When and How to Strip Your Diapers

It can be frustrating to take extra steps in the care of cloth diapers.

Our clothes hardly ever require anything outside the normal detergent.

Cloth diapers, however, consist of several layers of fabric and are always being peed and pooped in.

How do you know if you need to strip your diapers and what exactly is stripping?

Stripping simply means removing the detergent, rash cream, ammonia crystals, minerals or other yuckies that have built up over months of using and washing your cloth diapers.

I say “simply” but there are times when this process is anything but simple.

How do you know if your cloth diapers need to be stripped?  If they smell like an animal died, ammonia that burns your nose hairs, leak suddenly and furiously or don’t appear clean through other signs then you should consider stripping.


If you have hard water (like me) RLR is my go-to option. RLR is designed to remove the hard water mineral buildup from diapers. (You know you have mineral buildup when a diaper leaks and you go to change it and it still has dry spots. If the whole insert is soaked that means you need more absorbency.)

What is RLR?

RLR is a laundry additive, not a detergent.  It is phosphate and perfume free and helps to bind to the buildup in your diapers (minerals, detergent or ammonia gunk) and strip them.  After using RLR you will notice your cloth diapers are remarkably different, mostly in the odor department.

But, what IS RLR Laundry Treatment?  What’s it made of?

Well, call me sheltered or naive, but I had NO IDEA that RLR is mostly washing soda. Shocking, I know.

RLR is not just washing soda.  There are other additives that cause it to suds heavily.

What is washing soda?  Washing soda is sodium carbonate.  What is sodium carbonate?


One packet of RLR is sufficient to do a large load. If you are doing more use more RLR. I personally soak overnight because it is just easier. But if you are doing this during the day, soak for a minimum of 6 hours.

If you have a top loading washing machine soaking can be done by filling the basin and stopping it.  This makes it easy to proceed into the washing cycle when the soak is done.

If you have a front loading machine the bathtub (or a bucket) is where you can soak your diapers. Just cover clean diapers with HOT water and add packet of RLR. Stir around to distribute powder. Once you have your diapers rinsed out after the soak. You can either wring out by hand or transfer to a bucket. Then take everything back to your washer.

Run them through a normal cycle with your detergent (use a smaller amount than you would normally use on your cloth as these are already clean. If you use too much you will have suds issues).  I suggest using hot water for this cycle.  If it’s still really soapy looking or feeling after the wash you can do one more hot rinse.

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About Autumn Beck

Autumn is a wife, mother, homeschool teacher, friend and most important a follower of Christ. She began cloth diapering in 2005 and has experienced many joys and trials throughout the years. You can read more from Autumn over at https://www.facebook.com/beautifullyblessedlashes.

View all posts by Autumn Beck

17 Responses to “When and How to Strip Your Diapers”

  1. Imani William Says:

    Hi, I am new to cloth and geared up to wash my preloved diapers. Most are in excellent almost new condition, but one lot is…. Not so much. Unfortunately, I bought a lot that was in less than ideal shape and learned the lesson of being assertive about smelling and scutinizing. You just have to risk offending for the sake of walking away feeling good about your purchase…. So my question is, what happens after your tutorial ends? Are they ready to dry after the soak and regular hot cycle with reduced amount of detergent?


    • Jennifer Reinhardt Says:

      I personally run them through a hot wash with a little detergent. After that you should be able to dry and use…hopefully :)


  2. Amy-Beth Says:

    Does the “add more detergent and rinse with Hot” work with synthetic fiber diaper s? I have a stash of Bum Genius Freetimes that I stopped using months ago because I couldn’t get rid of my daughter’s diaper rash. Among other things I thought the synthetic fiber was partly to blame. However, our washer recently broke and when they opened it to fix out, I was disgusted at the filth inside. we had just moved into the home before my daughter was born and although I cleaned the washer when we moved in, what was lurking in the spots I could not see was appalling! Well we have a brand new top load Whirlpool Cabrio now and her rash has been gone ever since! I’d like to give that big expensive stash of Bum Genius diapers another shot. TIA


  3. Jodi Armstrong Says:

    This is a great article. SOmeone told me I could help my ammonia issue w. bleach. we didn’t have RLR on hand & i really needed to strip them so we used bleach & that seemed to help. can you chime in- does bleach sort of do the same thing as RLR? If it doesn’t last i’ll definitively be buying RLR & testing it out. In that case- do you also soak the covers & wetbags & everything in RLR or just the prefolds/inserts???
    Thanks so much- appreciated!!


    • Jennifer Reinhardt Says:

      Hey Jodi, Nope bleach and RLR are not at all alike. They aren’t meant to do the same things. RLR is much safer to use than bleach. I honestly get the RLR and soak overnight first and see if that does a better job.


