Bleach Soak Cloth Diapers? I’ll Pass

Let’s be realistic: the bleach soak for cloth diapers controversy has been done and redone a million times.  There are people who will bleach soak their cloth diapers on a monthly basis and “never have an issue.”  So I’m not going to tell you that if you bleach soak cloth diapers they’re going to burst into flames.  They won’t.

But I’m not going to tell you that your diapers will always be perfectly perfect after you bleach soak cloth diapers.  That would be a lie.

Bleach Soak Cloth Diapers?  I'll PassWhat’s the danger of doing a bleach soak for cloth diapers?  Okay, there’s the obvious “void of manufacturer warranty” concern.  If you’ve bought your diapers used, manufacturer warranty is a non-issue anyway.  Diaper warranty only applies if you buy your diapers from an authorized retailer… and as much as I baby my diapers (and even have some new in package), I’m not an authorized retailer.

Elastics can wear out.  I don’t know about you, but replacing elastics is on my top 10 for “stuff I really don’t want to do with my time.”  Bleach breaks down fibers.  Bleach can be unkind to elastics and certain natural fibers in particular.

Do you have a beautiful stash of hybrid fitteds or fitted diapers?  Cotton fabrics can easily fade in a bleach soak.  Yes, even if you “do it right.”

I have people tell me (generally in regards to my anti-bleach stance) that they’d rather have clean diapers that are faded from bleach than stinky ones that look pretty.  You know what I say to that?  It does not have to be an either/or scenario.  I don’t have to choose between having pretty diapers or deciding to bleach soak cloth diapers in order to make them clean.  It’s just plain not that complicated of an issue.  99% of the time, you can resolve issues without using bleach at all, let alone without making the decision to bleach soak cloth diapers.

I’ll tell you right now that an effective bleach soak for your cloth diapers may be a faster method of dealing with whatever issue you may be stuck with, but it’s not “bleach or nothing” in most situations.  There are a wide variety of methods for curing your cloth diaper stink without a bleach soak.  (Yes, here’s the link.)

In four and a half years, I have never felt the need to chlorine bleach soak cloth diapers in my own personal stash, and have only felt the need to bleach soak cloth diapers that were donated for charity aid once.  And those diapers were so gross that it was “bleach it or burn it.”  Since I hate bleach and don’t typically use it, I got advice from the Cloth Diaper Asylum.  They, of course, ask questions before suggesting bleach and recognize that bleach is not a preference for everyone.  Otherwise, there are chlorine bleach alternatives out there.

Before you decide to bleach soak cloth diapers, take a moment and think.  Are there other options out there?  Have you looked for them?  I know that there are people out there who insist that it’s “bleach soak cloth diapers or they’ll be gross,” but those are not your only options.

Have you bleach soaked cloth diapers?  Was it your first step or last resort?

About Suzi

Suzi is an American ex-pat living in British Columbia. She's a cloth diaper addict, wife, mom of three, and President of the Prince George chapter of Cloth for a Cause.


  1. UNLESS they are used dipes or the baby has been HORRIBLY sick I generally don’t use bleach.

  2. I’ve had to bleach strip my diaper twice total and my son is 15 months old. The cloth safe detergent and stripping ways just didn’t help us, so more of a last resort. We switched to regular detergent and we haven’t had any issues since that switch.

  3. This is foolish.

  4. Ugh! I have replaced so many of my elastics already. I definitely do not want to do anything that will speed up the deterioration process. Not to mention that bleach is a caustic chemical that can cause major harm when used improperly.
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  5. While I agree that bleach is not ALWAYS the answer, sometimes, like you said it is the easiest, most effective solution. I buy a lot of diapers used, and I always bleach them first. What if the previous user had a yeast rash? I want to make sure to kill all the possible bacteria that could still be lingering around. Too many people also fall into the homemade and “cloth safe” detergent trap, and end up with stinky diapers. Or worse, they end up with diapers that burn their baby! Stripping the diapers with RLR and then doing a bleach soak is the most effective way to kill the ammonia that’s hurting baby. People can skip bleach all together by using a strong, mainstream detergent, like Tide, and adding a a water softener, like Calgon, if they have hard water. Don’t skimp on the detergent either! Use as much as the box or bottle says to!

