Got smelly diapers? Can you tell as soon as your child has peed in the diaper?  It’s quite possible that you need to strip your diapers. 

What is Stripping?

Stripping is the process in which you remove the build-up and residues from your diapers and typically specifically targets mineral deposits from hard water or residue from soap buildup.  For simplicity I’ve included any issues that require stripping to remove build-up of normal bacteria over time, though this is sometimes referred to as deep cleaning.  This is not the same as washing or sanitizing which I discuss in other area's of the site.  Most methods involve some chemical or another used to separate the residue from the diaper and then a heavy rinsing cycle to remove the chemicals. 

Before we begin, first a word on safety…

*** Warning, stripping is not to be taken lightly.  Accidents can, and have happened when procedures are not followed properly. Even small variations in the minerals in your water can change the safety or effectiveness of any treatment.  We’ve done our best to combine multiple sources into a useful guide; however we are not responsible for any damage done to your diapers or harm done to your baby.  Use any information provided here at your own risk! Regardless of what you do, make sure the last thing that touches your diapers before they touch your baby is WATER only, no exceptions.***

What is the process

For a thorough process, there are two stages to stripping your diapers.  If you are using a commercial product be sure to follow the manufacturers recommendations.

Stage one:  Presoak your diaper for approximately 45 minutes in a laundry tub or sink full of a mixture of hot water and 1/8 of a cup of Dawn Original Dish Detergent (there are other detergents you can use here but this is the one I have seen recommended most often, and what I have used).  The purpose of this is to make sure the chemicals used in the second stage have good access to the residue by removing oils and other soils.  Don't use soaps like Dawn in your laundry machine (use your laundry tub) since it will be difficult to clean out, will suds like crazy, and could clog up your washing machine and void its warranty.  Dump the mixure and put your diapers in the washing machine and wash on hot without adding any more detergent.  Do a double rinse.  Do not dry your diapers, move to stage two.

Stage Two:  To remove the residue, you can use one of many different methods (discussed below), depending on the exact problem. The actual stripping process is actually quite easy.  Some methods require a soak, others do not.  All methods recommend washing them in the washing machine without detergent after the treatment, and adding another double rinse to cleanse (again follow specific direction if using a commercial product).  Tumble dry your diapers on warm.

Your diapers should be good after this process, however, if you feel there is still some residue from the cleaning solution, run them through the washer one more time just to be sure.  You are dealing with acids or other potentially strong chemicals and babies soft skin, so there is no such thing as being too careful. 

Options for the stripping agent that have been used over the years include everything from natural food products to harsh industrial cleaners.  I will do my best to summarize the options and their pro's/con's below.  Please note that all of these have risks that should not be ignored, there is no such thing as a 'safe' stripping chemical.  Also note that different products will solve different problems, so try to identify the issue and them figure out the best product.

If you're still not sure, there are many professional diaper cleaning services that can provide this service for you for a small fee.  The next step is to fix your laundry routine so you never have to do this again!

How do I know if I have Hard Water?

If you are constantly cleaning deposits off of your faucets then you likely have hard water.  You can also check with your local water board if you are not sure. 

How do I know if I have to Strip?  What method should I use?

This one is a bit more difficult unless your diapers are completely destroyed by mineral deposits.  You may notice a gradual reduction in absorbency or increased smells in your diapers.  When I mean reduced absorbency I mean they leak through after only a couple of minutes of use and typically they leak in a splotchy pattern (rather than everywhere all at once).  It can be difficult to detect because it may happen very slowly.  Keep in mind that you should only 'need' to strip on rare occasions where your normal laundering process has failed to keep the harmful clogging effects of hard water and other residues at bay.  Use the chart below to help you decide what you need to do.

Is there an Alternative to Stripping

If you feel you need to strip your diapers it is likely that you first need to adjust your washing procedure (and make sure not to use Zinc based bum creams!).  Simply adjusting your wash procedure may be enough to fix the problem without resorting to stripping.  The best alternative is catching it before it is a problem.  Look through the rest of my site (and other groups in your area that have similar water to YOU) to find best practices for cleaning.  Note that the 'proper' process for normal cleaning WILL be different for different area's of the country, different diaper materials etc. due to different water. 

