10 Things You Should NEVER Ever Do to Cloth Diapers


Let’s call these cloth diaper troubleshooting fads and really bad ideas!  When you run across a problem you seek advice on the Internet and not all of the advice you find is sound.  Almost every day I hear or see someone trying to ‘fix’ their diapers using some crazy off the wall idea and I just stare at my computer wondering where these ideas come from.

Now, before you throw stones at me in the comments I want to let you know that I completely understand how desperate a mom can be to find a solution to help solve their problems.  If your baby has a diaper rash, burns, or your diapers stink like a cat litter box…I get it!  There are really easy ways to solve these problems without resorting to voo doo.  I promise if you keep your wash routine simple and seek professional advice (from reliable retailers, manufacturers, experienced bloggers, cloth diaper experts, moms who have used diapers for years, etc) that you’ll find the solution is actually pretty simple.  I’ll leave a list of links at the bottom of this post to help you find a solution.

10 Things You Should NEVER Do To a Cloth Diaper

Here are just a few things that I would NEVER ever do to cloth diapers!!

  1. Boil microfiber, snaps, PUL, or elastic.  Exposing your diaper covers, shells, and pockets to this high of heat can permanently damage them.  Microfiber will melt, snaps will break, PUL will crack, and elastic will become weak.  Many parents choose to boil flats and prefolds to prep them quickly.  While this is acceptable in most cases, please know that it’s just as easy to prep them in the washing machine.  I have never put my diapers (new or used) in a pot on my stove top.  I have to cook with these pots and I personally do not want my diapers in the same pot I cook in.
  2. Put your diapers in the microwave.  This one was new to me as of this morning (and what sparked this post).  The question was asked “can I microwave my diapers to disinfect them and how do I do that?”  Again, there are much safer methods to disinfect your diapers.  I would NEVER put my diapers in a microwave (where my food goes that I feed my family) for multiple reasons.  Personally – I don’t want to ruin my diapers, my microwave, or burn down my house.
  3. Use Cascade to strip your diapers.  Yes, Cascade, as in the dish detergent!  This is one of the most recent cloth diaper fads.  The claim is that Cascade is the same as RLR (which is safe to use on most cloth diapers to remove mineral buildup) and you can soak your diapers in a Cascade bath to strip them.  Personally, since Cascade is made to clean your dishes, it’s not proven to be safe for your child and certainly not approved by ANY cloth diaper manufacturer for use on their products.  Let’s keep the Cascade where it belongs – in the dishwasher!  There are safer and more effective ways to strip your diapers.
  4. Use bleach undiluted on your diapers.  Bleach is considered safe to use on most brands and styles of cloth diapers…diluted!  Bleach is strong and will deteriorate many fabrics if exposed to the fibers undiluted, for extended periods of time, or regular exposure.  Just think about what bleach can do to your favorite tshirt or pair of jeans!!  If you plan on using bleach to disinfect PLEASE DILUTE IT!!  Follow the manufacturers’ recommendations because every fabric reacts differently to bleach.  Natural fibers especially will react quicker to bleach and will literally eat holes in the fabric.
  5. Use the Sanitize cycle on your HE machine.  This cycle can be VERY tempting if you’re trying to get really hot water.  Manufacturers warn against using this cycle because your washing machine actually heats the water hotter than it is in your hot water heater (usually set somewhere around 100-140F).  Temperatures this high can damage your PUL, elastic, snaps or microfiber and will prematurely wear out your diapers.
  6. Put your diapers in the dishwasher.  This one I haven’t heard in a while but there was a time when parents were putting diapers in their dishwasher to strip and sanitize them.  For starters, I’m not putting diapers (clean or dirty) where I wash the dishes I eat off of.  Secondly, manufacturers would NEVER recommend this on their products.  Finally, it’s actually very dangerous and could cause a fire to start in your home.
  7. Use fabric softener or detergents containing fabric softener.  This one has been known to happen both on accident and on purpose.  A loving family member decides to do your diaper laundry and uses fabric softener just like when washing towels or regular clothing.  Fabric softener may also be an ingredient in some laundry detergents.  The reason you don’t want to use fabric softener on your diapers is because they clog the fibers of your fabrics and will prevent them from being absorbent.  Absorbency is actually a big part of how diapers work and coating them with fabric softener will make the water bead up and roll off the diapers (causing leaks).
  8. Use anything for fish tanks to fix ammonia in your diapers.  I know ammonia sounds like a big problem, but it really shouldn’t be.  If you have a good wash routine and are using the right amount of detergent you shouldn’t ever have ammonia problems (that cause rashes).  Keep in mind we are dealing with pee – urine naturally contains urea which turns into ammonia.  If your baby is older, dehydrated, sick, or sitting in a diaper for more than a few hours – the pee will STINK!  There are no hidden chemicals in cloth diapers that prevent them from stinking.  If you really do have ammonia buildup that is causing a rash then you need to address that – but not with a fish tank product made for fish!  1) Not approved for babies!  2) Not approved for diapers!  3) It’s for FISH!
  9. Use diaper creams that are thick, white, and pasty.  There are diaper creams that are safer to use with cloth diapers but those thick, white, pasty diaper creams are no good for cloth diapers.  They will coat the fabric and will not wash off of your diapers.
  10. Skip the detergent and wash in just water.  Detergent is a key ingredient in getting your diapers clean – use it!  The detergent combined with hot water are what removes the urine and fecal matter from the diapers.  They work together.  If you remove the detergent and just use water, you are just rinsing your diapers – not cleaning them.

