4 Ways to Remedy Funky, Ammonia Smelling Cloth Diapers and Training Pants

As a cloth diapering mom, I know that it is hard to find a detergent that actually works. Whether the dirty diapers or training pants are sitting in a wet bag for a little too long (I’m guilty of this) or you have a baby moving into full nights of sleep wearing that diaper for hours at a time, we still want them clean.

Cloth diapers/training pants build up stink, but more importantly they can cause skin irritation or keep a rash around longer than necessary.

A good rule of thumb: if your diapers smell funky…they are NOT clean.
Most issues come from the products you are using whether it be the detergent or soap, lotions, or diaper creams. Check those first. I could talk products all day long as it is where we started our laundry care items from, but today, let’s hit the highlights and get you back in action. Cloth diapering is amazing and it doesn’t have to be a strenuous amount of work. Here are a few touch points to stream line the efficiency of going the cloth diaper route.

Make sure the detergent you are using is free of enzymes, scents, dyes, brighteners, and softeners- they will create build-up and are hard on the material of the diaper. Make sure your creams are safe: free of fish oils, petroleum, petrolatum, and zinc.

The most common problem I hear about or have experienced is the potent stench of ammonia. The smell can knock you down and or literally burns your nose hairs off…all of them.

Again, if your diapers stink…they are NOT clean.

So let’s talk a bit about ammonia and what you can do about it to keep those diapers clean and baby’s bottom healthy.

Ammonia is a chemical reaction between detergent buildup and urine. When the baby pees in the diaper, the layer of detergent buildup crystallizes on contact. This fire burning smell could probably melt small toys. You’ll know if you are smelling ammonia. The tricky thing part is that most diapers will come out of the dryer or off the line and smell clean. It is only when the child goes to the bathroom, will you smell it.

First, your diapers are not ruined. Don’t panic. You also should NOT have to be stripping your diapers every week. So if you are doing that, let’s see if we can’t fix the problem with a few quick trials, so you aren’t running excessive amounts of washer loads.

  1. Water: whether you have hard or soft water matters. We have extremely hard water in Montana and I found that using a natural water softener can help. I like good ol’ cheap white distilled vinegar. If you are using it as maintenance, add a cup or 2 to each load in addition to your detergent. If you are trying to remedy ammonia, dump half of the jug in the drum. I know it sounds like a lot, but trust me, it works and you won’t have to do it very often. I always like to set the wash temperature on warm or hot. Hot water if you are fixing ammonia. If you are using a powder, use warm or hot- you want it to dissolve properly.

  2. Make sure you are using enough detergent: I know this seems crazy, but depending on your water, hard or soft, you may need to double or triple the amount of detergent you are using. Just for the diapers. Regular laundry should be fine with recommended amount.

  3. Sun your diapers: I found the best way to naturally brighten up any stains or kill bacteria is to lay those diapers in the sun. Throw over a railing, lay them on your porch, hang them on the line, you can even lay them in front of a window inside. Pull them out wet, and let them dry in the sun. You will be amazed at how powerful the sun is for laundry. (I did not do this every time I washed diapers, but I tried to lay them out as often as possible.)

  4. Hot water: extra rinse or extra cycle through one or two rounds of plain hot water. This is only for ammonia wash out. Normal washes of diapers should be able to run through one wash cycle. It is amazing what just water can do!

If you have questions or remedies you have found, let us know. Mom to mom is the best type of information. Water types, diaper brands, and new and upcoming products that are constantly hitting the market are hard to keep up with, so share, share, share if you have found something that works. Much love to you all and happy cloth diapering!

- Lindsay