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Today I’m going to discuss a topic related to cloth diapers that gets a lot of people confused or worried. Stripping cloth diapers is the term used for deep cleaning your diapers to do one of two things: remove any lingering detergent residue or fix hard water build-up. Depending on which of those issues you are facing, you will want to strip your diapers in different ways.

The idea of removing built-up detergent residue is something that is controversial. Some believe detergent build-up is impossible, and others swear they have had it happen to them following cloth diaper washing advice that was heavy-handed with the detergent.

Detergent build-up is more common with extremely soft water. It can also happen if your wash routine isn’t using enough water or rinses. It makes sense that using too much detergent combined with an inadequate amount of water, especially with really soft water (due to how difficult it can be to rinse the detergent out of soft water), could cause build-up.

While stripping may sometimes be needed, most of the time there are some tweaks you can do to your wash routine to eliminate the need for stripping. In the article below, I will discuss the steps for how to strip cloth diapers and discuss when you might consider doing that.

Stripping Diapers – Is it really necessary?

how-to-strip-cloth-diapersI want to start by saying that some people that go about stripping their cloth diapers are doing so unnecessarily.

I have been cloth diapering for 6 years in both hard and soft water and I have never had to do a true strip of my diapers.

A good wash routine would make stripping your diapers unnecessary. If you are dealing with lingering odors, such as ammonia, or if your diapers aren’t absorbing as they should, it’s likely your wash routine is the problem.

Consider the following before deciding to strip your diapers:

  1. Reevaluate your wash routine. What do you currently do, and where might you need to do some tweaking?
    • Are you doing a rinse before your wash? If not, you should definitely do that. Getting all of the crud washed away before you do the actually wash will help make sure your diapers are actually getting clean.
    • Do you add any detergent to your pre-wash/rinse cycle? If not, you may want to consider adding a small amount of detergent and doing an express wash instead of a rinse. You wouldn’t use a full load’s worth of detergent, but maybe about half the amount. This will help the main wash to really be able to do its job.
    • Are you using the correct amount of detergent with your diapers? Detergent quantity need vary greatly depending on water hardness. Super soft water needs less detergent.
    • Are you doing an extra rinse at the end? This might be something you want to try if you’re experiencing detergent residue build-up. Your wash cycle will have a rinse built-in, but you may need to set it to add an additional rinse. This will help make sure that all the detergent is getting washed away, leaving diapers fresh and as absorbent as possible.
  2. Are you using a detergent with fabric softener, or adding fabric softener to your loads? DON’T! Fabric softener will make your diapers less absorbent.
  3. Is your water softener filled with salt? If you do not have a water softener, evaluate how hard your water is. Moderately hard water shouldn’t give you any issues, especially with a good powder laundry detergent.
  4. Have you been using the wrong kind of rash cream on your diapers? Some creams don’t wash off well, which can cause repelling.

Yes, I Need to Strip My Diapers – Now What?

Okay, so now you have evaluated your wash routine and solved any issues. If your diapers are still coming out of the washing machine smelling dirty, or if they smell bad immediately when they get wet, or if they are repelling and not absorbing as well, here is what you do:

  1. Evaluate your water hardness. Most stripping methods are designed to remove hard water minerals from your diapers. If hard water is not the issue, see number 2.
  2. If you have verified that your water is indeed soft and you think it might be a detergent issue, I would recommend doing 3-4 HOT washes with NO detergent before pursuing any other stripping protocols. It’s amazing what several hot washes can do to fix your diapers. You could also rinse each diaper out by hand in the tub or sink and it will go more quickly.

Stripping with RLR – Step by Step

RLR is a great product to help with stripping diapers with hard water mineral build-up. Always do this with clean diapers. Follow the directions below:


  1. Fill your washing machine basin with hot water (bathtub if you have a front-loading machine).
  2. Add one packet of RLR (can be found on Amazon) to the water. You may also choose to add a small amount of detergent.
  3. Add your diapers. Just add your absorbent parts, not the covers or shells.
  4. Agitate or let the cycle run for a few minutes, then stop your washer. If soaking in the tub, stir the diapers a few times.
  5. Let your diapers soak. Some people soak for as little as 30-minutes, others soak for several hours. Keep an eye on your diapers and stir them every so often. You can decide when you think you’re ready to be done with the soak (give it at least a half-hour, but more if you want).
  6. Let your cycle finish, then do a HOT wash or rinse.
  7. If you still see soap bubbles in that rinse, you may need to do another rinse.

Stripping Summarized

Stripping is not something most people would ever need to do. The need to strip is the result of a neglectful wash routine or extremely hard water.

Remember that people used to cloth diaper before disposables took over, and stripping was never something that people worried about. And if we think our water is suddenly harder now than it was then…. no. 😉 However, people used to handwash diapers, and handwashing sure does a better job getting things clean than modern HE machines.

Stripping has gained more popularity in recent years due to cloth diaper washing myths that are floating around.

Most diaper issues can be fixed with a good wash routine, some extra rinses, and maybe some extra hot washes if needed. If you do need to strip, you can purchase some RLR and get the job done in a few hours. If hard water was your reason you needed to strip, check out this post for how to tweak your wash routine.

I hope you found this helpful in deciding whether or not you need to strip your diapers.

Have you ever needed to strip your diapers before? Share any tips in the comments!