Troubleshooting Cloth Diaper Problems + Recipe for Antibacterial Diaper Spray

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Troubleshooting Cloth Diaper Problems (and a recipe for antibacterial cloth diaper spray) :: Vintage Kids | Modern World

WARNING: This post contains words like “poop” and “pee”.

You can’t exactly talk about diaper issues without using those words, so you have been forewarned that this post pushes the G-rating to PG.

Now, over the last 5 years of cloth diapering, I have experimented with quite a few brands, detergents and methods.  What I have settled on is MOSTLY personal preference, but there are those times when you’ll run into some irritating leaking issues that need some problem-solving and possible changes to your diapering methods or system.

Here are some of the most common cloth diaper issues and questions that I have faced, and that people have been asking…

1. LEAKING.  This is enough to point you back to Huggies, but don’t give up!!! If your diaper is leaking, there are several probable reasons:

It needs to be stripped.  Regardless of the diaper brand or style that you use, all diapers will need to be stripped at some point, regardless of the type of detergent you use – even if it says “cloth diaper safe”.  The hardness/softness of your water will change the efficacy of your detergent – which is why some people swear by XYZ Detergent, but it doesn’t work at all for others.  Your diapers will need to be stripped if they are starting to repel liquids or if, after multiple washings, they still smell (more on that in a minute).  All detergents coat diapers eventually, so it’s a good idea to strip your diapers once or twice a year/as needed.

