Updated on November 12, 2015
How to Safely Bleach Cloth Diapers
Yes, I said bleach. Yes, I used it in the same sentence as cloth diapers. It’s okay. Calm your fears. Bleach is not only safe to use on your diapers when it is used properly, but it can be an integral tool in your cloth diaper arsenal. The key to bleaching cloth diapers is to use the right kind of bleach, dilute it properly, and set a timer for the right length of time. The other important thing about bleaching diapers is to only use it when you actually need to use it. I don’t recommend using bleach with every wash cycle or even monthly, but when bleach is needed it works wonders. How do you know you actually need to bleach your cloth diapers? Let me walk you through it.
Bleaching cloth diapers is intended to disinfect them. It will kill off bacteria and will eliminate yeast that may be on the diaper. Though you don’t want to be bleaching your diapers willy nilly all the time, there are a handful of times when you absolutely do want to bleach your diapers.
1. When you’ve bought previously loved diapers. If you’ve scoured the buy/sell/trade groups on Facebook for a special limited edition print that was discontinued a year ago and you’ve finally scored it, you are going to want to bleach it before you put it on your baby’s bum. Why? Feces. That’s why. Look, we all hope that the person who owned that precious diaper before you had a stellar wash routine that followed the fundamentals, but even if they did, you still want to bleach that diaper. Remember that you’ve bought a poop catcher (perhaps a very expensive coveted poop catcher, but a poop catcher all the same) and you want to make sure you’ve properly disinfected it before putting it on your baby. Same goes for buying an entire stash of previously loved diapers (which can be an excellent way to get started with cloth diapers on a budget).
2. When your baby has a yeast rash. Some babies are more prone to yeast infections and the rashes that come with them. Yeast is a problem that can occur whether your baby is cloth diapered or disposable diapered. The difference here is that yeast can survive on your diapers through the wash cycle. When you put that diaper back on baby, you reintroduce the yeast creating a vicious circle of never ending yeast rashes. Once you’ve had the rash checked and cultured by a doctor and that doctor has confirmed that it is indeed yeast that you’re dealing with, you are going to need to bleach your cloth diaper stash and all your cloth wipes. You will also need to use disposable diapers during treatment, until the rash is cleared up completely, and then for an additional full week.
3. When you’ve got ammonia. Ammonia is just plain awful. I know, I’ve been there (this was before I learned what I know now about effective wash routines for cloth diapers). Although I do know of one way that you might be able to eliminate ammonia without bleaching (though it’s no guarantee), the surefire way to eliminate ammonia is to strip and then bleach. You’ll also need to tweak your wash routine so that the ammonia doesn’t come back.
Those are three occasions where you definitely want to bleach your diapers. Now, how can you bleach your cloth diapers safely*? Are you ready? Here we go! Remember to always wash your cloth diapers before you bleach.
Step One: Buy the right kind of bleach. Yes, there is more than one kind of bleach. Shocking, right? You want to purchase DISINFECTING bleach. Not all bleach disinfects. If the bottle of bleach says deodorizing, splashless, colour guard, or is scented, it’s not the right kind of bleach. You’re looking for the word “disinfecting/disinfectant” on the label and/or at least 5.25% sodium hypochlorite.
Step Two: Fill the a standard sized bath tub half full of cold water. Add 1/3 to 1/2 cup of disinfecting bleach and stir well.
Step Three: Add your diapers (covers as well as inserts/soakers) and cloth wipes if you need to disinfect those too. Stir.
Step Four: Soak for 30 minutes (set yourself a timer). If you notice that some of the diapers are sticking out of the water, lay a large white towel over the diapers. This will ensure that all the diapers are fully submerged.
Step Five: Rinse the diapers in hot water in the bath tub. Once rinsed, wash the diapers on hot with detergent two to three times before putting them on baby.
Note that if you have an HE washing machine (top load or front load), you cannot do a bleach soak of your diapers in the machine. Yes, some machines have a bleach dispenser, but you need to be able to control the dilution and the length of time the diapers are exposed to the bleach. The dispenser doesn’t allow you to do that with any degree of accuracy. You can do a bleach soak in an old school top load washing machine with the central agitator if you can stop it mid cycle and none of the water drains out when you do this. In that case, fill the drum to the largest load setting with cold, pause the cycle, and carry on from Step Two.
If you have iron rich water, you will want to do a test run before you use bleach on your diapers. Fill a clear glass with tap water and add a teaspoon or two of disinfecting bleach to it. If the water turns orange/brown or you notice red/orange sediment settling at the bottom of the glass after 10 minutes, DO NOT use bleach on your diapers. If the water doesn’t not turn orange/brown and there is no sediment, you can use bleach.
*Please note that bleaching may void the warranty of your cloth diapers. I happen to believe that the health of my baby's skin is far more important than a $25 warranty, but if you are concerned with warranties you should discuss bleaching with your diaper manufacturer. It's really key to dilute properly and soak the diapers for the right amount of time. In this way you will minimize any risk of damage. I have used this technique on many different brands and styles of diapers without any issues, but bleach at your own risk.