Ah leaks. One of the first questions mommies have when considering cloth and one of the most common questions when using cloth. The dreaded leaks. As with most things in life, the more practice and experience you have, the more likely you will trial-and-error your way to fixing this. However, we are here to help you speed that process along!
Keep in mind that we love doing face-to-face consultations to help you figure things out and have a happy and leak-free cloth diaper experience! Contact us, we’re here for you!
There are many issues that can cause leaks, but they can be generally summed up into:
The most common cause of leaks is a problem with the fit. If diapers are not properly put on the baby, they may not work the way they were designed to. Here are some tips so you will not have fit-related leaks:
- Make sure the diaper fits securely in the crease at the leg, where underwear would fit. Make sure the rise and hip settings are snug and that the leg gussets are tucked into baby’s crease at their leg. Make sure little leg rolls are not tucking into the leg gussets. Gaps at the leg holes are a big culprit for leaks!
- Make sure the diaper is snug at the waist but not too tight. You should be able to fit one or two fingers easily. Leaks at the belly or back are a sign that the waist is not fitted well. Make sure the rise is set correctly and the waist is secured snugly so there’s no big belly gap.
- Flatten inserts in pocket diapers. Inserts can bunch up leading to liquids not settling in the way they should resulting in leaks, especially on the sides of baby’s clothes. Give inserts a quick check to make sure they are flat in the diaper before putting it on your baby.
- Check back flaps on pocket or cover diapers. If you are using a pocket or cover diaper that has a flap at the back that holds the inner piece in, make sure it is properly tucked in. It sounds pretty intuitive, but it’s a little thing that if left unchecked, could lead to a leak
- If you have a boy, make sure his penis is pointed down. Otherwise, wetness will go all over, instead of in the main area where it’s meant to be absorbed. Also, if you are using prefold or flat inner pieces, make sure to fold them for more absorbency in the front, where boys need it most.
- Prevent wicking. Wicking is when an absorbent fabric pulls or wicks moisture out of a diaper. This tends to happen with onesies that wiggle their way into cloth diapers. This is really more a fit of the onesie. Make sure nothing rolls into the cloth diaper’s leg gussets to avoid this issue. Also, check inner pieces when you put on baby’s diaper so that they are always tucked into the outer pieces, especially at the legs. Wicking also happens when baby is wearing wool outer pieces and another fabric on top, like a pair of pants on top of a wool cover. Wool can hold an astonishing amount of liquid without feeling wet. But it will pass this liquid along to another fabric. Make sure wool is the outermost piece when you are using it. Wool pants are a great solution for this issue.
- Newborn babies in a one-size diaper: While most one-size diapers claim to fit at around 8 pounds, sometimes tiny bodies need tiny diapers. Try using a newborn or sized diaper until your baby is about 11-14 pounds. By the way, we rent one-month diaper packages with newborn diapers so you don’t have to buy a whole stash 😉 If you are using newborn diapers and they were working fine but are now leaking, it’s probably time to make the move to the next size up or to one-size diapers.
Click here for our link on How to Use Cloth Diapers, which walks you through the steps to ensure a proper fit.
The type of inner pieces you choose for your diapers will vary in the speed and level of absorbency. If you are changing diapers every 2-3 hours and the inner pieces are saturated, you may need to try a different inner piece or combination of pieces. Here are some things to check if you think absorbency is an issue:
- If you are using only one insert, try using two, using a doubler, or an insert of a different material. Try layering a quickly absorbing insert, like microfiber, on a hemp insert which absorbs slower but holds more liquid. Or try wrapping a hemp insert, which absorbs slowly, with a cotton flat or flour sack towel which absorb more quickly. (Remember to never place microfiber directly on baby’s skin.)
- Did your diaper soak all the way through? It could be a fitted diaper which looks like an AIO that actually needs a waterproof cover. Hey, it happens. And they’re deceptively cute and colorful so it’s an easy mistake to make.
- Compression leaks are something that can happen when your diaper is overstuffed, put on too tight or when outside forces (like a swing or a car seat) put pressure on the diaper. Make sure baby’s diaper is snug but not too tight. If you are using very thick inner pieces they may cause excess bulk that will force leg gaps or cause compression leaks. Consider a different combination of materials for better absorbency without bulk.
- Flooding occurs when inserts are saturated in one area but dry everywhere else. This tends to happen when babies “hold it” and let it go all at once. Try adding absorbency in the problem area, typically up front for boys, down in the center for girls, and in the back for newborns who are not sitting up yet. Prefolds, flats and flour sack towel inner pieces can all be folded to provide absorbency in a strategic place.
- If you have recently stripped your diapers and are experiencing leaks, they are leaking because they are actually cleaner! The stripped fibers absorb liquids more readily but also release them more quickly, particularly in the form of compression leaks. If you had been double-stuffing diaper inserts before stripping, try switching to a single insert after stripping. Making sure you closely follow stripping guidelines to help minimize leaks after this process.
- Make sure you are changing your baby’s diaper every 2-3 hours, or right away if there’s poop. Leaving a cloth diaper on for more than 3 hours is not safe for baby’s skin and it can lead to leaks. Cloth diapers are very absorbent and sometimes it’s not clear if they are wet or not. Changing them every 2-3 hours ensures your baby stays safe and leak free.
Repelling issues are mostly laundry related. Different things can coat the fabrics in cloth diapers over time. Eventually, this coating repels liquids and causes leaks. These issues are solved by stripping then sanitizing your diapers. You can click here for more information on stripping diapers and here for more information on sanitizing diapers. The ways fabrics can get coated are:
- Hard Water: Washing cloth diapers in untreated hard water for a long period of time will cause minerals to gradually deposit on the fibers of your cloth diaper. Bacteria clings to the minerals in the fabric, which can lead to rashes, ammonia and barnyard stink. After stripping and sanitizing your diapers, use a water softener in your wash to prevent future build-ups.
- Natural Oils: If your diapers are newer and are made of natural, especially organic, unbleached fabrics, such as cotton or hemp, they may still have natural oils coating the fibers. These oils are usually washed out when you prep diapers for their first use. Sometimes these oils are stubborn in washing out. Try using these diapers for daytime for a few rotations. Once they’ve been washed a few more times, try them again. The oils will gradually wash out and your fabrics will reach their full absorbency.
- Residues from Soap Scum, Fabric Softener, Dyes, or Fragrances: Using any of these can cause a residue to build up in your fabrics. If you miss using fabric softener, try using wool dryer balls as a natural and residue-free alternative. If you have been using a detergent containing soap or saponified coconut oil you may have been depositing oils into your cloth diaper fabrics which don’t rinse away in modern washing machines. After stripping and sanitizing, use a detergent that is recommended for cloth diapers.
- Non Cloth-Diaper Safe Diaper Creams: Diaper creams with petroleum or petrolatum will coat your cloth diaper fabrics and will need to be washed out. Unlike the rest above, this will not require stripping or sanitizing but some old fashioned elbow grease, with a toothbrush and some dish soap. Dawn is a popular choice. Once the residue has come off, thoroughly rinse your diaper and wash it before using it on your baby.
As babies get older, leaks tend to diminish. And not just because you have more practice, although this helps too. But when they are tiny and they mostly lay on their backs all day, liquid has basically one place to go and to stay. As babies sit up, liquids travel down and have more time to be absorbed before they get a chance to escape. As some (ok a lot) of things with raising babies get harder as they grow up, it’s good to know this one gets easier!