  • To strip your diapers, I recommend 1 tablespoon of Dawn Original Dish Soap in a hot load of clean diapers, set at maximum capacity and the hottest setting.  Run the diapers through a normal cycle, and then once complete, run a rinse cycle.  A few minute after the cycle begins, check the water for bubbles.  If you see even the tiniest amount of foam or bubbles that sit on the surface, finish that rinse cycle and then run another rinse.  Continue doing that until the water is COMPLETELY free of bubbles (FYI – it usually takes me about 5 rinses to get them totally soap free).  Some sites recommend bleach, but I don’t personally use that method or feel comfortable recommending it.  First, bleach is simply used to sanitize the diapers, which obviously kills the bacteria that causes a stench.  It does WORK, but you’re also exposing your baby to a toxic chemical in their most sensitive parts, no matter how thoroughly it’s rinsed. (if it has a “bleach” smell, then there’s still bleach trapped in the fibers).  Second, bleach weakens your diapers.  Yes, you will only be using a very small amount, but if you strip your diapers two or three times per year, it will wear them down faster than if you use a natural alternative.  Try to avoid bleach at all costs if you have an All-In-One (AIO) diaper or waterproof covers, as the bleach will neutralize all water-proofing capabilities and slowly eat away at the plastics, causing more leaking issues. If it’s the smell you’re trying to take care of, wash your diapers using your preferred detergent.  Once they are clean, line dry them in the hot sun, and while they are still damp, spray them with a natural anti-bacterial spray (recipe below).  If you are stripping your diapers due to leakage issues, then forego the bleach and try the Dawn Dish Soap option.
Take a look at the edges.  If your diaper is leaking between your baby’s thighs, or from the tummy or back, then take a look at a few possibilities:
  • Is there any fabric (prefold or inner lining) that might be peeking through the edges?  Even the smallest corner that sticks out of the edge will become a problem.
  • Is there a secure fit?  One Size diapers are notorious for causing leaks, especially in the early months, and almost consistently until your baby is around 14-15 lbs and they start to fill out a little more.  Make sure that there are no gaps. To test this, while your child is laying on their back, slowly and gently move their legs around in a “crawling” motion (even if they aren’t crawlers yet) and watch the inside edges.  If it gaps or opens up at any point, then you have a SIZE issue not an ABSORBENCY issue.
  • Is there enough lining? Some babies really are heavy wetters, but regardless, cloth diapers should be able to hold in your baby’s urine for at least 3-4 hours, even without a doubler/insert/soaker (which, by the way, are all the SAME things – confusing, I know…).  You should not have to change your baby during afternoon/longer naps, and when stuffed adequately, your baby will be able to go 12 hours without leaking at night.  Some people prefer thinner inserts, such as microfiber or fleece, and others prefer a thicker hemp or cotton insert.  Both are great, and it may depend on the style of diaper you are using and what it can comfortably accommodate.
  • If you have a little boy, make sure the he is pointing down.  (You get the idea…)  Older babies pee faster and in greater quantity, so you may not have absorbency issues at all, it’s just that the force and volume come too fast to be wicked away.  If you have a boy, point him in the right direction, and if you have a little girl and are still having issues, try adding an insert, especially when you know you won’t be changing them for 2-3 hours.
  • If you are using pocket diapers, make sure that the inserts are still laying flat, especially after naps.
  • Don’t be afraid to call!  Call the vendor that you purchased your diapers from, and/or the company that made your diapers.  I personally use Thirsties and I adore them, but had a question about some stubborn smells and they were so helpful!
2. SMELLS.  There is nothing worse than pulling a freshly laundered diaper off of the line, where it has been happily blowing in the sunshine, only to smell a fishy, nasty stale stench.  There are several possible reasons:
  • Improper washing.  Make sure that you are using enough water.  I know it’s nice to conserve water, but when it comes to washing your cloth diapers, don’t scrimp.  Diapers ABSORB.  Therefore, they need extra water to become thoroughly saturated and rinsed – they don’t behave like your cotton t-shirts, and they aren’t meant to.  If you are having a problem with smell, this is one of the best places to start.
  • Improper drying.  Make sure that your diapers are BONE dry when you store them.  ANY moisture will cause mildew growth because your diapers are meant to retain liquids- so therefore they hold moisture in and can be difficult to dry thoroughly.  Any trapped moisture is a breeding ground for bacteria.
  • Detergent coating which has trapped in bacteria- which calls for stripping your diapers, as we mentioned above.
  • A less than stellar detergent.  Remember, detergents react differently for all households, depending on your water.  If this is a constant problem, consider switching to another detergent brand.
  • Using the wrong diaper rash cream.  If your little one’s bum has been red, ONLY use cloth diaper approved diaper cream.  Over the counter creams like Desitin, A&D,  etc will coat your diapers with petroleum-based oils.  These do not wash out.  Let me say that again.  THESE DO NOT WASH OUT.  Even natural brands like Burt’s Bees contain oils that are not conducive to cloth diapers, and they will affect the absorbency AND the smell, because the diapers are sealed with oils that trap in bacteria. You can try gently scrubbing them with a nail brush and some Dawn dish soap, and just hope for the best…  Cloth diaper safe creams contain no harsh chemicals and are MADE to easily and clearly wash away.
3. STAINING.  Unsightly? yes.  A problem?  no.  I know staining is annoying, and your grandma taught you how to get a stain out of anything.  Lay your perfectionist tendencies aside when it comes to cloth diaper stains, or you will lose.your.ever.loving.mind.  Stains will not effect the performance of your diapers in the slightest bit.  I’ve had several readers ask about staining, and if you have a lot of time on your hands, you’re welcome to sun your diapers all day and use the anti-bacterial spray (which will help lighten and brighten) but otherwise, don’t lose sleep over this one.  You have children: A) You’ve lost enough sleep, and B.) You should be used to stains by now.

Any other tricks of the diaper-trade that have worked for you?


Anti Bacterial Diaper Spray:

To a spray bottle, add:

15 drops of tea tree oil

2 Tb. real lemon juice

1/2 c. hydrogen peroxide

1/2 c. water

mix thoroughly and spray your diapers as they are sunning.  Allow them to stay in the sun a minimum of 4-5 hours (all day is preferable).  Once they are totally dry, take them in and rinse them one last time on a hot rinse cycle.  This isn’t always necessary, but it will remove the tea tree oil in case your little one has sensitive skin.  If this doesn’t remove the smell completely, repeat each time you do a load of diapers during your regular diapering routine.  If, after 3 applications, your diapers still smell, contact the vendor or company for additional help.