      • Jodi Armstrong Says:

        Thanks. do you soak your covers also? or they probably don’t have a buildup right? so just soak prefolds/inserts.
        I will have to buy some RLR.


        • Jennifer Reinhardt Says:

          Jodi, You can soak covers in RLR. It’s totally safe as the RLR is just removing built up detergent and minerals. But it’s not really necessary. The RLR soak just might ‘brighten’ the covers a little.


  4. Bree Says:

    If I have hard water but a water softner (salt is automatically added to water) is vinegar ok for stripping?


    • Jennifer Reinhardt Says:

      I would try RLR, oxiclean or just a bunch of hot rinses first. If that doesn’t work then you might try the vinegar.


  5. Kristy Beaman Says:

    Hi Autumn,
    I have a question about stripping. I’m pretty sure I need to strip my diapers. But let me give you the low down. I have flip stay dry and thirsties stay dry inserts that I use with a lot of different covers and pockets. My daughter is now 15 months old and I have been using them for about 12 months of that time. My wash routine is this soak overnight in hot (sometimes my hotwater tank does not get as hot as I’d like and its more hotish warm just depends on the day. I could get it hotter but its a process) Then wash hot/cold no soap, wash hot/cold charleys soap, wash hot/cold no soap, wash hot/cold charleys soap, wash hot/cold no soap. I have tried grovia soap, ecos, econuts, and ecosprout all with the same results.

    Now I don’t have a problem with leaks, and they do smell clean…not quite like fresh towels, but they do smell clean..they don’t stink…put it that way…but after she pees in them they REEK! She will get one little blister on her bottom then it will go away then she will get another and now her bottom is just looking dry :( She does get rashes to certain foods so I’m not real sure if it is a diaper problem or food related? What are your thoughts on a better strip? or Just a better washing routine.

    It makes cloth diaper not so enjoyable anymore because I feel like they are causing her problems and stink!
    Thanks so much any advice is GREATLY appreciated! I don’t have many people I know that cloth


    • Dany Says:

      You definitely need to strip your diapers. You probably have soap buildup. Check for suds after you wash. If you still have suds you are not rinsing enough. If you have hard water you may not be using the right detergent. I was having the same problem. I have hard water, I tested it with a test strip. I fall right in the middle of super hard water and soft water. My wash routin is cold rinse no soap, hot wash with rocking green classic, extra rinse. Once a month I soak my dipes with funk rock and my stinky diaper issues are now gone.


  6. Jessica Says:

    Hi, I’m new to all this and have no idea how much vinegar would be needed to soak diapers. I have around 12 prefolds and a bunch of inserts for AI2s (Ragababe and Thirsties). I also have a front-loader so i’d have to soak in the tub. Any guidance would be greatly appreciated!


    • Jennifer Reinhardt Says:

      Hi Jessica, I have hard water so I haven’t soaked with vinegar. That is a no no with hard water! This is from Autumn’s blog post on how she used vinegar to strip in her top loader so maybe you could use that as an approximation for what to use in your tub:

      “When I lived in far north Dallas I would do a vinegar soak about once a quarter. I had a top loader at the time and soft water. By adding 3 cups of vinegar to a full basin and soaking the cloth diapers for a few hours I would eliminate the severe ammonia buildup.

      A 1/2 to 1 cup of vinegar can also be added to the final rinse of the stripping process to ensure all the soap is released.

      However, vinegar can react with the minerals in hard water and cause yellowing and stink issues. If you have been using vinegar and have hard water, stop using it, strip and see if that helps your problems.”

      I hope this helps. Let us know how it goes, Jenn


  7. Gretchen Says:

    I do know that using Dawn in your washing machine can void your warranty :/ not sure about using it as a soak though. Im getting ammonia issues ever now and then.

    When you say hot hot, what temp do you mean? We have an on demand heater set at 125 so I’m wondering I should turn it up just for the wash.


  8. Anastasia Says:

    We were having a lively discussion on our FB diaper group about the pros & cons of Dawn stripping in the washing machine to remove excess ointment. Apparently a. Most people use too much & b. It can RUIN the lubricant inside the machine! (strips it as well) We now only recommend Dawn AFTER the RLR/Calgon soak fails or a Rock the soak in hard rock & the a funk rock soak fails. And then we do Dawn afterwards in a sink or tub. Any thoughts?


    • Autumn Beck Says:

      I do not recommend using Dawn in your machine :/ Mainly for practical reasons…way too many rinses needed! If a diaper has an oily buildup then spot scrubbing with Dawn works great!


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