Adventures in Cloth Diapering: Ammonia

Today I found myself barefoot, in the kitchen over a big pot of boiling diapers.

Yes. I had to boil the funk out of my baby’s diapers. It worked. And good thing, too because I was about to make a dramatic breakup with cloth diapers.

So, this is how it happened, and like most things that are wrong with the world, it was caused by extremism. I’m going to say it was my extreme environmentalism, as that sounds sort of cool, and edgy and liberal, and would certainly piss off my mother. But if I’m honest, I think it was my cheapness that did it.

A fair criticism of cloth diapering is that you spend money and time washing them. Hoping to prove everyone wrong, I took this to the extreme and used homemade laundry detergent (yep), an old, up-cycled high efficiency washing machine, and I washed everything on cold. This system worked brilliantly for the first few months. But some time about a month ago, I noticed a little funky smell right after Bear peed. Like a fish tank. The next week or so, this turned into a nose-hair curling ammonia reek that could rattle your brain. After a TON of research, this is what happened:

My cheap, environmentally friendly homemade laundry detergent was full of plant oils that were coating the absorbent material of my diapers, making it impossible to clean out the little microscopic urea molecules trapped in the fibers. The cold washes in a high efficiency (read, less water, less agitation) washer only exacerbated the problem. So, even though they smelled clean coming out of the wash, they were not getting the good old fashioned purging they deserved.

Things I tried to rid my diapers of ammonia:

1. Adding baking soda–made it worse (ammonia and baking soda are both basic, I needed an acidic to neutralize like vinegar)

2. Soaking them in the bathtub with fish tank ammonia remover–didn’t work.

3. Soaking them in the bathtub with a different fish tank ammonia remover–nope.

4. Striping the plant oils from by washing them on hot with Dawn (a definite risk in my HE machine, but I was conservative and it didn’t hurt it) and adding vinegar to the rinse cycle–this worked for about a week.

5. Physically scrubbing each and every diaper liner with dawn and a hard-bristled tub brush–sadly, no.

6. Switching to original powdered Tide–apparently, even though Tide has all the bad things that are supposed to ruin cloth diapers, it has somehow magically worked for some. Sadly, not for me.

7. And my final act of desperation: Boiling the diapers. This worked. It was like super-stripping the diapers. It melted away the plant oils, and allowed all the little mineral deposits deep in the fibers a chance for sweet, sweet freedom.

Sooooo….yeah. Cloth diapers are not without their challenges. I love that I’ve spent $180 total on all of baby’s diapers ever. I love that I’m not adding to the landfills. I did not love troubleshooting this. So, for anyone who is at their wits end with cloth diapers, just take a clean diaper and boil the bejezus out of it.

Now that my diapers are stripped, my washing routine will now be: Every other day rinse in cold water, wash with Country Save detergent in HOT water (I’m turning up my water heater for this), extra rinse. Occasionally add some vinegar to the mix.

Vital info for the googlers out there:

Diapers: Grovia and Grobaby AI2 with both organic cotton and microfiber inserts

Water type: We have very soft water with trace minerals

Washer: HE front-loader


One thought on “Adventures in Cloth Diapering: Ammonia

  1. Used to use cloth diapers. Upon removal, rinse out. Soak in a bucket of laundry soap with a little Clorox. Wash in hot water, laundry soap & Clorox bleach. Always fresh & sweet. If the fishy smell persists, he may have a urinary tract infection. Babies at that age can be otherwise. asymptomatic.

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