Ruining Your Cloth Diapers with Flair

So you’re whining about having ruined your cloth diapers with a little diaper rash cream?

Waaahhhh! Somebody call the waaaaaahhhmbulance! 

(I could watch this over and over and over and over! And yes, I definitely plan saying this to my kids.)

First, 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 again.

And secondly, come on – how cliché! If you want to be able to complain that you ruined your cloth diapers, then honey, be a little more creative! We want to hear a great story with impressive photos of the ruination you caused.

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1. Rip ‘Em to Shreds

The fastest way to create impressively tattered-looking diapers is to use heavy amounts of chlorine bleach. This SoftBums pod went from brand-new to shredded in just about two weeks, thanks to a two-hour soak in a chlorine bleach/water mixture. Comes in handy if you’re a newbie trying to impress some veteran cloth-diapering moms – your diapers can look so tattered, they’ll think you’ve been cloth diapering for years and years!

Chlorine bleach damage

2. Delamination in minutes

If you’re really serious about turning a good cloth diaper into a dud, delamination might be the route for you. Delamination involves the breakdown of the waterproof coating of a cloth diaper or a diaper cover. Why wait two or three years for a diaper to delaminate on its own when you can speed the process along with a nice hot iron?!

Damage to PUL after ironing

3. Honey, I Shrunk the Wool Soakers!

Special care instructions for hand-washing wool? Just ignore them and use hot water, the washing machine, or better yet – both! Not only will your wool soaker shrink to an impressively small size, but it will also lose its stretchiness and the stitches will look “blurred”.  This is truly a complaint-worthy mistake!

Felted wool soaker

4. Burn, Baby, Burn!

Do you have a bit of a pyro streak in you? If so, you can strip your diapers in the dishwasher. Cross your fingers that the diaper will fall onto the dishwasher’s heating element and give you something exciting to take pictures of. If you’re lucky, maybe it will ruin the lamination, melt a few snaps, or even catch on fire!

I searched high and low for you for a picture of some dishwasher/diaper destruction, but alas, I couldn’t find anything right on point. Instead, you’ll have to settle for a photo of a rogue spatula of mine that somehow managed to wiggle free of the utensil holder and create a bit of a sizzle on the heating element. My house had a funky plastic smell for days.

Effect of dishwasher heating element

5. Make-Your-Own Mushroom Farm

Warning: This activity takes a bit longer and is not for the faint of heart. You’ve been warned.

This photo is from a woman whose cloth diapers sat in the pail for a month between washes…and they grew mushrooms! Now, I don’t know what her kid had been eating, and I certainly don’t care to find out. However, I’ve got to hand it to her – this is the most creative form of cloth diaper ruination that I’ve ever heard of!

Mushrooms on cloth diapers

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?

SoftBums: Boiled, Stained, Bleached, and Soaked

Remember the line from Forrest Gump where Bubba is talking about all you can do with shrimp?

Shrimp Is the Fruit of the Sea

“You can barbecue it, boil it, broil it, bake it, saute it. Dey’s uh, shrimp-kabobs, shrimp creole, shrimp gumbo. Pan fried, deep fried, stir-fried. There’s pineapple shrimp, lemon shrimp, coconut shrimp, pepper shrimp, shrimp soup, shrimp stew, shrimp salad, shrimp and potatoes, shrimp burger, shrimp sandwich. That- that’s about it.”

This is how I felt when contemplating how I could attempt to wreck a SoftBums diaper. The possibilities are endless! And how fun is a company that’s not just okay with me attempting to wreck their beautiful products, but actually enthusiastic about it?! I want the blog portion of Diaper Wrecker to informative but also fun, so I don’t do plain ole reviews. I only do wrecks!

I received two SoftBums Echo shells and two SoftBums one-size bamboo pods. The Echo shell and pod comprise an all-in-two (AI2) cloth diaper system. The Echo is a waterproof shell, lined with soft fleece on the inside, and the long “pod” (the SoftBums term for the absorbent soaker) snaps into the back of the shell.

When I opened the package from SoftBums, I was momentarily confused. The diapers were so tiny, they looked like they were made for newborns. In fact, I had several newborn diapers laying around my store, so I set them up for a comparison photo. (Warning – this photo may cause you to want to have more babies.)

SoftBums compared to newborn diapers

SoftBums Echo Shell (with elastic fully tightened), Swaddlebees Newborn Simplex, GroVia Newborn AIO, Lil Joey Newborn AIO.

Anyway, I then realized that the elastic was simply tightened up all the way on both diapers, so I used the toggles to loosen the elastic on one of the diapers. Voila! Now I see a lot of cloth diapers, folks, and this was so cool I think I may have jumped up and down with excitement. Most diapers that claim to be “one-size” make me roll my eyes – newborns are simply too tiny for them. This one, though? They’re serious! It’s the only real “one-size” diaper I’ve seen.

SoftBums Elastic Setting Comparison

Same diaper – different elastic settings.

For the purposes of this attempted wreck, the ocean blue shell and its pod were treated properly, while the chocolate shell and its pod were subjected to various forms of cloth diaper torture. With these diapers, I went on a quest to discover:

  1. Is boiling an effective method of prepping natural fibers?
  2. Is vinegar bad for elastic and/or PUL?
  3. Is borax bad for elastic and/or PUL?
  4. Is oxygen bleach just as effective as chlorine bleach?

