How to get the ammonia smell out of cloth diapers
by Janice of Momma Words
Months and months ago I noticed that our cloth diapers just reeked of ammonia after they were peed in. Let me assure you that, if you are nearly knocked out when you dump your dirty diapers into the washing machine, you have ammonia build up. It may just initially smell bad, but, if left untreated, this build up will LITERALLY BURN your baby’s bum. I had never heard of this being a possibility! So, if you have stinky diapers, this post is for you. And, if you plan on using cloth then you need to know the signs of ammonia build up.
After a diaper has been peed in, it should just smell lightly of urine. If it smells of ammonia, then it’s time to start treating the diapers. How do you treat diapers for ammonia build up? I found a couple great websites that were full of helpful info! The first is Pooters and the second is All About Cloth Diapers. These are both great resources if you would like to use a method other than the one I chose. I went with the method I could use without buying any new detergents or cleansing agents because I wanted to start treating my diapers the moment I learned what the heck was going on.
My twins had suffered red bottoms 3 times before I figured out what the problem was. I took my dear daughter (DD) and dear son (DS) to the pediatrician because I thought for sure this was a yeast rash, since it was so persistent. I treated the diapers for yeast (see post HERE) once with tea tree oil, stripping and oxiclean and then a second time with bleach (which you aren’t supposed to use because it decreases the life of the diapers). The pediatrician swabbed DD’s rash to check for yeast and gave us a prescription for a prescription anti-fungal. After we put both kids in hybrid diapers with disposable inserts and used the prescription cream, the rash started clearing up. After having treated the diapers, I thought I was in the clear to start using them again once the rash was completely gone. Um, not the case. Why? It wasn’t yeast! The culture swab came back negative for yeast.
I put DD in cloth again and 3 diapers later she had a serious burn AGAIN. I was very upset. What was I doing wrong? What else could this be, if not yeast? I started reaching out to fellow cloth diaper users on Facebook. After several suggestions that the twins suddenly BOTH became sensitive to our detergent (which I found very unlikely), someone suggested that I boil the diapers. This sounded like a good idea to me. I started boiling diaper inserts (not my AIOs) and continued to research online. The next morning I checked Facebook and found a reply saying that it sounded like ammonia burn. This immediately felt right to me because when I saw how bad the rash was, I thought “this looks like a burn!”. DD had blistered! (See the post HERE for how we quickly healed the ammonia burn/rash.) I then had some specific information to look up. I found the above mentioned websites and began to treat. Since I was already boiling diapers, I continued using that method.
Use the largest pot you have and fill it 3/4 the way full. Use long tongs to add and remove diapers. After water has come to a boil, slowly add one diaper or diaper insert at a time. (I’m just going to say that this is a crucial point. I got lazy after a few pots of diapers and added too many at one time. The pot boiled over, I had a flooded stove, and the water spilled into the cabinet below onto all my pots and pans and the floor. Then I had to keep two toddlers out of the kitchen, with a hot water covered floor and clean up everything. Spare yourself and add the diapers slowly.) You can boil between 15-30 minutes but if you are boiling anything with PUL I’d go with 15 minutes. Longer may damage/melt your diapers. Pooters also suggests that diapers older than 2 years shouldn’t be boiled because it may damage them beyond repair. I then removed the diapers one at a time and placed them in a metal rubber coated bowl. Make sure your container won’t melt with the heat of the diapers! I then took the diapers over to the sink and placed them in a colander to drip. After they cooled off a bit, I took them to the washing machine.
After boiling I rinsed the diapers in cold. I have a front load HE washer and I will give you the setting I used along the way. After rinsing, I washed the diapers with the Kirkland biodegradable liquid laundry detergent and put vinegar in the laundry softener compartment. I usually use Tiny Bubbles Detergent because it is specific for cloth diapers. If you use a non-cloth diaper specific detergent you can get buildup from the detergent in your diapers that can cause stink and other problems. I set the washer to Hot/Cold, heavy soil, extra rinse, and water plus. After this cycle was complete I added another rinse to total 1 pre-rinse and 3 post-wash rinses.
I REALLY didn’t want to boil my AIOs, for fear that the waterproofing layer would melt. Instead, I washed them separately on the sanitary cycle with Tiny Bubbles Detergent and then washed according to the above directions. After DD had one pee in the unboiled AIO, I could smell ammonia (not as strong as it was before but still). So, I got over my fear and boiled my AIOs, three diapers at a time, for 15 minutes each set followed by the post boil wash routine from above.
I knew this had worked once I put the kids in a diaper and
smelled didn’t smell the ammonia aroma from a soiled diaper! No red bottoms! I wish that ammonia build up was talked about more as a frequent problem. I have heard of several moms who happily cloth diapered for over a year, and suddenly had to give it up because of severe diaper rash. I’m thinking ammonia could have been the culprit.
Because of this discovery, I have changed my wash routine. I now, pre-rinse cold (I used to just push the prewash button), wash Hot/Cold with Tiny Bubbles Detergent & 1/2 scoop oxiclean, use the heavy soil, water plus and extra rinse settings, as well as add one more extra rinse at the end. I also wash monthly with the Kirkland detergent mentioned above to prevent buildup. I used to wash every other day but am now washing every day. I read a BumGenius recommendation stating that 12-15 AIOs are considered a full load for an HE machine. Yikes! I was totally overloading my machine! I think I was washing 16 AIOs plus the same amount of inserts AND cloth wipes too! I’m now also soaking the overnight, nap time & poopie diapers in a wet pail with water and a few drops of tee tree oil.
After all this I started asking around to see if any fellow cloth diapering mommas had experience telling the difference between a yeast rash and an ammonia burn. One mom suggested that if you put a cup of baking soda in baby’s warm bath the rash should improve if it is not yeast. If it remains the same by the next morning, then it may be yeast or a bacterial infection. I’d say, if you take baby to the doctor and the doctor swabs the rash, the results will give you the best information. In our case, the swab came back negative for anything. This makes perfect sense since it was an ammonia burn and not a bug of any kind.
It amazes me how much there is to know about parenting, cloth diapering, and life in general. I hope I have made this cloth diaper journey a bit easier on at least one of you! What’s your wash routine? Is it working for you? Share in a comment on this post and help save someone else from reinventing the wheel!
Be sure to visit Janice at Momma Words!