If only there were a textbook on cloth diapers...

If only there were a textbook on cloth diapers...

With each of my babies, I have enjoyed the morning diaper change.  I’m betting you can all relate.  The baby is wiggling and kicking, maybe smiling and cooing, and you’re freshly-rested (hahahahaha.  No.  No, you’re not rested!).  You talk to your baby, give him/her some morning snuggles, blow raspberries on that sweet belly.  All starting the day with what becomes that most mundane of parenting tasks:  changing a wet diaper.

And then one day as you are making faces and funny noises at your older baby, you open that nighttime diaper almost absent-mindedly and BAM!  The insides of your nostrils are assaulted, you have leaped away from your precious bundle in shocked horror, your eyes are watering, and you wonder if you will ever smell anything ever again and how is it that your baby thinks this is hilarious?  Does he not realize how bad he smells?

Suddenly your diapers smell of ammonia.  Or maybe yours smell of fish? Ugh.

Here’s what I do to combat the various smells:
1) I do an extra rinse almost every time I wash (it should be every time…but sometimes I’m in urgent need of a clean diaper!).  Ammonia and detergent can build up, so I try to keep on top of it.  I usually do this extra rinse on hot, to strip away anything I can – mineral deposits, detergent, etc. I mainly do this every time because my toddler is a rash waiting to happen.
2) If I’ve clearly got stink brewing, I add some vinegar to that extra rinse and possibly do another rinse after that!  After agitation starts, I am also sure to check for soap bubbles – if there are bubbles, keep rinsing!
3) If the stink has clearly arrived and unpacked its bags in the diaper pail (incidentally, this often happens as I am unpacking my own bags from a trip that had my diapers sharing a dryer with dryer sheets), I add a good squirt of blue Dawn dish soap to the extra rinse and then rinse rinse rinse.  And rinse some more.  During one of these rinses, I will also add a few pots of boiling water and let it soak for an hour or two (or whenever we come home from the park and I remember to get it moving again…).
4) Occasionally I will add a few drops of tea tree oil to a rinse.  Tea tree oil is a great all-around cleaner and a few drops go a long way.
5) After a months-long struggle against yeast when A was small, I now sometimes find myself paranoid and randomly adding grapefruit seed extract to the rinse.  No harm done if there’s no yeast.

If you are finding that your diapers start to smell frequently, and shortly after you have stripped with Dawn and rinsed them into oblivion, you might consider these aspects of your diapers and wash routine:

  • microfiber/non-natural fibers tend to be more difficult to strip completely
  • Do you have hard water?  You might consider a soap or an additive for hard water.
  • It took me some trial and error to find what works best for our water, and also for my son’s sensitive skin.  Not only do I use 1/3 of the amount of detergent recommended, but I also do that extra rinse at the end.  Incidentally, this came about in emailing with the folks at Rockin Green – they were very helpful in helping me work out a wash routine!
  • Check out a post I wrote last year on diaper laundry and trouble-shooting.

Nerd Alert!
I did a little looking for answers as to why this starts up so suddenly with an older baby.  I didn’t find anything terribly helpful.  I know that the ammonia is the result of urea breaking down, and that this process happens faster under warm conditions that lack air circulation (hello, warm and water-proof nighttime diaper!).  But why is this more common in the older baby’s diapers, and not happening every night?  It must have something to do with build-up.

I could not resist sharing this bit of information  found: Did you know that urine was once purposefully fermented to make lant, which was then used as a cleaner?  I suppose we could take those ammonia-smelling diapers and mop our floors with them.  It would be another natural cleaner