    • Actually… ammonia can be dealt with in manners that are far less caustic than bleach. I’ve dealt with it before with a simple addition of OxiClean to the wash. That’s it. No bleach required. Some of us never use bleach even though we use cloth safe detergent. I’ve used Rockin’ Green for four years now. My diapers do not stink. My children have not had ammonia burn.

      Using the correct amount of detergent (whether it’s mainstream or cloth safe) is sufficient.

  6. I see the ‘bleach soak’ recommended over and over again on cloth diaper chat pages. I do and have used a bit of bleach occasionally, but as you mentioned since it is such a corrosive agent I will try other things before resorting to bleach. I have diapers that are over 2 years old that I can remember using a capful of bleach on maybe 4-5 times. Overall, from my personal experience, if the wash routine is working, then these ‘fixes’ are a last resort. The wash routine should be targeted. I also have luck washing my inserts and prefolds separately on ‘sanatize’ and I wash my shells and covers separately on warm/cold. It’s been working for us, thanks for the article!
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  7. We don’t even have bleach in our house and I’ve never felt that I needed it for our diapers. If we need something with a little more power like bleach, I have a natural alternative that I use. I just don’t like to use such a harsh chemical, especially not one something that will be touching baby’s skin.
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  8. You did not address how to insure that used diapers are free from yeast or other bacteria. That is fine to use cd safe detergent for general washing but how do you suggest preparing used diapers for use on another baby’s bum?

    • Yeast? 2 teaspoons grapefruit seed extract in the wash + liquid oxygen bleach according to instructions. Crank up the hot water heater to a sufficient level. Heck, even my province doesn’t use bleach in their hospital systems anymore. At all. The point is, there are MULTIPLE ways of doing things. If you feel that there is only One True Way and anyone who isn’t doing it that way is wrong it’s a problem.

  9. Bleach also does not kill all germs. For example, cryto survives in bleach for 3 to 4 days.
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  10. oh god the thought of bleach makes me cringe. people actually do this? do people not think of strip washes, antibacterial/antifungal rinses, hot water, sunning… those type of things that don’t harm their nappies? use bleach if you want but there are far better (for the nappy and environment) and easier ways of caring for your nappies. also if youre bleaching them because they smell, maybe look at how youre washing them. if washed properly they shouldn’t hold any smell.

  11. ! If you use actual detergent, and use a water softener in each wash if you have hard water and have a solid wash routine then you should rarely if ever have to bleach. Night-time diapers are the biggest issue cause pee is sitting in the diapers for 10-12 hours each night and turning into ammonia. Rinse your diapers after use, wash with real detergent (you’re washing pee and poop a tablespoon of CD detergent is not going to clean squat nevermind pee and poop) don’t do a million extra rinses and you should not need to bleach! But if you do have ammonia or stink issues, or bought used diapers then strip and BLEACH those diapers. I rather have clean diapers then have my LO in diapers ridden with ammonia and fecal matter. !

    • Most CD safe detergents advise to use more than a tablespoon. Allen’s Naturally is the exception to that, and holy crap is it concentrated. And ammonia and stink can both be resolved without bleach. I’ve done it. In fact, I share a link on how to resolve different issues in the post.

  12. Great post! I have never used bleach, but my sister just gave me her stash of cloth diapers and want to disinfect before using them…great options to choose from here!

  13. Rachel Webb says:

    I wouldnt bleach my diapers unless bought used. I wouldnt want to risk damaging them.

  14. Have any of you heard of the Wash It the detergent-less laundry solution. Apparently this system will oxidize the water in eco-friendly safe way that doesn’t come with the negative ramifications of using laundry detergent. Also the Wash It unit cleans the clothes on a molecular level that doesn’t cause fabric shearing in fact this system will improve the fabric life because it will remove any chemical residue that could be left behind on the fabric which is one of the main causes of diaper rashing. Also these systems clean clothes in cold water which can save a family money by not paying a heating bill. I would recommend looking into these systems because it seems to be that it is a safer alternative then using chemicals to clean clothing that children wears.

