Sunday, December 8, 2013

Cloth Diapering Myth Busters: Bleaching Edition

In my last post on cloth diaper myths I briefly addressed the contentious issue of using bleach as a part of cloth diaper disinfection. I mentioned the conditions under which I would suggest using bleach which are:
1) when sanitizing used diapers
2) if you baby is dealing with a bacterial (staph) or fungal infection (yeast)
3) or if trying to strip your diapers of lingering bacteria (most common if you are not laundering properly)

Notice that I don't mention soaking diapering in bleach as a part of a tradition "wet pail" system as that can be incredibly dangerous and cause unnecessary ware on the elastics in cloth diapers. Nor do I mention using as a part of your regular cloth diaper washing. But bleach has a place in cloth diapering, and I am thankful for it. 

What Bleach to buy:

As mentioned in my previous post your must by the original version of bleach. Not the splash-less, scented, gentle etc. It must have at least a 5.25% concentration of Sodium Hypochlorite. The bottle usually say kills germs and has instructions for sanitizing. If your bleach bottle says that it is for deodorizing and whitening only then you probably have purchased the wrong kind. Clorox and several other companies now sell a concentration of 8.25% Sodium Hypochlorite that is labeled as "Concentrated" but the dilution ratio remains the same. 

How to bleach your diapers:

1) Begin with freshly washed diapers.
2) Dilute the bleach in cold water 1 T water to 1 Gallon water (preferably cool water). You can also use a 1/4 cup for a small load size, 1/2 cup for a large load and 3/4 when soaking a extra large bathtub sized load. You can do this in a washing machine, tub or other container with a stopper. I prefer to use my tub as I do not particularly trust the bleach dispenser in my HE machine nor does mine use enough water to "soak."
3) Soak the diapers for at least 30 minutes. (I suggest soaking for an hour if dealing with stink or ammonia)
4) Rinse the diapers thoroughly, you can also re-wash them with detergent if you are particularly sensitive to bleach

* PUL is colorfast but cottons and flannels will experience fading even if the bleach is properly diluted. NEVER bleach animal hairs (like wool) or silk. Also DON'T bleach if you have iron hard water.


See not so scary. After the bleach bath I rinse them in hot water (to breakdown the bleach or run them through a hot wash with detergent). Then they are clean and sanitized and ready to be dried and then popped on the bum.

*** While I haven't personally experienced any fading it is important to recognize that it is a risk you take. But if buying used or if your child has a yeast rash it is a risk you may need to take.

Bleaching Alternatives: 

If you have Iron rich hard water, DO NOT BLEACH YOUR DIAPERS. You will get terrible orange staining among other problems. If you are trying to rid your diapers of bleach or staph or are trying to disinfect used diapers you can use 4 cups of Hydrogen Peroxide liquid with 1 cup of borax (although expensive and not as broad spectrum as bleach it is the next best thing to bleaching). You can also use Lysol in its full concentration (though I have never personally tried it and am unaware of its results), as such I don't recommend it. 

What about boiling? Yes, you technically can disinfect natural fibers (cotton, hemp and bamboo) by boiling them. So if you have a few random used inserts of that variety and would like to sanitize them that way then go for it. Remember that they must be free of snaps (which would melt) and should not contain any inner layers of microfiber. NEVER boil PUL, anything with plastic, wool, silk or Microfiber. 

Sunning diapers does have some disinfecting qualities. Large scale studies haven't been done to study if the sun's rays kill fungus (like candida or yeast). So while it is always nice to have sun dried diapers it is not guarantee that they will be completely disinfected. 

* Along the lines of diaper stripping, for heaven sakes DO NOT PUT DAWN IN YOUR WASHING MACHINE! It can break it and leave you with suds everywhere. Dawn is only for handwashing diaper cream off of diapers. 

Why not Grapefruit Seed Extract?:

While countless blogs and websites are guilty of touting GFSE as a yeast killer I particularly blame this myth on Thirsties diapers. They on their website tout Grapefruit Seed Extract as being the superior yeast killing method. They include the following quote

"Tests have shown that GSE is dramatically more effective than Colloidal Silver, Iodine, Tea Tree Oil and Clorox bleach against five common microorganisms. In studies performed by Dr. John Mainarich of Bio-Research Laboratories in Redmond, WA"

At first you are like "Wow! I had no idea that GFSE was so impressive." Then if you are like me you get geekily excited to read more about the study so you click on the link they provide. Yet the link they include is merely quoting the same study themselves and are doing so without any citations. Not only that but the article they linked is actually about using GFSE to treat thrush in a breastfeeding situation or topically on a baby's bum. While it does briefly mention the need to treat laundry for Thrush, it does not provide a mention of the amount of GFSE needed to disinfect laundry.  In fact the the only mention of what quantity of  GFSE is needed to kill yeast it mentions 10 drops per ounce of water (referring to taking GFSE orally or when applying topically). Even if this dilution were applied to laundry it is no where near the "20 drops in the final rinse should suffice" that Thirsties recommends. 

Also deeply concerning is the fact that in large studies done on the supposed anti-fungal properties of GFSE it was found the natural un-synthetically preserved GFSE has ZERO anti-fungal properties. A recent study done by the US Department of Agriculture that the the anti-fungal properties of GFSE are only in the synthetic version and only because of the preservative Benzethonium Chloride. While it is in fact a antimicrobial agent it is only approved for topical use and even then only at concentrations of 8%. 