Does it Damage My Diapers

Usually the damage done is minimal compared to the gain you get by removing the deposits.  Don't expect to be covered under any manufacturer warranty after stripping though because the chemicals used do have negative effects on both the fabric, stitching, and PUL depending on exactly what materials they are, and exactly what chemical and concentration you use.  Do your best to avoid getting here by using a good wash routine and check your specific diapers manufacturer’s recommendations before starting.

Is it Dangerous

Potentially, many mothers have used many different processes to strip their diapers and the overwhelming majority of the time there is no issue.  However, if something goes wrong it can harm your baby and your diapers.  There are more than enough horror stories floating around on mommy forums to warrant concern.  The primary risk is leaving something on your diapers.  Always remember to rinse, rinse, rinse after using any stripping method.  More on the risks of different products below.

What Chemicals Do People Use For Stripping

Search the internet on this topic and you can spend days looking through peoples opinions, commercial advertisements, old wives tales, a lot of heresy and blind recommendations.  There is also a lot of good information out there too.  For good reasons it is a very touchy subject.  Believe me, I've actually been banned from forums simply because of the information I am providing here.  Despite this I remain committed to education and thus I will try to cover as many of the alternatives as I can find, as accurately as I can, and keep it as up to date as I can as new information becomes available.  By no means am I a chemist so don't consider any of this the 'final word'.  Make sure you are comfortable with whatever product you use and use any chemical/process at your own risk.  The different chemicals used for different problems are described below.

Stripping to remove Fecal Matter

If you have not been following a good wash routine including a pre-wash (to loosen soils) and/or have not been using the recommended amount of soap (always start with using the amount recommended on the box/bottle of soap) then there may be some fecal matter deposited deep inside your diapers.  This will tend to smell like a barnyard when wet.  If it gets bad enough they’ll smell like a barnyard right out of the wash.  First thing to do is adjust your wash routine so this doesn’t happen again.  If it doesn’t go away you may need to reset them with a stripping procedure. 

In this case you have two good options: 

1)      Try to overload with soap to wash the bacteria out.  With fecal matter this is usually a good option since it tends to be a bit looser.  Use an extra helping of a detergent like tide original.  Soak in the mixture for a couple of hours, then wash on HOT and do 3 or 4 rinse cycles to get rid of the extra soap (until only minimal bubbles are seen in the rinse stage).  Details on Tide and other sodium carbonate/ash based cleaners below…

2)       The second option is to try to kill the bacteria.  Where possible, try hanging your diapers in direct sun for a couple of hours to let the UV rays (natures bleach) do their job.  If you want to go the chemical route be warned that some manufacturers do not recommend chlorine bleach, while others are OK with its occasional use.  It depends on the materials in your diaper.  The waterproof PUL is especially prone to damage from the chlorine.  As an alternative Oxyclean (aka oxygen bleach) will produce a similar effect on fecal matter and typically is less likely to cause damage to your diapers.  For either chemical, use the amount recommended on the bottle, unless the particular diaper manufacturer has a more specific recommendation. In this case do not soak in the mixture because it will eat away at the materials.  After one rinse, do a complete normal wash cycle (with a rinse) and follow that with an extra rinse to make sure all of the bleach is gone (do a sniff test to make doubly sure).  Details on bleach below…

Stripping to remove Ammonia/Bacteria

Usually the ammonia in your diapers has nothing to do with the ammonia in the urine.  However, if left in a sealed diaper pail some of the bacteria on the diapers can actually produce ammonia.  You can try a more breathable diaper bag (or leaving the lid slightly ajar on a pail) to reduce the amount of ammonia created.   Of course the direct route is to remove the bacteria that cause the ammonia in the first place.  The first thing to do is to make sure you are following the proper wash routine including a pre-wash and a hot wash with the right amount of soap.  Don’t skimp on the soap, too little soap means your diapers are not getting clean and bacteria can build up. 

To remove the actual ammonia: soak in a laundry tub full of water, with ¼ to ½ cup of white vinegar or lemon juice for a couple of hours. The acid from the vinegar/lemon juice balances the base of the ammonia, voila, ammonia neutralized.   Don’t do this in your washing machine as the acid may damage it.  Details on Natural Acidic Food Based Chemicals and their safety is below…

To remove the bacteria:  use the method described above in ‘stripping to remove fecal matter’. Again, use bleach only as a last resort.

