How to Safely Bleach Cloth Diapers

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.

How To Safely Bleach Cloth Diapers

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.


52 Comments on “How to Safely Bleach Cloth Diapers

  1. Wow, great info! Especially the last tip about testing the water with bleach first. Thank you Steph!!

  2. So helpful, thanks! I also ready your article on stripping, and thinking I may need to do that with my daughter’s diapers.

    • If you’re dealing with stink, then a strip followed by a bleach will resolve it. To keep it from coming back, your wash routine likely needs a little tweaking. Have you read my post on the fundamentals of washing diapers? That might help!

      • Help needed please! If you do the test on your water and there is discoloration , is there a bleach alternative? Pretty sure we are dealing with a yeast related diaper rash situation but can’t use bleach in our water!

        • Hi Liss!

          For a bleach alternative, you have a couple options. If you have an HE machine with a sanitize cycle, you can use that cycle instead of bleaching. This isn’t something you want to do on a regular basis, but one time is fine.

          The other option is to order some Bummis sanitizer. You’d use 1 cup in the half full bath tub of cold water. It’ll take about 20 minutes rather than 30.

          Good luck and let me know if you need any other assistance. 🙂

          • Why don’t you want to use the sanitize cycle every time?

          • The sanitize cycle uses a built in heater in the machine to increase the water temperature and maintain that temperature for the duration of the wash cycle. Those high temperatures will wear out the elastics of cloth diapers much more quickly and (depending on the brand) may reduce the longevity of the PUL.

  3. Omg who knew? I honestly didn’t use cloth diapers. I was one of those moms who thought I was totally going to do it and then my duaghter was born and yeah….. Totally caved lol… I do think cloth diapers are the cutest things ever though! I always get excited when I have a friend that uses cloth diapers for her baby so I can buy some lol

  4. Awesome tips. I have some cloth diapers from my older child, and I’ll be using them soon on our daughter. I’m glad to know there is a way to safely bleach them. Whew!

  5. The only time I’ve seen people have issues is with certain cotton print fitted diapers that have faded. Otherwise, all my diapers have gone through a bleach soak as you’ve described a couple times, and come out as good as new!

  6. Pingback: Getting Rid of Yeast in Cloth Diapers - TheMonarchMommy

  7. I think I made a boo-boo. Out if habit, I just added the bleach to the bleach dispenser in my old-school top loader, let the washer fill and then added the diapersto soak. I only just realized that I have no idea at what point the bleach would be added to the wash. Should I have just put the bleach straight into the water instead of leaving it up to the machine?

    • Usually bleach is dispensed towards the end of the actual washing portion of the cycle. So if you filled the drum then stopped it so it would soak, there would be no bleach in it. I’d suggest you remove the diapers, let the cycle finish up (empty), then start again. Fill the drum to the largest setting, then when the water is done filling, stop the machine, pour the bleach into the drum, stir well, then put the diapers back in.

      • Ahhh, I figured something didn’t go right so I just set it all aside. I’ll start the soak again! Thanks so much.

        Going to have to tweak my wash routine to prevent having to do this again any time soon.

        • i’m late to this convo and just made the same whoops by adding bleach to the dispenser. i happen to have an he top loader and was able to catch when the bleach was added(30 min after it started).so right now i have the lid up and the water isn’t draining(yay).so i’m able to do the soak 🙂

          *do you think it’s okay to use a homemade laundry soap.4 ingredients……
          1.Baking Soda
          2.Washing Soda
          4.Soap flakes

          • I don’t recommend using Home made detergent. Soap flakes are not the same as detergent. Soap builds up on the diapers causing repelling, stink, and rashes. It also builds up in the machine and voids the warranty on it. I have a post about choosing a cloth diaper detergent!

  8. Thank you for this post. I followed your instructions do both stripping and beaching. Now I just need to nail down a wash routine.

  9. Am I reading into this correctly as you can do patterned and colored covers without fading/bleaching them out? I just want to make sure before I do this!

    • PUL is colour fast, so when properly diluted bleach should not discolour it. If they are fitted diapers or have cotton wrap around prints, they may fade a bit.

