Troubleshooting, Washing Issues

Bleach and Cloth Diapers – Is It a Good Idea?

Depending on how much research you have done on cloth diapers and where you got your information, you may have stumbled upon the concept of bleaching diapers. If you have, you may have discovered that bleach can be quite controversial in the cloth diaper community! I firmly believe this is another area where people tend to get carried away with strong opinions. The truth about bleach and cloth diapers is that there is a time and place for it.

Some people will say bleach is BAD because it is a chemical and it will void the warranty of your diapers. Other people say bleach is nothing to be scared of, and some people even go so far as to add a bit to every load. Here I will discuss some common situations where you might want to consider using bleach, as well as instructions for bleaching if you do encounter one of these situations.

Bleaching Used Diapers

used-diapersOne situation where you might want to use bleach on your diapers is if you just purchased them second hand and are getting them ready to use on your little one. I know what you’re thinking–who buys used diapers??? But buying used diapers is not gross as long as you do it right. Many people buy used diapers to get some high-end brands at a good price. Some people will buy their whole stash used because of how expensive an investment cloth diapers can be upfront.

When you are buying used, here are some guidelines: check the quality of the elastics (they should be tight), PUL (make sure it isn’t damaged), and if there is any staining. If they look good, go ahead and buy them.

Once you get your diapers home, it would be good to wash them with a little bleach and then rinse them well. The diapers are probably fine, but because you weren’t there through all of their days of use to be sure, better safe than sorry! A little bleach is a good idea here. Keep reading for bleaching instructions.

Bleaching after a Yeast Rash

yeast-rashDid you know that babies can actually get a nasty diaper rash caused by yeast? Yeast loves warm, moist places….like the inside of a diaper. If your baby has been sick (or you if you’re breastfeeding) and has taken antibiotics recently, that could up the chances of a yeast infection.

Yeast could also happen if the baby has had excessive stools or the stools are acidic, and if their diapers are too small or too tight.

Yeast rashes can definitely happen, but it’s best to get it confirmed by a doctor before you go crazy trying to treat it or using bleach. Many people wrongly misinterpret their baby’s rashes for yeast when the rash starts to get bad. I mean, yeast rashes can be common, but not THAT common… It’s always best to talk to a doctor before you start slathering on copious amounts of anti-fungal, as that could also cause a reaction if it isn’t really needed.

If it is confirmed yeast, you will have to decide if you want to switch to disposables while you treat it, or if you would rather continue using cloth. If you continue using cloth, that is fine, but you may need to bleach a couple times as you go about treating the rash. Yeast is a beast and can reinfect pretty easily. Because of that, many people choose to use disposables until the rash clears up, do one bleach soak/wash of their diaper stash to kill any lingering yeast, and go back to cloth once the rash has gone away. It’s totally up to you!

Bleach to Fix Lingering Ammonia

If your wash routine was too skimpy for too long, or if you were in a habit of not using enough detergent, you may have some lingering ammonia smells that you’re struggling to get out. A bleach wash can help with that, too. However, to prevent this type of issue from happening again, check out my post on washing routines.

When Shouldn’t I Use Bleach?

As long as it’s done appropriately and according to recommended guidelines, bleach will not hurt your diapers. But if you find you need to bleach quite frequently, then you’re just kind of putting a bandaid on a gaping wound, in my opinion.

bleaching-diapersWhenever questions involving the topics of stripping diapers or using bleach come up, I first challenge people to look at their wash routine and think about what might be causing their issues. For example, with my oldest son, I did a typical rinse cycle prior to washing, did a regular wash with detergent, and then a rinse. That worked great for us.

When my youngest was born, I quickly discovered I needed to tweak that a bit–my youngest must have been a heavier wetter. For a brief period of time, we had some lingering odors after washing. I tweaked my wash routine and instead of a typical rinse cycle at the beginning, I would do a light wash with a bit of detergent, followed by a regular wash with the full amount of detergent, then an extra rinse at the end. This completely fixed our issue, and bleach was never needed.

Remember the purpose of bleach is to sanitize–it’s not going to be very helpful in fixing issues outside of that (like repelling and lack of absorption). If you don’t think it’s a sanitation issue, you might want to check out some of my tips for stripping diapers. Also, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again–you’d be surprised at what a few good hot washes can do to fix some issues.

