>For most cloth diaper users, stripping your diapers is something that you’ll most likely have to do sooner or later. After months of wear and tear, being soiled and getting washed and dried with a variety of products, additives, and water types, more often than not, most peoples’ diapers will begin to develop some sort of buildup on them that has to be removed both for the good of your diapers and the good of your baby.

WHAT IS STRIPPING?

‘Stripping’ is a term that applies to many different fields and contexts. Stripping simply refers to the removal of something. Think about it–vintage furniture collectors strip layers of old paint and varnish off a favorite piece in order to refinish it. Farmers or miners will see the land stripped of nutrients or mineral deposits. Even exotic dancers perform a removal of sorts with their version of stripping! 😉

Diaper stripping, then, is simply the removal of buildup from off your cloth diapers. The specific undesirables that may need to be removed from your diapers and inserts are: hard water (mineral) deposits, soap scums & residues, oils, and waste/ammonia buildup.

HOW CAN I STRIP MY DIAPERS?

This will be explained in greater detail in a series of “How to” posts over the course of this week, but generally, diaper stripping can be done through the use of hot water, plentiful rinsing, special detergents or products, and a bit of elbow grease or some tips of the trade. Stay tuned for a day by day walk-through of a few options available to you for diaper stripping.

HOW DO I KNOW MY DIAPERS NEED STRIPPING?

Your diapers probably need to be stripped if …

… they stink. Diapers that are holding onto residues may begin to smell like ammonia, like poop, or even mildewy or fishy. Synthetic microfibre inserts (common in most pocket diapers) are particularly heinous in terms of retaining buildup and getting “the stinkies”.

… they repel liquid. If you notice that your diapers don’t seem to be absorbing as well as they used to, try a simple absorption test–take a clean, dry diaper (or insert) and pour some water over it, slowly. Allow the water to hit the surface of the fabric. Normally functioning diapers should absorb the beads of liquid within a second or two (it’s fine if beads form for a moment before absorbing). However, if your water beads up and sits there without absorbing (or, even worse, rolls away!), then your diapers are so coated with oils or residues that they will not be functioning properly until they are “reset” through diaper stripping.

… they keep causing diaper rash. Built up grime, ammonia, or residues on your diapers are all irritants to your baby’s skin. If your baby keeps getting recurring diaper rash that can’t be solved through other precautions and treatments, then perhaps stripping the diapers back down to their clean, fresh state will help.

WHY DO MY DIAPERS HAVE BUILDUP?

Although not impossible, it can be difficult to totally avoid laundry buildup. In fact, all our household laundry (and surfaces!) have buildup and residue on them–it’s just that all these other things aren’t necessarily as frequently used and essential as the diapers that surround our baby’s sensitive bottom for nearly 24 hours a day! Still, here are a few practical tips for avoiding diaper buildup to help put off stripping for as long as possible:

1. When washing diapers, rinse them in cold first to get rid of heavy soiling and urine, but then wash them with soap in the hottest water possible. If your washing machine doesn’t seem to get hot enough, consider turning up your hot water tank or even manually adding hot (near boiling) water from time to time. Also, make sure that you wash diapers in as much water as possible. If you have a high efficiency (low water) machine, you might need to find ways into “tricking” it to use more water (such as using the Water Plus or Delicate cycle; or, by adding a heavy, wet towel in with your diaper load). In a pinch, you may even need to manually dump extra water in by hand (whether on top of your diaper laundry in the tumbler, or pouring it in via the detergent drawer).

2. Rinse, rinse, rinse! Be sure that after your main laundry wash cycle is complete, you add one, or two, or more rinse cycles! Your goal is to rinse (every time!) until no suds are visible in the wash water. This means that all the soap residue will be truly coming off your diapers instead of sitting on them and drying into the fabric. If cold rinses just aren’t getting the bubbles out, consider doing one or more rinses in hot or warm water to help flush the soap residue away.

3. Find the right balance of detergent for your machine. If your diapers are still coming out smelling dirty (i.e. poopy), then obviously you need to be using a bit more detergent. However, most people overuse the amount of detergent. As a rule of thumb, you can generally use 1/4 to 1/2 as much detergent is recommended by the box or bottle of soap that you use. Many cloth diaper users who have HE front-loading washers use as little as 1 Tbsp of powdered soap to wash their diapers in! Using less soap ensures that less residue will hang onto your fabric fibres.

4. Use cloth diaper approved soap that has no additives, enzymes, or brighteners. To see where you detergent selection falls, check out this detergent chart from Diaper Jungle.

5. Do not use fabric softeners or dryer sheets! The chemicals that make your clothes soft with these additives are the same ingredients that will create a waxy buildup on your diapers and other clothes, rendering their absorption powers useless. Skip the fabric softener and opt for a bit of white vinegar in your rinse cycle instead, or use dryer balls (plastic or wool) in your dryer to help soften diapers and reduce static and drying time.

6. Wash your diapers often. Washing diapers every 1-2 days as opposed to every 3-4 days will help your laundry cycle overall, allowing less time for stains and smells to set, and enabling you to use fewer heavy duty products and detergents to get them clean and smelling fresh.

7. Use only cloth diaper approved creams and powders with your dipes. Regular diaper ointments often contain cod liver oil (a thick, fishy product), zinc oxide, or petroleum products. These will not rinse out of fabrics well, so they will intensely bind to your diapers and create a thick, impassible, waxy coating. If you must use these creams (for example, prescribed creams for a yeast rash, etc), then use them only with a liner or with disposable diapers until the rash clears up.

8. Use a water softener or detergent specially formulated for your water type. If you have hard water, you will be more prone to diaper buildup simply because of the hard minerals in your water content. You can have a water softener installed in your home, can use an added product like Calgon, or can use specially formulated detergents (such as Rockin Green’s Hard Rock) for your water type.

Remember, it’s not the end of the world if you do have to strip your diapers–in general, they are resilient and quite forgiving! Regular maintenance on your diapers is part of a good routine for keeping them in tip-top shape, particularly if you use them for many years or with multiple children. Think of it as a regular part of their tune-up, like your annual physical exam from your doctor, or a regular oil change for your car. But hopefully, if you treat your diapers well and use a few preventative measures along the way, your stripping days will be few and far between!

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