Cloth Diaper Laundry Do’s and Don’ts – Part 2: Whitener’s

Cloth Diaper Challenge

Day 16: What about alternate whiteners? 

Lemon juice, baking soda, Borax, hydrogen peroxide, and all those other more natural alternates.  Are they safe to use on cloth diapers? 

For starters let’s ask ourselves why we want to use whiteners.  Is it for stains, stinkies, or to kill germs? 

Germs:  Hot water can kill all of the germs and bacteria that may be present in your diapers.  Most hot water heaters are set at 120 degrees (F) and that temperature will kill anything that may be living including yeast.  So essentially bleach and bleach alternatives aren’t necessary for killing germs are they? 

Stains:  Why are you having stains I wonder.  I’m going to give you my one tip that has kept our stash (almost) stain free – I rinse all my poopy diapers in the sink as soon as I can after they happen.  I have a diaper sprayer, I use flushable inserts (almost all the time), and I still rinse as much of the poop off the diaper as soon as I can.  This isn’t something that I did in the early days and I struggled with stains A LOT. 

Stinkies:  Again, I know you are going to think I’m crazy but I TRY to rinse my diapers (even the wet ones) in the sink before they go into the wet bag or pail.  No, it doesn’t always happen but I do make an effort to rinse them.  This will remove most of the urine odor before I even wash them making the wash cycles even more effective. 

But I don’t have time to do that for every single diaper I change!!  I’m a full time working mom and just as busy as the next mom.  But I haven’t had nearly as many problems with stains and stinkies since we’ve tried to pre-rinse our diapers.  Daddy will leave the dirties for me if I’m away and day care will send home the dirties (and sometimes I forget to rinse them) but I still try to pre-rinse the poopies before I wash them.  In my stash right now I only have 2 diapers that are really heavily stained and probably 2-3 additional diapers that have small stains on them.  I couldn’t even tell you why they are stained but I can’t get them out.

Here are some alternate whiteners, directions for using, and a few warnings:

Lemon juice – Option 1) add 1/2 cup lemon juice to your wash cycle, or Option 2) apply lemon juice directly to stain and lay in the sun.  I would advise that you run an extra rinse cycle to remove any remaining lemon juice although it shouldn’t be necessary.  The citric acid may irritate the most sensitive bums is you don’t get it all rinsed out.  (I’ve used lemon juice a few times but only had moderate success.)

Baking soda – Because of it’s ability to neutralize odors and stains baking soda can be added to the wash cycle (just a small scoop 1-2 TBS).  Again, adding extra ingredients to your wash cycle may increase your chances of having extra build up in your diapers which may lead to leaking.  Companies like bumGenius actually warn against adding baking soda and it may void your warranty.  While I’ve never used baking soda in my laundry I have used Arm & Hammer detergent which does have small amounts of baking soda in the ingredients.  (I’ve never used traditional baking soda but have used Arm & Hammer detergents on somewhat regular occasions with moderate success.)

Vinegar - While many swear by the bleaching effects of vinegar use it with caution.  Most of us have hard water and polyester fabrics (microfibers) in our diapers – both of which can cause odors to build up in your diapers when combined with vinegar.  Because of this warning I’ve never added vinegar to our laundry.  If you are using natural fibers or have soft or neutral water quality your effects may be different.

Borax- Borax is actually sodium borate, a naturally occurring mineral that is mined in the US and China.  Beware though just because it’s natural doesn’t mean it’s non-toxic.  Borax can actually be very toxic if inhaled or ingested so use with caution.  Adding 1/2 cup of Borax to your laundry cycle can be a great whitening agent and is even found in some detergents like Planet (the one I use frequently).  You can use Borax as a pre-treatment and soak your diapers for about 30 minutes to help with the stain removal process.  Again, since Borax is powerful you may want to add an extra rinse cycle and/or only use on occasion to avoid any problems.  (I’ve used straight Borax a few times with moderate success and Borax is an ingredient in one of our regular detergents – Planet Ultra.)

Washing soda – Similar to baking soda but a little stronger washing soda should be used with caution.  While it can be effective on whitening and odor removal it can be very damaging to the fabrics and elastics over time.  (I’ve never tried washing soda personally) 

Hydrogen peroxide – A natural bleaching agent without the harmful effects to the environment (as compared to bleach).  Hydrogen peroxide works as an oxidizer; it creates oxygen bubbles that help to remove stubborn stains.  Use 1/2 cup of hydrogen peroxide in your wash cycle to remove stubborn stains.  Hydrogen peroxide is safe for use on colored fabrics as well as whites (unlike bleach).  Sometimes you can find large quantities of hydrogen peroxide in the laundry aisle marketed as a color safe bleach alternative – just look in the ingredients.  (I’ve actually had really good experiences with hydrogen peroxide in the early days – I haven’t had too many stains lately so I haven’t used it in over a year.  Maybe it’s time to pull it back out and try it on those stubborn stains I have in my stash again.)

