Monday, September 17, 2012

Adventures in Cloth Diapering: The Post about Stripping

Trust me, this post isn't as scandalous as the title makes it sound.

When I first started researching about cloth diapers,  I kept coming across the term "stripping diapers". I had no idea what that meant, so, as with many things, I asked my mom (who had cloth diapered me and my three younger brothers). She had no idea, either.

I did some reading and found out that diapers occasionally need to be "stripped" to remove hard water buildup, detergent residue, and other oils from diaper ointments, lotions, etc. Mom had never heard of stripping diapers because she only used the old-fashioned 100% cotton prefolds (the best kind, in my humble opinion), washed them with detergent and a little bleach, and dried them on the clothesline. Stripping is mostly necessary for diapers with microfleece (and other synthetic materials) and diapers and/or inserts made with hemp.  Build-up isn't as much of a problem with diapers made with cotton or bamboo.

My next question: when do you do it? The same answer kept coming up: when the diapers get really stinky. This seemed a little confusing. I thought, don't dirty diapers always stink?  Then when I started cloth diapering, I realized that they don't really stink all that much, especially if you use Bac-Out on them and keep them in a good diaper pail . Granted, if you let them sit in the diaper pail for days, then they'll stink.

But then the day came when they really started to stink. Not so much in a gross, poopy kind of way, but an overpowering, make-your-eyes-water ammonia smell. It was bad. Plus, they weren't absorbing as well as they had before.  It was then I knew it was time to strip the diapers. (For other ways to tell if your diapers need stripping, check out this funny video. Oh, how I can relate...)

I read all sorts of methods to do this, among them boiling them in a pot on the stove or washing them in a bathtub.  Here are the two ways I went about stripping my baby's diapers; one of them did the job.

Attempt #1 -- RLR

As I read about the different diapering stripping methods, I kept reading about a product called RLR . It's not a bleach or soap or anything -- it just a powder you add to your laundry that is supposed to lift detergent residue, mineral build-ups, and other particles in material. Lots of people swore by the stuff, so I ordered a few packets.

Being a lover of all things retro, the packaging of this stuff made me happy. I love that the company hasn't changed the look of these packets in decades. It looks like something I would have found in my grandparents' laundry room.


I used a whole packet in my top-loading washing machine. It made everything more bubbly, so I did some extra rinses to make sure everything was out. I was pretty stoked to find that my baby's diapers didn't have that ammonia smell when I changed him.

The only problem: it was fleeting. The smell came back after about a week or so.

The verdict on RLR:  I think the stuff works, but I think it'd be better to use it early on, before the diapers get serious build-up. I think it'd be good use preemptively, like once every 1-2 months to catch the build-up before it gets bad. You can get each packet for about $1-2 (I got mine here).

Attempt #2 -- Dawn Dish Soap & Bleach

I hardly ever use bleach. I'm kind of scared of the stuff. Not just because of the fumes (though that's a concern too, what with all the vinegar I use in my house. The two don't mix.) and chlorine, but because I've had plenty of clothes ruined by it in the past. But those diapers stunk so I had to bring out the big guns. I figure that the diapers are rinsed so many times that there won't be much bleach coming in contact with my baby's adorable little bum.

To strip diapers this way, you'll need to use 1 tablespoon of Dawn dish soap (the blue, original kind) for top-loading washing machines (1 teaspoon for high efficiency washers) and 1/2 cup of bleach.  Wash the diapers in hot water, adding the dish soap and bleach during the wash cycle.

It will get super bubbly and reminiscent of cartoons or sitcoms when the husband or kids do the laundry.

Once that first cycle is done, rinse and then rinse again.

And rinse again. Keep rinsing until there are no suds in the water. That's it -- diaper stripping is no big deal, though it does use a lot of water. (For a great video of the process -- it's the one that helped me -- click here.)

Verdict on Dawn & bleach: it works!  The diapers not only stink way less, but they absorb better, too.

Typically, you only need to strip the diapers every few months. My baby's diapers didn't need stripping until after his first birthday -- this may have been partly due to him being breastfed that first year (it's been my experience that breastfed baby diapers are really easy to clean) or maybe because we mostly used the cotton prefolds during his first year (we're definitely using pocket diapers more as our little guy gets older -- it's faster and easier with him always on the go!).  You can also help your diapers require less stripping by doing a few things:

  • do a cold water pre-rinse (I just use the rinse cycle on my washing machine) before washing your diapers because this gets urine and other residues agitated out (plus, if you don't do it, your diapers are basically washing around in urine and poopy hot water, which is counter-productive).  
  • use enough detergent. The ammonia smell in my baby's diapers got really bad after I tried using soap nuts (for my experience with those, you can read about it here) because our hard water made them less effective and not enough saponin (the natural soap in soap nuts) was being released. 
  • detergents do matter when it comes to build-up and some are better than others. A great post about different detergents and how they rate when it comes to build-up can be found here (I just found out that I've been using a not-so-great detergent for microfleece diapers. Oops.)
  • use ointments and creams that are safe for cloth diapers -- some have oils and ingredients in them that stain and stick to the fibers of cloth diapers, causing serious build-up. This link has a pretty good list of what creams to use and not to use on baby when cloth diapering. 
It almost always surprises people when I tell them that cloth diapering doesn't smell nearly as bad as diapering with disposables (I remember well the days when I'd empty my first son's diaper pail. Gag.), but only if you do it right. With the right supplies and methods, you can easily keep the stink out of cloth diapering.

Note: Some of the links in the post above are "affiliate links." This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. 

{This post is linked up to Homestead Barn Hop and Frugal Days, Sustainable Ways..}


montana mama said...

I'm so glad you had the same experience with RLR!! So many others rave about it but I tried it twice, even soaking overnight, and both times the funk returned within a week or so. I tried stripping with Dawn but didn't add any bleach so may have to try that one. I think a big part of our problem is really hard water so I finally got some special cloth diaper soap for hard water which should help once I do another stripping. Thanks for these helpful tips!

Becky Elmuccio said...

These are great tips. I've never done this with our BumGenius ones, but maybe I will give it a try to see if it helps with overnight when she seems to be wet in the mornings. Thanks!

Blogger said...

Sprinter - Function One (160BPM)

Blogger said...

I have just downloaded iStripper, and now I can watch the best virtual strippers on my desktop.

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