The Diaper Staining Guide: A Simple Way to Assess Cloth Diaper Stains and How to Treat Them

The Diaper Staining Guide: A Simple Way to Assess Cloth Diaper Stains and How to Treat Them

Your beautiful white cotton cloth diapers have arrived, and like many parents, you're determined to keep them in pristine condition throughout your cloth diapering journey. But what should you do if stains pop up? Are different colored stains an indicator of different problems? Is it safe to use stained diapers on your baby?!

Before we dig in, it is worth noting that while diaper stains can be unsightly- they are NOT generally an indication of uncleanliness. If your diapers smell fresh and neutral coming out of the washer and dryer then you can trust they are clean regardless of how colorful they might be.

In other words, stained diapers are (typically) perfectly fine to continue using on your baby (though some may require some TLC, which we’ll get to below).

It is, however, a good idea to know what kind of stains you’re dealing with so you can give them the proper treatment and make any necessary changes so it doesn’t keep happening if it’s preventable.

In this blog post, we'll dive into the various kinds of stains, mainly focusing on their colors, that you might encounter on your cloth diapers. We'll guide you through the process of treating them effectively and offer additional insights to ensure your cloth diapering experience is as smooth and sparkling clean as possible!

Different Colors of Stains You Might See When Cloth Diapering (and how to treat them!) 


​The majority of babies produce pristine white diapers, but some (about 25% based on our own research!) like their “diaper art.” As long as you’re only using cloth friendly diaper creams, and are washing as per the instructions (you can learn all about how to wash your diapers “The Esembly Way” in this blog post!), then we can safely assume it is not something you’re doing “wrong” and is instead linked to your baby's unique biochemistry, or perhaps a supplement* your baby or you (if you’re nursing) might be taking.

*We’ve done extensive research trials and something we have found that can increase yellow stains in breastfed newborns is the mom taking a high concentration of fish oil/fish oil derived DHA supplements or a prenatal that contains those ingredients. If that’s the case, you can try switching to a vegan DHA supplement to see if that works. But at the end of the day, your health and your baby's health are far more important than some yellow marks on a diaper so if you don’t want to make any changes in that area, that’s TOTALLY ok.

How to treat

An easy way to treat those stains is by running an “Optional Refresh” as outlined here:

Or, by laying freshly washed diapers in the sun to dry for natural bleaching. (The sun's rays are remarkably effective at zapping stains!)


Similar to yellow, this could simply be a result of your babe’s natural biochemistry, but if your diapers are showing this kind of staining AND smelling funky then there’s likely something up with your washing routine that will require adjusting.

If you’re noticing brown stains on your diapers AND they smell stinky, this likely means your diapers are not getting fully cleaned in the wash. We see this more often when solids have been introduced and the bulk of the solid matter has not been properly removed from the diaper prior to washing. To make poop clean ups super simple after your baby has started eating solids,, we recommend using our Tossers (which are thin biodegredable disposable liners) or our Stay-Dry Liners if you prefer a reusable option. When your baby is on a milk-only diet (breastmilk or formula) there is not need to remove the poo before washing (your washing machine will take care of it!) but once your baby’s diet expands, removing the solid poo before washing is very important.

How to treat

Again, our “Optional Refresh” instructions with chlorine bleach will zap any stubborn stains, but if you expect the stains might be due to the diapers not getting fully cleansed in the wash, you’ll need to do some troubleshooting to ensure it isn’t something you’re having to deal with ongoing. (you can find lots of helpful info on how to go about that in this post!)


If you’re ever noticing tiny black staining on your cloth diapers, you’ve likely got an unwelcome visitor you’ll need to evict: mold/mildew

Mold/Mildew can take on different appearances, sometimes it’s tiny black speckles, other times it presents itself as fuzzy patches in a range of colors. Mold has an unfortunate tendency to penetrate deep into the material, which makes completely eliminating these stubborn stains a challenging task. 

What to do first

You’ll need to determine what might be going on in your routine that could trigger mold growth. Thankfully pee (due to the ph and ammonia) does not cause mold/mildew growth, so soiled diapers on their own are generally not an issue - but how they are being treated and stored between washes could be! We’d recommend checking out this previous post of ours to determine what might be the cause of any unwelcome mold/mildew spots: Eliminating Mold and Mildew from Cloth Diapers: Expert Tips and Tricks

What to do next

Once again, we’re going to recommend the Optional Refresh (surprised?😉) to help zap any lingering mold/mildew, but those little black stains might be hard to get rid of, though they will likely fade over time.

One trick is to spray the diapers with a mix of white vinegar and water and lay them in the sun for natural bleaching!

stained cloth diaper inner from Esembly


Sometimes grey blotchy stains could indicate the presence of mold, but they can also be a result of using skincare products that are not cloth-friendly – which leave behind greasy residues that result in dull grey stains.

What makes certain skincare products not cloth friendly? Glad you asked.

​The main ingredients to avoid when cloth diapering (and this goes for any cloth diapers, not just Esembly) are petroleum oil, mineral oil, cod-liver oil, lanolin, or products with high concentrations of zinc oxide (over 15%) or heavy wax.

Products with these ingredients (like Vaseline, Butt-Paste, Aquaphor, Destin, A+D, etc.) are not considered "cloth friendly" because they're extremely difficult (in some cases, impossible) to wash out of fabric, locking in stains, stink, and cause leaks (the greasy coating that has built up on the fabric causes the pee to bead up and roll off instead of being absorbed by the cotton).

