Combatting Mildew in Cloth Diapers

A few weeks ago, I noticed a few small spots on the inside fabric of one of our Bumkins AI1 diapers. I thought the stains looked weird, but set the diaper outside in the sun…like I do with any stained diapers. Well, for the first time, the sun did nothing.

Fast forward to last week.

I noticed the spots seemed to be spreading, and they appeared on the hemp side of a GroVia AI2 insert.

Click on Photos to Enlarge

Yup! That’s a freshly peed in mildewed diaper insert.

That’s when I realized I had a mildew problem (At least, I think that’s what it is). I searched the Internet for causes of mildew on cloth diapers, and from what I can tell, the most likely reason for us is that I’m not getting these particular diapers and inserts dry enough. The Bumkins AI1 is made with a bamboo blend, which can take a while to dry. The hemp inserts also take extra time to dry. At this point, I’m assuming that although I’ve thought this particular diaper and insert was dry…it still has wet spots somewhere inside the absorbent layers.

This began my quest to eliminate the mildew and the spots.

Before doing much research, I reached for the bleach. In retrospect, I probably shouldn’t have reached for that first. When it comes to cloth diapers, there are often other methods that are equally or more effective, and certainly safer than chlorine bleach is on your lungs and diaper fabric.

I soaked the diaper and two inserts (it happened on a second GroVia hemp insert) in a full washer tank of water and a capful of bleach for an hour. Stains were still there.

Bleached and Dried- No Improvement

I went back to the Web. Thirsties has a page dedicated to techniques and procedures to remove mildew from cloth diapers. Based on what I read there and elsewhere on the net, I decided to try tea tree oil, baking soda, lemon juice, salt, and the sun.

With the diaper and inserts soaking in cold water from the beginning of a washing machine rinse cycle, I added teaspoons of tea tree oil and a 1/4 cup of baking soda. I dropped the washer lid for a few seconds to let the water agitate and stir the oil and baking soda around. Then I stopped the cycle, and let the diaper and inserts soak for an hour, before letting the rinse cycle finish.

After the cycle finished, I made a paste with 2 parts salt, 1 part lemon juice, and rubbed it into the spots. After letting them sit for half an hour, I washed them with a regular diaper load.

Lemon Juice and Salt Paste


Paste Rubbed into Spots

When I finished my regular diaper wash, I pulled the stained inserts and diaper out, sprayed the spots with a mixture of water and lemon juice, and left them laying in direct sunshine for several hours.

Sprayed and Sunning

Did it work? Nope. At least, the stains are still there. I’m certain the mildew is dead after the bleach, tea tree oil, etc.

The next day, I sprayed the spots with lemon juice and water again, and placed in the sun. Still no improvement. The spots look faded when the diaper and inserts are dry, but as soon as they are wet, the spots show up brightly again.

Results: No Improvement on Spots

So that’s my experience with mildew. You can kill it, but the spots are permanent.

Have you had a different experience? Did you get the mildew stains out? Any suggestions for me? Should I try something else or give up on the stains?

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  1. My experience with mildew has always been that the stains are forever. Heck- you were very lucky to have gotten rid of the odor. I have never had success even with huge amounts of bleach or vinegar or baking soda.

    1. I actually just tried straight bleach on a mildew spot a few days ago, and it disappeared immediately (it was bleach, after all), but obviously I don’t want to apply bleach to all my mildewed diapers and destroy the fabric! I’m not sure if I should try heavily concentrated bleach water or just let it go. The diaper and inserts with this issue are still usable.

  2. I had the exact same problem with my microfiber cloth diapers, and scoured the internet for a cure and ideas for prevention since I was washing my diapers every day! The only thing that worked for me was spot touch ups on the diaper with bleach and letting them sit for few hours ( I used a plastic bag as a barrier on my pocket diapers to prevent the bleach from touching the PUL fabric). And I also soaked my inserts in bleach in the washer for a few hours. They now look totally white. I think the problem was that I didn’t get them dry enough, and that’s what was causing the mildew.

    1. Hi SV, thanks for commenting! I’m always scared to use bleach on my diapers. I have used a little bit a couple of times as a last resort, but I like your idea of using a plastic bag as a barrier.

  3. i hear if you make a paste of oxyclean 2parts oxy to one part water and rub it on the stains and let em sit a few hours then launder it will remove the stains too. good luck

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