How to Treat Cloth Diaper Stains

Are you anal about cloth diaper stains?

OMG… my sincere apologies… I just couldn’t help myself.

Personally, I take a practical approach. To me, cloth diaper stains are as inevitable as bib stains. Since they are hidden on the inside of the diaper, the only people who will see them anyway are the elite and chosen group of my son’s diaper changers – me, my husband, and occasionally Crunchy Nana. However, if stains really bother you or you’re just trying to spruce up some stained cloth diapers before selling them, you might have a few questions about the best ways to remove the stains without damaging the diapers.

It’s a balancing act. Sure, you can soak those babies in chlorine bleach (clarification for CYA purposes: I’m referring to soaking the diapers, not real babies) and they’ll come out looking pristine. However, chlorine is so potent that it will weaken the fibers of the diapers and cause them to deteriorate sooner in the long run. Remember my chlorine vs. oxygen bleach test on a SoftBums bamboo pod stained beyond recognition courtesy of beet juice? Just a few weeks later, the end of the pod that had been soaked in chlorine bleach is now full of holes!

Stained Cloth Diaper Insert Bleach aftermath

The difficult thing is to find the gentlest possible method of removing the stain. Before anything else, always try sunning your cloth diapers first – clean but damp and in direct sunlight. If that doesn’t remove the stain to your satisfaction, here are some more natural ways to treat cloth diaper stains. (Keep in mind, there is no one foolproof stain remover prescription I can give you, because there will always be other variables at play – the type of stain, the type of fabric, whether you have any mineral build-up in your diapers from hard water, etc.)

Ways to Remove Cloth Diaper Stains

  • Baking Soda (Sodium Bicarbonate) – A nonabrasive cleanser and deodorizer; very mild. Some claim that it keeps diapers white with regular use, but for stubborn diaper stains, I haven’t personally found it to be effective. However, baking soda is cheap and you’ve probably got some around your house anyway, so it can’t hurt to try.
  • Borax (Sodium Borate) – According to someone with a PhD in chemistry, Borax cleans by converting some water molecules to hydrogen peroxide (H2O2), which bleaches out stains – a reaction which is more favorable in hotter water.
  • Citric Acid – Also known as lemon salt, citric acid is used as a preservative in foods and is non-toxic. You can likely find it in the canning aisle of your local grocery store. Citric can be used as a hard water additive and natural laundry softener. For stain removal, dissolve in water and spritz directly on the stain.
  • Hydrogen Peroxide – As sold in drugstores, 3% hydrogen peroxide is safe for household use as a disinfectant and stain remover. Make a mixture of 1 part peroxide to 3 parts warm water.
  • Lemon Juice – A natural bleaching agent due to the presence of citric acid. Rub directly on stain.
  • Oxygen Bleach - Powdered oxygen bleach is made from natural soda ash or borax and hydrogen peroxide. It is color-safe and doesn’t break down fibers like chlorine bleach. You can either add a scoop of oxygen bleach to your washing machine or, for tougher stains, make a paste and rub it directly into the problem spot.

If you’re just treating inserts, prefolds, flats, or wipes, it’s fine to soak them directly in a solution containing one of the stain-fighters listed above. If treating the lining of a pocket diaper or the absorbent material in an AIO, I would recommend making a solution or paste to apply directly to the stained part of the diaper without touching any elastic or PUL, since these substances could be caustic to those more delicate components of the diaper.

Have you tried any of these methods? Which is your favorite and why?