Stripper in Training (More Adventures in Cloth Diapering)

I always knew I’d be a stripper.  My friend Jamie and I used to joke about this in college. In fact, we ever so BRIEFLY adopted the nicknames Flip and Strip (I was Flip) amongst our little group of freshman year friends because we thought we were that cool.  Little did we know, that we would both grow up to be responsible Moms who cloth diaper. And with cloth diapering, it is only a matter of time before you take the plunge and perform your first act of STRIPPING!

DEFINITION: The definition of “stripping” diapers is to remove build-up- whether it be from detergent, diaper cream, fabric softener or hard water mineral deposits- in order to solve stink or absorbency issues. Stink can involve one of two things: 1) burn your nose ammonia stinkies (my personal nemesis) or 2) a barnyard or fishy smell.


Ammonia stinkies are the result of the breakdown of the urea in urine into ammonia. Actually, one of the main reasons we pee is to get rid of ammonia, which is toxic in large quantities. So it makes sense that anything urine-soaked will smell like ammonia after some time.  I typically wash on the 2nd or 3rd day and really notice a strong ammonia smell in my pail if I let it go to day #3.  Some folks experience the ammonia smell immediately after their child urinates in the cloth diaper or for diapers worn overnight. This is really a problem because it can lead to a chemically burned baby bottom.  In this case, the cause is usually detergent build-up. The solution- stripping with one of the methods mentioned below.

Barnyard stinkies, which I have been fortunately NOT to experience occurs when a diaper comes out of the wash looking clean but comes out of the dryer smelling fishy or like poop.  The cause is usually bacteria build-up from the diapers not getting clean enough. You are likely not using enough detergent to get the diapers clean or using the wrong wash cycle for your load . You want to make sure you use the highest water setting available and set it to really agitate those diapers.  It is also important to realize that no detergent will sanitize your diapers.  The manufacturers of my Bum Genius diapers recommend adding bleach 1x/month. In addition, I spray BioKleen bac out stain and odor eliminator on my poopy dipes before throwing them in the pail to combat the bacteria. Some people prefer to use biokleen in a prewash or presoak. Both work well.

Absorbency problems occur when buildup prevents the urine from absorbing through to the insert. Instead it is repelled and results in a dry insert and a wet baby. Not fun! Repelling often occurs from build up of non-cloth diaper approved diaper creams or detergents  (see list @ Pin Stripes and Polka Dots) or fabric softener build up. It is a no, no to use fabric softener on cloth diapers. I always used fabric softener in the wash cycle when I washed our clothes and a dryer sheet in the dryer when we dried them.  I have stopped both practices since cloth diapering as the residue in your washer and dryer can have a negative affect on your diapers.  The solution is one of the stripping methods listed below.


For all methods, start with clean diapers.

Hot Water Stripping

Solution for: detergent build-up

Instructions: This is perhaps the easiest method if it works for you. Turn up your hot water heater to the highest setting. Fill washing machine with hot, hot water. Add a pot of boiling water if need be. Run through wash cycle and follow with a warm rinse if that option is available on your washer. If there is detergent build-up, you will see suds during the wash and/or rinse cycle despite the fact that you added no detergent. Keep performing hot water rinses until suds are no longer visible in the final rinse cycle.

Blue Dawn Strip

Solution for: build-up of detergent, fabric softener or diaper cream

Instructions: Go to the store and find the original blue Dawn.  I thought this was an easy enough task until I saw a lot of blog comments that folks had to go to the Dollar store in order to obtain this.  Why was mine so readily available at HEB? Then, I looked more closely at my bottle and saw that it was ultra-concentrated. Could explain why it took so many rinses my first strip.  Now, I just use less, but if you can get your hands on the original scent, original concentration, it is best.

Method A: Fill washer to highest level w/ the hottest water you have. Add boiling water if need be. Add about a tablespoon of Blue Dawn. Keep running hot water washes or rinses if available until suds are no longer visible in the final rinse cycle. It took me 8 cycles my first strip. 8! Yikes! That is a lot of water.

Method B: Fill bathtub with diapers and hot, hot water. Add boiling water if need be. Let them soak until diapers are cool enough to handle then agitate them with a stick. Then grab a short bristled brush and scrub the inside of each pocket diaper.

I then take the microfiber inserts only and boil them in a pot of water. Yes, I later use this pot (cleaned of course) to cook pasta. A little disconcerting. Do not make the mistake of boiling your pocket diapers. It can cause irreparable damage to the PUL material. Our first strip, before I knew it was an approved method, my husband Dean recommended boiling the diapers. I thought this was genius. Fortunately, I googled it as he was adding inserts and dipes to the water and rescued the diapers before they melted. That is what we call a near miss. Phew! But kudos to my hubby for helping me. You will see lots of bubbles in your pot from the blue Dawn and any detergent build-up.  Then, throw everything back in the washer and perform hot water wash/rinses until suds are no longer visible in the final rinse cycle. It usually takes me only 2-3 cycles.

Calgon Strip

Solution for: mineral build up from hard water

Instructions: Calgon is a water softening agent. I have yet to test this method even though I think my main problem is mineral build up from our notoriously hard TX water. The reason- it is hard to find. Word on the street is that it is found in the laundry aisle next to the bleaches and stain eliminators. I have yet to find it in the Austin HEB, Target or Wal-Marts but will continue to be on the look out. Mineral build up can prevent even a good cloth diaper friendly detergent from rinsing clean and cause the above mentioned stink or absorbency issues.  To put the Calgon to the test, fill the washing machine to the highest water level with hot, hot water. Add Calgon. It seems the general rule of thumb is half the recommended amount for top loaders, 1/4 for front loaders. Keep running hot washes/rinses until the final rinse cycle is suds free. Some Moms use calgon occasionally in their wash as a preventative method.

