So You’ve Got Repelling Cloth Diapers

Repelling cloth diapers (and how to fix them) are a hot topic in discussion forums. As the Diaper Wrecker, I felt it was my duty to investigate this problem and see whether it’s really so angst-worthy. After slathering this poor diaper with Desitin and soaking it in a Downy bath for 24 hours, I was pretty sure I had successfully created a repelling problem. I hung it up to dry, and I was haunted by two thoughts: (1) Downy has a way strong smell, and (2) ohhh emm geee how am I ever going to remove all of that smeared-on, greasy Desitin?!

Repelling Cloth Diaper

Before I describe how I went about excorcising this diaper of its evil, greasy build-up, I have a word of caution for you. This is an extreme example of a repelling diaper. If you have a problem with persistent leaks and think your diapers might be repelling, check a few other things first. It may just be that the diaper is fully saturated or not fitting properly on your baby.

Now let’s talk about stripping. It’s a word I hear waaaaaay too often in cloth diapering discussion forums and it usually makes me cringe. Why? Because if you have to strip (i.e. deep-clean) your cloth diapers on a regular basis, it means something about your regular wash routine is out of whack. There are many different ways to strip cloth diapers, and the method you choose should depend on what kind of build-up (detergent, ammonia, ointment, etc.) is present:

  • For detergent build-up, a few extra hot washes with RLR Laundry Treatment
    will generally do the trick, and then you need to reduce the amount of detergent in your usual wash routine.
  • For ammonia build-up, a soak in Rockin Green Funk Rock Ammonia Bouncer
    followed by a hot wash with detergent usually does it for me.
  • For serious greasiness, unfortunately, laundry products don’t usually help, and we turn to a product made for de-greasing dishes – Dawn.

Blue Dawn is a de-greaser, which can help your repelling cloth diapers

This was actually my first time to use Dawn for diapers and I wanted to be careful. Dawn generates some pretty intense suds, which can overwhelm the pump and motor of your washing machine if you use too much. We had to replace the pump of our washing machine a few years ago and it cost about $300 when it was all said and done, so I’m not interested in risking that for the sake of one cloth diaper. This is a job that requires scrubbing by hand.

I added this much Dawn. It made me laugh because it made me think of a Smurf skid mark.

9_Dawn application

Anyway, then I started scrubbing it with hot water and a toothbrush. It didn’t seem to be doing much – I could still feel the Desitin clinging to the fleece. Out of frustration, I threw it in the soaking bucket, added 2 more drops of Dawn, filled it with hot water, and left it for a few hours.

10_Dawn Soak

After the soak, I rinsed it with hot water until most of the suds were gone, and then tossed it into the washing machine and did a hot rinse.

After the pocket and insert had dried, I re-tested to determine the time it would to absorb 50 ml of water under pressure. (Before the experiment, it only took 8 seconds.) I was pleasantly surprised to find that although now it took 13 seconds to absorb the same amount, the water did go through. I was really expecting it to just sit there on top of the fleece.

I was doing diaper laundry anyway, so my next step was to throw it in the pre-wash with my other diapers. I added a scoop of Country Save oxygen bleach in the pre-wash just for the heck of it, and then did my normal hot wash with Country Save detergent followed by a final rinse. After everything had dried, I noticed that the “wrecked” diaper no longer smelled much like Downy. There was just a faint hint of it.

I laid the “wrecked” diaper next to its twin (which been cared for properly and never exposed to the Downy, Desitin, or dryer sheets) and poured a little water on both of them. I let them sit this way for 15 minutes, but neither one of them absorbed the water. As I’ve explained before, this is normal behavior. I bet you can’t even tell which diaper is which:

Side by Side Comparison

Ok, ok, I’ll tell you. The diaper on the left is the one that went through the gauntlet. After this photo, it absorbed 50 ml in 10.5 seconds, while the diaper on the right did it in 8 seconds.

Based on my experience, it wasn’t too hard to bring the diaper back to decent performance. I was actually hoping that it would be harder, because I wanted to share an idea for what you could do as a last-ditch effort to prevent repelling.



Snip, snip.

13_Snip Snip

Ha ha! Just did. Ok, I don’t actually recommend this. I suppose if  you were at the end of your rope, without a warranty, and just seriously pissed off a diaper, you could do it. It might feel liberating.

(But it only improved the time to 9.5 seconds, which wasn’t too impressive.)


  1. Awesome article! Do you have balanced, soft or hard water?

    • courtney says:

      Thanks! Good question. According to my city water report my water is 2.8 gpg or 48 ppm, which is classified as soft by the USGS.

  2. Joanna says:

    This was great!! I look forward to blogs in the future! How do I know if I have a buildup? I washed my diapers while at the beach with the same detergent and they have been smelling really funky since. I have done several rinses but still weird smell.

  3. Hi Courtney, thanks for the article! My boy got a terrible rash and I ended up putting away my cloths and switching to disposables. I still want to do cloth but I couldn’t afford a new stash and I thought the problem may have been the microfiber in the diapers I have. A friend recently told me though that I may just have to strip them. I was looking at care instructions for my diapers and saw not to use diaper cream, which I did all the time, so I’m hoping to give this a try and see if it helps. My question is, can I use any dish soap or will only Dawn work? I use Method dish soap normally. Thank you!

    • That’s a great question. I’ve never heard anything but original blue Dawn recommended, and I think it’s likely just because it’s a very basic degreasing formula without other additives.

  4. What cream would be a good alternative to Desitin? I don’t want to have to strip my diapers every other day….

  5. Shannon S says:

    Thanks SO much. I thought I had “ruined” my microfleece pockets by washing with hemp inserts and using an oil-based diaper solution. Yours is the ONLY website I’ve found that talks about how microfleece looks like it is repelling water, and it’s the only one to suggest the injection test, which gives me a truer picture of my situation. Your destroyed diaper being put right again gives me hope. Time to bust out the Dawn!

    • You’re welcome! Based on my experience I really don’t think there is a repelling problem so bad it can’t be fixed. The diaper I “wrecked” in this blog post is still functioning. The only problem is that the Desitin caused some grayish stains that have never come out, but thankfully stains don’t bother me one bit! 🙂


  1. […] a natural alternative to fabric softeners such as Bounce or Downy (both of which will cause greasy build-up on cloth diapers). I’ve also read claims that it will kill bacteria and restore the pH […]

  2. […] CJ’s Stick o’ BUTTer – handy like a glue stick, keeping Mama’s hands clean and baby’s bottom protected from rash (without causing repelling in your diapers like some ointments!) […]

  3. […] I’d argue that you probably didn’t ruin them – you just need to take some extra steps in washing to get them squeaky clean […]

  4. […] show the slightest signs of rash. Add to that the fact that I hate messing with diaper liners. Repelling happens […]

  5. […] out part 2 of the repelling experiment for how to fix this kind of a […]