Now, I know I didn’t got into much detail about the safe, approved methods for your cloth diapers yet.  You first need to determine what the real problem is before you can diagnose it.  Then you need to check the manufacturers recommendations and remember that all fabrics should not be treated equally.  Below are just a few of my favorite troubleshooting articles from trusted experts in the cloth diaper industry.

For diaper rashes:  Before you blame your cloth diapers, the detergent, or your laundry routine remember that your baby can get diaper rashes from teething, illness, medication, foods, and a number of other sources.  Diaper Shops has a great article on Diaper Rashes and Cloth Diapers that will help you diagnose the rash and treat it properly.  Remember to seek medical advice if the rash is bleeding, or persistent.

For stinky diapers:  What do your diapers smell like?  Ammonia?  Barnyard?  Wet skunk?  When do they stink? After they are dirty or when they are clean?  Remember what I said above – pee and poop STINK!  There are times when the smell is an indication that something is wrong with your diapers and they are not getting clean enough.  To help diagnose the stinks refer to the Cloth 101 section on Kelly’s Closet, My Diapers are Horribly Stinky!!  There are a few links off that page that tells you how to strip your diapers and how to manage hard water buildup that can lead to stink issues.

For leaky diapers:  There are a few reasons why your diapers may be leaking.  You may not have enough absorbency, the diaper may be full and ready to be changed, they may not fit your child properly, you may have mineral/detergent build up, or you may have buildup from diaper creams or fabric softeners.  To help fix these problems read the Kelly’s Closet article on My Diapers are Leaking!

Keep your wash routine simple!  By adding too many ingredients, trying too many things at once, and switching routines regularly you may actually be making the problem worse.  I always recommend trying one thing at a time until you figure out what’s working.  Voo doo is not required!

The ideal wash routine should be:

  • 1 short cycle (rinse cycle) on cool or warm without detergent.
  • 1 long, heavy duty cycle (wash cycle) on hot with detergent.
  • 1 short cycle (rinse cycle) without detergent.
  • Low/med heat in the drier or air dry.

How much detergent?  This really varies depending on your washing machine, water supply, water hardness, volume in your washing machine, etc.  Don’t be afraid to use detergent – even a little more than recommended – if you aren’t getting the diapers clean enough.

When in doubt – ask a professional!  Contact your favorite retailer or manufacturer and ask for their help.  Bloggers and moms can help too but PLEASE make sure you can trust them and they are knowledgeable about what advice they are giving you.  If they start to tell you to do any of the above – go find another resource for advice!!  Your baby and your diapers deserve to be treated with TLC and not used as a science experiment.

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  1. Catherine says

    You have a typo:
    “Personally, since Cascade is made to clean your diapers, . . . ”
    I think you meant to put “dishes” and not “diapers”.

    Thank you for this article :)

  2. Stefany says

    Thanks for this artice! Although, I have to say that now i’m a little discouraged. I’ve been cloth diapering for over a year and have been running into so many issues and in the last 3 months I have finally been able to get clean diapers; but this using the sanitizing cycle. So now I’m not sure what to do. *sigh*

    • Sheli Walters says

      The sanitizing cycle (and boiling in a separate pot you don’t cook in) is fine for all natural cloth diapers – like cotton or hemp prefolds. It just is not good for the elastics, snaps, PULs, etc on AIOs, pockets and covers.

  3. Chabree says

    Phew! I was worried I’ve been messing stuff up but it can happily say I’ve done none of these things. Also, funny that you use towels as an example of normal fabric softener use…I skip it on those for the same reason-to keep them absorbing!! :)

  4. says

    What a great list. I knew a few of these but others are new to me. Is it just Cascade that’s bad or all dish detergents? I had heard of using Dawn original for stripping diapers. I have only ever done it once when I purchased used diapers but wondering if I should avoid it too.

  5. Amelia says

    Whenever I see articles like this, I click thinking “I’m going to disagree with everything they say” but i actually agree with every word!

    I tried telling people Cascade was bad and was mocked for it, but then turns out the person (or one of the people) who said it was the same as RLR just made that up.


  6. says

    WOW. I wonder where people come up with this. And why they would think, hmmm. My diapers aren’t clean, I’m going to MICROWAVE Them. What the what???

