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Cloth Diaper Problems and Troubleshooting

Cloth Diaper Tech Support: Persistent Diaper Rash & Not-So-Waterproof Covers

By Amalah

Hi Amy,

I love reading Advice Smackdown, and Amalah. I love reading about your boys, thank you for sharing!

I have two questions. First is I have an eight week old with very sensitive skin. I recently switched to cloth diapers because she had the worst diaper rash. The doctor seemed unconcerned, but this is my third baby and I had never seen a diaper rash so bad. We have been using Charlie Banana, and bumGenius for about a month now. At first the diaper rash seemed to get better, but never completely went away. Now it is back full force, she has been crying a lot, and is having trouble sleeping. I feel horrible every time I change her. I change her about every two hours, except at night, she sleeps about six hours. Plus, sometimes after I wash her diapers smell like pretzels. Weird, right? I hope you can suggest some cures for her bottom troubles.

Second is involving her cloth diapers again. I hold her in a carrier, often. When she is removed from the carrier, the cover of her diaper feels moist. I always expect a huge wet spot on my shirt, but there is none. I always feel bad when someone wants to hold her, and her clothes are slightly moist. I don’t think the cloth diapers are repelling, but since we haven’t been using cloth for a long time, maybe? I feel like I should add that I wash with Rockin Green, and have not used anything else.

Thank you for your time,
Confused with Cloth

*puts on cloth diaper troubleshooting cap, adjusts to a jaunty angle*

Okay! So.

Problem number one: Is it possible that your baby’s diaper rash was/is yeast related? Perhaps an undiagnosed run-in with thrush that manifested bottom-only?  Because that rash sounds AWFULLY familiar to me. Ike developed a yeast infection this past summer (thanks to spending a bit too much time in the swim diapers, methinks) and HOLY NUTBARS, the rash was vicious. And it looked EXACTLY like the rash Noah developed as a newborn, thanks to thrush. I had the nipple discomfort (think itchy burning like athlete’s foot) and got it treated super-quickly, and while my lactation consultant insisted Noah was fine because he never developed the telltale white spots in his mouth…his diapers told a different story. Red, raised, meaty, prone to blister-type lesions and even bleeding. A completely different animal than “regular” ol’ diaper rash.

A fungal infection of some kind would explain why the rash reemerges in cloth, even after you’re confident you’ve cleared it up. The infection is living on in your diapers and you must kill it by disinfecting them. I learned this one the stupid-hard-way because it simply didn’t occur to me that I was basically re-infecting poor Ike every time we switched back to cloth after treating the rash with non-cloth-friendly creams. (Clotrimazole, miconazole or nystatin, topped off with a hardcore barrier cream like Desitin or Triple Paste.)

Technically, washing your diapers on hot *should* be enough to kill the yeast, but it didn’t work that way for us. Probably the fault of our high-efficiency washing machine not getting hot enough. Instead, I had to go nuclear. Anything that could be safely bleached (prefolds, inserts, etc.) was bleached. Anything that couldn’t (pocket diapers, colored fabrics, PUL covers, etc.) was washed with about 20 drops or so of grapefruit seed extract, which you can usually find at health or vitamin stores, or on Amazon. Tea tree oil will also work — just make sure you’re get the 100% pure essential oil. These are natural anti-fungals and will do an effective job while not damaging your diapers, so you can use them multiple times without fear if you want to be extra double mega sure you’ve killed the nastiness.

You’ll also want to do the same to your cloth wipes, if you use them. We also put Ike on a probiotic to kill any yeast in his tummy (since the rash would always flare up after even just the shortest contact with poop as well), AND we got rid of any diaper balm sticks we’d used during the infection window that had direct contact with his bum. (I love love love the cloth-safe GroVia Magic Stick ointment, and while it might have been overkill, I swore the rash would flare up after I used it. So I chucked it and got a fresh one. So far, so good.)

Other possibilities for your daughter’s rash? An allergy to your diaper detergent, or something in her milk/diet. Though if it clears up in disposables that’s less likely. Try disinfecting and/or switching detergents first.

And now! Problem number two! Mysteriously moist pocket diapers. Your cloth diapers are very new (unless you got them secondhand?) and you’re washing them in a good detergent, so this one is kind of a puzzler. The outer shell of Charlie Banana and bumGenius diapers should be reliably waterproof, unless they’ve somehow been damaged via improper laundering, use of non-cloth-safe creams or a manufacturing defect. If you lay the diaper flat and pour a little water on the outside shell, does it pool and bead up? Or does it penetrate the fabric? Now do the same to the inner fleece/suedecloth lining. Is it really the outer shell that feels moist, or is the leakage coming from the edges of the leg holes and waistband? Or is she simply saturating the inner guts of the diapers so much that it’s hitting maximum capacity?  When you change her, is her skin wet or is the inner lining wicking moisture away (like it’s supposed to)?

