How To Clean Diaper Pail: Keeping Your Home Fresh And Odor-Free!

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September 14, 2018

Have you ever walked into a home that housed cats? Maybe several cats, and several litter boxes? Even the most hard-working cat owner can run into litter odor issues. Now now, I know we’re not talking about that – but you don’t want your baby’s nursery to have that “a baby poops here” characteristic odor, either.

Fortunately, keeping the diaper pail all clean and fresh isn’t too difficult. With a little elbow work, you can even get a stinky pail back to neutral – and your nose will thank you for it!

After all, getting rid of it whenever it smells nasty and getting a new diaper pail is definitely not a viable solution, nor is applying Fabreeze all over the house whenever you have someone coming over.

Once you’ve got the smelly situation all under control, you can take some simple steps to ensure that your diaper disposal system stays fresh and clean from there on out.

What Kind Of Diaper Pail Do You Have?

There are many commercially available diaper pails out there for you to choose from, depending on the type of diaper you use.

One of the most popular brands for disposable diapers is the Playtex Diaper Genie. There are several competitors, but these pails typically work similarly. There’s not that much moving parts to a diaper pail for products to stand out from one another after all.

The pails are usually a closed system, so they help keep in odors because they close tightly. You buy refills, which are sold in a roll.

These systems are really easy to use, but they can still harbor bacteria and mold which can – in turn – lead to a stinky mess.

Luckily for you, though, we’re here to help you deal with all of that.

What If I Use Cloth Diapers?

A system like the Diaper Genie can be used for cloth diapers as well, but they aren’t the best choice.

The plastic sides tend to draw in smells, which will eventually make your diaper pail, and the nursery, stink. Plus, the opening is fairly narrow so you might have a tough time physically putting your cloth diapers inside.

You can still use a plastic-sided pail for that matter, but look for one with a wider opening.

Some cloth diaper pails are lined with mesh. If you don’t use a liner, you will end up washing these pails more often, since any liquid can seep through the mesh.

Some cloth diaper pails are wet pails, meaning that the cloth diapers soak in water until wash day. While this may sound more hygienic, most modern cloth diaper manufacturers do not recommend them, so always read your tags.

The water in a wet pail must be changed daily, and the container itself must be cleaned often, perhaps several times a week. They can be a drowning hazard for pets and children. A lid that locks is a necessary feature.

These pails can also be heavy and difficult to move, especially going up or down the stairs.

The easiest option for cloth diapers is to use a dry steel pail such as the Ubbi with a machine-washable waterproof liner. Then, you can pull the entire bag out and dump everything into your washing machine.

Whatever you choose, a good cleaning at regular intervals will catch any spills and keep messes from growing into something worse.

How Often Should I Clean My Diaper Pail?

This question can be difficult to answer for everyone, but the short answer is, your nose will tell you when it’s time!

First things first, your nursery should not have any strong odors at any given point in time. But what happens when you open your diaper pail? If a stinky smell hits your nose, even after you’ve changed the liner, it’s time to clean.

Plan to spend a few minutes once a week cleaning your diaper pail. You might have to clean it more often if your baby has been sick, if you have several babies in diapers, or if you see any kind of unusual growth. Regular maintenance will make your life easier and less smelly.

Several of the major producers of diaper pails recommend cleaning them every three months, and while this sounds great, you’ll probably find that the stink will become unbearable after just a few weeks. Remember that plastic tends to absorb odors, so cleaning more often will help protect your investment.

What Causes Diaper Pails To Smell Bad?

There are several culprits for the bad smell.

For one, it could be small pieces of feces that stuck to something. As gross as it sounds, some diapers are squishier than others, and poop can ooze out when you force the diaper into the pail.

Also, bacteria grows well in a moist, dark, and closed system. So even though the room (or your house) doesn’t smell, if you get a strong whiff of something when you open it, you likely have bacteria present inside.

Mold can be another cause of odor, and mold can cause some very serious health problems both for you and your baby if you don’t get it under control soon enough. Issues that range from respiratory problems, all the way to cancer.