Stripping For Demineralization

Unfortunately, most people have to deal with some degree of hard water.  The minerals in the hard water distract the soap from doing its job properly and can end up clogging the pores that allow diapers to absorb liquid.  You’ll know you have a problem when you little one pees through them after only a couple of minutes but the whole diaper is not wet.  In a properly working diaper the moisture should be spread over the whole diaper to allow it to hold the most fluid.  Mineralization also makes the fabric feel rough to the touch. 

To counter act this before it is a problem you’ll have to use a bit more soap AND make sure you are using the RIGHT soap.  Super ‘pure’, ‘gentle’, some ‘green’, and many boutique type soaps typically lack the boosters that help soap work (like surfactants).  Two things can happen here. Pure washing soda soaps do an excellent job of capturing minerals in the water, but don’t rinse well.  The unfortunate consequence is that it just ends up depositing ALL of the minerals right onto your diapers along with the washing soda.  In this case, change your soap!  Alternately all of the cleaning power of the soap goes towards removing the minerals and nothing is left to actually clean your diapers, in this case use more soap or use a laundry booster.  Your exact laundry recipe will depend on your exact water.   You may find that adding a bit of a Soda Ash/Washing soda/Sodium carbonate based cleaners (like RLR) once in a while in the pre-wash (to capture the minerals) and then your normal soap in the wash cycle to wash the minerals away will help keep the minerals away. 

So, you heard me right...those soaps specifically targeted for cloth diapers are likely actually the worst thing you can use as your primary cleaning agent.  Don't get me wrong, I love all natural products, but when it comes to cleaning soiled diapers you have to be a bit more discerning.  Save the all natural soaps for your normal clothes laundry. 

So what if they are already clogged with minerals?  Again you have two options:

1)      Try to overload with soap to flush the minerals out.  Use an extra helping of a commercial detergent like tide original.  In this case, stay away from anything that says ‘gentle’ on it.  Soak in the mixture for a couple of hours, then wash on HOT and do 3 or 4 rinse cycles to get rid of the extra soap (until no or only minimal bubbles are seen in the rinse stage).  Details on Tide below…

2)      Try to attack the minerals.  Most minerals are easily dissolved in a dilute acid solution.  A natural option for this is to soak in a laundry tub full of water with 4-8 cups of vinegar or lemon juice for a couple of hours then rinse thoroughly  (don’t be fooled though, these are natural, but still dangerous, read warnings below).  Follow this with your normal wash routine (with a second rinse at the end) and add an extra 1 or 2 rinses to make sure to get all of the acid out.   Be warned, the acid may damage some materials, especially the PUL so don’t expect warranty coverage for this.  Consider this a last ditch effort to save your diapers instead of throwing them out, not a monthly routine.  Use this method at your own risk and please take extreme caution with LOTS of rinsing to make sure no acid meets your baby’s bottom.  Details on acid cleaners below…

Stripping to remove Soap Build Up

 If there are a lot of soap suds in your machine, even after a second rinse, and/or you can smell soap on your diapers you may have soap build up.  Your diapers may also start to repel moisture, instead of absorbing it.  In some cases this will look like they are clogged with minerals but you’ll know it’s soap because the diapers will still be soft and will smell like soap. 

There are two main reasons you got here.  First, you may simply be using too much soap.  Even the best soap, with perfectly soft water, will still build up if you use too much.  Always start with the amount recommended on the package and only change it if you have a problem.  This is a simple fix, use less soap!  Don’t go too far though.  You want the RIGHT amount.  Enough to thoroughly clean them, not so much it starts to build up.  The amount on the package is usually pretty close.

The second possible reason is that your soap may not match your water.  With soft water you can pretty much get away with using anything you want.  For the vast majority, different sets of minerals in your hard water means many soaps simply are not good enough.  The best advice is that if it isn’t working, try something else.  Stay away from soaps intended for baby clothes since they tend to be too gentle for the real cleaning required on soiled diapers. 

Before you change your wash routine, you’ll likely want to remove the build-up.  The easiest way, in most cases, is to simply run them through a couple of washes with nothing but water.  You can try a bit of vinegar in the wash stage to make it go a bit faster.  Keep washing until there are few or no bubbles left  after the rinse stage and the soap smell has gone away.

