals. This method also doesn’t work if you have oil residue – the water won’t be enough to wash the oil away.

Liquid Dish Soap (Blue Dawn)

Blue Dawn – dish soap.

What it is: Dish soap is a surfactant that is especially efficient at binding with oil/grease. 

How it works: The soap will bind with the oily residues and make it easy to wash away with water (the same approach as with greasy dishes). 

How to do it: Add one tablespoon of dish soap (if using a sink) or three tablespoons of dish soap (if using a bathtub) to hot water. Add absorbent diaper parts, stir them and soak for about 1 hour. Scrub each absorbent part with an old toothbrush to remove oil build-up. Rinse manually as well as you can, and then put the diapers into the washing machine. Wash on hot (60 degrees Celsius) with a little recommended cloth diaper detergent. If the suds remain in the rinse water, repeat the hot wash. Dry the diapers.

Warning: do not use dish soap in your washing machine, the dish soap produces too much foam and can damage the washing machine

Use for: Oil residue.

Don’t use for: Mineral build-up from untreated hard water, detergent or urine/poop residue.

Laundry Additives

RLR Laundry Treatment

What it is: Biodegradable laundry additive. 

How it works: It binds with the residue and brings it to the surface of the absorbent diaper parts. 

How to do it: Put 12-16 clean diapers in a bathtub, and fill it with hot water until the diapers are covered. Add one package of RLR and stir it around until it dissolves. Soak for about 5-6 hours, then put them in the washing machine. Do two hot washes (60 degrees Celsius); the first one with no detergent and the second one with detergent. Dry the diapers. 

Use for: Mineral build-up from washing in untreated hot water, detergent and urine/poop residues. 

Don’t use for: Oil residue. 

Grovia’s Mighty Bubbles

What it is: Powder laundry treatment designed by a cloth diaper manufacturer. 

How it works: It binds with minerals and urine/poop build-up in the diaper. 

How to do it: Place one pack in the washing machine with diapers. No other detergent is needed. Run a regular hot wash (60 degrees Celsius) with one extra rinse. Dry the diapers. 

Use for: Mineral build-up from washing in untreated hot water and urine/poop residues. 

Don’t use for: Oil and detergent residues. 

Rockin’ Green Funk Rock Ammonia Bouncer

What it is: Biodegradable laundry additive. 

How it works: It binds with the residue and brings it to the surface of the absorbent diaper parts. 

How to do it: Fill the tub with hot water, add two scoops of the Rockin’ Green laundry additive, put the absorbent parts in this bath and soak for about an hour (you may have to prolong this period up to 12 hours, depending on the severity of build-up). Take the diapers out of the bath, put them in the washing machine and do two cycles of rinsing with hot water (60 degrees Celsius). Dry the diapers. 

Use for: Mineral build-up from washing in untreated hot water, urine/poop residue, oil residue, insufficient washing routine or use of fabric softener. 

Don’t use for: /

Do-it-yourself Stripping Agent

What it is: A mixture of washing soda, Borax and Calgon

How it works: Washing soda, Borax, and Calgon are targeting the mineral build-up and bringing them to the surface of the diaper. The above three ingredients target acidic components (such as carbonate ions) in the water or bind with calcium to form a water-soluble component. The key is to prevent the formation of precipitating calcium carbonate molecules, which are not water-soluble. Calcium carbonate is the main component of limescale.

How to do it: Dissolve three tablespoons of each ingredient (washing soda, Borax, Calgon) in hot water, add diapers and soak for 2-8 hours. If you don’t have all three ingredients, use the ones available and up the dose of ingredients. Put the diapers in the washing machine and wash on hot (60 degrees Celsius) with no detergent. Dry the diapers. 

Use for: Mineral build-up from washing in untreated hot water. 

Don’t use for: Oil, detergent or urine/poop residues. 

White vinegar.

White Vinegar

What it is: A 4-7% solution of acetic acid in water (source). As apparent from its chemical name, vinegar is acidic.

How it works: The acetate ion (acetic acid disassociates to an acetate ion and a hydrogen ion in water) binds with iron (sometimes present in hard water), sodium (present in detergents), calcium (present in hard water), and/or magnesium (present in hard water).

The products of this reaction (vinegar and limescale or vinegar and sodium carbonate or vinegar and iron – rust) are calcium/magnesium/sodium/iron (III) acetate (the first three are water-soluble), water, and carbon dioxide (except there is no carbon dioxide in the reaction of rust and vinegar).

Since vinegar is acidic, it will also neutralize ammonia, so using vinegar will benefit you if you have urine residue.

How to do it for mineral and detergent residue: Add 0.5 – 1 cup of white vinegar to the final rinse of your diapers. By doing this, any lingering minerals or detergent residue will be neutralized and washed away. For harder cases, soak absorbent diaper parts in a vinegar solution by adding 0.5 – 1 cup of white vinegar to 1 – 3 gallons of water. Make sure to thoroughly rinse the diapers out before adding detergent for the main wash because they will cancel each other out and you’ll be left with dirty diapers. If you have hard water, use a water softener for rinsing out the vinegar or just increase the vinegar amount because some of the vinegar will neutralize the minerals in hard water.

How to do it for iron (rust) stains: Dampen the rusty stain with white vinegar to the point it is completely soaked with it and apply some kitchen salt to the stain. Leave for about 30 minutes and start dabbing the stain with a white cloth you don’t mind getting dirty. The stain should at least fade if not disappear completely. If the stain only fades, repeat the process with vinegar and salt.

Use for: Mineral (including iron) and detergent build-up.

Don’t use for: Oil residue and poopy diapers.

How Often Do I Need to Strip Cloth Diapers?

Stripping is a relatively aggressive process to the absorbent diaper parts and should ideally be performed never or very rarely (maximum of once or twice in the cloth diaper lifespan). It can damage the fibers in the absorbent parts and increase leaks.

If your washing routine is on point, you probably won’t need to strip cloth diapers at all.

How to Prevent the Need for Stripping Cloth Diapers in the Future?

Implementing a proper washing routine is the best practice to avoid stripping entirely.

If you want to avoid stripping cloth diapers, read this post to learn how often cloth diapers should be washed to ensure proper care.

If you are unsure about your washing routine, here are some of the tips that will help you pinpoint where you could improve the washing process.

  1. Check your water hardness (Amazon’s water hardness test strips are cheap and simple to use).
  2. Always rinse a load of diapers in cold water first.
  3. Use the suggested amount of detergent specified on the packaging for your water hardness level. Add a water softener if necessary, and adjust the amount of detergent to your “new” water hardness level. Wash hot (60 degrees Celsius). Use a program with a higher water level. These programs typically use a lot of water to really rinse out all residues.
  4. Never use a fabric softener.

Key takeaways

By finishing this post, you now know that cloth diaper stripping is intended to be an emergency exit, not a part of your routine.

If you think your cloth diapers need stripping because of an insufficient washing routine, do your best to identify the residue that is causing the problem and choose the method that is best suited for it.

After you do a strip, make sure you adjust your washing routine to prevent the need for future stripping sessions.


When I first became a mom, it shocked me how much more waste we produced by adding a tiny little member to our family. Since then, it's become very important to me to be more sustainable as a family. I'm excited to share with you what I'm learning along the way!

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