    I also just wanted to add to never ever underestimate the power of a good strong soak in the sun. The sun will bleach them out of stains, on a good hot day, in like 20 minutes!! It will also help a TON with odor, especially if you are hanging them on a clothesline where I nice fresh breeze can blow through the diaper. I used to slip one in my bag and just lay it beside my chair when we would hit the pool. By the time we were done, I’d have a white, fresh smelling diaper to slap on my little one. And these were handmedown, all in ones that were being used on at least child #5.
    Just. Wow.
    Denise @ Go Cheap or Go Home recently posted..February Happenings: It’s Time for a ProjectMy Profile

  7. Jessica Long says

    Hi Calley! We recently stared a group with the Rebecca Foundation called Cloth For All on Facebook and in getting our rules strait I looked up the ingredients of Cascade its not remotely similar to RLR. I cant imagine pouring strait bleach on my babies… I mean my Baby’s Diapers!

  8. Cass says

    I understand the sentiment in saying never use JUST water. But I do! I always have, and have never had a problem with stinky, leaky or non-absorbent nappies since. Prior to this I had all sorts of problems including rashes GALORE from my sensitive-skinned little ones. My wash cycle was always warm to hot (above body temp to release body oils from the fibres) & the sun is my sanitiser & stain remover. I know many others who use this system who have little ones with super-sensitive skin. If ammonia smell got too strong in my dry-pail, I added a scoop of bi-carb to the wash. Just a FYI.

  9. Alisha P says

    I was pleasantly pleased with this blog. Usually I disagree with most, if not all, of the “recommendations”. The one thing I will add is I have never prerinsed anything in my life. So I skip that step in my diaper routine. Also, know how much you’re washing. My only issue arose when I was washing too many diapers (about 30+). Once I went back down to washing about 15-20, my stink went away. Also, I have to wash on normal because the heavy duty setting adds too much water and it wasn’t really agitating my diapers. So I do cotton/heavily soiled/high spin and that seems to be doing the job perfectly. I noticed my fitteds were starting to fade so I switched to cold.

    Do NOT add Dawn to your washer. Doing so might actually break your washer since it’s greased on the inside to keep the parts moving the way they should.

    If you need to bleach, dilute the water first. I filled up my tub with cold water and added 3/4 cup of bleach. Swirled it around to make me feel better. Then I tested one of my wipes in the water before adding my diapers. That was a few months ago, when my problems arose.

    • says

      Jennifer – I’ve heard of (and used) essential oils for natural fragrances but never heard of using them for fabric softeners. Are you mixing them with anything or using them alone? A few drops on a wool dryer ball is safe to use with your cloth diapers. Just using sparingly – too much of them can cause repelling.
      Calley Pate recently posted..Carvel + Nutella = Heaven in a Cup (or Cone)My Profile

  10. Delna Shaw says

    Thanks for this article! It gives us very precise details on what one should not do while we are using cloth diapers.

  11. Kalmia says

    The fish tank made me LOL! I have fish, and I still never thought of using an aquarium product on my diapers! (Maybe just because I don’t have problems with ammonia buildup in my fish tank? I don’t know).

    But as far as the sanitize cycle on HE machines, my favorite CD manufacturer says their diapers are safe at that temperature, and actually recommends it (MotherEase). I know that most manufacturers do not recommend it, however.

  12. Heather says

    Like another momma, I often click on articles like this expecting to shake my head and disagree with at least one thing listed. Instead, I shook my head and laughed at the things people will try. I remember boiling prefolds and bamboo inserts (in a pan we didn’t use for anything else) to try and get rid of the smell from hard water build up trapping stink. My house smelled awefully, and it didnt really help. Sun bleaching did though!

    The cascade didn’t really surprise me…it is a good remedy for certain types of clothing stains so I wasn’t shocked to see it suggested for cloth diapers. However, knowing the types of stains that it is good for I would never ever want to use it on dipes. My hubby is a chef and occassionally he gets some horrible stains on his white chef jackets…the only remedy i have found in 10 years is to make a paste with a small amount of cascade powder and detergent and let sit over night. But we are talking the worst kitchen stains..lbefore another chef recommended we were giving the jackets up as ruined. I am guessing that someone who has experience with these kinds of stains made the cascade recommendation. Certainly not something I would ever want to use on something going on my baby’s bum.

  13. Paige says

    I really wish someone had told the family I nannied about this. I had to boil the diapers approximately every 3 months. Apparently because there was build up and this was the way to get rid of it. Even if you have a pot just for this, it’s SOOOOO gross. Stinks like you wouldn’t believe. You will never forget that smell. And this is on diapers that had already been through the sanitize cycle (another thing I wish I could have skipped) and a wash, extra rinse, and dry. So yes, there is definitely build up but there are better ways. Cloth diapers are really not that bad to use when you do it the correct way. Follow the guidance of professionals and it won’t be much more work than disposables, you’ll feel better about not adding to landfills (did you know it takes 500 year for a single diaper to break down? Not to mention what leaks into the water or ground nearby because of the chemicals and well everything) If I could do it when I had to do extra unnecessary steps, you can SO do it!


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