 

In researching all of these methods (originally for use on my own diapers!) I came across a lot of chemical information.  For all of the chemicals mentioned on this page I’ve tried to give a bit of extra information about their specific ingredients, risks, and proper use. 

Natural Acidic Food Based Choices

These include vinegar (acetic acid) or lemon juice (citric acid).  These are fairly dilute acids that are safe for consumption in small amounts.  Don't be fooled though, these are still acids.  If any of these are left on your diapers after stripping you may get rashes, blisters or other reactions.  I have mentioned one such case that I have been contacted about below. The strength when diluted in your washer is low enough that it is unlikely to have much affect on the longevity of your diapers, (both the PUL and the fabric) however there is no tested evidence to support this that I can find.  We have seen it recommended to neutralize caustic Sodium Carbonate/soda ash in the final rinse cycle.  Though this is probably OK in theory, we would always recommend that the last washing process is always a rinse with nothing in it but water.  Vinegar is what I typically use when I have a laundry problem; it seems to have worked for me in my early days when I had a bad wash routine, but your mileage may vary.  My experience is that it has been particularly effective at dealing with the effects of using boutique brand soaps (which tend to have inadequate surfactants) in hard water. My personal opinion is that when it comes to cleaning products, the highest risk of severe trauma to my child is due to accidental consumption. Of the options I have seen, this group seems to have lowest risk in that area. 

Sodium Carbonate/Soda Ash based cleaners (i.e. tide, RLR, Rockin Green etc.)

Compared to the acidic cleaners above, Sodium Carbonate (i.e. RLR/ soda ash and many similar commercial demineralizers) use different routes to try to remove the residue and typically result in an alkaline solution rather than acidic. This is a very popular alternative and sold at many retailers in many forms.  The instructions provided by the manufacturer are clear and have been tested in a variety of situations to ensure there is relatively low risk of harm to your baby or diapers.  Make no mistake though, these are still strong chemical compounds in a concentrated form.  Possible side effects from exposure according to the MSDS (ONLY WHEN CONCENTRATED or possibly if very poorly rinsed) include irritation of the skin, burning sensation and possibly temporary damage to the gastrointestinal system and/or eyes.  Once diluted the risks are relatively low since the pH when mixed in water is typically fairly well balanced (compared to acids which maintain a slight pH imbalance). However, if you put more than the recommended amount, the pH will get more caustic.  Sodium carbonate is especially good to combat the minerals in hard water and is thus commonly used as an ingredient in many laundry detergents.  When used at higher concentrations, it should help remove most mineral deposits in most situations.  I have not found any strong evidence either way, but based purely on my understanding of the chemicals involved, it is unlikely to be very helpful in removing excess soap residue. 

So why not just use Sodium Carbonate for everything all the time?  It does a great job of binding to minerals in your water (and in most cases in your diapers) BUT if you don't rinse it thoroughly it can redeposit all of the minerals from the whole washing load directly back where you don't want them.  This is why laundry soaps that use this ingredient also use other ingredients to make sure the minerals stay OFF of your clothes.  So now you have a choice to make:  pure soda ash products have no hidden ingredients but risk making mineral problems worse, commercials detergents with other ingredients will typically work much better but you may not trust all of the ingredients. 

Detergents such as Tide and Rockin Green are based around soda ash with helpers to keep the minerals at bay.  So lets just use one of those?...not so fast.  Tide Original Liquid has no less than 6 different surfactants, 3 different enzymes and a whole host of other little helpers that make some people uncomfortable.  It also has Acetic acid (i.e. vinegar) in low concentration. These helpers make it work quite well at cleaning, especially in hard water. It is often recommended as a first step before trying more aggressive methods for stripping, but it is not what most would consider 'clean'.  Personally, I use tide for my normal wash routine.  Some people recommend using higher amounts than are listed on the bottle for stripping.  Just remember the further you go from the manufacturers recommendation, the higher your risks that something will go wrong and you do so at your own risk.  The recommendations are there for a reason; they consider their standard concentration to be adequately safe and affective in a broad range of conditions. 

