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How to Bleach Cloth Diapers: Sanitize & Disinfect in 4 Steps

How to Bleach Cloth Diapers

When you’re facing a yeast rash or just want to ensure the diapers you’re using are squeaky clean, a good ol’ bleach soak or bleach wash is just what you need.

Find out how you can bleach cloth diapers in this guide!

Table of Contents
Table of Contents

How to Bleach Cloth Diapers: A Step-by-Step Guide

#1: Load Up on What You Need

So before we begin, you need to gather all your supplies. You can’t start a war (on bacteria and viruses) without readying your troops first!

So here’s what you’ll need.

The Right Bleach for Cloth Diapers

Shocked that there’s more than one kind of bleach? Well, there is! To clean organic cloth diapers, you’ll need DISINFECTING bleach.

You see, some bleaches are just deodorizing, scented, or act as a color guard. So NOT ALL of them disinfect.

Check that the bleach you’re using has “disinfecting, disinfectant, or kills flu virus” on the label or has at least 5.25% sodium hypochlorite as the active ingredient.

Washing Medium of Choice

Depending on HOW you plant to bleach, you can either use a basin or your bathtub. Another option is to directly put bleach into your washing machine.

  • For more heavy-duty cleaning, we recommend letting the fabric soak in bleach first.
  • For regular bleaching once a month, it’s enough to put some bleach into your washing machine.

#2: Dilute Your Bleach

Before you start to use bleach for disinfecting cloth diapers, you need to know the correct amount of concentrated bleach to add to the water.

This will give you diluted bleach water that is safer to use, won’t completely break down your diapers, and won’t harm the baby’s delicate skin.

The right amount of concentrated bleach will depend on how you plan to wash the diapers.

Average Bathtub

  • Half-full: 1/2 cup bleach
  • 3/4 full: 3/4 cup bleach

Top Loading Washing Machine (Non-HE)

  • Small load – 1/3 cup bleach
  • Medium load – 1/2 cup bleach
  • Large load – 3/4 cup bleach

NOTE: Do NOT ever use bleach on an HE washing machine. For that, it’s better to go with the bathtub soak. Why? Because you can’t control the dilution and soaking time of the bleach in these machines.

Small Container (up to 5 Gallons)

  • 1 tablespoon bleach per 1 gallon of cold water

#3: Use Bleach to Fabric Soak Diapers

This first method is for heavy-duty cleaning, those with an HE front loader/HE top loader, or when the typical wash routine just isn’t enough.

If you’re bleaching because of the reasons we talked about earlier (for example, due to yeast infections or used diapers), we also recommend doing this.

Here are the steps:

  1. Fill your basin or bath tub with COLD water up to the desired water level
  2. Add just enough cold water to give you properly diluted bleach
  3. Add your diapers (you can throw in your cloth wipes too)
  4. Let the water and bleach soak the diapers for at least 30, but not more than, 45 minutes. Make sure they’re all fully submerged the whole time
  5. Rinse using hot water to get the chlorine bleach out. You may want to do an extra rinse to be sure
  6. Wash again in your washing machine using detergent and hot water
  7. If the bleach smell is still there AFTER STEP 5, you may need to repeat the hot wash cycle in your machine

NOTE: We recommend doing this hot wash cycle 2 to 3 times before using the diapers on your baby. If some keep floating or sticking out, get a towel or any white fabric and lay it over the diapers to push them down.

#4: Bleaching Cloth Diapers in a Non-HE Top Loading Washing Machine

Remember what we said about HE machines.

Since you can’t control the dispenser with any degree of accuracy, that kind of machine can end up putting too much disinfecting bleach or leaving it soaking during the wash cycle for too long.

But if you have one of those non-HE Top Loading Washing Machines (like what you find on old-school machines), you can soak the diapers directly in there.

You can also use a front load washing machine. What matters is that the front loader or top loader lets you stop mid-cycle without draining out any of the water.

  1. Fill the drum of your machine to the largest load setting with COLD WATER
  2. Add disinfecting bleach (the amount will depend on the dilutions we told you about)
  3. Do this bleach soak for 30 to 45 minutes
  4. Rinse out the bleach with detergent combined with HOT WATER OR WARM WATER (2 to 3 times) until the diaper no longer smells like bleach

NOTE: Don’t spill your entire stash in there! You must add the right amount of bleach.

Use bleach and figure out how much your particular machine needs, depending on its water capacity.

Once you have that down, take note of the exact dilution amounts every time you use bleach for a good reference.

The Power of Bleach: Why You Should Be Bleaching Your Cloth Diapers

Okay, so you don’t HAVE to bleach your diapers.

This is quite a controversial topic in the diaper world, but there are tons of great reasons why you SHOULD start bleaching cloth diapers.

Goodbye Bacteria!

It’s no secret that bleach is excellent at disinfecting anything.

It can easily kill off any bacteria or germs that may be lingering on your cloth diaper, even if you do regularly wash them.

Disinfecting bleach is great for:

  • Breaking down yeast and ammonia
  • Eliminating odors
  • Preventing detergent buildup

Think about it this way. If a good bleach soak is enough to completely disinfect a septic tank, what more can you ask for?