Another reason GFSE is touted as antimicrobial is because it includes the same antibacterial ingredient that is used in hand soap which is Triclosan. But again the amounts needed to disinfect ones hand while washing is very different than in the context of laundry. Laundry involves anywhere from 15-40 gallons of water. 

For a comprehensive article on the myths surrounding Grapefruit Seed Extract I highly recommend this article

But isn't bleach scary? 

Clorox has a fantastic section on bleaching and cloth diapers. They bring up some excellent points. 

So, does the chlorine wash out? Am I putting people's children at risk? Am I killing the environment? How many times should I wash and rinse after soaking in bleach water?
A: I battle these bleach myths quite often and I get very agitated about the misinformation floating around out there. Answers to your questions:
  • “Does the chlorine wash out?” Yes, sodium hypochlorite active is very reactive and with the "soil" load you are dealing with it will be virtually all reacted and gone in the initial laundering/soak. The extra rinses are good "insurance" and definitely give you peace-of-mind that it has been removed.

  • “Am I putting people's children at risk?” No, you are definitely not putting any children at risk. Actually, by doing the thorough cleaning and sanitizing of the diaper, you are helping prevent diaper rash and spreading unremoved germs.

  • “Am I killing the environment?” No you are NOT killing the environment. Sodium hypochlorite is made from salt and water and after it reacts with the satins and soils in the laundry, 93-97% of it returns to salt and water again. The remaining 3-7% is easily removed in waste treatment and is biodegradable.

  • “How many times should I wash and rinse after soaking in bleach water?” I think 1-2 rinses should be plenty.

Ultimately, it is up to you to decide what you are comfortable with. For us bleach has been the way we were able to rid our diapers of yeast and make sure that our "new to us" diapers were thoroughly sanitized. If bleach is not an option for you, do thorough research into alternative sanitizing methods. 

General Bleach Information:


  1. This is very helpful, thank you! How can I find out if I have iron-rich hard water?

  2. I have some diapers that are 98% bamboo viscose and 2% silk. Should I use the hydrogen peroxide/borax method to disinfect them? If so, do I use the 4 cups peroxide and 1 cup borax straight? Or do I dilute this mixture in a large washing machine load? At what temperature? Thanks for this post, it has been a great resource!

  3. I just wanted to say I *am* one who is very anti-bleach for all the environmental/health reasons (and there are plenty). Since I CD in order to be as environmentally conscious as I can be & make it healthier for my family, I can't personally see purchasing something so caustic & putting it in my cleaning routine...HOWEVER...with that said, I pay a MUCH higher price to buy a biodegradable hospital grade disinfectant. It will absolutely do all the work of bleach without the harshness of bleach or the environmental impact for probably 10x the price...however, this can be applied to the skin with zero irritation & RARELY effects color even at full strength, yet kills everything bleach does & then some. It is called Nok Out. I've used it for years on pet stains, as it is also used by vets/zoos as it eliminates odors brilliantly (like cat pee, which I've sadly had more odor problems over the years than my kids dipes ever caused me). And my favorite thing about it? It has almost no smell at all. You can only smell it if you put your nose VERY close & even then it's just a super faint bleach-like smell. For real, this can even be used freely around birds...which nearly NOTHING is safe enough for that. I would recommend anyone who is concerned about using bleach either look into Nok Out or just keep looking at what is available. This may not be the only non bleach sanitizing option - and there may be cheaper ones available even. I do not know. I've used it for almost 20 yrs now for various uses (predominantly pets until the last 8 yrs I've had children) I have been happy & have had no interest in looking for other options. I speak only of the one option that *I* am aware of. There very well could be others.

    Anyway- my only point is, I do think dipes will likely survive typical bleaching & not be ruined, but I also wish many more moms were aware that they don't "have to" resort to bleach if they don't *want* to & they can get all the same if not better sanitizing with other products and have no fiber break down. No matter how dilute bleach is, you do get fiber degredation & it will overall shorten the useful lifespan of material. I used to do massage therapy & we used a 10% bleach solution at the spa for our sheets. I also did some clients at their homes & those sheets I kept at home & laundered myself using Nok Out. I can promise you, bleach wore out the sheets it was used on & sheets for massage are washed as much if not more than any dipes would be. The sheets likely show the wear more obviously though as it's a single sheet of crisp smooth cotton where you can see that the threads are looking more bare over time. They were all the same sheets, used for the same purpose at similar rates & the spa ones wore much faster. I don't need a study to tell me what it does or doesn't do when I've seen it first hand. I also would never convince a spa like that to spring for $30+ per gallon instead of $5 for bleach though. I've never done the math there to find out what makes more financial sense, buying new sheets or paying extra for better laundering. It has never been *my* motivation. I would bet it is cheaper to use bleach & replace items ...but again, that is also a secondary environmental impact in my book - creating waste sooner & more waste in manufacturing of new/replacement items. Then again I prefer to spend 10x as much & know what I am using could get poured on our veggie garden & not kill a thing. That is just how I am & I have done enough research to know I CAN have my cake and eat it to in this realm.

    1. rein it in there Joel.......your last name is Butts and you commenting about cleaning diapers.

  4. Using Grapefruit Seed Extract to remove yeast from diapers may not be a myth after all. In their study, the RDA was able to remove yeast colonies with 2 tsp. of GSE. Research is ongoing, but this is a good start for those who are looking for bleach alternatives.

  5. I have a question... Why can't hot water be used for the bleach soak?