  15. I was intrigued by his comments and did a quick search and found this review of the Wash It was not positive.

  16. Thank you for this info! It’s very useful. I had read on several other sites that it was ok to use bleach on cloth diapers, but I wasn’t really sure if that was something we should do or not.

  17. Andrea Slagle says:

    I have been wondering about this. I don’t like using bleach at all, so I was hoping it wasn’t necessary!

  18. I plan to avoid bleach as much as possible!

  19. Hydrogen Peroxide is also useful to soak diapers that need to be disinfected or whitened (50/50 mixture with water in the sink or bucket)

  20. I’ve been cloth diapering since 2003. I have NEVER bleached my diapers. Although I was tempted to once by a prefold which had gotten wet and then left in the garage for a year and a half, and when I found it, it was covered in black mold. Nope. I just cleaned it in the laundry and then donated it to charity. Don’t look at me like that. They get money for scrap fabric by the pound. What do you think they do with all the ripped and stained stuff that people donate? Just throw it out? No way. They cash in.

    After my first three were out of diapers I loaned out my entire stash. The “boy diapers” went to one family and the “girl diapers” went to another. The family with the boy diapers later became missionaries to Africa and moved there, taking my diapers with them, never to be seen again. When I became pregnant with my 4th, my friend who had the girl diapers was anxious to give them back to me. She was glad to be rid of them, because she said that they leaked so badly. What?! I never had a leak in all my years of diapering. Was it because some of them had been in use for three or even five babies? Nope. She had laundered them with a bleach soak every month, and a vinegar soak every week, because her other friends who cloth diapered recommended it. This was AFTER I had given her explicit directions to NEVER EVER use bleach or vinegar on it, and to just stick with a small amount of laundry soap and a scoop of oxyclean or an off brand there of. So, out of my original massive stash, only about three or four diapers survived the ordeal. All of them Pocket Change brand, which is no longer in production.

    That’s my story. I had to completely start my stash over again.

  21. I’m cloth diapering my second child, and the only time we’ve used bleach is when my son had a yeast infection (and looking back, I should have tried grapefruit seed extract, but didn’t have any!). There are so many better options out there that are better for the environment and better for your diapers!! We haven’t had to strip our diapers much….it may be hard to do, but if you have a good wash routine, you really shouldn’t have to. And when we do, we use RLR or dawn.

  22. I would say the best would be to wash the cloth diapees in hot water.

  23. Gladys Aguilar says:

    That would be my last resort because I think bleach is too harsh

  24. Claudia Melikova says:

    Very helpful! I was honestly considering it since my prefolds were smelling funky. However, I will look for alternatives!

  25. We actually don’t even keep bleach in the house. I don’t really see a need for it. I have been cloth diapering for almost 7 years through three different kiddos and haven’t used it. I agree that there are other ways to prevent smell etc

  26. We don’t use bleach for anything, I hate the smell and from previous experience I can see what it does to natural fabric (it will weaken it severely). Even oxiclean can be harsh on cotton fabric, but I would prefer to use that if needed over bleach.

  27. Christine says:

    Hi how would you kill mold on diapers other than bleach?

  28. Katrina ag says:

    I don’t have bleach in my house so clearly Im not a bleach advocate. And how I ended up on your post 🙂 But We have a yeast issue so the choice right now is bleach or switch to disposable… We live on an island off Europe so access to good alternative natural solutns you mentioned above are hard to find and expensive via amazon. So hoping one bleach soak and then a more thorough wash regime will sort the issue. Currently is hot soak then Chico detergent + calgon + oxi sensitive skin.
    Also went for it and bought tee tree and witch hazel for washing and wipe solution. So lets hope we clear up yeast and it never makes a come back.

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