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Cloth Diaper Problems and Troubleshooting

Cloth Diaper Tech Support

By Amalah


You are probably totally sick of writing about cloth diapers by now but I am having some major issues. You were the one who inspired me to try it and the only one I “know” that does them. I am the first of my family and friends to have a baby and all of my husband’s family would laugh at me if they knew we were doing cloth diapers. The internet has been thoroughly unhelpful so you are my only and last hope.

We started out with just a few and we’ve been adding a few every month for the past 3 months. My stash is up to 14 diapers (but one turned out to be pink instead of red so I don’t use on my little boy). I have 3 Fuzzibunz One Size and 3 Fuzzibunz size mediums. I have 6 Sunbaby pocket one size diapers. I have 2 bumGenius that are my favorite. The bumGenius are lined with a different material than all the others and they don’t seem to bother his bum as much.

We started cloth diapering when my son was 3 months old and he is now almost 7 months. We started out with major sizing issues – We would put it on tight and he would get major red marks from the elastic. We would then put it one snap looser and he would blow poop out of the leg holes.

The next problem we’ve run into is his reaction to being in a wet diaper. If I do not change his every hour to hour and a half, he gets a horrible horrible rash on his poor little bum. I’m not kidding, I wish I could send a picture to show you how bad this rash can be. It breaks my heart every time I see it and hear his cries when I try to get it clean. I found a homemade recipe for diaper rash cream that seems to work well to heal it and is supposed to be safe for cloth. I just wish he didn’t get it in the first place! I know you are supposed to change cloth more frequently than disposable but every hour?!

I have a few guesses for why this happening: first, there is something wrong with the way I am washing them (Tide free in warm water, as recommended by the website and hang dry); second, I really do have to change his diaper every hour (which makes it hard to do full time because nighttime cannot happen); third, there is something in his diet (breastmilk and formula w/ some bananas or oatmeal if he’ll take it) or third, he’s reacting to the synthetic fibers.

Our final problem, related to the second, is nighttime. We started out using bumGenius with two inserts (the big one and the newborn). They worked okay when he was sleeping 6 hours at a time but now that he is up to 10 – 12 hours, he is soaked by morning. Not to mention we still have the problem with the rash from being in them so long.

Everything people say online about nighttime issues is about the soaking out, not the rash. I have done some research and am thinking about trying out some natural fibers like cotton and wool for nighttime to see if I can solve both problems. If it works I would sell my old stash and rebuild with natural fibers. However, the organic stuff is EXPENSIVE! And we do not have the money right now to be experimenting with $50 diapers. If I am going to do it, I want to be pretty sure this is my problem and this is how to fix it. (If you or your readers have any recommendations on natural fibers-some specifically for nighttime wear-with a lower price tag, it would be much appreciated.)

It took a lot of convincing to get my husband to agree to try cloth diapers and he supports my decision now that he has seen the savings on disposables. However, we are both loosing our resolve because of these issues. I really want cloth diapers to work for us but feel like they are trying very hard not to. This is my last hope before I just switch back to disposables, which he has no problems in.

~Trouble in Cloth

Okay. Let’s play Cloth Diaper Tech Support and see if we can troubleshoot here.

The first thing that jumped out at me was your detergent. I’ve never personally seen Tide Free listed as a good-for-cloth detergent. In fact, the “free & clear” liquid detergents usually land in the DO NOT USE column.  Granted, the Great Cloth Detergent Debate will probably rage until the end of time, so there’s not a whole lot of consistency or consensus on the advice. However! Anytime you’re dealing with a rash in cloth diapers, the detergent — no matter how highly recommended it may be — is usually Prime Suspect Number One. Then after that, it’s the laundering process. Are you getting them clean enough, is there detergent build-up/residue, etc.

The synthetic lining of your diapers SHOULD be acting as a moisture-wicking barrier, keeping your son’s skin feeling relatively dry even while the guts of the diaper are soaking. If that’s not happening and his pee is staying right up against his skin (thus requiring the uber-frequent changes)…well, that’s another sign pointing to a laundry problem. Detergent build-up in the fabric is preventing it from wicking properly. Fleece is more susceptible to this problem, in my experience, which is possibly why you’re noticing a difference between the fleece diapers and the bumGenius, which use suedecloth as the inner lining.