Boiling Cloth Diapers

As explained on the “Cloth Diaper Care” page, the extent of prepping required for new cloth diapers depends on whether they are made of natural or synthetic fibers. Natural fibers, such as SoftBums’ bamboo pods, require repeated washing and drying to help them reach full absorbency. I generally put natural fiber diapers through three wash/dry cycles before use, but I hear a lot of people talk about boiling as a faster means of prepping. And of course I’m game!

So here I’m boiling the SoftBums bamboo pod. Anyone know the melting temperature of plastic snaps? I’m secretly hoping the snap will melt, or at least get a little warped. That would be exciting.

Boiling diapers

I boiled the bamboo pod vigorously for 20 minutes. You could do the same or until al dente. Remove with tongs.

Boiled Diaper

Side note: Clearly this is the closest I’ll ever come to running a cooking blog.

As you can see, the snap fared just fine through 20 minutes of boiling. In addition, when I did a side-by-side comparison of the three-times-washed-and-dried pod versus the boiled pod, they had both shrunk to the exact same size. The boiled pod (right) just looks a little more wrinkly, but that’s because I hung it to dry whereas the other one had tumbled in the dryer.

Regular Prepping vs Boiling

So, sadly, there was no wreckage to report with the boiling. However, I really don’t recommend this route and here’s why. First, it created so much extra heat in the kitchen. I live in Memphis and it’s summertime, y’all – ugh! Also, I’m a somewhat forgetful multi-tasker and it could be a fire hazard. If you’re chasing after little ones or dealing with pregnancy brain, it’s not worth the risk.

Soaking in Vinegar and Borax

Have you ever heard that vinegar and borax are both too harsh on cloth diapers? I have, but some people choose to use these products on their diaper laundry anyway. Time for Diaper Wrecker to investigate!

Vinegar and Borax

Distilled white vinegar is commonly used as 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 balance in cloth diapers. Vinegar is essentially a mixture of acetic acid and water and has a pH of about 3 (acidic), so the bacteria-killing properties make sense. However, as the pH of human urine varies by individual and diet, whether or not it will balance out the pH in your diapers is a bit of a gamble, in my opinion.

Borax may be a natural mineral, but is toxic to humans when ingested. Less than 5 grams can be lethal to a child if ingested. Therefore, if you use this product in your household, keep it stored away safely where your little ones cannot reach it! It has a slightly alkaline pH (about 9.5).

As you can see from the pH chart below, these products are on opposite ends of the spectrum:


So of course, I had to subject the chocolate Echo shell to a good, long soak in these two products to see if there was any noticeable effect. First, the shell enjoyed a 36-hour bath in about a gallon of water and two cups of distilled white vinegar. After that, it hopped into a 36-hour soak in about a gallon of water and a cup of borax.

The results were quite boring – I could find no evidence of immediate damage to the PUL or elastic of the SoftBums Echo shell. However, my recommendation is that if you use these products on your cloth diaper laundry, do it on inserts only. After all, PUL and elastic are the more delicate (and expensive) parts of a cloth diaper, and I have no doubt that repeatedly subjecting them to acidic or alkaline products would cause unnecessary wear on them in the long run.

Battle of the Bleaches – Chlorine vs. Oxygen

My final experiment involves another hotly debated laundry product. Aren’t you tired of wondering whether bleach is okay for your cloth diapers or not? I think the pH chart above helps explain why you don’t want to use it frequently – it’s highly alkaline. But sometimes a stubborn stain might make you a bit desperate.

We had some delicious beets for dinner one night, when I got a wonderful, awful idea. Why should I throw out all that wonderful beet juice when it would make the PERFECT STUBBORN STAIN?

Beet Stains

My husband said it looked like the SoftBums pod had been used for some afterbirth cleanup. And so it did. Now you know why they use blue dye in all the diaper and feminine product demonstrations!

After a couple of washes, I was really excited about how good and stained it was. Hard to believe this is a brand-new pod. Beet stains; who knew?!

Stained pod

I soaked one end of the pod in oxygen bleach and the other end in chlorine bleach for two hours. I love oxygen bleach, so I was really pulling for it to do an equally good job as the chlorine bleach!  Oxygen vs Chlorine Bleach

Good thing I didn’t put any money on this bet. The chlorine bleach-soaked end of the pod was a beautiful white, while the oxygen bleach-soaked end remained quite dingy. There you have it – if you have a really stubborn stain, go for the big guns! Oxygen vs Chlorine Bleach Test

TL;DR Version (“Too Long; Didn’t Read”)

  • Boiling the bamboo pod was just as effective as washing & drying it three times, but I’m not converted to boiling.
  • Vinegar and borax are on opposite ends of the pH scale, so both could be harsh for your diapers. However, 36 hours of each didn’t harm my SoftBums Omni Shell, so if you’ve been using these products on elastic and PUL, you may not see immediate signs of damage. I’d recommend using products like that on inserts only.
  • For tough stains, chlorine bleach is much more effective than oxygen bleach. However, it is highly alkaline, so use it only when necessary (and again, I’d recommend keeping it away from elastic and PUL).

Are you intrigued by the SoftBums’ “Slide2Size” toggle elastic system? You should be! It’s the coolest thing I’ve seen all week. Coming up tomorrow – a SoftBums giveaway!