Troubleshooting Your Washing Routine

A good washing routine will get your diapers good and clean, and doesn’t need regular stripping nor sanitizing of your diaper pieces.  But getting your routine just right may take a bit of trial and error.

Keep in mind that if you’re having trouble getting your diapers clean, contact us!  We’d love to help you sort out the issues and find your ideal wash routine!  It’s what we do 🙂 

 

When your diapers get stinky, I mean REALLY stinky, or if your baby is getting a rash or repeated leaks, you may need to strip and/or sanitize your diapers to reset them, and then make some changes to your wash routine.  Most commonly, a change to your detergent, water softener, agitation, or a combination of these is what is needed to fix wash routine issues.  Below is a breakdown of the issues commonly faced when laundering cloth diapers, as well as what causes them and how to fix them.

 

Some common challenges with cloth diapers are:

  • Ammonia smell
  • Barnyard smell
  • Staining
  • Diaper rash
  • Leaks

Ammonia Smell

Diapers that have ammonia usually smell clean out of the wash, but smell strongly, like it’s singing your nose hairs, when they are urinated in.  This is because there is a build-up of bacteria in the diaper, which turn the urea in urine into ammonia.  If left untreated, this can cause rashes on baby’s skin.  This type of rash will usually look flat and red.  In severe cases, it can leave open sores or can cause a painful chemical burn.

This issue tends to come up in older kids more so than newborn babies because young babies are usually changed more frequently, and have less concentrated urine since they don’t eat solid food yet.  As newborns and babies grown into toddlers, they also sleep longer and those diapers can get more amounts of urine in them.

Another reason ammonia can happen is because of the material used in diapers.  Microfiber is the cheapest absorbent material used in cloth diapers.  This is usually in inner pieces for inserts.  The picture below from dirtydiaperlaundry.com illustrates how microfiber looks under a microscope, compared to a natural fiber:

The shape of microfiber makes it very absorbent, but this also allows bacteria to be trapped in all the little crevices.  Microfiber inserts that are sewn between synthetic layers are even trickier to wash completely clean. Opting for a natural fiber allows bacteria to be washed out more easily, preventing bacteria and ammonia build-up.

How Do I Get it Out?!

You will need to strip and/or bleach your diapers to get them back to square one.  If your diapers have been washed for extended periods of time in untreated hard water or with a weak or home-made detergent, you should strip and sanitize them.  Otherwise just sanitizing them should do the trick.  You can click here for more information on stripping diapers and here for more information on sanitizing diapers.

Once your diapers are ready, make a change to your wash routine.  Try starting with either increasing or changing your detergent and making sure you have adequate agitation.  Make sure you have either an adequately filled HE washer, or a stew consistency in a standard/non-HE washer.  Also, if you have hard water, be sure to use a water softener in your wash, as hard water can deposit minerals into your fibers. These minerals give bacteria a place to stick around.  Plus they can cause repelling issues which can lead to leaks.  Click here for more information on how to wash cloth diapers and choosing a good wash routine.

Also, make sure your baby is well hydrated!  Especially older babies and toddlers may not be drinking enough water, which is making their urine more concentrated.  Not to mention that staying well hydrated is very important for good health and will establish a wonderful habit throughout your child’s life.

 

Barnyard Smell

Another challenge you may run into is barnyard smell.  This is noticeable especially on warm diapers, such as when they’re coming out of the dryer.  Diapers smell musty, like manure, fishy, or just plain stinky.  This is caused by bacteria and soil left behind with an improper wash routine.  Beyond an offensive odor, this can cause rashes on baby’s skin.

How Do I Get it Out?!

Just like with ammonia smell, you will need to strip and/or bleach your diapers to get them back to square one.  If your diapers have been washed for extended periods of time in untreated hard water or with a weak or home-made detergent, you should strip and sanitize them.  Otherwise just sanitizing them should do the trick.  You can click here for more information on stripping diapers and here for more information on sanitizing diapers.

Once your diapers are ready, make a change to your wash routine.  Try starting with either increasing or changing your detergent and making sure you have adequate agitation.  Make sure you have either an adequately filled HE washer, or a stew consistency in a standard/non-HE washer.  Also, if you have hard water, be sure to use a water softener in your wash, as hard water can deposit minerals into your fibers. These minerals give bacteria a place to stick around.  Plus they can cause repelling issues which can lead to leaks.   Click here for more information on how to wash cloth diapers and choosing a good wash routine.