RLR strip:

Solution for: mineral build up from hard water

Instructions: The process is the same as for the Calgon strip. Just follow the instructions on the RLR package. I have yet to test this method also, but it is on my to do list.

Fish Ammonia Neutralizer Soak:

Solution for: ammonia stinkies not responding to any of the above methods

Instructions: This is perhaps the strangest solution I have seen. I think I read all 35 pages of commentary on the Ammonia is Gone! post on Baby Center.  The chemistry is complex but there is some speculation that the combination of urea converting to ammonia and chlorine naturally occurring in most tap water is causing the vicious cycle of ammonia stinkies. And so when all stripping methods fail, perhaps only ammonia neutralizer (commonly used for this problem in fish tanks) can solve the problem. The brands tested by these ladies are Top Fin, Aqueon and For Dummies. The most popular method used is: perform at least a cold water wash to clean the diapers of any urine or poop. Add 15 mL of fish ammonia neutralizer to hot water wash (adjust according to how much water your washer uses on the highest level). Pause wash and let soak x 3 hrs. Let wash continue with extra rinse. Follow up with a hot water wash with detergent and an extra rinse. You can add as many extra rinses as you need to make yourself confident that all fish ammonia neutralizer has been rinsed out.

The majority of the ladies reported amazing results. It completely solved their ammonia problem. There is some concern about formaldehyde being a byproduct of the fish ammonia neutralizer. This was a big concern for me, but apparently it is only trace amounts similar to what is found in apple juice and many other common household products. I’ll let you be the deciding factor on this one. I had mixed results. First, I purchased the brand Microbe Lift, which seemed the least harmful. It even said that fish in a tank treated with it could be consumed immediately. Sounded pretty safe.  Well, it did not work. Still had ammonia stinkies in pail on wash day. Then, I purchased the Top Fin brand and tried again. The Top Fin brand is smelly whereas the Microbe Lift was completely odorless. Same results. Not sure what I am doing wrong, but it is not the miracle fix I was hoping for. The general consensus among the many ladies it did work for is that it generally lasts for 1 month. The effective time period may be extended by spraying urine soaked diapers with a solution of mainly water and about a teaspoon of ammonia remover before you throw them into the pail. I really recommend reading the blog post if this interests you.

My Experience

My First Strip: Absorbency issues???

I performed my first strip after I had been cloth diapering for six months. I thought I was experiencing absorbency issues because Juliette’s onesies were getting wet around the legs. I was having zero stink issues at this point even with washing on day 3. I did a Blue Dawn strip and my diapers seemed cleaner than they’d ever been but still had a leaking issue. Turns out I did not really have an absorbency issue. True repelling is pretty rare if you are using an approved detergent and diaper cream. Most of the time the issue is one of the following:

1) not enough absorbency: in other words the baby is wetting more than the insert can handle. This was our problem. Bum Genius diapers come with a newborn insert and a toddler insert.  We had already switched from newborn to toddler insert by the time we noticed the problem (8 mo old), but her inserts were always soaking wet and pee would leak out the legs. We ended up using the toddler insert together with the newborn insert as a doubler. Problem solved. DD does now sport a J Lo booty but if bulk is troublesome, you can look into other options for doubling such as hemp inserts. We use a sposie overnight but I have heard that wool is great option for overnight.

2) too much bulk: sometimes when you overstuff a pocket diaper, they get overstretched and it creates gaps either around the legs or at the back. These are prime sources of leaking.

3) improper fit: one size diapers need to be adjusted as baby grows or depending on how many layers of absorbency there are. We have found through trial and error that too short a rise causes leaking. Also snapping the diaper too loosely will cause gaps around the legs- also a source of leaking.

4) not changing diaper often enough: sposies can handle A LOT of pee. The right material cloth diaper can begin to compete but once an insert is saturated, it needs to be changed. I typically change J every 2-3 hrs for urine soaked diapers, immediately for poop.

This is just my limited experience. For more information, check out If the Diaper Leaks on the Cloth Diaper Blog. What I do know is that with true repelling, your baby’s clothes will be soaked (not just a little wet around the legs) and when you remove the diaper, the insert will be fairly dry.

My subsequent strips: ammonia issues

At around 8 mo of cloth diapering, I started to get a burn your nose ammonia smell in my pail on day 3, which was wash day. This is my main problem- not an immediate ammonia smell when baby pees.  Very occasionally, if it has been a while since my last strip, I will smell ammonia on the diaper if I let a urine soaked one sit out on the changing table or in my wet bag  for several hours before spraying with Bac Out and tossing in my pail. But even though I only have a minor case of ammonia stinkies, I experienced several instances of a chemically burned baby bottom around the same time the stinkies started.  I think the real culprit has been tomato based foods that J has eaten, but I’m sure that build-up on her diapers is not helping. So I have been doing a Blue Dawn strip about 1x/month and have tried the fish ammonia neutralizer a few times.  In all cases, the diapers seem especially clean afterward and the ammonia smell is diminished (or at least not showing up until it is just about time to wash them) but not eliminated.  I am still looking to completely cure myself of the problem.  I have also tried switching from Charlies Soap to Country Save with no real change. I plan to try Calgon and RLR  and am not sure what to do if that does not work. I have less of a problem, and sometimes none at all, if I wash every other day, but then I am only washing 8-10 diapers and using an awful lot of water.  It is a minor problem, but I am on a mission.  And if you have ever had a baby with a chemically burned bum, it just brings tears to your eyes and you want to do anything to prevent it from ever happening again. I am interested in any solutions you guys have. Leave a comment if you have any good tips.