Cloth diapers are not meant to be stinky or leaky. If they are, then you probably have a buildup of soap, fabric softener, or some other substance that's causing them to retain odors and leak fluids. You can avoid this problem by not using certain detergents, not using any fabric softeners, doing an extra rinse after washing your diapers, and only using particular diaper creams.
What to do if your diaper start to smell or leak, though? Strip the diapers. The term "stripping" is simply meant to refer to a process of removing any build up that may be on your diapers (soap, usually). It's a very easy thing to do--we regularly strip our diapers, and always strip any used ones that we buy before putting them on Amara.
Here are the different ways to strip diapers:
1) Run the diapers on a hot-cold wash cycle but with no soap. Look for suds when they're agitating. Continue this process until there are no suds.
2) Use 1/2 cup white vinegar in the rinse cycle when washing diapers. This reacts with soap, causing it to dissipate. Don't worry, your diapers won't smell like vinegar when they're dry. You can also try adding 1/2 cup of baking soda to the wash cycle with or without a little bit of tea tree oil. It does the same thing as the vinegar. The tea tree oil works to disinfect the diapers and also works against fungi (great if you're suffering from a yeast rash!)
3) Soak diapers in a hot water/dawn dish soap mixture for 30 minutes, and then scrub away with a tooth brush. This is particularly effective with fleece pocket diapers. Wash as usual before and after, and by golly, make sure that there is no soap left in the diaper!
4) Use a stripping agent. This is my favorite method since it's easy and takes no extra time. Bac-Out, Calgon, Dawn Dish Soap, OxiClean, and Sensi-Clean are all additives that I've seen recommended for stripping diapers. You'd simply add the agent in with your diapers when washing them (instead of a detergent), and then make sure the product rinses completely out (no bubbles during agitation!). We regularly use Sensi-Clean to strip our diapers. Any time that we think they're getting leaky or just need an extra good washing, we just use Sensi-Clean in place of our regular detergent. The key to these agents is that they're supposed to remove all residue that may be lingering on clothing. Be careful, though. A handful of these are known to cause rashes on some babies.
Still having problems? You may need to strip your washing machine. Believe it or not, soaps can build up on your machine walls, and fabric softener can build up on your dryer walls. To strip a washing machine, simply run a load on hot with Sensi-Clean (or another stripping agent). Put a few towels in to aid the process. Some people opt to run an empty load, though. You may need to do this a few times depending on your build up.
The Diaper Hyena suggests this baking soda-vinegar method of stripping a washing machine:
Loosening the grunge and grime. Starting with an empty washing machine, run HOT water up to the highest washing level your washer offers. When the water is full and the washer begins agitating, add 3 cups of distilled white vinegar (2 cups of lemon juice can be substituted) and 1/2 cup of baking soda to the water. Allow the cycle to run almost completely, advancing it to 'spin' right as the water starts to drain. By doing this, the washer will spin and drain at the same time. Follow by wiping down the inner tub, removing any residue that has been loosened by the cleansing process. To remove all remaining residue, follow this with a complete COLD water cycle. Adjust your washer's agitation to high (where you would place it for heavily soiled clothing). This technique should remedy any lingering soap scum or mineral deposits both in the drums of your washing machine and the hoses.
Any way you do it, it's a good idea to strip your diapers and washing machine every few months as maintenance, and any time needed in between. It'll prolong the life of your diapers, and make your life a bit easier and happier! Do you know of any other methods for stripping diapers?