Nobody likes a funky smelling diaper! Clean diapers shouldn’t smell like anything; dirty diapers may smell like urine, poop, ammonia, and any number of other smells depending on what your child may have eaten that day. Remember that disposable diapers mask any odors so if you are new to cloth diapering, what you are smelling might simply be pee and poop. In order to solve the stinky problem, it's important to find out the source/cause.
Tips for Preventing Ammonia & Stinky Diapers
- Pre-rinse your diapers. As soon as you remove the diaper from your baby send the inserts for a little swim in the toilet (sink or basin) and pre-rinse the urine out of the fabric. This will wash out most of the urea and prevent ammonia from taking over your diaper pail.
- Good wash routine. Follow the manufacturer’s washing instructions, use enough detergent, use the right amount of water, and a recommended detergent to avoid stinky diapers. Finding that perfect routine for you might take some time. You can always refer to our general tips for washing your cloth diapers for advice.
- Add a little Funk Rock. When doing your warm pre-wash cycle add a little Rockin’ Green Funk Rock (ammonia bouncer) to your water to help neutralize the ammonia crystals.
- Hydrate! Make sure you keep your baby hydrated so that their urine will be more diluted.
Ammonia and Bacteria
Our bodies are pretty amazing, when our kidneys work to remove wastes from our bodies they secrete ammonia to help neutralize excess acid. Yes, ammonia is a natural smell in our urine. Depending on our diets and health, the strength and concentration of that ammonia might vary. Diets high in protein and nitrogen (leafy greens) may have a strong ammonia smell. If you are dehydrated, sick, or on certain medication your urine might also have a strong ammonia smell.
When you take a diaper off your baby, you might smell some ammonia. Especially in their overnight or nap diapers that smell may be stronger than daytime diapers. While some smell is normal, too much of it may lead to redness, rashes, and ammonia burns. If you suspect that you have too much ammonia smell in your diapers, you might need to change your wash routine or strip your diapers.
- Are you using enough detergent? If you aren’t using enough detergent, you might not be rinsing out all of the ammonia from your diapers which can lead to a horrible stink (and can cause rashes). How much detergent should you be using? Follow the manufacturer’s recommendations for the brand of diaper and the detergent you are using. Generally speaking, ¼-1/2 cup of detergent for a top loader may be needed to get your diapers really clean.
- Are you using enough water? Washing with too little water, cold water, or hard water may be preventing your detergent from working effectively.
- Too much detergent? Build up? Yes, it’s possible that you have too much mineral and/or detergent build up in your diapers that could be leading to the stink. This will prevent the urine from being rinsed out effectively. If your diapers are older or you suspect buildup might by your problem, you might need to strip your diapers and start fresh.
Do You Have Hard Water?
Simply put, hard water has a lot of minerals in it, namely calcium and magnesium. These minerals, if not properly rinse away, can lead to a mineral build-up in your diapers which may cause offensive odors! How do you know if you have hard water? Over 80% of the US has hard water, there are a few ways to find out if your water is hard. The easiest way to find out is to contact the water supply company for where you live and ask. You can also purchase a water quality test strip. Many pool supply stores will also check your water quality for you free of charge.
Hard water can lead to stinky diapers because:
- The detergent is not able to work as effectively in hard water
- The minerals from the hard water are being deposited back onto the diapers
Many detergents don't work as well in hard water because they have to work at softening the water rather than cleaning. Therefore, we recommend using a separate water softener, such as Calgon Water Softener* (NOT Calgon bath products). Calgon Water Softener is considered safe for use on all types of cloth diapers. *Use the recommended amount for your machine type based on the directions on the package.
If you do have hard water and haven’t been using a water softener, you might need to strip your diapers to remove the mineral build up. How do you strip your diapers? Read our troubleshooting guide on How to Strip Your Diapers for a few different suggestions.
You can read more about hard water and how Hard Water Can Be a Stinky Subject on our blog.
If you are battling with a rash or burn, please consult with your child’s physician, it may require medical attention. For general tips for dealing with Diaper Rash, please refer to our troubleshooting guide, Diaper Rashes & Cloth Diapers.
If you need more advice for stinky diapers, you can always contact us.
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