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How to Strip Cloth Diapers in 3 Easy Steps

If your baby’s cloth diapers are starting to smell foul — or they are repelling urine all of a sudden — then it might be time to ‘strip’ them. Not sure what we mean?

When you strip cloth diapers, you are essentially deep cleaning them to eliminating residue from the diaper itself. Outside of replacing the cloth diaper entirely, stripping is the best way to remove buildup and to keep it looking and smelling clean.

In this article, we’re going to explain how to strip cloth diapers and help you better understand why it’s done in the first place.

preparing to strip cloth diapers

What Does Stripping Cloth Diapers Mean?

When you strip cloth diapers you go through a process of deep cleaning them to remove residue from built up hard water minerals and leftover detergent.

It might come as a surprise, but detergents can buildup in your baby’s cloth diapers. While it’s technically designed to rinse out, this only happens when the proper amounts of detergent are used in a wash cycle.

Sadly, most use too much detergent which can create excess suds that prevent the diapers from rubbing together and creating a chemical buffer. This rubbing is a critical part of how laundry becomes clean.

Additionally, excess suds can prevent some of the impurities from being properly rinsed out of the machine.

This means the impurities are deposited back onto the cloth diapers instead of rinsing away, and the problem snowballs from there. These residues can cause foul smells, leaks, and rashes.

Stripping the diaper helps eliminate ammonia issues and odors from a bad wash routine. 

However, you need to fix whatever issues you’re having with your wash routine or the smell and rashes will return.

Before you set about to strip cloth diapers, you should first examine your wash routine. Oftentimes, one small change is all it takes to prevent this from happening in the future. Stripping isn’t the solution for everything.

How to Know When Your Cloth Diapers Need to be Stripped

Stripping is recommended when:

  • Your cloth diapers smell bad after being taken out of the wash, after drying, or immediately after your baby urinates in them. 

As we mentioned, you should always look to first fix your wash routine as no matter how you strip, if you don’t adjust and fix your routine, the smell will return.

  • Your cloth diapers are leaking and you already checked to ensure the diaper is fitting and absorbing properly. 

When you get leaking from built-up hard water minerals, you’ll typically notice the diaper insert remaining dry in certain spots when it leaks. If your diaper is fully saturated, then you need more absorbency.

washing machine

How to Strip Cloth Diapers

There are two common techniques you need to learn when it comes to how to strip cloth diapers. One method is for stripping in hard water, the other for soft water.

Let’s explore both methods below:

Stripping Cloth Diapers In Hard Water

When stripping cloth diapers, I (like many parents) use RLR Natural Powder Laundry Detergent.

In my opinion, RLR is ideal for issues with harder water build-up. Keep in mind, for this method, you don’t need to add a water softener.

Using RLR Directions:

First things first, this method should be done on clean cloth diapers that have already been washed.

One pack of RLR is good for every large load. This will help strip up to around 30 diapers. 

If you have more than a full load, you can do this same process in another load and follow the same directions. If you have small or medium sized loads you can still use the full RLR packet.

  1. Add RLR along with a very miniscule amount of your regular detergent. No more than to the 1 line for up to about 30 diapers. You should use less for smaller loads. Keep in mind, the diapers have already been cleaned and washed.
  1. Wash the diapers on the longest, heavy duty, hot wash cycle setting available.
  1. Run one additional rinse (or a short wash cycle) if there’s still suds left behind after the final rinse.
cloth diapers in a basket

Stripping Cloth Diapers In Soft Water

When it comes to soft water situations, the problem is typically detergent buildup, which usually happens as a result of overusing detergent in every wash load.


  1. Clean diapers should be run through a hot wash to ensure agitation. Don’t add any detergent or other additives. Only hot water and your cloth diapers.
  1. You should check after a few minutes of agitation. If you notice suds, then do another hot wash or rinse.
  1. Continue this process until most of the suds have disappeared. It’s normal for some bubbles to be left behind as there’s always air bubbles present. 

For a smaller number of cloth diapers, you can also run them under hotter water in your bathtub or sink. Squeeze the water out of the diaper insert or diaper itself while doing this.

Keep in mind, if you’re stripping due to rashes or smell, and the issue with your wash routine isn’t resolved, the issue will return no matter how you strip.

RLR can be used in any water type, so if you aren’t sure whether you have hard or soft water there’s no need to worry. 

Just remember, it will suds up more in soft water, which can mean additional rinses will be needed.

Frequently Asked Questions

How often do I need to strip cloth diapers?

Unlike bleaching — which is recommended once a month by most manufacturers — stripping your cloth diapers doesn’t need to be a regular part of your regular washing routine. 

As a matter of fact, there’s a chance you may never need to strip your cloth diapers if you have a good wash routine in place. It should only be done when absolutely necessary. 

How can I tell if my cloth diapers have enough buildup for stripping?

If your cloth diapers smell bad, aren’t absorbing urine, or are wicking, then it’s likely detergent has built up and should be stripped.

It’s important to note, however, a foul smelling cloth diaper (after a wash) can be due to bacteria, which stripping will not remove. 

In which case, you should strip your diapers and then throw them in the washer after adding ¼ cup of bleach. 

cloth diapers hanging to dry

Can I make my own DIY stripping agent?

Whether it’s because you’re on a strict budget or like doing things yourself, you can still strip diapers by making your own stripping agent.

This agent will go a long way in terms of keeping your diapers looking and smelling great and is the cheapest option per load than the other methods we discussed earlier. 

To make the DIY stripping agent, you’ll need 3 things:

Add 3 tablespoons each of these ingredients into either your washing machine or a bathtub filled with hot water. 

You’ll then follow the same instructions you would when using RLR to strip your cloth diapers.

What’s great about this DIY method is that the ingredients can be used to clean the rest of your home as well, which means they won’t go to waste if you don’t use them all.

If you’re on a tight budget, but still want to strip your diapers in a laundry additive that packs a big punch, you might want to consider making your own stripping agent. 

This agent is by far the cheapest per load option than the others, and it will go a long way to making your diapers be as good as new.


If you’re unsure how to strip cloth diapers, the task can seem daunting. However, as you can see, the process isn’t that difficult.

If you need a deep clean for your cloth diapers because they smell, are causing rashes, or are leaking, then stripping them is the best solution and can have them looking/smelling new again.

While there are a few different methods you can use — some of which require more effort and products — the method you choose is up to you. 

Do you have a stripping technique that you absolutely love? Tell us about your process in the comments below.