On the other hand Rockin Green has a much shorter and more palatable ingredient list (Sodium carbonate, sodium percarbonate, natural chelating agents, sodium sulfate, biodegradable surfactants).  Many other similar 'greener' detergent alternatives have similar ingredients lists though the exact mixture and ratios varies. The first two ingredients are already discussed on this page, chelating agents are specifically targeted chemicals for removing minerals, and sodium sulfate is used as a neutral filler for bulk.  It most definitely has fewer ingredients than some alternatives and many people strongly recommend the brand, but it doesn't work for everyone.  The most common argument against Rockin Green is that it doesn't have 'enough' helpers, so some (in my area and experience most!) people end up with re-depositing problems if they have hard water.  We discuss its merits as your regular washing detergent in the washing section of our site.

A special application note, sodium carbonate, though much stronger, is closely related to sodium bi-carbonate (i.e. baking soda) and I've heard it has a similar reaction when mixed directly with vinegar (lots of foaming).  When both are highly diluted in a washing machine it should not cause an issue...but you've been warned (save that trick for your child's volcano science project). 

In summary, soda ash based products are likely more dangerous if your baby accidentally gets into them compared to vinegar or lemon juice, but when used properly, has similar or slightly lower risk of leaving harmful deposits on the diaper.  But please, just because it has a picture of a baby on the package, do not assume it is completely safe in all conditions and always keep out of reach of children!

Off Label Cleaners

I have had many people request I completely remove this section, however, I think that it is important that people understand what the products are and their potential risks because there are many people that currently use these and I don't believe there is sufficient other resources/summaries available that adequately describe them and their risks.  I think that discussing the risks associated with these products should also drive home my points above, that any chemical has risks that need to be respected. 

Some people swear by CLR (as in Calcium Lime and Rust), which is about 70% Lactic Acid, 15% water, a small amount of surfactant and colour.   Lactic acid is a well known descaller which attacks hard mineral deposits while the added surfactants help it work more efficiently for cleaning than a comparable mixture of, say, vinegar. It may also aide in removing soap residue but I haven't found any information on that.  CLR is more highly concentrated and more potent than the natural or typical commercial alternatives above so any sources I found that recommend it specify it must be very highly diluted in a full laundry load but again it depends on your situation.  Although the main ingredient, Lactic Acid, is 'naturally' occurring, unfortunately it is concentrated in CLR and should be used with caution (and at your own risk!) and never without significant dilution.  Although with different affects on your body, it is comparable in toxicity and hazard to concentrated bleach products and maybe just slightly less dangerous than some of the less concentrated drain unclogging liquids.  In high concentrations, CLR could damage your diapers (CLR specifically does not recommend its use on textiles!!!), in lower concentrations (i.e. if properly mixed in a laundry tub) the pH level should be similar to Vinegar or Lemon juice and works in a very similar way.

The main concern we have with using CLR, and the reason we don’t typically recommend it, is the high concentration in the bottle, leading to a much higher chance of misuse.  It is unrealistic to expect people to test the pH level of their stripping mixture and test the pH of the diaper after rinsing so it is difficult to know, for sure, if you are at a safe, or dangerous, concentration level.  This means the risk of a bad or dangerous result is higher, and since CLR doesn't recommend its use on textiles they haven't tested its effects over a broad range of conditions that a liquid specifically intended for laundry would.  In short, if you screw up with CLR the potential consequences are higher, since the stuff in the bottle is at such a high concentration and you'll likely not get a lot of support from your friends when you tell them what happened (and certainly no warranty coverage on your diapers).  If you insist on using it, please take extra care to make sure the diapers are rinsed completely clean, through many rinse cycles, before putting them near your baby.  If they are not adequately rinsed, and the diapers remain acidic, you will end up with a potentially harmful rash/chemical burn and potential long-term damage to your diapers.  Although lactic acid itself is potentially useful to fight mineral build up, when the risks associated specifically with CLR are understood I believe very few mothers would consider this product a great alternative for home use.