If you’re cloth diapering, we do recommend our skincare products, simply because we feel they work best! And they are also guaranteed to wash out of your cloth diapers. But you are of course welcome to use any products that you like that are cloth friendly. You can read all about how to determine if a product you want to use is cloth friendly here: Understanding Cloth Diaper Friendly Skincare

How to Treat

First, you’ll need a powerful detergent to help rid the diapers of the petroleum to ensure your diaper’s absorbency is intact.

While our Washing Powder is perfect for cleaning diapers, liquid detergents tend to be better at breaking up grease. If you can get something like Tide Original, that would be ideal for resetting your diapers.

Then, you’ll need to run your diapers that were affected through the following two cycles (or something similar depending on the kind of washing machine you have)

Cycle 1

Cycle: Heavy Duty

Wash Temp: Hot

Options: Heavy Soil

Detergent: measure for a "normal" load

Cycle 2

Cycle: Heavy Duty

Wash Temp: Hot

Options: Heavy Soil

Detergent: measure for a "heavy duty" load

Then, once the diapers are cleaned and fully dried, you’ll need to test your diapers to see if the reset did the trick (this is for the absorbency, not the stains). You can test this by dribbling some water onto the Inners (these are our fitted diapers) and seeing if the water droplets absorb in immediately, or if they bead up for a split second before collapsing into the fabric. If they bead up, you’ll need to try this reset again. 

Once you’ve got your diapers to a place where the diaper’s absorption is dialed and you’re ready to treat those stains, you’ll need to run an “Optional Refresh” as outlined here:

Or, you can lay your freshly washed diapers in the sun to dry for natural bleaching.


While light pink staining on your diapers could be mildew (in which case, you can treat the same way we’d recommend treating mold) – if it looks like someone spilled cherry juice all over your diapers, you might be dealing with something called “Pink Diaper Syndrome”

We’ll start by sharing that this is far less common, but, in an effort to make sure you have resources for any kind of stains your little one can produce, we’re here to offer some helpful tips. 

The pink in this kind of staining can be caused by a bacteria called Serratia Marcescens. When S. Marcescens makes its way into a baby’s GI tract, the result is a pink diaper that can be rather alarming! Additionally, the hot pink stain might not set in on your diapers, clothing or nursing pads for 12-24 hours. So they look normal when you take them off the baby and then when you open your diaper pail the next day it’s hot pink madness inside!


If you notice this kind of staining, you may want to discuss this with your pediatrician so they can rule out any infection or need for antibiotics.


How to Treat


As for your diapers, we’d recommend adding an “Optional Refresh” to your wash routine. Be sure to use a fresh bottle of Original Clorox for maximum effectiveness. The pink is sadly not easy to get out but the bleach will lighten it. You might also want to try laying your damp diapers out in the sun to further lighten the stains.


“You haven’t covered the color stains I’m seeing!” 


If you’re noticing any other colored stains on your white diapers; just like any other household laundry, it’s possible that a sneaky red sock or a royal blue tee made their way into the wash with your diapers! Magic markers have also been known to wreak havoc in the washer!

You can rest easy knowing that all Esembly textiles are colorfast, so you won’t see any colors bleeding when washing your colorful Day Bags (aka wet bags) and Outers (aka diaper covers) with your cotton Inners. (aka fitted diapers!)👍

It’s also quite possible that if you’ve introduced solids you might get some interesting colored stains! (we’re looking at you spinach, blueberries, and beets!) Again, these are usually nothing to be alarmed about, and can be treated with sun bleaching or an Optional Refresh.

The Optional Refresh 

We’ve referenced and linked out to our Optional Refresh instructions throughout this post, but to keep things simple (which, we kinda like doing for parents since we know how busy things can be!) we’ve detailed how you can go about giving your diapers this special reset below.

Depending on the kind of washing machine you have, your refresh cycle might look something like: 

Cycle 1

Run a “Normal” cycle with 1 scoop of Washing Powder (or measure for a “normal” load if using another detergent)

Cycle 2

Run a “Heavy Duty” (avoid settings like “Sanitize” or Extra Hot, as these are likely too intense for your diapers) with 2 scoops of Washing Powder (or measure for a “heavy duty” load if using another detergent), and 3-5 ounces of chlorine bleach.

Pro Tip: Use a fresh bottle of chlorine bleach (bleach loses it’s potency rather quickly once opened) like the original clorox formula to ensure maximum effectiveness.

After performing the “Optional Refresh” with chlorine bleach to treat your diapers stains, adding bleach to the second wash cycle is totally optional moving forward. (You can do this with every laundry, or once a month, or never at all. Up to you!) 

For more on our full recommended diaper washing care instructions, check out this post: The Complete Guide to Washing Your Cloth Diapers at Home

With the knowledge we’ve shared and the know-how on an effective stain zapper (like the “Optional Refresh” or the sun’s magical rays!) you have everything you need to treat any stains quickly and easily :) But remember, the proof is in the sniff! You should always be able to give your freshly washed diapers a sniff when they come out of the dryer, and the smell should be fresh and neutral – meaning your cloth diapers are ready to be used once again!



Want to learn more?

Our co-founders host a free, virtual, Cloth Diapering 101 class every month to help cloth-curious parents get all the tools and information they need! You’ll learn:

  • How to use the Esembly diapers and accessories 
  • How to easily and effectively launder your Esembly diapers
  • The impact that your choice has on the planet, your wallet, and your day-to-day. 

You'll leave with the confidence to Live Less Disposably and a 20% discount code to use on your first order. 🥳 We hope to see you there!

Sign Up for Our Next Cloth 101 Class


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