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Cleaning Stinky Cloth Diapers

When Cloth Diapers Just Plain STINK

By Amalah

Hi Amy!

Awhile back, when my now 13 month old was about 5 months I emailed you about low-dose birth control and PPD. I realized I never gave you an update! After going off of the “mini-pill” and speaking with my doctor, signing up for my first triathlon and committing to a MOMS Club in my area for desperately needed support, I felt a million times better!!! My OB thinks the pill definitely exacerbated what are common mood swings that occur during the sleep deprivation that comes with a young baby. She doesn’t think I had full blown PPD but now we know what we’re looking for should this happen again this time because yep, I went off the pill and promptly got pregnant. Then miscarried. Then got a diaphragm, and well, got pregnant AGAIN. (Not that I am knocking this, I read about infertility and it is heartbreaking. I lost a baby, and though he/she wasn’t planned it was awful, I can not imagine going through that again, or through the disappointment that must come with never conceiving. Every time I have seen two pink lines I have smiled. I wish every woman could smile like that….)

Advice Smackdown ArchivesI digress from the issue I am writing about, but wanted to let you know that, I am doing really well. I have an amazing support system now (my family lives states away and are great, but you know, you need local people…), and two of my close friends are all up to date on my craziness that happened when my little boy was young. I had a lot of heart to hearts with people. They know I may need a little extra help from time to time. So I feel more…..empowered….? with this pregnancy. Certainly more prepared for postpartum though I know it will be an WHOLE NEW bag of tricks with two under 17 months old under one roof. The good news is, we’re planning to move home closer to family after a year. So I get the sense we can do this, and hey, if I get overwhelmed I have people. Good wonderful loving people. Thank goodness for that 🙂

SO! Phew! You mentioned you like updates, sorry for the rambling one…

Cloth diapers. Love them. Have been using them since the munchkin was 3 months old. And now, well they smell like ammonia. Once, in my pregnant and tired state I accidentally just rinsed and spun them, and then dried them. (never washed) So the urine smell seems to be BAKED into these things. I wash them with Charlie’s Soap which is amazing and always did the trick before with the smell, but after this one crazy cycle, I am wondering, is there any miracle cure for ammonia baked in scent?! When the little man wets his diaper just a little bit it smells like someone has squirted Windex up my nose. It’s awful. And to make matters worse, he never ever ever used to get diaper rash in cloth, but now he does. I am thinking this might be related.

Can I just buy new inserts for my bum genius’s (Did you see they make them with snaps now?! So exciting. No more freaking velcro!) Or should I get all new diapers. Is there something I can do to them as is that may make the smell go away? I want to cloth diaper the second little one as well, so re-buying all of the munch’s diapers and about 12-13 new pairs for the wee one is very very daunting…..and really expensive….

Thank you so much! Sorry for the long rambly recap and totally unrelated question!!

“Now longer quite crazy just really freaking tired so I ruined my diapers.”

Yes! We do love updates! Especially ones that include news about feeling better! And great! And empowered! And definitely (planned or not) new babies! I’m super-thrilled to hear that you’re taking care of yourself — and allowing others to care for you when you need it — and just…well, YAY FOR EVERYTHING.

But! BOO TO STINKY DIAPERS. Nobody wants that, though rest assured, you’re not the first one to encounter the nasal assault of Windex every time you change a diaper. We’ve had it happen on a few occasions too — usually when a mistake gets made in the washing process. (Every time we visit my in-laws, my MIL super-helpfully insists on immediately washing each and every diaper we use, but unfortunately never follows our instructions about water temperature or soaking or detergent, and the diapers end up stinking to high heaven EVERY TIME.) And sometimes it just…happens after awhile, for no “real” reason. I put “real” in quotes because all the cloth diaper sites out there OF COURSE like to insist that cloth diapers will only smell if you use the wrong detergent or have super hard (or soft) water or something, but I won’t lie to you like that: Sometimes cloth diapers start smelling like pee simply because you are reusing something THAT YOUR BABY PEES IN.

But! Really! There is NO NEED to replace your diapers. NO NEED to even replace the inserts. No no no no no no. You just need to strip them.

“Diaper stripping” sounds kind of scary and damaging, but it’s just weird cloth diaper lingo for washing the everloving hell out of your diapers. This page has pretty much everything you need to know about stripping processes and options, and I suggest you go read it there rather than have me simply copy and paraphrase the instructions. That’s where I go when I’m looking for solutions. (You now know my secrets! I type stuff into Google and click the top search result! MADNESS!)

When our diapers start stinking, we usually go with the simplest, most straightforward stripping process: Lots and lots of hot water washes in a row, with no detergent, until we can open the top of our washer and confirm that there are no more “bubbles” (from leftover detergent or additives or whatever) forming during the rinse cycle. Then I run it one more time, with either some white vinegar or baking soda and rinse, rinse, rinse again. (Note that you should always wash your diapers WITH a generous amount of detergent once before stripping them — if you try to strip unwashed poopy diapers you will end up with permanent brown stains. I usually use extra detergent before stripping just to get them extra clean, and because I know I’ll be washing and rinsing them enough to prevent any residue build-up.) Toss them in the dryer and afterwards, you should end up with soft, fluffy diapers that smell like nothing but clean.

The site I linked to has other options, from Dawn dish soap to Oxyclean, that may work better for your particular brand of stink if hot water alone doesn’t do the trick, along with alternative washing methods like…your dishwasher (NOT recommended because it’s a fire hazard) or a commercial laundromat. You would only need to consider these options if you don’t think your washer is heating the water hot enough — you really want it HOT HOT HOT. You can also boil water on your stove and add that to your washer, though I would probably only do this if I was stripping the inserts only — pure boiling water could melt or warp the plastic snaps on the covers.

Stripping is a pain, no doubt, and I certainly don’t like using all that extra energy to heat the water and run the washer that many times, but we’ve only had to do it maybe two or three times. Probably the fault of our crappy water, frequent trips to the in-laws and the very first-world problem of our babysitter being SO NICE and HELPFUL and INSISTING on making diaper washing part of her job…but then constantly forgetting to check the water temperature setting before starting a load. Oh yes, life is very difficult sometimes. (Sarcasm! Don’t pelt me with dirty cloth wipes! Ew!)

One last recommendation, if even the regular ammonia smell of unwashed wet diapers is starting to become unbearable for your pregnant self, get the bumGenius odor remover spray. That stuff WORKS SO GREAT for minimizing diaper pail smell AND for saving you from that knock-your-ass-over wave of stink that you get while transferring diapers from pail to washer. Oh my God. The instructions say to saturate every cover, insert AND wipe but that’s overkill (and will necessitate a new bottle every couple weeks, hmmmmmmmm). I use it mostly on the first morning diaper and inserts and then selectively during the day on the Really Serious Ones. I never bother with the wipes or mildly wet or dirty diapers. Oh, and it’s also way better than Febreze for freshening up the inside of your diaper bag and wet bags and such.

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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