Your baby’s diaper is DEFINITELY cleaner than a septic tank, so the sodium hypochlorite won’t have to do as much work!

When Is Bleaching Non-Negotiable?

So we’ve told you the general benefits of regularly bleaching your cloth diapers (which should be about once a month, by the way).

But if you still need some convincing, these are the instances when you ABSOLUTELY HAVE to bleach your cloth diapers.

1. When You Don’t Know Where It’s Been

Cloth diapering is excellent for those who want to MORE ENVIRONMENTALLY FRIENDLY while keeping costs down because you can reuse them MULTIPLE TIMES.

But when you’re using used cloth diapers, you don’t know where that’s been.

I mean, would you want that anywhere near your baby if it wasn’t being washed properly or regularly? Or what if their baby had a previous yeast infection?

You just don’t know when you’re using a hand-me-down.

So to make sure everything’s good, clean cloth diapers with bleach.

This is also great practice when your cloth diapers are brand new. Some of them could have been dirtied or infected during manufacturing, storage, or shipping.

2. When Things Are Starting to Smell

Have you noticed a distinct smell coming from a cloth diaper? 

Ammonia is hard to cover up, even if you use fabric softeners with all kinds of scents.

Just like when a cat litter box that hasn’t been cleaned for days smacks you in the face with that smell, bleach is the answer.

Ammonia on your diapers can mean many things, such as:

  • Mineral buildup
  • Insufficient or excessive use of detergent
  • Not enough changes.

The solution so you don’t have to purchase new diapers? USE BLEACH!

3. Funky Things in the Diapers

Considering where that cloth diaper stays most of the time and the hot + wet combination of its environment, it’s no wonder things can start growing on and in it, such as yeast or mold. 

What does this mean for your baby’s overall hygiene and your baby’s delicate skin?

Well, your little one could get yeast infections and rashes that won’t go away with disinfection and rash creams.

Also, mold can make your baby ILL. You may be tempted to throw away your diapers once this starts happening, but wait just one minute!

Usually, a good bleach soak is enough to completely kill all these growths and leave you with clean cloth diapers.

Do a bleach soak REGULARLY so you can prevent yeast infections from harming your baby’s skin!

4. Creepy Crawlies

Have you ever forgotten to take out the trash and seen maggots appear out of nowhere?

Well, that same thing can happen with cloth diapers if you’re NOT CAREFUL.

Leaving these wet bags in your diaper pail or keeping poop in there for too long can lead to a NASTY problem. YUCK!

But what is an exhausted parent supposed to do? We’ve all been in this predicament before.

If you forgot to take them out of your wet bags, don’t despair! Bleach cloth diapers to remove and kill all of these in an instant!

5. Kills Flu Virus and Other Evil Viruses!

If you, your baby, or anyone in the house has been sick, it’s always a great practice to disinfect the ENTIRE SPACE.

It’s NOT ENOUGH to just throw everything into the washing machine because cold water and your regular wash routine won’t kill off all of those viruses.

A combination of hot water and bleach wash kills flu virus and other viruses immediately and effortlessly!

It’s Hard to Have Hard Water: When NOT to Bleach

So despite all of those benefits, there is ONE instance when you SHOULD NOT clean diapers with bleach:

When you have iron-rich water (a.k.a. hard water). 

Why? Because it will ruin all of them unless you deliberately WANT to make sure the fabric turns orange!

Now you might ask us: How do I know?

It’s easy! To test if you have iron hard water, test it on a piece of white fabric. 

  1. Put a drop of bleach in a cup or basin of water
  2. Soak a piece of scrap white fabric or some cloth strips
  3. Wait 15 minutes to let it soak

If the fabric turns orange, this means you have iron hard water.

You’ll have to use other alternatives for cleaning your diapers, like adding more detergent or a water softener like Calgon, Peroxide, or Borax.

Watch Out!

Another reason you shouldn’t bleach is if your particular brand of diapers comes with specific disinfecting instructions that warn against using bleach.

Doing a bleach soak on this can void your warranty or ruin the diapers, even if you attempt to use the same dilution amounts we talk about below.

If that’s the case, it may be best to just do a regular wash with a detergent instead of bleach. What matters is you follow the disinfecting instructions of the manufacturer.

How to Disinfect Cloth Diapers When You Have Hard Water

  1. Fill your bathtub halfway with cold water
  2. Add 3 cups of Peroxide and 1 cup of Borax
  3. Mix up the components
  4. Add your cloth diapers and let them soak
  5. Remove diapers and rinse in hot water
  6. Wash as normal with hot water

Final Words

A good hot wash in chlorine bleach will completely break down anything that’s growing or festering there.

What’s important is you don’t let the bleach soak for too long, and you give it multiple rinse cycles after.

After you’ve given this a try, the only thing you’ll be worrying about is how often to do a bleach soak!

FINAL TIP: Now that you know what it takes to keep those cloth diapers clean, you can check out our guide on how many cloth diapers you’ll need for your little one.


Changelog:

July 22, 2021 – Reviewed and updated article links

About the author

angelica-graham

A few years ago, Angelica found out about all the plastic and toxic ingredients that got into most children’s products. And this worried her to no end. Because of this, she began to research what the best ingredients and materials were for children and made it her mission to share this information with other mothers.