And mold is not just a problem with diaper pails. For example, It’s for good reason that experts advise parents regularly clean their baby’s sippy cups to keep the mold away.

How To Clean A Diaper Pail

Depending on how long you’ve been using your pail, you may want to do a deep clean if the situation is bad enough to warrant one or you’ve just never done a deep clean before.

If your container is new, or almost new, you can follow the regular maintenance steps instead.

If your pail is already a cesspit, then get ready to scrub!

Method #1: Deep Cleaning (If You See Mold)

Step 1: Mix borax (found in your laundry aisle) with water in an empty, clean spray bottle. Use 1 tablespoon of borax per cup of water. To make 3 cups, you need 3 tablespoons of borax and 3 cups of water. Warmer water will help it dissolve better.

Step 2: Stir the solution until you can’t see borax.

Step 3: Add vinegar, 1/8 cup per cup of water you used. So, if you initially mixed up 3 cups, you would need 3/8 cups of white vinegar.

Step 3.5 (Optional): Add about 15 drops of tea tree essential oil per cup. So, if you initially mixed up 3 cups, you’d add around 45 drops of oil. Avoid use around very young babies and always keep out of reach! Tea tree oil is also poisonous to pets.

Step 4: Give everything a good mix or shake.

Step 5: Spray on and let the solution sit for a few minutes. Take the pail outside and rinse (or do so in the bathtub).

Step 6: Follow the weekly clean steps from here on out.

Method #2: For Weekly Cleaning

Step 1: Take everything out – liners, stray wipes, etc .. anything you can see.

Step 2: Take the pail outside if possible or set it in your bathtub.

Step 3: Fill up the pail about halfway with warm, soapy water. A mild detergent like Dawn works well.

Step 4: Dedicate a clean sponge or washcloth to this job, and then start scrubbing.

Step 5: Wipe down every surface you can reach. Pay attention to all the little nooks and cracks where things might like to grow.

Step 6: Hose the whole thing down, ideally by using your water hose or by using your shower head if you can’t use the water hose at the time.

Step 7: Let it air dry outside, preferably in the sun. The sun will destroy any last bits of bacteria you might have missed. If you need to use it before it gets totally dry, use a towel to get any last drop of moisture.

Method #3: For A Smellier Than Usual Weekly Clean

Step 1: Follow the same steps outlined above for the weekly clean, except add baking soda to the bottom of your pail before you start scrubbing.

Step 2: Once the baking soda and soap solution mixes, wait a few minutes so that odors can be neutralized.

Step 3: Continue to scrub, paying attention to nooks and cracks.

Step 4: Follow steps 6 and 7 for the weekly clean. The longer it can sit in the sun, the better.

Things To Consider When Cleaning Diaper Pails


If you have stubborn stains in your pail, or a smell that just won’t go away no matter what you seem to throw its way, consider using bleach.

With that being said, never use bleach in a wet pail for cloth diapers because it can break down your diapers and ruin them.

Step 1: Put on gloves if you have them available to protect your hands. Take off any jewelry on your hands or wrists before you handle bleach. Set the pail outside or in the bathtub.

Step 2: Mix a half and half solution of bleach and warm water in a small bowl.

Step 3: Using a dedicated cloth, wipe down all surfaces of your diaper pail, inside and out.

Step 4: Rinse carefully! The water spray will still contain bleach. Be cautious of your eyes and surroundings. Doing this outside with a hose and using low pressure is best. Don’t rinse near your favorite flower bed or grass that you have pampered.

Step 5: Rinse again, using full pressure on your hose.

Step 6: Let the container dry in the sun.

Mixing Liners

Some liners are brand-dependent, so they only fit in certain diaper pails. See if the liners for your diaper pail are readily available before you buy.

You can’t always use just any kind, so choose wisely if you want a particular type. Some are scented or are anti-bacterial.


If you have two or more children in diapers, a regular pail may not work. If you have to empty it after every diaper change, you’re losing out on the benefit of a receptacle.

