How to Sanitize Cloth Diapers using Chlorine Bleach
Facts Chlorine Bleach
- Bleach is a common disinfectant and can be found in stores almost anywhere. It is effective and safe when used correctly. Caution needs to be exercised as it is a caustic substance (able to burn or corrode). Take care to not splash any or directly inhale the fumes.
- Dilute the bleach in the water BEFORE adding the items you are disinfecting. Use the bleach tray on the machine if it has one.
- You must use bleach that has at least 5.25% sodium hypochlorite. You can find this information on the label.
- Bleach also starts to break down over time and becomes less effective. You can store it for about a year at room temp before that begins to happen. If the bottle is older than a year, purchase a new one. If you are unsure how old the bottle is, locate the production code. It is often stamped on the neck of the bottle. You can then use this article to decode the made-on date.
Please note that PUL is colorfast, so it won’t fade. However, any knit or cotton fabrics may fade even in a properly diluted bleach solution. This can include items like cloth wipes, WAHM diapers, and fitted diapers for example. You might want to consider an alternative if you have those accessories or cloth diapers to disinfect.
When you sanitize cloth diapers, it should be done on clean, already-washed items. Do not add any other additives such as water softeners or detergent. If you have a front-loading machine I recommend sanitizing using a bucket or bathtub instead.
Wear gloves if soaking or rinsing in a tub, sink, or bucket. Make sure all items are fully submerged in bleach water. Agitate the diapers around gently before soaking to make sure everything is wet and mixed in properly.
- I recommend using warm or hot water (although cold will work.) You may have read that bleach disinfection must only be done in cold water. That is not the case as it will work in any water temp. Click here for further documentation on this. Dilute your bleach in the water FIRST before adding your cloth diapers. Be careful not to splash the bleach. Use the bleach tray on the machine if it has one.
- Soak for 15 minutes. Longer soak times are unnecessary and can cause premature wear to your diapers.
- Rinse diapers until the bleach odor is gone. You can do this with hot rinses in the washing machine or your tub under the facet. You may have to rinse a few times to get the odor completely out.
Here are the dilution ratios:
How to Sanitize Cloth Diapers using Grapefruit Seed Extract
Facts about Grapefruit Seed Extract
You will often see Grapefruit Seed Extract shortened to GSE. Also, not to be confused with grapeseed extract. GSE is synthesized from the seeds and pulp of the grapefruit, it’s a very broad spectrum microbicide, bactericide, fungicide, antiparasitic, and antiviral.
It is expensive, so the other options on here are far more economical for other disinfecting, but when it comes to yeast – this is the single most effective way to stop it in its tracks on your clothing and cloth diapers. You can buy it at your local health food store or on Amazon.
This is not a natural alternative. There are limited studies on the subject, but the existing ones point to the preservatives in GSE and not the actual GSE being the disinfectant. So I will say that this is an effective option, but not a natural one. GSE will not fade non-colorfast knit and cotton fabrics making it a good alternative to bleach.
For more evidence of GSE as a disinfecting agent, please see:
This should be done on clean, already-washed items. Do not add any other additives such as water softeners or detergent. May be used in any type of washing machine.
- Use hot water and add 2 tablespoons of GSE for up to a large load of laundry (approximately 28 – 30 cloth diapers. This may be added right to the main wash cycle with whatever detergent you are using.
- Run the longest heavy-duty cycle.
How to Sanitize Cloth Diapers using Hydrogen Peroxide
Facts about Hydrogen Peroxide
Hydrogen Peroxide is a liquid oxygen bleach that breaks down into water and oxygen.
Use a 3 % solution (what is normally available at most drugstores).
Be aware that hydrogen peroxide can damage fabrics the same way bleach can, so test for colorfastness and never pour directly on your clothes or cloth diapers.
This should be done on clean, already-washed items. Do not add any other additives such as softeners or detergent.
- Use hot water and a wash cycle that is at least 30 minutes. If you don’t have a cycle long enough you can either stop the cycle or soak in another vessel such as a bathtub (1/2 regular bathtub is equal to a large load).
- Add 1 cup of hydrogen peroxide in the bleach cup of your laundry machine for medium loads and 2 cups for large loads. If you have no bleach tray, add directly to water BEFORE adding cloth diapers.
- Rinse with hot water. If you don’t have his option and you are using your washing machine, run additional hot wash for the rinse.
Why I do not recommend using Lysol Laundry Sanitizer when you sanitize cloth diapers
The Lysol Laundry Sanitizer label says it “Kills 99.9% of bacteria detergents leave behind”. What you won’t find on the label is that “It only kills bacteria and is not effective against viruses or any fungi, including yeast.” I received this information after contacting Lysol directly via email.
Yeast and thrush are often reasons people are disinfecting cloth diapers in the first place. Buyer beware. This product won’t work on them.
Why I do not recommend bleach washes
A bleach wash means you add bleach to a regular wash cycle versus soaking them. I want to make sure I am recommending methods that cover you in the majority of cases. For a bleach wash to be the most effective you’d need the appropriate amount of water covering all the diapers for a specific amount of time. That is VERY hard to control in many machines. HE machines for example use small amounts of water. And for some machines, even the longest cycle isn’t all that long.
Because of these variables, I highly suggest you take the safe route when you disinfect your laundry. This can mean more effort and time, but your outcome is often better.
Jenn is a long-time cloth diaper educator and a passionate small business advocate. She has worked in the reusable diaper industry for over a decade, helping millions of families via her websites All About Cloth Diapers, Thinking About Cloth Diapers and Cloth Diaper Geek as well as hundreds of small businesses during that time. Her goal always to provide simple, reliable information.