when cloth diapering goes bad...

over the past month or so, i had been noticing a really, really strong ammonia smell in lucy's nighttime diapers when i took them off of her in the morning. i chalked it up to the fact that she's in them for 12-13 hours at a time--of course they're going to be a little stinky, right?

wrong. an ammonia smell in diapers is always a signal that something is off--usually it means that there is detergent residue left in the diapers after washing and drying. less soap overall, and extra rinse cycles can help combat this problem. so that's what i did, checking to see that there were no bubbles left in the washing machine water during the rinse. if there were, i did an additional rinse until all of the bubbles were gone.

fast forward a couple of weeks. lucy woke up one morning with a few blisters on her bottom, filled with clear fluid. not a good sign. and the ammonia smell was so strong, it was literally burning my nose and stinging my eyes. one of her diapers even left a dark mark on our white hardwood floors after sitting there for an hour or so. i've never been one to even think about throwing in the towel on cloth diapers, or using disposables at nighttime. but suddenly i found myself considering it--the overall health of lucy's skin is way more important to me than anything else--it's why i cloth diaper in the first place.

thankfully i did a bit more poking around on the internet and asking questions in my favorite cloth-diapering internet forum. i learned that ammonia stink in diapers can also be linked to not getting the diapers truly clean--when urine is allowed to dry, the ammonia crystalizes into a salt that is very hard to remove from fabric with regular washing. so, in actuality, even though lucy's diapers were going through a heavy-duty wash routine (complete with lots of rinses), the ammonia was trapped in her diapers.

combating this problem turned out to be easy and cheap. i threw ALL of her nighttime diapers into the washing machine, filled it with just enough water to cover the diapers, and added 3/4 of a gallon of vinegar--vinegar neutralizes those stubborn ammonia salts. i let the whole thing soak overnight, then washed as usual in the morning, except instead of doing tons of extra rinses, i added 1/4 cup of vinegar to the rinse cycle. dried as normal.

this morning, lucy's diaper was completely stink-free--no trace of ammonia whatsoever. it was recommended to me that in order to keep them this way (especially if diapers are being washed less often than every other day) soaking the diaper in the sink with a splash of vinegar can be very helpful. we wash every 4 days or so, so i'm trying this soaking thing for awhile. i sure wouldn't want to do it with every single diaper, but since only her nighttime diapers were having problems, it's not too big of a deal. i think that keeping up with the 1/4 cup vinegar in the rinse cycle is also a very smart idea.

and of course, now i know to keep in mind that stinky diapers are always a bad sign. next time i'll certainly remedy the problem earlier!

oh, and as a p.s.--ammonia stink seems to be much more common in diapers that use synthetic materials like microfiber. our problems were arising in our goodmama diapers and also some that i had made myself--all from non-synthetics like bamboo and hemp. less prone to issues overall, but apparently still susceptible!


Anonymous said...

I was just having the same problem and vinegar did the trick for us! It's amazing!

Kim said...

I'm glad that worked for you! We always add vinegar to the FIRST cold rinse to get all the pee out. So we do a cold rinse with vinegar, then hot wash with detergent, then 1 or 2 rinses with cold.

Peggy said...

Thanks for the post I have been trying to figure this issue out for 2 weeks!I have been having serious issues with my hemp diapers too. I am soaking them right now in vinagar.

DieselMonkey said...

i have been using vinegar in my rinse, but still had some stink. i boiled my inserts (MF and hemp). made a world of different.

Stasi said...

Thank you SO much for this! We always use vinegar in the rinse too (and some baking soda, which I also throw in the dryer when we de-crunch them), but it wasn't fixing the smell. I'm going to try the soak next time!