The Facts about Staph and Cloth Diapers

Recently there was a big fuss over someone who sold cloth diapers and the baby whose mother bought them ending up with staph. This was terrifying and awful to hear about and I couldn’t resist doing some research on the subject. After a lot of reading, and consulting three health care professionals here are the facts I found.

  1. Staphylococcus aureus (Staph) bacteria are everywhere. Many healthy people carry staph bacteria without getting sick.
  2. There are more than 30 species in the staph family of bacteria, and they can cause different kinds of illnesses.
  3. Staph is opportunistic and it needs a way to get INTO the body, skin that is punctured or broken, a rash, or a cut on your hand. Just it’s presence does not guarantee you a staph infection.
  4. Staph infections can spread among those who live close together. Usually from sharing things like bed linens, towels, or clothing.
  5. Warm, humid environments are ideal growing conditions and can contribute to staph infections. (Think wet laundry on top of a dryer or wet diaper in the bathroom)
  6. General cleanliness such as washing your hands before and after changing diapers, making food, doing laundry or even a trip to a store can prevent a staph infection from spreading or occurring.
  7. MRSA is methacillin resistant staph aureus. It is difficult to treat and relatively common though it is typically found in hospitals and nursing homes. Most cases of staph are NOT MRSA

When buying used diapers (or clothing) if you are concerned about staph or general yuckies…

  • Washing 10 cloth diapers at a time in 1/8 cup of bleach (real bleach not color safe stuff) and hot water and then drying them on a high temperature for 1 hr will kill bacteria found in clothing.
  • Sunning is good for removing stains. Hanging diapers on a line in the sun for a day should remove stains and help kill bacteria.

Some more quick facts about staph.

Staphylococcus & MRSA

Impetigo – a type of skin staph infection

A very good multi page article

A bit of info from an RN:

First of all a culture (staph test) takes 3 days to complete. Preliminary results can come back in 8 hours. The only way to tell if you’re dealing with MRSA vs run of the mill staph is by doing a culture and sensitivity test. They absolutely take 3 days.
Bleach makes your fibers wear out faster and that’s why manufacturers don’t want you to use it. It’s a naturally occurring element that is necessary for life. Table salt has chloride ions as does Potassium, Magnesium and virtually every electrolyte in your body. No cell in your body can function without it. Do you ever swim in pools? Pools are kept sanitary with chlorine. Bleach is chlorine. Clorox 2 or something that says “color safe bleach” is not chlorine bleach and will not sanitize diapers. There has been all this misconception lately about detergents sanitizing diapers. No detergent sanitizes. Bleach, hot hot water, and hot hot dryers are responsible for sanitizing.

  • Another fact: staph does not live very long on cotton fabric! See Below:


For staphylococci, our results are consistent with those of Wilkoff et al. (17), who reported that one S. aureus isolate lived 1 week on cotton and 2 weeks on terry. In contrast, Scott and Bloomfield (12) showed S. aureus surviving only 4 to 24 h on cloth.

They’re talking about unwashed fabric saturated with MRSA bacteria then allowed to sit on an agar plate in a lab under ideal conditions for bacterial growth. Not a diaper that has been machine washed and dried at high temp. We don’t burn our patients’ linens, even the many layers thick under pads that get all kinds of nasty seeping wound exudates on them. They are washed in an industrial washer like the big dogs at the laundromat with bleach, dried on hot hot, and put back in service the next day.

The transfer of gram-positive bacteria, particularly multi resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) and vancomycin-resistant enterococci (VRE), among patients is a growing concern. One critical aspect of bacterial transfer is the ability of the microorganism to survive on various common hospital surfaces. The purpose of this study was to determine the survival of 22 gram-positive bacteria (vancomycin-sensitive and -resistant enterococci and methicillin-sensitive and -resistant staphylococci) on five common hospital materials: smooth 100% cotton (clothing), 100% cotton terry (towels), 60% cotton, 40% polyester blend (scrub suits and lab coats), 100% polyester (privacy drapes), and 100% polypropylene plastic (splash aprons). Swatches were inoculated with 104 to 105 CFU of a microorganism, assayed daily by placing the swatches in nutritive media, and examining for growth after 48 h. All isolates survived for at least 1 day, and some survived for more than 90 days on the various materials. Smaller inocula (102) survived for shorter times but still generally for days. Antibiotic sensitivity had no consistent effect on survival. The long survival of these bacteria, including MRSA and VRE, on commonly used hospital fabrics, such as scrub suits, lab coats, and hospital privacy drapes, underscores the need for meticulous contact control procedures and careful disinfection to limit the spread of these bacteria.

Essentially the bacteria can survive for an extended period of time on unwashed fabrics. If you suspect staph or any other kind of infection washing the questionable clothing items in hot, hot water with a little bleach is not going to hurt your fabrics and will give you some peace of mind.


Thanks to Dawnn, a registered RN, for letting me use you!

What does all that mean?

There is a extremely low probability of getting a staph infection from used clothing or diapers that have been properly washed and dried. Getting an infection from a counter top, shopping cart or even a friends change table is much more likely. If you do purchase used clothing of any kind, it is probably best to give it a quick wash in some hot water and a bit (1/8 cup) of bleach; It won’t hurt your diapers, will give you some peace of mind and remove general yuckies from the fabrics!

Happy Cloth Diapering!

One Comment

  1. Janice said:

    Great article! I’ve lived with susceptibility to staph infections and have to learn many ways to protect me and my family. You’ve given some great advice. I hope it helps mom understand.

    July 10, 2012

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