I have always used powdered Charlie’s Soap on my diapers, both on the synthetic and the natural fabrics. I run a cold soak (you can also do a cold wash cycle or rinse/spin, if your machine doesn’t soak), then wash them on HOT (not warm) with a small scoop of Charlie’s, followed with an extra rinse. Then I tumble dry. (I line dry in the sun occasionally for stains, but not that often, honestly.) So. That’s the first major change I’d recommend.

Next up would be to call your pediatrician during the worst of the flare ups and get him checked for a yeast or fungal infection. We’ve gone through this with all three of our boys: Chronic, awful rashes that heal only to come raging back in the worst way at the slightest exposure to dampness. (A yeast infection is particularly likely if your baby has had a round of oral antibiotics recently.) Regular rash creams can soothe the symptoms but are powerless to kill the root cause. We recently had use a combination of Lotrimin and hydrocortisone on Ike, then coat him with plain ol’ Vaseline while the skin finished healing.  Triple Paste is another good one for the Mega Rashes too. And yes, we used disposables the whole time (about a week), because while I may be your friendly neighborhood cloth fanatic, I’m not crazy. Cloth diapers aren’t perfect. Neither are disposables. Each have their time and place.

Now, as for the synthetic vs. natural fibers. I used all synthetic on Ezra (FB and BG) and had almost zero issues. BUT I’ve since switched my stash over to all cotton because I got tired of the microfiber stink and the repelling fleece/suedecloth and I was stripping my cloth diapers more and more as they aged. I wanted fitted diapers because I was annoyed by ongoing fit problems in the one-size styles, similar to the ones you described (red marks from elastic vs. leaks and blowouts), but using fitteds in anything other than basic cotton was completely cost-prohibitive. I don’t use organic cotton, but instead go with unbleached cotton prefolds and Workhorse fitteds from Green Mountain Diapers. These are the best diapering value I have honestly come across, because they are WONDERFUL diapers. For nighttime, I add cotton Workhorse doublers (two of them equal one of the big microfiber inserts), and I’ve also bought a variety of cotton velour and hemp inserts/doublers on Amazon that add a ton of absorbency without much bulk. For moisture wicking at night, I use Bummis fleece liners.

The prefolds and Workhorses do require covers. I use PUL covers by Thirsties during the day, then opt for a pair of wool pants at night. Wool is expensive (which is why I recommend searching Etsy rather than buying name-brand wool — you can even find shops willing to charge you for construction only if you provide an old 100% wool sweater to use), but for nighttime use only you only need to buy one or two covers. Just let them air dry during the day and reuse as needed. I wash my wool about one a month, if that, or if poop gets on it (which is pretty rare at night these days).

But swapping out your stash is probably step three or four here. I think it’s MUCH more likely that your detergent and laundry process is leaving irritating residue behind. You’ll probably want to strip your cloth diapers (wash over and over and over on hot with no detergent). A little baking soda or white vinegar might be a good call too, depending on what kind of water you have. (I personally run into problems whenever I try additives like soda, vinegar or Oxy, alas. I think we have very weird water, though.) I like Rockin’ Green detergent for stripping purposes the best, but other people swear by it for everyday washing over Charlie’s too. And I’m serious about getting him checked for some kind of recurring thrush or yeast infection.

But look: There’s no sense in torturing your baby. We can all swear to use or do all kinds of awesome, high-minded things (cloth diapers! exclusive breastfeeding! 100% homemade organic everything), and then have to hit the brakes once we meet our particular brand of baby. Who maybe has a ton of skin allergies or refuses to latch on or turns up his nose at 99.9999% of the foods you offer, save for Ritz crackers and string cheese. You give it all your best shot but in the end, you gotta do what works for him and your family. If cloth isn’t it, that’s okay too. No one is going to come take away the Mom of the Year medal that no one ever gave you in the first place.

About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch


Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Ama...

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it’s pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to [email protected].

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.

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