To Boil or Not To Boil; That is the Question

This last month has been one long cloth diapering conversation between me and about fifteen other mothers. Several of the mothers talked about their experiences with stripping their diapers. I have never stripped my diapers, and my daughter is 11 months old. I never really felt the need, since she doesn’t have problems with leaking and most things that line dry are just a touch stiff. This is how the inserts for The Bump’s diapers have been for a little while. So last week, I got the sudden urge to see how they would fair if I boiled them to remove any potential residues or buildup.

It wasn’t as though I woke up one morning and said, “Hey, I’m going to boil my diapers today for no reason and with no provocation.” I got the idea from my friend, Mamas and Babies who had mentioned boiling diapers as a way of stripping them. All diapers leak if you leave them on too long. It’s like saying that eventually everyone is going to die. Eventually, all diapers leak. She had me wondering if maybe I had trained myself to change The Bump’s diapers before I might otherwise need to though. If there was buildup on the inserts, it would explain why, and I might be able to return them to their former absorbency. Since this is a problem that could happen gradually, I might have trained myself to respond accordingly and just be changing her more frequently, rather than dealing with the residue. I figured boiling them once couldn’t hurt, so I gave it a shot.

I put one of my largest pots on the stove a little more than half full of water and put four clean inserts in to boil. I took them out after several minutes and put the next four inserts in. I repeated this process for all of the inserts. I wasn’t able to do it in one swoop, since she was wearing a diaper, and some needed to be washed anyway, but over the course of the day, allowing the first batch to dry and washing the others, I got to all of them. After the first batch, the smell of ammonia was over powering. My kids were gagging because they thought I was cooking it. I’ve never made any food that smelled inedible, but the benefit of the doubt is beyond kids under the age of ten. I wound up using a cinnamon scented essential oil in a diffuser to deal with the smell, and repeated this process again to deal with the same smell after the second batch.

After boiling the inserts, I washed them and ran them through an extra rinse. I then dried them in the sun. My results were astonishing.

After only boiling and washing and before they were even dried, the inserts FELT more absorbent. The process of the boiling actually removed a lot of dinginess and staining that I had thought was permanent. Obviously, that meant that there was stuff left in my pot, so I washed that on the sanitizing cycle so food could reasonably be cooked in it again, without making me gag from the thought. Once they had dried, the inserts felt soft and spongy again and after using them for a week, the mild diaper rash that nothing was fixing, is gone. I’m guessing the buildup was causing the problem there.

My conclusion with regard to boiling prefolds or inserts for diapers is that you should do it once in awhile. I’m thinking probably every few months is sufficient, so long as your detergent is gentle but strong. I suspect this is the boat I am in. If you have a more stringent or less effective detergent, you probably need to strip more frequently. Thus endeth the lesson. Happy cloth diapering!

10 responses to “To Boil or Not To Boil; That is the Question

  1. Wow! I’m glad that worked for you! 🙂 Just a question – do you have city water? I have hard water and have found that a lot of solutions that work for people with soft or city water don’t work for me. I’m probably going to try this anyways just to see if it helps with the smell. My BGs get stinky pretty quick unless I run them through my HE washer about 8 to 10 times. 😦 I only just realized how many times I’d been running them through about the last week. Like you said, we self adjust. 🙂

    • I do have city water, but it is extremely hard. I even use salt in my detergents to soften the water so they clean better. I would imagine if you have hard water, rinsing with vinegar after a good boil would probably do a lot. I use vinegar to get hard water stains off of my shower and to get the lime out of my electric kettle. From what I understand, boiling water can soften it some too, which I’ve also noticed, sine the lime that gets boiled out of the water in my electric kettle ends up on leaving deposits on the heating element. Anyway, try it and see what happens. You never know. Good luck.

  2. Great post! I’m thinking I need to do this… ever since I switched to Rockin’ Green laundry soap, my LO has had a bit of a rash? I was using Charlie’s previously… What do you launder your diapers in, if you don’t mind my asking! Thanks 🙂

    • I use this for all of my laundry. I have discovered that I need to use a 1/4 cup for a load of diapers to come out as clean as possible though. When I posted it originally, I was only using 1-2 tablespoons per load of diapers. At the time, it was probably sufficient, but The Bump has grown and her diaper usage has changed a little in the last 5 months.

  3. Elizabeth Albarez

    I boil occasionally, but never with that kind of fantastic results. Did you see any soap bubbles in the water? That is an indicator of build up. I think my microfiber is just dead. They lasted two years. I’m working up the courage to give them a proper burial.

    • I didn’t see soap bubbles. I think the buildup that was in my microfiber was ammonia. I wonder if you could use prefolds as inserts, thereby keeping that set of diapers in use. Just a thought, since you can buy prefolds for much cheaper especially in bulk. The covers are generally the expensive part anyway.

  4. Thanks for sharing! Maybe I should try this; I’ve been cloth diapering for 21 months and have not boiled but my daughter sometimes gets a rash. I’d like to ask you two questions.
    1) Is PUL the only material that shouldn’t be boiled? Because I have just three inserts I have bought. I have prefolds, flannel doublers, and fitteds that a friend made — I think with microfiber and knit terry. The other 8 diapers are all-in-ones I made with PUL on the outside.
    2) Does cold water really get your diapers clean? I think I’ve mostly read that hot water is the most effective, so I’ve often done a hot cycle without detergent, then a hot cycle with extra rinse. I wonder why the maker of the diapers you have says to use cold water and to never use dryer heat.

    • I’ve used polyurethane in other applications and heat can seriously screw up its waterproofing capabilities. I’m thinking that’s why the instructions say not to dry in the dryer or use hot water. Yes, the cold water does get my diapers clean. I also feel pretty good about my routine, since I line dry in the sun and UV rays have some disinfecting and bleaching properties.

      If I were in your shoes, I probably wouldn’t boil the ones with the PUL, but the microfiber for sure, the flannel, probably (since I think that’s what my friend Cherylyn uses and she boils hers) and the prefolds for sure, since I know they can handle the heat. I hesitate to put too much stress on synthetic fabrics though, which is another reason to limit the number of times you boil or wash PUL and microfiber in hot water. One of my main goals is ensuring these last as long as humanly possible, as well as keeping my baby’s bottom dry and rash-free. Good luck, Manda. Let me know what you try and what happens.

  5. I Googled “how long do you boil cloth diapers?” and your title “To Boil or Not to Boil” made me choose your post. I’ve been fighting with my microfibes lately and knew I needed to boil. My baby girl only had AppleCheek’s bamboo inserts as a newborn and never leaked. But I didn’t buy all AC’s in size 2 and have some cheaper microfibre shells and inserts in the mix now and they are not up to AC absorbancy. But they used to do great so I knew the microfibres needed some massive stripping. So now, I will boil with even more encouragement AND with some tips from you! (about smells – lol) So thank you!

  6. Was doing some research on boiling some diapers and look whose page shows right up!!!

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