There is nothing like a smelly problem diaper to deter moms from using cloth diapers. It can be very frustrating, but the problem is normally very easy to fix.

Even if you follow all the recommended washing tips, you still might end up with occasional stinky and less absorbent diapers due to detergent, diaper rash ointment, and/or water mineral residue.

First, you need to take a look at your detergent. What works for one person may not work for another. We recommend our own Thirsties Prewash and Wash for cleaning your diapers. You can also find some other recommended detergents here.

Here is the wash routine we recommend:

  1. Collect soiled or wet diapers in a lined DRY plastic pail.  Wet pails hold odor.
  2. Add a sprinkle of baking soda to your diapers and pail to help neutralize odors.  Once mixed with water in your washer, the baking soda will help to lift stains. You can also spray a washcloth with tea tree oil or lavender and place at the bottom of the pail to control odors.
  3. For optimum cleanliness, limit the size of your load to no more than 18 M/L or 24 XS/S diapers.  As a general rule, the fewer diapers per load, the cleaner they will be. For HE machines, limit the load to 12-15 diapers. If the washer has a weight sensor, add a wet bath towel to the load of diapers to allow the washer to add more water. If the machine does not have a weight sensor, add a bucket or two of water to the machine for the prewash and wash cycle to allow enough water to clean the diapers.
  4. Prewash on cold with Thirsties Pre-Wash, or 2 Tblsp. of detergent.  If you do not have a pre-wash cycle on your washer, then consider running your diapers through an initial short cycle.
  5. Then, run a HOT wash on a heavy cycle (No sanitize cycles).  If using Thirsties Prewash and Wash, you will use the recommended ½ ounce for all types of machines. Yes, our detergent is HE safe!  Avoid all soaps and all “Free & Clear” and/or popular baby detergents. These detergents will leave a residue on your diapers that will affect the absorbency and may cause leaking, ‘stinky’ diapers and/or diaper rash.
  6. Add an extra warm or cold rinse. You can add a few drops of Tea Tree Oil or Grape Seed Extract to the final rinse to disinfect your diapers. Please be careful as some natural oils can cause build-up if used too much.
  7. Whenever possible, dry your diapers outside in the sunlight.  Hang drying helps to preserve our environment and also preserves the textiles of your diapers. It is also great for getting rid of stains and odors, as well as disinfecting.  Hang drying will leave your cotton diapers somewhat stiff. To soften sun-dried diapers, you may choose to use the dryer for the last 15 minutes.
  8. Even if you follow all the rules above, you still might end up with occasional stinky diapers and less absorbent diapers due to detergent and/or mineral residue, or diaper rash ointment. In this case, you will want to strip your diapers.
  9. Finally, if your diapers are in need of a thorough deep cleaning, you can use the recommended amount oxygen bleach in place of your regular detergent. Dry oxygen bleaches contain ingredients that become hydrogen peroxide, and liquid oxygen bleaches are simply hydrogen peroxide and stabilizers. Oxygen bleach is not chlorine bleach, and is preferable for the environment because it will naturally degrade into oxygen and water.

Ammonia smell? This can be caused by one or more of the following and may just be temporary.  Urine gradually turns into ammonia as it sits…a little smell is inevitable for everyone and diaper pails almost always smell like ammonia.  But a strong ammonia smell in a freshly worn diaper may be an indication of something that needs to be remedied.  Causes of the smell include:

  1. Build-up and residue on the diapers – SOLUTION:  Strip diapers/change detergent.
  2. Washing in HARD mineral water – SOLUTION:  Add ¼ cup Calgon Water Softener or Borax to the wash cycle once a week.
  3. Dehydration – SOLUTION:  Drink more water.
  4. Diet – Foods like Asparagus can cause a foul smell. If you are breastfeeding, try to cut out any strong foods that may be causing an odor. Eating bananas may help.
  5. Antibiotics – SOLUTION:  Rebuild healthy flora with pro-biotics (available at local health food store).
  6. Urinary tract infection – SOLUTION:  Contact your pediatrician (other symptoms will occur, as well, if this is the problem). Strip diapers.