Also note that when in the bottle it represents similar or greater risk to your children compared to even the most concentrated alternatives (such as RLR or bleach) in the event they accidentally get into it.  The MSDS (for the concentrate) provides the same warnings about skin irritation, possible burning of the GI and eyes.  In theory these risks should be drastically reduced if used at the correct dilution, but removing one more concentrated and potentially harmful chemical from your house is never a bad idea. If you are uncomfortable with using an industrial cleaning product, stick with the natural options or commercial cloth diaper stripping products. Be warned, I've heard mention of at least one child getting chemical burns from this method when used incorrectly (see bottom of page for case studies). 

I've also seen references to other household or industrial cleaners that have very similar potential risks.  Dish washer detergents, bathroom cleaners...I'm sure someone, somewhere has asked if it is ok to use Varsol (please don't!).  The one thing they have in common is that there is no manufacturer guidelines for their use, so you are relying on word of mouth or instructions from internet posts, which is, in a word, dangerous.  These cleaners also have many additional ingredients to aid in their specific cleaning purpose, which you typically would not want to let near your child.  Let me put it this way so it is very clear, don't use any chemical that you are not 100% confident is safe (this is not limited to stripping of course).  This is not something for guess and check, remember everything is an irritant to a baby. 

What About Bleach?

Household bleach is usually chlorine based and most often with sodium hypochlorite (clorox etc.) as the main active ingredient.  Traditionally, bleach has been a mainstay of the laundry room and a germaphobes best friend.  From a safety perspective, the obvious main concern is accidental ingestion which, for hypochlorite, represents a definite and immediate danger to health.  More recently, new studies have been showing increased concerns about the effects of chronic exposure to chlorine bleach, especially on women, and especially when it reacts with other compounds.  From the currently available published research I am not aware of any large scale results that conclusively show a significant risk of ailments such as cancer, but there is also not much research showing it is 'safe'.  However, due to recent controversy, I expect over the coming years many more studies will be published that will continue to highlight and explore potential concerns. 

Most resources agree that chlorine bleach doesn't strongly react with the minerals or soap residue and is thus a poor choice for a demineralizing or de-soaping stripping process.  Most diaper manufactures say that sparing use of bleach when anti-bacterial or anti-fungal/yeast cleaning is required will do minimal damage to the cloth part of the diaper, but is not recommended for the PUL.  To be safe, check the diaper manufacturer’s website and consider exploring the many alternatives for non-chlorine  based disinfection. Note that this falls under disinfecting, in some instances it may remove diaper smells, but it won't improve absorbency.  Just due to the high aggressiveness and concentration in the bottle, as much as possible, I try to avoid keeping chlorine bleach in the house. 

Other whitening agents can sometimes also be referred to as bleach; for household cleaners this is usually hydrogen peroxide and/or its half sister sodium percarbonate, both of which have no chlorine.  Non-chlorine bleach products are chemically completely different than your standard household bleach and other than their general function, can't really be compared.  The popular materials are Hydrogen Peroxide (as in the stuff your mother used to use to clean your wounds) and Sodium Percarbonate.  Just because they are non-chlorine does not mean they are safe for all uses.  Hydrogen peroxide performs a very similar function to normal chlorine bleach and in many cases has the same ultimate result.  At household concentrations it is typically considered slightly less dangerous mainly because it does not have the same toxic reactions with other common cleaners (and just about everything else!) that chlorine bleach is known for.  Be very careful what you buy though, hydrogen peroxide is available in many different concentration levels.  At high concentrations it can very quickly switch from a safer alternative to a very dangerous hazard, with very similar risks to other concentrates such as CLR.  Make sure that whatever recipe you are using is very specific about which concentration (or name brand product) to use and how much to use.  Similar to chlorine bleach, we've found no reputable sources that recommend it specifically for mineral or soap residue stripping, but it is often recommended as a safer alternative for certain types of sanitizing duties. 

Sodium Percarbonate, however, is a two trick pony.  When mixed with water it actually breaks down into both hydrogen peroxide and sodium carbonate almost immediately.  This is interesting because you get the bleaching power of the peroxide and the mineral fighting power of the sodium carbonate.  I have not come across any specific recommendations on how much to use for any particular purpose other than to simply use the name brand OxiClean per the directions on the label.

