Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Bleach & Cloth Diapers : My Story

A few days ago, I committed the worst crime that I could do to harm my son's cloth diaper stash...I used bleach.

One of the reasons why I chose to cloth diaper my children was to avoid chemicals at all costs. Before a cloth diaper went on my child, I washed it multiple times to ensure that any chemicals the cloth may have come in contact with during manufacturing or distribution were no longer present, so why on earth would I use bleach?

After years of vowing never to use such a harmful chemical to my laundry loads, I succumbed to the pressure after some suggestions to use it not only to tackle the horrid ammonia smell, but also as a disinfecting agent. Additionally, I recall that a couple cloth diapering retailers mention in their care instructions that it was ok to use once per month (or as others claim, on an "as-needed" basis). In the past, I preferred to abide by the instructions NOT to use bleach as clearly inscribed on the diaper care tags.

Please understand, that the I have decided to share this information is to inform you of my one-time experience with bleach and cloth diapering. My intention is not to criticize those who use and will continue to use the product.

Here are the reasons why I will never use bleach again :

Bleach Destroyed My Cloth Diapers

As I had mentioned before, I ignored suggestions by others to bleach my children's diapers when an ammonia or stink problem came along. After all, after four years of cloth diapering, I had found a wash routine that worked and added a little RLR or an eco-friendly oxygenated bleach (like OXO Brite) when necessary.

Now that I collect diapers for a cloth diaper loaning site and selling off some of my son's no longer needed diapers online, I wanted to make sure that the diapers that I was passing on were thoroughly cleaned and disinfected, which is why I turned to bleach.

The pictures below are the results of one wash with 1/4 cup of bleach as instructed by a couple sources. Keep in mind that I used recommended amount for a large load (or less depending on who you ask, which is a 1/2 cup for my top loading machine) and the bleach was diluted in the water and not poured directly on the diapers.

The result?

The following pictures do not serve the "loss to the battle of bleach" any justice. First of all, the smell was so horrible, I rinsed the diapers twice before drying. Additionally, each diaper cover (line dried, as I normally would) pictured had anywhere between 10-12 holes exposing the elastic, a problem that was non-existant prior to washing. In fact, the first cover pictured could have been listed as "in excellent used condition" or "like new". Now I am left with covers that cannot be sold...

Those of you who have used bleach with their cloth diaper laundry, your diapers may have not met the same fate as mine did. Again, the purpose of this post is to be strictly informative...not as an attack on others or to stir up drama. All information listed in this post is based on personal experience and is the basis for which I formed my own opinion.

Environmental Impact & Health

In the past, common sense told me that something that may may cause an immediate burning sensation in the nose, eyes, or mouth, and coughing, dizziness, or shortness of breath and can product toxic fumes when it comes in contact with ammonia or vinegar...tells me that bleach is not a product that I feel comfortable using. In fact, some countries around the world have banned bleach or limited it's uses because of the harm that it can cause to the environment and to the human race.

"Manufacturers who use chlorine bleach often release it into local water bodies along with other liquid industrial waste. Once it reaches the water, chlorine reacts with other minerals and elements to form a host of dangerous toxins. These toxins, including dioxins, furams and PCDDs are often referred to as "persistent organic pollutants" because they linger in the water or soil and take many years to disappear. Greenpeace calls dioxin one of the most dangerous chemicals known to science, and warns that it can contribute to cancer, endocrine disorders and other serious health effects. The West Virginia University Extension also links chlorine-based compounds, like dioxins, with low sperm count, testicular cancer and breast cancer due to their ability to mimic human hormones."

While companies like Clorox claim (referring to household bleach vs. industrial) that "no bleach gets to the environment" and that aquatic life are perfectly safe, intuition tells me not to take a statement like that and automatically accept it as truth.

Of course, not all bleach products are created equal. There is a difference between chlorine and non-chlorine bleach. On one of the "Myths About Bleach" page, I found the following information about the difference between the two formulations :

"Household bleach is derived from sodium chloride – common table salt. During household use, Clorox® Bleach breaks down to mostly salt and water. Clorox purchases chlorine and makes household bleach by bubbling the chlorine into a solution of water and sodium hydroxide (aka. caustic soda or lye). During this process, all of the chlorine is converted to a sodium hypochlorite solution."

When I have a question or concern about any household or care product, I turn to the Environmental Work Group website. This goal of this website is to inform consumers about the levels of concern and toxicity of the ingredients found in thousands of products that stock our grocery store shelves. Ratings are based on ingredients listed and those that are not (because not all companies disclose such information on the label) based on published scientific research.

You can find out more about their methodology behind their ratings here.

So...what does the Environmental Work Group have to say about bleach?

The EWG rated regular Clorox bleach a F, labeling it corrosive, harmful to aquatic life, responsible for respiratory problems, and a potential cancer threat. Even their chlorine-free bleach rates a C, which still poses a threat to marine life...despite the companies claims.

So, who should I believe?

