Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The Battle of Stinky Cloth Diapers - How to Solve Ammonia Issues

Cloth diapers are better for your baby, right? Right? A few weeks ago I was changing my daughter and noticed a foul ammonia smell coming from her diaper. Honestly, my first thought was that the kitty saw an opening for the 2 minutes I was gathering dirties and decided the girl's pile of dirty laundry looked like a litter box so I threw it back in the wash. The next day my other daughter's diaper smelled the same way. This was a strong cleaning product smell that burned your nose! I tried taking all the diapers at once into the laundry and ran the water super hot with an extra rinse cycle. The next day my daughters developed ammonia burns and the cloth diapers, for now, had to go! I temporarily switched to paper Nature Babycare diapers. 

I went online and discovered that cloth diapers, even when washed properly, can build up stink. When the urine mixes with what the diaper is holding it creates ammonia. Different sites had different tricks, here are some that I came across and tried...

1. Soak overnight in Bac-Out. This product is by Biokleen and is a natural safe stain and stink remover. Good product but it didn't work.
2. Sun dry. Ya, like I have time with twins to wait for the sun to appear in my coastal beach town! However, did try it and it failed.
3. Boil for 30 minutes then wash with a special detergent for my very hard water. This sort of worked but I had to do it after every use...also will not work with twins!

After trying all these and finding no solution that was manageable with twin 5 month old babies I started asking locally for advice. I finally found a diaper guru who explained that the hemp in my gDiaper inserts holds on to stink strongly and suggested changing to an all cotton or a cotton/wool combo. Finally I did not feel crazy anymore!

So here is what I learned...

1. Cloth diapers are great but make sure you always start with a diaper detergent that is formulated for your type of water. Our hard water here hastened the process of developing a stink problem. In this process I tried 3 different brands and fell in love with Hard Rock by Rockin Green. The have formulas for soft water and middle of the road water as well as an Ammonia Bouncer (which I wanted to try but everyone was sold out, it must work!)

2. Hemp = Bad! For cloth diapering stay away from hemp. Anything that holds on to stink is your worst enemy! 

3. It may be a good idea to "strip" your diapers clean every now and then, that means boil for 30 minutes. Sometimes detergent becomes lodged in the fabric causing diaper rash and ammonia issues. A good test is to take a diaper and immerse in water, if it does not absorb evenly right away or has patches that do not seem to absorb then you need to strip it clean. 

4. When laundering your diapers pick the hot water setting, add an extra rinse cycle and only use half of the amount of detergent you would normally unless you have the Rockin Green, they got it down so follow their directions. 

5. Pick cloth diapers that are "All in Ones". When I became frustrated and thought it might be the gDiapers I started to check out other systems. I fell in love with the Grovia hybrid system for a few reasons. First I love that you can still "cheat" with flushable inserts when needed. Second, they are all organic cotton with NO hemp! And third, their shells fit from infancy to potty training with a series of Velcro and snaps. They fit my little ones really well and I am very happy with that system and prefer it over the gDiapers. We were already growing out of our small sized gDiapers and had to upgrade anyway so I chose to upgrade now to Grovia so we do not have to buy a whole other set of larger diapers later!

Rockin Green:


  1. Oooh, really good to know. I'm expecting in February and have been doing tons of research on cloth diapers, and it was great to stumble across this site and this article. (Love the blog so far, by the by.) We got all our cloth diapers through a baby registry from family, and I mostly went for one sizers though I tried to get some variety in there just so we could play around and try things out. If you're interested in that sort of thing, I wrote some of my thoughts on them so far here...

    Oh and any experience using wash nuts with cloth diapers? They are one of my favorite "detergents" (not a detergent at all though of course), but I could imagine them not being enough for the cloth diaper challenge...

  2. Love your blog- we have a lot of similarities. I also cloth diaper and, although my son is mostly on organic formula, he gets 10 ounces a night from our amazing donor mom who still pumps for my little guy! Anyway, just a suggestion about the stink- when you do your first rinse, try baking soda! (I use just 1/8 or 1/4 cup for a large load) Also, make sure that you're only using 1/4 of what they recommend on the detergent/soap box/bag; otherwise, you'll get major build-up (which means ammonia!). I also use maybe 1/8 or 1/4 cup of organic distilled vinegar in the wash cycle. :)

  3. My mom told me stories about what kind of diapers she used for me before. She preferred to use cloth diapers. I’m definitely using what you put here when I do have a baby of my own! These are some pretty brilliant ideas!

    Loralee Dulany

  4. Good ideas! Wanted to just mention that hemp has worked really well for us so it's not all bad. It's the only material we found that would absorb enough to last my kid 10-12 hours at night (he's a hard sleeper). So we only have three inserts and use them only at night, washing every third day. We use the hemp/cotton duo inserts by Thirsties and sometimes the hemp babies diaper doublers, also a hemp/cotton mix. Cloth diapered for one year now and never had stink issues with these, although we have battled it with hot water! Just wanted to share since the hemp was my saving grace and had I not discovered it, my child would still be wetting out his overnight diapers each night! Thanks again for your tips my fellow cloth diaperer!

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