If you think your diapers are just plain leaking (her skin is wet, the inserts aren’t saturated yet her clothing is damp), then yes, you probably have repelling fleece and need to strip them. (Did you prewash all your inserts on hot with no detergent three or more times before using them? Is it possible they weren’t adequately prepped?) I actually had problems with my pocket diapers when I tried using Rockin Green as my regular detergent, weirdly enough, even though I know tons of people who love it. I do LOVE it for stripping/deep cleaning, but using it all the time caused stink/leakage for us. So we stick with Charlie’s Soap. Maybe try switching and see what happens.

If it’s not leaking, but the inserts are seriously getting overly soaked in just a few hours, then you may just need more absorbency. The outer shell of a pocket diaper isn’t foolproof — I know when the insides of ours get completely soaked through I’ve experienced something similar to what you’re describing, though not usually enough to transfer moisture onto clothing. (More of a feeling/smell of wetness, with perhaps some leakage around the edges.) What are you stuffing the diapers with? The full-size insert or just the smaller newborn doubler? If your baby isn’t big enough for the full-size insert but is soaking through the smaller one, I’d suggest buying some extra doublers and double-stuffing her at all times (and triple at night). sells really nice, inexpensive cotton doublers (Workhorse Doublers) in a variety of sizes. You can also find a ton of newborn-sized doublers on Amazon in just about every fabric imaginable: hemp, velour, fleece, microfiber, etc. I personally prefer the natural fibers like cotton and hemp because they are easy to wash and not prone to build-up and repelling and stink like the microfiber.

Lastly, I would definitely recommend letting your baby have some open-air naked-butt time. The outer shells of pocket diapers are NOT BREATHABLE, so it’s possible that with the rash and all the time bundled up in a carrier her little bottom might just be getting hot and irritated and needs some time out of the PUL-covered diapers. Pile some absorbent blankets on the floor to catch any mess and let her butt get 30 minutes to an hour or so of fresh air every day, if at all possible.

Good luck! I hope you get to the bottom (OH LOOK I MADE A PUN) of the mysterious diaper rash and leakage. And let us know what — if anything — ends up working so we can add it to the endless pile of cloth diaper troubleshooting tips.


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

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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  • karen

    September 24, 2012 at 2:41 pm

    Just want to add that cloth diapers need to be changed way more often than disposables. So at daycare, where they are used to disposables, my son will go a couple hours in one dipe since they change all diapers at scheduled times, and sometimes by that point the entire diaper will have become completely soaked inside and out. It’s not a leaking/repelling/whatever problem, just an oversaturation problem. Let us know what you eventually figure out! I’m intrigued!!

  • Jackie

    September 24, 2012 at 4:10 pm

    When my son had a yeast rash I gave him probiotics by mouth and as weird as it sounds, also on the rash itself/in the diaper.  Just break open and sprinkle it on (I used a wet wash cloth to wash the area (I was afraid wipes would sting) and get it a little damp before sprinkling to make it stick).  It worked really quickly so now I just do that for any rash just in case.

  • Kathy @ Some of These Things

    September 24, 2012 at 4:34 pm

    Yeast was my first thought too. I battled many, many a yeasty diaper rash, back in my diapering says.
    Everything you suggested was spot on, but I had one other trick that helped. In addition to air it out naked butt time, it helped to let baby just soak in the bath, in just plain water, as long as possible. Luckily, my daughter, a fair redhead with super sensitive skin, LOVED playing in the bath. I would let her lay in the tub of water, soaking her bottom while she kicked and played, for as long as I possibly could. It really helped.

  • Zanbar

    September 24, 2012 at 4:38 pm

    Pretzels – hmm. Made with yeast. The plot thickens.

  • AmyRenee

    September 24, 2012 at 5:14 pm

    I agree with others that it could be yeast. If you don’t want to bleach, you can try boiling anything that can hold up to the heat of it, and you should do bottles/nipples/pacifiers etc as well.
    As for the damp feeling, is it possible she’s just sweaty? Diaper + onesie + pants + carrier + pressed up against mom is a lot of layers & warmth.

  • Laura

    September 24, 2012 at 6:05 pm

    My daughter got serious amonia-like burns from Rockin’ Green – she had the worst rashes every time I washed them with that soap. After the third time I finally clued in and quit Rockin’ Green altogether, so definately take Amy’s advice and try a different soap as well – I had good luck with Nature Clean.

  • Hi, I'm Natalie.

    September 24, 2012 at 6:38 pm

    I agree that tea tree oil can be great in the wash!

    We also use a tea tree oil solution as a pre-diaper skin treatment about once a day – I mix a cup of olive oil, cup of water, a teensy bit of baby soap, a capful of witch hazel solution, and a few drops of tea tree oil, then use it to dab baby’s bum with a cotton ball. Between that and the post-bath coconut oil massages (coconut oil is also anti-microbial/anti-candida), my 12-week-old daughter has perfect skin. We’ve never used disposables or medicated creams. 