Well, my mistrust in manufacturers to fully disclose all ingredients and chemical byproducts (yes, I won't name call...but a certain brand of commonly used detergent has been known to have traces of dioxane, and I am sure that they are more that follow in their footsteps), and who are quick to market their products as "gentle","safe", etc. - tells me to trust my gut instinct and take a moment to think about what I am actually purchasing.

As an earth-loving mommy, I care about what is being dumped into one of our earth's precious resources...water. However, that is a topic for another day.

Alternatives to bleach :

Oxygen Bleach – (My tride & true method of battling stink issues) Use the recommended amount of oxygen bleach in a HOT wash, along with your detergent. Keep in mind, that this method should not be used for each wash. If your diapers continue to smell, try adjusting the amount of detergent that you use.

Grapefruit Seed Extract - GSE is actually more effective than Colloidal Silver, Iodine, Tea Tree Oil and Clorox bleach against five common microorganisms. Add 20 drops (2 tsp.) to the final rinse cycle.

Hydrogen Peroxide – Add 1 cup of hydrogen peroxide in the final rinse cycle. Allow the washer to fill to the load level before placing the hydrogen peroxide into the water to avoid bleached spots on your diapers.

Other peroxide-based solutions :

DIY - Mix together 12 cups water, 1 cup hydrogen peroxide, and 1/4 cup lemon juice...voila!

Seventh Generation Chlorine Free Bleach, Free & Clear - The Environmental Work Group rated this product an A! The ingredients? Water & hydrogen peroxide.

Vinegar - Add 1 cup of distilled white vinegar in the final rinse cycle.

A word of caution :

*Vinegar may leave a lingering smell on microfiber or laminated diapers.

*Vinegar may worsen some water conditions such as very hard water.
You can also find out how your laundry products rate at the Environmental Work Group's Guide To Healthy Cleaning page.

So will I ever resort to bleach again? No, not when there are more earth friendly options that worked well for nearly half a decade.

Sources :

Environmental Work Group - - "How Do I Disinfect Cloth Diapers?"
University Of Connecticut Health Center : Is It Safe To Clean With Bleach? Feb. 21, 2011

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As always, comments or suggestions are always welcome. As a mom who enjoys helping others in their efforts to become more "green", I use my blog as a springboard to do just that.

What is NEVER allowed - Personal attacks, harsh criticisms, drama, and the like are not welcome here. I do not ban people from simply commenting a difference of opinion on my personal website (if I expect everyone else to act like a grown up, I will expect the same for myself), but I will block/remove those who cannot discuss anything in a polite manner and civil. So play nice! ;-)


  1. I've never bleached diapers. Not even for the charity that I work for. I have managed to tackle EVERY single problem that I've run into on both my diapers and others without it. If someone wants to bleach their diapers, more power to them... but please disclose that info prior to sale because I don't want to buy them.

  2. I have recently, admittedly become overzealous with bleaching my diapers. This last batch I paid for it -- severe fading on two new diapers w/ cotton outers (didn't even think about it beforehand). I think I'll go back to bleaching on an 'as needed' basis :(

  3. I've only bleached once, and I don't even remember what kind it was (I'm horrible, I know), and it was when we had a yeast problem. That was once in 3+ years of diapering. Thankfully, my wash routine is okay and I haven't had to battle ammonia or stink issues (knock on wood!), so if and when we come across those problems, I'll be grateful to have some wonderful alternatives to chlorine bleach. Thanks, Alanna!

  4. Yikes! in 2½ I have only bleached my diapers twice. We had such nasty rashes for a while (come to find out that it was due to not using enough detergent, even though my diapers looked and smelled clean) so in a last ditch effort I used bleach. I used it one other time on some natural fiber inserts only that were really stained and I wanted to sell them. I just don't think it's necessary in my experience.

  5. That's a bummer. I have always heard to use vinegar and have never any horror stories from it. Oh well, you live you learn, right?

  6. I haven't used vinegar only because where I live, I deal with extremely hard water. Vinegar can react with some of the minerals in the water and could lead to stinky diapers...

    Here is some more info. from the Real Diaper Association about vinegar and cloth diapers (how much to use & etc.)

  7. Since my little one has developed stronger pee, I have turned to bleach on a monthly basis. However, I ONLY bleach the microfiber inserts...nothing else.

  8. how odd! It sucks that it ruined diapers! We have bleached a handful of times in our he FL washer and never had fading or a diaper casualty. :-(

  9. I bleached about half our stash last week and they look great now. In two years I'd never done it, but it was time. I tried Oxo Brite first and it didn't fix the stinkiness. I have the same environmental concerns, but I had to weigh that against my daughter's healthy. It was not healthy for her to sit in diapers that had a build up of bacteria. Nothing kills bacteria like bleach not even GSE which I tried as well. Now that I've gotten the issue fixed I expect I won't need to bleach again

  10. As I had mentioned...this was one instance and I know many others have used bleach with no problem. I wanted to post as a warning.

  11. Wow! Thanks for the warnings about bleach! Your pictures and story definitely encourages me to avoid bleaching cloth diapers! I also appreciate that you give us readers a few alternatives! Thanks for sharing! :D


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