  10. Thanks for this! I followed your instructions and bleached my diapers yesterday. Worked great 🙂

  11. Hi! I am currently dealing with a yeast rash and I’m wondering if I need to bleach my wet bags along with my diapers? None of the posts I have read have mentioned wet bags specifically so I just want to be sure

  12. I accidentally used hot water to bleach soak :/ is that going to cause a problem?

    • It should be fine. The cold water is mainly about reducing the amount of bleach particles that get vaporized. It’s especially important in household where someone has lung/breathing issues.

  13. If you have iron rich water, what do you use in pace of bleach to kill the bacteria after stripping for amonia issues?

    • For areas with high iron content in the water, you can use Bummis brand Sanitizer in place of bleach. You’d use 1/2-3/4 of a cup in a half full tub, and soak for up to 30 minutes.

  14. Hey MM, I am stripping my diapers today following these instructions. I am currently washing after doing the bleach step. I just felt the water and realised that my washer even on a warm cycle is just tepid water……is this going to be a problem with cloth and also getting rid of the bleach? You helped me out through the fbook group with a wash cycle based on warm water but now i am wondering if my warm water is still going to be too cold…Thanks so much

    • Hi Cleo!
      If you’re using a mainstream detergent, it’s fine to wash on warm or cold for the main cycle. It only must be hot if you’re using a plant based detergent. As long as you’re washing 2-3 times with detergent after bleaching, the bleach will be washed away. If you notice that the rinse part of your wash cycle is hot, then you’ve likely got the hot and cold hoses on backwards at the back of the washing machine. This is a really easy fix, if that’s the case. Simply switch them at the back of the machine! Hope that helps!

  15. Hi!
    I’ve followed your instructions but the diapers and liners still smell a bit like bleach (mind you, it’s better than the poop smell!). Did I put too much bleach in, or do I just need to wash them a few more times?

    • Hi Kate,

      The bleach smell can linger. If they’ve been washed three times in hot water with detergent, they’re fine to go on the bum. The bleach smell will go away over time.

  16. I’m having a problem finding a disinfecting Bleach. Does it have another name or is there something special I look for? Because none of them say disinfecting and I’m not seeing the 5.25% on the label either :/

    • Hi Kristen,

      Not all stores carry disinfecting bleach. Sometimes you have to try a few stores. If you’re in Canada, Sobeys, Safeway, and Superstore should all carry Clorox Disinfecting bleach. If you’re in the US, Clorox Original bleach is disinfecting. Note that Clorox Original in Canada is NOT disinfecting.

  17. Hello, I followed all directions and then my husband put the diapers in a warm wash after rinsing them in hot water. I put them in a hot wash immediately after and am washing them in hot three more times. Will that be enough to deactivate the bleach?

  18. Just about to start a bleach soak for my cloth diapers. Would you recommend drying the diapers in between the 3 washes or is it ok to just run 3 hot wash cycles back to back?

    • Yes. Charcoal inserts are just bamboo with microfibre in between the outer layers. The colour may fade, but it shouldn’t damage the material if the bleach is properly diluted and soaked for the correct amount of time.

  19. I am dealing with yeast infection. Can I do the bleach soak for hemp inserts? the label does say no bleach…

    • Yes, you can use disinfecting bleach on hemp inserts when you’re dealing with yeast. It may fade/brighten the natural colour of the hemp, but it is the most effective way to eliminate yeast.

  20. Hello!

    I recently bleached my diapers but forgot to bleach my wet bags. I am now worried that if I put my diapers in the wet bags they will begin to smell again and all my work will be for nothing… Do you think it’s worth doing a small bleach of my wet bags as well (oh and the one diaper that I forgot to add…)

    Thank you!

    • If you were bleaching due to stink, did you strip first and then bleach? There’s no need to strip or bleach wet bags if stink is the issue. 🙂

  21. I stupidly used neat bleach to treat some very stubborn stains (just bamboo liners). They’re washing in the machine now, but I’m worried that I can never trust them to go next to the baby’s skin again! Would you trust them, and how many washes would it take before you were sure?

  22. I bought lots of used diapers from someone. Obviously they have already been washed. Do you mean that the the diapers should be freshly washed and wet before putting into the bleach water OR just as long as they are clean?


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