So, be sure to choose one that suits your needs. A pail that is too small will get smelly fast.


If you are leaving the house for a few days, be sure to empty and wash your pail before you go, especially if you use a wet container.

Any kind of diaper pail will become especially fragrant if diapers sit in there for too long. Don’t spoil a nice trip with a stinky homecoming!


If you see mold, take immediate action, this is not something that can wait for later.

Mold can be harmful to your baby, and you don’t want spores in the nursery. Follow the steps for deep cleaning outline above, and repeat if necessary until you are confident the mold is gone.

Tips To Avoid Smelly Diaper Pails Between Cleaning

Baking Soda

You can sprinkle some baking soda at the bottom of a dry diaper pail. Baking soda will absorb odors, helping keep it fresh between cleaning sessions.

You can also get a ‘fridge box’ of baking soda to leave in the bottom. These boxes have a special vent so the baking soda won’t spill.

Flushing Solid Wastes

Although many parents skip this step, especially those who use disposable diapers, consider flushing any solid wastes before wrapping up the diaper. Solid wastes smell, and the odor won’t linger if you get rid of the poop.

Essential Oils

Some people swear by essential oils. Eucalyptus oil can help deodorize the diaper pail. Put five or six drops on a cotton ball or small piece of cloth to leave in the bottom of your container. Diffusing lavender oil in the nursery can also freshen up the air.

Cautions About Essential Oils

All oils are not created equal, and babies have very sensitive skin. Avoid using essential oils for young babies (less than three months of age). Always test out a scent using a small amount to make certain your baby doesn’t experience allergies or irritation.

Always keep your oils locked up and far away from baby’s reach, just like you would do with any other medication you have around the house.

Even a few milliliters of eucalyptus oil can kill. Tea tree oil is poisonous and can cause coma or death in a small child or the family pet. Better to be safe than sorry, so be diligent about putting up any essential oils that you use for aromatherapy or cleaning.

Diaper Pail Deodorizers

There’s also lots of different diaper pail deodorizers you can choose from to keep things smelling fresh. Just make sure beforehand that whichever you decide to get is actually compatible with your diaper pail.

Pooper Scooper Bags

Ever thought about making use of some pooper scooper bags? Now, now – I know what you’re thinking: “dog poop bags for my little one? Last time I checked, my baby was a human being, not a pet!”.

As a matter of fact, tons of parents out there swear by pooper scooper bags and how effective they are when it comes to containing that nasty stench.

If it can perfectly handle what an 80 pound German Shepherd throws at it, you think it won’t handle what your little bundle of joy has to bring to the table?


You could also consider putting some good ol’ charcoal to use so you can naturally de-humidify the area. Charcoal is as natural as it gets, and does an excellent job in absorbing moisture and eliminating harmful bacteria.

Adequate Airflow

Last but not least, and even though this might sound counter-effective to almost everyone at first, but having an open diaper pail and enough airflow going around does a wonderful job in reducing the stink.

Wrapping It Up

Diaper pails exist to make life easier for you, but it’s also up to you to ensure they do so by keeping them clean.

Keeping them clean is an easy task and should be completed about once a week, unless something unusual comes up and you have to perform an emergency clean. After you’re done with the cleaning part, drying in the sun is the best way to ensure you’ve killed all the bacteria that could be creating a smell.

Your nose – and your baby – will be happier in a fresh smelling room than a nursery that screams “poop! poop! poop!”. Essential oils and baking soda can help keep the diaper pail odor-free between cleanings, so consider using those to your advantage as well.

Eventually, you’ll have to just throw in the towel, call it a day and buy yourself a new diaper pail. These things don’t last forever, especially if you’re using the same ones for every new baby you add to the family.

Till then, though, the next time you have guests over, the only thing they will smell is cats (if you have any!).

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1 thought on “How To Clean Diaper Pail: Keeping Your Home Fresh And Odor-Free!”

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    This is absolutely awesome and perfect as we have 3 babies here in our house. Thanks for sharing this!

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