 

Staining

Stains can be frustrating but it’s important to mention that they’re basically just an aesthetic problem and are usually on the inner pieces of cloth diapers, hardly the stuff of family portraits.  If you have a good wash routine and your diapers are stink free, you can safely keep using your stained diapers if you choose to.  Now, if you want to try and get that stain out, the best way is to sun it out!  Lay your diaper flat, outside in sunlight.  Most of the time, the stain will be gone within a few hours.  If it’s not, try spraying some lemon juice on it and leave it out in the sun again.  Just be sure to re-wash a lemon juiced diaper before putting it back on your baby.

 

Diaper Rashes

Diaper rashes tend to occur less frequently in cloth diapered babies due to the breathe-ability of cloth diaper fabrics and the lack of chemicals in the materials.  However, a mild diaper rash is likely to happen at some point on all babies due to the nature of the environment on the inside of diapers- moist, warm and full of bacteria.  All this plus the friction of a moving baby makes for a perfect storm to cause irritation on baby’s delicate skin.

Please keep in mind that this is advice given from one mommy to another.  Listen to your parenting instincts, they’re usually right.  If you feel your baby needs medical attention, especially if a rash is severe or persistent, please consult your pediatrician.

Preventing Diaper Rashes

Changing your baby often, every two to three hours or right away if there’s poop, is a great start for preventing diaper rash.  Most minor rashes clear up in a day or two with minimal intervention.  Diaper cream can help prevent or clear up diaper rashes too.  Make sure to use a cloth-diaper safe diaper cream.  Or you can use a liner to avoid non cloth-diaper safe creams leaving stains or coating your cloth diaper fibers.

If There’s a Persistent Rash

If you have hard water in your home and you haven’t been using a water softener, you may have bacteria building up in your diapers, causing a rash.  Strip and sanitize your diapers to get them back to square one, then add a water softener to your wash routine.    If you have soft water, or you are using a water softener in your wash, you can skip the strip and just sanitize your diapers.  Click here for more information on stripping diapers and here for more information on sanitizing diapers.

Less Common Causes for Diaper Rash

If you tried the advice above and are still encountering diaper rash, there are some other possible causes.  One is a sensitivity to a particular detergent.  This usually causes a rash on the whole body (assuming you are washing baby’s clothes in the same detergent as her diapers) but will be more evident in the diaper area because of increased moisture.  Try a different detergent to see if this helps the rash go away.  Another cause is fabric sensitivity, particularly to synthetic fabrics.  Try lining your diapers will all natural fabrics, or switching to all natural fiber diapers.  Some babies have a sensitivity to wetness.  Try lining your diaper with a layer of fleece.  This will wick away moisture and leave baby’s skin feeling dry. Sometimes babies are sensitive or allergic to the ingredients in disposable wipes.  Try using cloth wipes moistened with water or a gentle home-made solution.  There are lots of DIY recipes but one option is water, coconut or olive oil and baby soap.

 

Leaks

Leaks are more commonly a fit or absorbency (type of inner pieces chosen) issue.  Click here for a link on troubleshooting non-laundry related leaks and here for a link on how to use cloth diapers that explains how to properly put on a cloth diaper.  However, sometimes your wash routine is the culprit in repelling and leaks.

If you haven’t already, start by checking for water hardness.  If you have hard water and haven’t been adding a water softener, you may have minerals being deposited into your diaper fabrics.  These minerals coat your fabrics causing them to repel liquids and lead to leaks.  You will need to strip and sanitize your diapers to get them back to square one.  Then be sure to use a water softener as part of your regular wash routine.  Click here for more information on stripping diapers and here for more information on sanitizing diapers.

Also, if you have been using fabric softener or dryer sheets when washing and drying your diapers you may have unintentionally been coating your fibers decreasing their absorbency.  You will need to strip and sanitize your diapers to get them back to square one.  Click here for more information on stripping diapers and here for more information on sanitizing diapers.

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.

If you have recently stripped your diapers and are experiencing leaks, they may be 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 will help minimize leaks after this process.

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