I've been using cloth diapers for more than 2 years and I love the convenience, savings, and Eco-friendly benefits. But after 2 years of regular daily use, our diaper inserts were looking (and smelling) a bit rank. I've heard the smell referred to as a "rotting turnip smell". I regularly strip our cloth diaper inserts using an ammonia bouncer, but what do I do when that isn't good enough? I put some elbow grease into the problem and came up with a cloth diaper deep cleaning process that made our cloth diaper inserts practically good as new!
For this cloth diaper deep cleaning process, you'll need a sturdy brush and original blue Dawn dish soap. I know Dawn is good for removing grease but it also works very well on diaper stains and removing diaper cream residue. Diaper cream isn't recommended for use with cloth diapers, but sometimes I've had to use it (and have paid the consequences with crusty buildup).
When cleaning cloth diapers, first soak the inserts in warm water and a squirt of blue Dawn dish soap. This will allow you to see the stains more clearly and provide a moist base for scrubbing out those stains. Then apply Dawn dish soap directly onto the inserts and scrub using a sturdy cleaning brush. My brush had a flat edge on the top, which was convenient for heavily scrubbing stains. To clean your cloth diapers, concentrate primarily on each stain first, moving to the edges of the insert and repeating the process on the other side.
Once the insert is thoroughly scrubbed, fully rinse the insert with warm water, wringing it out and re-rinsing 3 to 4 times. For the next step, I applied a thin spray of 50% bleach and 50% water. You may be hesitant to use bleach on your diaper inserts, but my deep cleaning process was a desperate attempt to breathe new life into our cloth diaper inserts. I didn't see any negative affects happen from using bleach — and the inserts whitened wonderfully! In a safe area like a ceramic sink, spray each insert with the 50% bleach solution and leave them to sit undisturbed for about 15 minutes.
For inserts with cloth diaper cream buildup, focus on scrubbing the area with blue Dawn dish soap. It may take several scrubbing sessions but I was able to remove the majority of the crusty diaper cream buildup.
After lots of scrubbing and rinsing, these inserts were practically stain-free and most of the diaper cream buildup was gone. I was tempted to do some more aesthetic "spot cleaning" but realized my baby would be wearing these the next day, so I didn't need to perfect them. As a finishing touch, I sprayed these with a light layer of 50% bleach and 50% water, let them sit, and gave them several thorough rinses.
It's important to fully rinse your inserts to wash out the bleach as well as the blue Dawn dish soap, which suds a lot and can create problems in a washing machine. Once your cloth diaper inserts are spotless and fully rinsed, give them a once-over soaking session using an ammonia stripping solution.
Pile all the cleaned inserts (and covers which needed minimal cleaning) in a container where you can soak them for 30 minutes to 1 hour.
For the diaper stripping process, I used Rockin Green Funk Rock, an all-natural ammonia bouncer. Rockin Green calls for 4 tablespoons of product for soaking up to 20 diapers. Add the product to a sink or pail full of warm water and allow the diaper inserts and covers to soak for 30 minutes to 1 hour.
Rockin Green makes cleaning cloth diapers easy!
After soaking, carry the cloth diapers to the clothes washer and wash them in a warm pre-wash, followed by a warm regular wash cycle with detergent. I used my homemade laundry detergent, which produces amazingly fresh results and it smells so good because it's infused with peppermint soap.
Dry the cloth diaper covers and inserts as you normally would. Once dried, my inserts came out sparkling white and shockingly powder fresh! I don't know what I was expecting, but they smell practically as good as new. A few spots remain, but nothing like the stained mess they were and all the cloth diaper cream buildup is gone.
I recommend doing this process for deep cleaning cloth diapers at least once a year. It does require a time investment, especially if you have a lot of cloth diapers to clean, but the results I achieved significantly impacted the lifespan of my cloth diapers. I'll definitely do this again to create a clean slate when passing on diapers to our next child.
If you try this deep cleaning process or some form of it, let me know how it works for you!
If you have any wisdom of your own on this topic, I'd love to hear your thoughts shared in the comments. Happy cloth diapering!