This post was linked to Traditional Tuesdays at Cooking TF, Fat Tuesdays at Real Food Forager,  WLWW Link-up at Women Living Well, Frugal Days, Sustainable Ways at Frugally Sustainable,  Whole Foods Wednesday at Whole Lifestyle Nutrition, Simple Lives Thursday at Gnowfglins, Simple Lives Thursday at Live Renewed, Frugal Fridays at Life as Mom, Monday Mania at The Healthy Home Economist, The Welcome Home Link Up at Raising Arrows, Better Mom Mondays at The Better Mom, Homestead Barn Hop at The Prairie Homestead, Seasonal Celebration Sundays at The Natural Mother’s Network, Whole Foods Wednesday Recipe Swap at Whole Lifestyle Nutrition

top photo amended by me, but originally from this great photog

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18 Responses to “Troubleshooting Cloth Diaper Problems + Recipe for Antibacterial Diaper Spray”
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  1. I just stumbled over here and I have to say, the world of cloth diapers seems to have become much more complicated than it used to be back when we used -gasp- pins! If I may suggest, parents could try, as an alternative for diaper rash, just splitting an aloe vera leaf and slathering the contents onto baby’s clean bottom is a trick that worked for both my babies. (I don’t know if bottled aloe vera juice would work as well). In those days we rinsed diapers thoroughly before washing, or even soaked them in the old fashioned diaper pail with some added lemon juice…and adding vinegar to the first of two rinses ensured the detergent was less likely to build up and left the diapers softer. Of course, we were always using the hottest water possible to wash, and cold to rinse.

  2. I do solemnly swear to ignore stains when they are stubborn and not affecting the performance of the diaper … I hereby allow such stains to exist in my house without me losing my mind.

    Whew! I said it …

    Thanks for this post, I am looking forward to starting cloth diapers when our baby comes next month, and having such information as this on my side will make things easier from the get-go!

  3. I am a faithful reader of all your blogs, but I have to admit, all I got from this one was the urge to say “Thank Goodness we are DONE with diapers!” Knock on wood…. 🙂

  4. Ok, I loved cloth diapering but had to stop countless times because my kids have such senstive skin. I would change their diapers every hour, wash them, strip them, everything but still they would get such terrible diaper rashes that sometimes they would actually bleed! I would love to cloth diaper as it would save so much money and I would never have to run to the store because I ran out unexpectedly.
    What can I do? Is there some trick? Maybe I am not stripping them right. I have a 3 month old that I never bothered trying to put in cloth because I was afraid after my last two kid’s nightmares in cloth.

  5. Daja

    I’ve been a cloth diapering Mama from day one! When I have to buy disposable diapers (like an international airline trip or something) it pains me to shell out for something I’m just going to throw in the trash!

    Love the spray idea. I may try that when my diapers need freshening up!

  6. Found you at the barnhop, what a great post bookmarked it for future use.

  7. Found you at the Homestead Barn Hop and so thankful that I did as I have been having some of these questions lately about my cloth diapers. Definitely pinning this one and starting as a new follower.

  8. If you can’t find “regular” Dawn dish liquid to strip diapers, can you use Lemon Joy?

  9. Anja Hoffstrom

    I am new to cloth diapering but really want to get on board full time. I have a stash of Bum Genius 4.0s and have one issue. My 10 month old seems to get red really quickly when using the cloth diapers. We try to change them about every hour so she is not sitting in anything wet at all but we still seem to get the redness. It seems to be on her lady business and sometimes up bit higher under her belly button. I ordered CJs BUTTer cream and spray and have just started using that as a barrier. We dont even try to do overnight as she would be in the diaper way too long.
    Does anybody have any suggestions or comments or anything?


  10. April

    Been cloth diapering for 8 mos now and very happy. I use powder Tide. I have city water and a 20+ yr old washing machine that I have to manually turn thru the cycles. I mix one part blue Dawn and one part hydrogen peroxide in a spray bottle and spray my soiled diapers before tossing into the dry pail. Wash every 4 days or so. I make my own cloth diaper safe salve out of calendula infused oil, beeswax and essential oils. No stains and no stink and no repel issues. I am thankful. This is what works for me, wanted to share.

    • Kelsi

      April, Thanks for sharing! Because everyone’s water composition is different, our washing machines are different (20 years?! oh my!), our brand of diapers are different, and our length of time between washes will vary, it’s SO hard to find a tried and true formula! Thanks for sharing – I love to give readers options of various things to try, in hopes that something will do the trick, as each situation is unique. Thanks for stopping by! – kelsi

  11. Jessica

    Do you use all of the spray at once or can it be safely stored for a certain amount of time? I ask because I am still building my stash and only have fourteen diapers so far. That means frequent laundering and small loads, usually 10-12 diapers at a time.

    • Jessica – it really depends on how you use it – if you spray it on their bum or drench a cloth with it. It’s definitely possible to use up a batch at once, but if you’re wanting to make it last, you can store it in the fridge. Hope that helps!