OxiClean is often recommended for diaper stripping.  I would like to make a special warning to be careful what you get, OxiClean comes in a very wide variety of formulas.  The 'OxiClean Stain Removing Powder' is usually what people are recommending, which is about half and half sodium carbonate and sodium percarbonate, with some other small amounts of surfactants, and components to keep it stable and increase 'effectiveness'.  It is pretty much the only product on this page where the MSDS actually claims that irritation with skin is not likely, so it seems like a good alternative from a cost, convenience, and safety perspective.  However it will be weaker in mineral capturing ability compared to more concentrated sodium carbonate products like RLR.  Other varieties of OxiClean have completely different active ingredients and will produce different results with different risks, likely being less useful when trying to strip.  

If you want to use chlorine or non-chlorine bleaches, pay close attention to the recommended usage on the bottle and as always make sure you perform an extensive rinsing sequence before putting them back on your baby.  Where possible consider the alternatives, such a using the power of the Sun to whiten and sanitize.

It Didn't Work!

An important note is that there is no one solution that will work for everyone.  Each product excels in some area's and is weaker in others.  The result is going to depend on the water you use and your normal wash routine, so if one product is not working for you (even if all of your friends say it works for them!) try something different!  

Peoples Bad Experiences

Lets all learn from peoples bad experiences!  Below I have listed a couple of experiences from reasonably reliable sources that are first or second hand accounts of problems people have had. 

Case 1:

Method: Lemon Juice

Result: Ruined diapers (specifically the stitching and PUL), no reported irritation but I'm sure it was possible.

What Went Wrong?: The customer was adding Lemon Juice on every load, near the end of the wash cycle and possibly even after the rinse cycle.  The acid from the juice sat on the diapers without sufficient dilution and for long periods of time, slowly eating away at the more vulnerable synthetic fibers.  This is an unfortunate consequence of the assumption that natural products are safe.  That is not always the case.  Even natural chemicals are still chemicals. 

How to prevent?: Stripping should only be done rarely, and as necessary.  Always make sure the last thing that touches your diaper before they touch your baby is WATER.  No exceptions. Ever.  With all stripping methods at least one or two complete wash cycles, with a double rinse, are recommended after the treatment.

Case 2:

Method: CLR

Result: Strong irritation of skin that touched diaper, bordering on what could be described as a chemical burn

What Went Wrong?: This poor lady did not understand how dangerous CLR could be if used incorrectly and was adding near the end of the wash with insufficient water for dilution.  I don't have all of the facts (and she wanted to withhold pictures due to privacy concerns) but it sounds like she did not perform a thorough after rinse either (which is important regardless of what you use).  Ultimately some of the CLR was left on the diaper and it made it to her baby.  I believe this a result of the information she read somewhere on the internet not coming complete with warnings about what can go wrong (and is why I decided to add case studies). 

How to Prevent?: The easy and obvious solution most would point out is don't use CLR, the risks are just too high when errors are made.  I would like to stress, however, that this can happen with any stripping chemical I know of if completely misused, so we can all still learn from it.  Most certainly the consequence of using the wrong process was aggravated by starting with the notably stronger formula of CLR.  Would it have happened in this case if she was using RLR or Vinegar and did it wrong?  It's hard to say, but likely the result would not have been as bad.  Educate yourself on every product you use with anything to do with your baby, never assume something is safe just because it is recommended on the internet or by a friend.

Case 3:

Method: The dreaded high efficiency front load washer

Result: Non-stop problems with bad smells, excess soap, and diaper performance

What Went Wrong?:  High efficiency is awesome, in fact laundry is one of the largest water users in our lives so it is about time that more efficient washing machines came around.  The issue specifically for diapers is that they use MUCH less water during all stages of the wash, and diapers have this tendency to absorb water really well.  What this means is that all of the issues with mineralization and soap contamination just get worse.  Steam cycles can be great for reducing bacteria, but the high temperatures can destroy the fabrics. 

How to Prevent?:  If you understand that most of these issues are because of the lower water use, you can solve each one individually.  In HE machines it is particularly important to stay away from 'boutique' brand soaps since these need much more water to rinse away.  In general, regardless of what you use, you must use a bit less soap then in a traditional machine.  Some people have recommended adding a half bucket of water in between cycles  to make sure the diapers are well soaked especially with a heavy towel to keep more water in the machine at the end of each cycle.  You may end up having to add extra an extra rinse cycle if you see evidence of too much soap.