Stripping cloth diapers has got to be one of the most confusing things for people new to cloth or considering cloth diapers for the first time. All the stripping ‘rules’ seem so complicated, and so contradictory and everyone seems to have a different opinion on how to do it ‘correctly’. (For time tested proper stripping guidelines and methods see here).
Amidst all the mis-information out there is the mysterious Blue Dawn recommendation. This recommendation says that to strip your cloth diapers you should go and find Dawn dish soap (specifically the original blue kind) and use some to ‘strip’ the residues off your diapers and walla your repelling or odor problems will be fixed. Just put a squirt or two into your washing machine instead of your regular detergent and you’re done. Blue Dawn can fix all the world’s problems you know.
So first of all why must you use Dawn dish detergent and no other brand? Apparently someone has decided it is more gentle and/or has fewer harsh chemicals than other dish soaps (yah right). And second why must it be blue? Supposedly the original blue version of Dawn has the fewest additives (umm, okay).
Alright, now let’s think about what dish detergent does. It’s made to remove greasy residues from dishes. Hint: greasy residues. Not ammonia, not odors, not mineral or detergent buildup. 9 times out of 10 you are going to be stripping for smell issues or buildup issues, not grease issues. But, on the small chance there is something on your diapers which is greasy (i.e. you accidentally used lots of petroleum based bum cream and enough of it got on your diapers to cause repelling, or if your baby is on a high fat diet of some sort that causes greasy/oily bowel movements that have coated your diapers which is causing repelling issues, then yes, a SMALL amount of dish soap MAY assist you in getting your diapers clean again. But you know what? A couple of hot hot washes with a bit more of your usual (high quality) detergent will usually do the same thing too and if not, then honestly, your diapers were probably too far gone for Dawn to help anyway.
Why then, am I so cheeky about blue Dawn if there is in fact a reason to use it? Because if used carelessly it can cause you some major headaches. Of primary concern is this: Dawn dish soap should NEVER be used in your washing machine EVER. Not even a little tiny bit. A ‘squirt or two’ is a completely ambiguous measurement and dish soap is designed to foam up much more than laundry detergent creating a condition called ‘suds lock’ in your machine. This is an actual problem that happens to actual washing machines when you have too many bubbles from an overdose of detergent. The result is a costly repair and a sheepish grin when you have to confess to the repair guy what you were trying to do when you broke your washer. But I won’t put in too much you say? That won’t happen to me you say? Well maybe not, but do keep in mind that even if you successfully choose an amount that doesn’t hurt your machine, it will hurt your warranty. The warranty on your washer will be null and void if you use dish soap instead of laundry detergent. No questions asked.
We almost never suggest dish soap as a solution to diaper problems, but if you insist on trying it, what’s the proper way? In the sink with a toothbrush. Put a dime-sized, tiny bit of dish soap (any dish soap) onto the problem area of the diaper and gently scrub it around into the fabric of the diaper with an old, soft toothbrush and hot water. Then RINSE that diaper A LOT. Dish soap is not meant to be on a baby’s bum so any soap left behind has the potential to cause a skin reaction on a sensitive baby. So, rinse and rinse and rinse until you’re not getting any more suds and then put it in your washing machine for a hot wash cycle with no detergent and then a hot wash cycle with your usual detergent plus extra rinses until you no longer see bubbles in the rinse water.
Or, better yet, just make sure you have a good wash routine (rise, wash on hot with detergent, rinse) and you’ll never have to worry about stripping anyway!