Monday, February 4, 2013

What is "stripping" cloth diapers?

"Stripping" cloth diapers, is certainly nothing to get excited over.  In fact, stripping is one of those dirty words in the cloth diapering community that typically indicates you have problem diapers on your hands.

What is stripping cloth diapers?

Stripping cloth diapers is a process intended to remove build-up from diapers.  Build-up can be caused by a variety of culprits: excessive detergent, minerals in your water, oils from baby wipes, and even natural oils from baby's skin.  By "stripping" the diapers, we remove build-up that can cause diapers to repel liquid or have a bad odor.  Don't feel bad, most newcomers to cloth diapering will have to strip their cloth diapers at one point or another.

When do you need to strip cloth diapers?

There are some tell tale signs that your cloth diapers have excessive build-up that needs to be removed:
  • Strong ammonia smell immediately after baby urinates (the smell may make your eyes burn)
  • Funky or unpleasant overall odor of the diapers
  • Diapers are developing a dingy gray color
  • Fleece lining of pocket diapers has a waxy feel to it
  • Diapers begin to repel liquid (liquid rolls off diaper instead of absorbing into it)
  • Sudden leaks from your diaper not explained by sizing issues, and when the diaper is nowhere near saturated

How often do you need to strip cloth diapers?

Depending on your water conditions or detergent choice, some parents may never need to strip their cloth diapers.  Other families that live in areas with very hard water may choose to strip their cloth diapers monthly as part of a "maintenance" routine.  Compared to normal laundering, stripping cloth diapers can be a more harsh method of getting diapers clean.  If you are finding that build-up, repelling and odor are a frequent occurrence, you should reassess your detergent selection.  Some cloth diaper detergent manufacturers make detergents specifically for certain types of water conditions (hard, or soft water), and these will greatly decrease the amount of build-up being deposited on your diapers.  If you aren't sure if your water is hard or soft, call your local utility company and ask.

How can you prevent having to strip cloth diapers?

Prevention of build-up is key in avoiding the hassle of stripping cloth diapers.  The best defense is to 1) know the type of water conditions at your house (again call your utility company), and 2) Select a type of detergent well-suited to your water conditions.  Too much, or too little detergent can also lead to build-up issues.  If you use too much detergent, extra detergent will re-deposit on diapers.  If you use too little, diapers may have a "wet dog" smell, and water minerals may be more likely to deposit on diapers.  You'll have to do some experimenting to determine what brand and type of detergent works best for your water conditions, and in what amount.

What types of diapers are most susceptible to build-up?

Synthetic fabrics are very susceptible to build-up (fleece, bamboo, microfiber, micro-fleece, etc).  Microfiber and bamboo are very good at "absorbing" liquids, and they are equally good at holding onto build-up and odor.  Fleece and micro-fleece is problematic because if a layer of build-up develops on these surfaces, moisture can not penetrate the material to reach absorbent inner layers of the diaper.  A build-up problem may go unnoticed in a cotton prefold, but will be blatantly obvious in a fleece-lined pocket diaper. 

My diapers have the above problems, how can I strip my cloth diapers?

Manufacturers are the best source of information about removing build-up from their diapers.  I'll also be focusing my next series of posts on four methods I have successfully used to remove build-up from cloth diapers.  Please check manufacturer recommended stripping methods first, as some companies recommend a different method or have a preferred method to maintain the integrity of their style of diaper.

Synthetic fabrics like fleece can experience more issues with build-up.  We often notice problems with fleece-lined pocket diapers before problems with prefolds because build-up on fleece prevents liquid from penetrating to the inner absorptive inserts.


  1. Thanks for this post. I am new to cloth diapering so it is good to know about stripping cloth diapers and the reasons behind it.

  2. Great article! I am just getting started. Cloth diapers have a big learning curve! I am glad to learn about this, because I am sure I will need to strop sooner or later.