Oxygenated whiteners (like OxiClean)-  The key ingredient in OxiClean is hydrogen peroxide.  Many people swear by the effects of OxiClean and I still haven’t tried it.  Maybe I’ll just have to make a trip to the store tomorrow before our next load of fluff is ready to be washed and test our the difference between plain hydrogen peroxide and OxiClean.  I haven’t heard any warnings or complications with using OxiClean. 

BacOut - BacOut is a stain and odor removing spray that actually contain live enzymes.  Again, if you read the Care Info by Rumparooz on how enzymes are needed to remove stains you’ll understand why people have success with BacOut.  I found BacOut at our local natural food store but actually purchased the wrong thing (I got a spray odor remover not the stain remover) and haven’t been back in a while.  Again…I guess this is a product I should maybe experiment with again on those stubborn stains.  I haven’t heard of any problems with using BacOut but since it is an enzyme I would recommend a second rinse cycle if you have a sensitive baby bum.  You’ll want to look for the Foaming Action BacOut Stain and Odor Eliminator. 

Sunlight – This is the one whitener that you won’t hear anyone complain about!  The power of the good ole’ sunlight is the worlds best bleaching agent ever!!  How can you harness the power of the sun?  Simple – place your wet diapers and inserts in the sun and allow them to dry.  In our early cloth diapering days we had lots of stains on our inserts (mostly from breastfeeding poops that we didn’t rinse out before washing) – the sun did a great job at lightening these stains but never fully removed the stains.  After months of sunning our diapers though you could barely see the stains.  How do we sun our diapers??  I’ve laid them on a hammock to dry and I’ve also hung them on our favorite IKEA accessory – the PRESSA (or I as I like to call it the Octopus hanger).  Others have used folding dryer racks, old fashioned clothing lines, and even simple hangers lined up along a balcony.  Afraid that it’s too cold to hang your diapers outside?  Never fear – lay them on the dashboard of your car or hang them near a window that gets a lot of sunlight – any amount of UV rays will help remove ugly stains from your diapers.  TIP: After a day in the sun your diapers may feel a little crunchy so place them back in the dryer for 5-10 minutes to refluff your stash.

Resources and links:
Washing soda vs Baking Soda:
Vinegar in cloth diapers:

My practical advice??  Pre-rinse as many of the stubborn stains as you can as soon as they happen.  This will avoid the need for whitening and bleaching alternatives and save you a LOT of stress in the long run.  If you do choose to use a whitener be sure to check with the manufacturers warranty information so that you don’t void your warranty on your fluff.  I really try to avoid playing with our wash routine too much because Lil’ B has a sensitive tushy.  If you are having problems with stains I would start with the easy whiteners that have the least amount of problems associated with them – sun and hydrogen peroxide/oxygenated whiteners seem to be the least controversial. 


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6 Responses to Cloth Diaper Laundry Do’s and Don’ts – Part 2: Whitener’s

  1. Thanks for the tips!! I really like the Pressa and great price, too!! Will have to make a stop at IKEA! :)

  2. Sarah Schulz says:

    I have used OxiClean for about 7 months and no problems! And my diapers look AWESOME. I got a used diaper in a trade and it came dingy and stained. After 2 washes with my OxiClean added it looked bright, stain-free and new! Which was good because I was sad to get a dingy diaper in a trade. And no stinkies ever!

  3. kari says:

    this is awesome!!!!! i’ve been looking for info like this that’s really broken down with facts. i keep getting opinions and no one seems to agree. now i can make my own choice! great info! well written! thanks!

  4. Susie says:

    I think I’ll try the Hydogen Peroxide if needed, but I also rinse my diapers before placing in a wet pail, then rince once more before washing.. sometimes I think that I’m crazy.. but I haven’t had any stains/smells, so I like to think it’s worth it. I probably won’t care so much about stains (on my gdiaper inserts) when I have 2 babies and LESS time, we’ll see! =)
    Thank you for all this info! I’m a cloth diaper amateur and all your blogs are very helpful!

  5. tamara Szogedi says:

    Several months ago you mentioned that you rinse your diapers and I thought, hmm….why not?
    Since then I’ve been rinsing out the wet diapers (usually just the inserts) and it has been such a help in getting rid of ammonia. We’ve since switched to an HE washer without a problem, and I think a huge part of the success we’ve had has been the rinsing. Is it a pain? Well, yes, somewhat. But to me it is worth the extra 10 or 15 minutes a day to have clean smelling diapers!

    • Calley says:

      Thanks for sharing Tamara – I’m so glad that this tip has helped you! I’ve had to start doing this regularly with our toddler now that she’s potty training. Our diapers tend to sit for a few days longer than I like and they STINK if I don’t rinse them first.

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