How to Bleach Cloth Diapers

bleached-clothesIf you feel bleaching your diapers would make sense, here is how you can safely do so. Do this with clean diapers, not dirty. (If you have a front loader, skip to the end of #7).

1) Determine your load size and let your washer fill up with cold water for that load size amount. Some people use hot, but hot water can cause bleach to break down and make it less effective, so I use cold to make sure it’s as effective as possible.

2) Once your washer is filled with water, add 1/4 cup bleach. (If you have a large load, you could look at doing 1/3 cup or 1/2 cup).

3) Let it agitate for just a minute to mix up the water/bleach solution.

4) Add your diapers, and let agitate for a minute or two just to get all the diapers saturated.

5) Pause your washer (I have a top loader and just have to lift my lid–your washer may be different) and let the diapers soak for 30-60 minutes.

6) Resume your wash. Switch to hot water if you’re able.

7) Do an extra rinse at the end, or even a hot wash with no detergent or anything else added if you want to make sure you’ve effectively washed out the bleach.

***If you have a front loader, your washer may not give you the ability to soak your diapers. You can use the bathtub or a sink to do your diaper soak, too. Just fill the tub/basin up with water, add 1/4 cup bleach, and then add your diapers and stir around. Let soak for 30-60 minutes.

That’s it! Like I said before, this shouldn’t be something that you have to do ALL THE TIME, just once in awhile.

If you think you might need to strip your diapers rather than bleach, check out this post: How to Strip Cloth Diapers- Getting Your Diapers to Work Like New

If you need to check the efficacy of your wash routine, here are a couple posts you might find helpful:

Cloth Diaper Washing Instructions -A How-To Video

Cleaning Cloth Diapers at Home Part 2- Washing Instructions

If you’re new to cloth diapers, what do you think about this? If you aren’t new to them have you ever bleached your diapers before? Let me know in the comments!

Holly Lee

I'm Holly and I'm the mom of two awesome young boys. We have been cloth diapering for 5 years. My family and I live in Minnesota with our dog, Ruby, and cat, Gherkin. Outside of Rocking the Cloth, I am also a middle school teacher. Thank you for visiting Rocking the Cloth--feel free to email me at holly@rockingthecloth.com if you have any questions or concerns. I'd love to help!

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8 Comments

  1. I’ve never used cloth diapers for my own kids, as I dread the washing. They’re all out of diapers now. But after reading your blog, I’m going to get my friends who have babies and toddlers to read this! Bleaching after a yeast rash is such a brilliant idea. The steps for bleaching, I find them really useful too! Thanks for the great article. 

    1. Holly Lee says:

      Thanks Joo! I appreciate it! 🙂

  2. Tower Bridge Consultants LLC says:

    Prior to reading this article I was not familiar with cloth diapers. That is great that you are able to use bleach on cloth diapers in order to keep them clean and from having a smell.

    The wash cycle you provided sounds like a win/win way to get the most out of your cloth diapers. When the time comes I am going to go with your advice and bleach the diapers following the instructions you provided.

    Going to also check out a couple other sections of your website as this article was very useful.

    Based on your experience how long would you say cloth diapers last?

    Thanks for the great information Holly!

    Jay S.

    1. Holly Lee says:

      Awesome Jay! Thanks!

      They can last quite a few years if taken care of well. I am still using the same diapers on my 18 month old that I started using 4.5 years ago with my oldest! I’m sure they will get us to potty training my second child no problem. After that, I may have to do some elastic repairs, and then they’ll be good as new again!

  3. glenda says:

    Hi Holly,

    Thank’s for sharing this helpful and informative article! It was just what I needed to give me insight and understanding into what bleaching diaper is all about. You thoroughly shared how to use bleach and when I shouldn’t use bleach well enough for me to shed light on it. 

    I agree with you that buying used cloth diapers is totally not gross as long as you have the guidelines to check if it’s still in good shape the go for it, when you arrived home just make sure to bleach it a little and it will be fine.

    Glenda

    1. Holly Lee says:

      Thanks Glenda!

  4. Baby safe cleaners should be plant-based or chemical-free, have no hazardous ingredients, and more.

    1. It’s kind of impossible to be chemical-free (even water is a chemical…), but I think I know what you mean. 😉 Yes, you definitely don’t want to use hazardous things on a baby. When washing cloth diapers with some bleach, it’s important you follow directions and rinse them out thoroughly.

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