Much Ado About Stains

Surprisingly, many parents who embark on the journey of cloth diapers are surprised when they find that many of their diapers are left with less than attractive staining on the inside.  Whether this is because a well meaning article online or parent told them they don’t stain (this is true sometimes in the case of newborn poop, but not always….) or because they assumed everything would wash away clean, the realization is frustrating.

Every stage of poop comes with different stain risks.  To date, after 22 months of cloth diapering, I have only had 1 stain (caused by poop) that I could not get out.  These are my tips for preventing and removing stains.

Prevention:

  • Always Pre-Rinse in COLD Water before you add a hot wash when there is poop involved.
  • If you suspect a poop is coming, throw in a fleece or flushable liner.  This not only makes clean-up easier, it keeps poop from hitting your diaper directly.  This is more for children on solids than newborns.
  • If you are so inclinined and you know that your baby is going to poop, put them on a little potty or potty insert on your toilet.  Abstinence is the best prevention!
  • Once your baby is eating solids, having a diaper sprayer will be a lifesaver.  Use this to spray as much debris off, leaving little chances of the stains setting in while waiting for wash day.

Treatment:

  • Newborn poop has long been thought to never stain.  This statement is misleading because often a diaper comes out of the washer covered in a light shade of yellow.  For most newborn (EBF) poop just ignore it and wash a few more times.  It should come out in a few washes.
  • Sunning is the number one stain treatment.  (I have an old post on the Miracle of Sunning with before and after photos) Lay your diapers flat in the sunlight for a few hours while damp or wet.  Dry works too but better when wet.  9 times out of 10, as long as the stain has not been set in, this will only take one session.  More stubborn stains may take a second sunning.
  • Sunning not working?  You might have a food based stain from something your child ate.  Try adding a squirt of lemon juice topically to the diaper, then lay in the sun.  This has gotten a few very stubborn stains out for me.  You need to re-wash your diapers after a lemon treatment before using them on your baby.
  • Last Resort: chlorine bleach.  I have never used bleach to treat a stain, but incidentally, when I have used it during a stripping some diapers with stains that I had not had the chance to sun out came clean.

Other tips:

  • Not all poop is created equal.  I have an exhaustive list of the different stages of poop that you may find helpful.
  • Newborn poop manages to get into every nook and cranny.  Especially if you have a diaper with gathered gussets on the inside, like a Rumparooz or Thirsties, you might notice that most of the poop has washed out minus in those crevices.  There is no way to sun this since it is in those hiding spots.  Don’t worry, I never had a permanent stain in these places.  A few washes and it all came out.
  • Toddlers can eat some colorful items which in turn, leave colorful stains: think blueberries.  Even blueberry stains have come out for me after sunning.
  • The only stain to remain for me is a mystery.  I wish I knew the food which caused it but I don’t.
  • Unless you are terribly concerned about the resale value of your diapers, don’t get your panties in a knot over stains.  I used to religiously fight stains and sun my diapers at every chance (which is rare living in Syracuse, NY).  Now, I am happier not being so worried about stains.  Usually, they resolve themselves after a few washes.  If not, who cares?  He is just going to poop in it again at some point.

Photo Credit: Stevec77 from Flickr

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  • I send my baby to daycare so I’m picky that the diapers that go there do not have stains. I try make cloth diapering really easy for them and leave the ick factor at home. I want it to be a good CDing experience for them. The only stains that we normally ever get are on with when he’s taking antibiotics or from his rash cream (I have to scrub those out with a tooth brush and dawn). I don’t care about the inserts having stains because no one see those but me (we send pockets).

  • this may be a little extreme, but i absolutely hate the stains, so for the real stubborn stains, i put the diaper in a bucket and i boil some hot water, let the water get a nice rolling boil going and dump it on the bucket w/diaper and let it soak overnight. it’s like magic, the stain is always gone. i’m not necessarily concerned with the resale value of my diapers, i just like my diapers to stay white. i use coin-op machines at laundromat, so they are not the best machines and the boiling hot water soak really clears up all issues that i have.

  • When I first started CDing, I was worried about staining. But like you, I have only had one or two stains the sun could not get out. But I haven’t tried sunning them wet or using lemon juice. I didn’t know it would make a difference! I will definitely have to try those. But all my stains come from my 30 month old. I don’t know if it’s because he eats food with a lot of dyes (but we eat mostly natural and organic, so I try to stay away from a lot of things with artificial colors and flavors) or it’s just his age. But I don’t really worry about it anymore. I find I have bigger and better things to spend my time and energy on… Like my kids! 😉

  • Niki

    We only have sun where I live about 2 months of the year, so I look forward to summer when I can sun diapers! But alas… our sun must not be as strong as other places- my stains don’t disappear in the sun, even with lemon juice! Stains are just a part of life in our house, unfortunately. 😉

  • I’d love to sun my diapers but I live in an apartment complex and clotheslines are a no-no. I can air dry inside on a drying rack, but no sun! Do you know of a way to get around it?

    • Lia Bell

      Sunning will work through a window. Not as well as putting the dipe outside, but it will still lighten stains. Position your drying rack where those stains can get some sun from a nearby window, and you should see a difference.

  • Kim, I have struggled with how to respond to moms with questions about stains. I struggle because I could care less about a stain in a diaper! Like you said, they’re just going to poop in it again so why go through more trouble than a simple sunning?

  • Ingrid

    Hello- I just purchased used CDs and some have stains… is it too late to get them out? I would love to try, but don’t want to put in a lot of effort if it isn’t going to work. Thanks!