  • Whozat

    September 24, 2012 at 8:54 pm

    When we had trouble with leaks that seemed to be a repelling problem, I added a cloth liner (usually a soft terry washcloth) inside the diaper – not in the pocket, but between her skin and the fleece lining. It sort of defeated the purpose of the non-wet fleece, but it seemed to slow the pee down a bit, so that it didn’t pool on the fleece and run out the legs.

  • Julie

    September 24, 2012 at 10:14 pm

    Another option in regards to letting her bum breathe more is to try wool, fleece, or Nikky’s breathable cotton and/or poly covers.  Some kids just can’t take PUL for long periods of time, so you might try looking into those options.  Not to mention the wool can be addictive. Good luck!

  • Heidi

    September 26, 2012 at 2:01 am

    A couple of additions to Amy’s advice. You can combine the Tea Tree Oil and Grapefruit Seed Extract for a more powerful disinfectant. Sunning your diapers also helps kill off bacteria.
    Also, always strip your diapers between different detergent brands.
    My daughter will get diaper rash VERY easily and what I have found that helps the most in terms of cream applications is to apply lanolin and then over the top of that use buttpaste. I use a fleece liner (just white fleece I purchased at hobby lobby cut into rectangles about 3 inches by 5 inches…fleece doesn’t fray so that’s all there is to it) to protect my diapers from the non-safe creams.

    As for the moisture you are feeling…I’m going to take a TOTALLY different approach. Is it possible that it’s not caused by your daughter but actually yourself? I have no idea how to troubleshoot this, but I’m thinking that if her diaper area is pushed up against you body really tight, your skin isn’t going to be able to breathe and might perspire a little. I know that isn’t a glamorous thought, but I live in Texas, so when I wear my kiddo and its HOT out, I sweat a little and especially where my daughter is held tight against me.

    I hope you get these kinks worked out soon, cloth diapering can be tricky sometimes, but once you figure it all out, it’s awesome stuff.

  • kimm

    September 26, 2012 at 4:16 am

    I second the lanolin idea, we have had great results with Bag Balm which has lanolin in it, and Desitin slathered over that. used disposibles til rash was gone since those are not cloth friendly, but it cleared up a horrendous rash from a virus/diarrhea in 1 day. 1 day! I found this out from diaper rash forums. i love the internet:)

  • Amy J

    September 26, 2012 at 10:15 am

    I use bleach occasionally in all my diapers, just to get them disinfected. It probably has reduced diaper life a little but it does the job. And has not changed the color of my diapers. 

  • Corinne

    September 26, 2012 at 2:08 pm

    Just wanted to second sunning the diapers! Sun kills yeast! Also sun her little baby butt if you can (backyard maybe?)

    Also, Coconut oil is a natural anti-fungal, so you can use coconut oil as your diaper cream. It’s CD safe (just don’t use too much on pockets, it can cause repelling if you put too much on for a diaper change, but it washes out cleanly).

  • Autumn

    September 29, 2012 at 4:55 pm

    I just wanted to second how much we LOVE the Grovia Magic stick!  Not getting fingers dirty with butt paste, Yippie!  The day care ladies love it too.  

    We use the grovia all in twos (shell and snap in liners) and when things get really saturated, they will leak a tiny bit at the leg hole seams.  We also have problems when she poops first, then pees on top of that.  Runs right off and mess everywhere.  Happens now with 13 month old poop as well as back when with new baby breastmilk poop.  I don’t know a way around it (biggest problem when she poops while sleeping).

    And thanks commenters for the anti-yeast ideas, always good to have in reserve

  • Kristi

    September 30, 2012 at 11:30 pm

    I had the exact same problem. My son gets diaper rash from most brands of disposables, but I was surprised when he still had it with cloth. I also used Rockin’ Green detergent. I decided to try something else to see if that was the problem. The rash went away completely when I switched. I use unscented Ecos detergent now and he hasn’t ever gotten a rash since.

  • Hillary

    October 3, 2012 at 12:24 pm

    Good CD advice here and I have nothing to add. BUT- I think the moisture is from you, too. The carrier pressed against your body is probably causing the moisture to gather against the pul cover and whatever cotton is over that. My guess is your shirt is damp too! This happens to me and my baby all the time if he is just wearing a onesie or I am wearing a cotton top- one of us is wet. Now that it is colder, there are more layers, so he is staying dry.

  • Sarah

    October 5, 2012 at 3:37 pm

    We had a horrible time with diaper rash and not the yeasty kind. Everyone swore up and down that babies in cloth shouldn’t get rashy but mine did. We tried multiple detergents and it didn’t seem to make a difference. We changed very frequently and did lots of naked bottom time but we still struggled with rash. We ended up just always switching to disposable and using lots of ointment and then going back to cloth when it cleared up. It was a vicious cycle and it killed us to use disposable with all the cloth diapers sitting in a drawer. Then one day he just kind of outgrew it and it stopped being a problem but this wasn’t until 12 months or so.