How To Get Rid Of That Stinky Smell In Your Cloth Diapers

Hanging Cloth Diapers

If your cloth diapers stink, you’re not alone.

Pulling a fresh load of diapers out of the washer or dryer just to be greeted with a funky smell is purely frustrating.

And when your diapers seem clean but suddenly stink to high heaven the moment your kid pees in them, it is disheartening.

I know, having battled the stink many times myself. So what causes stink?

Basically, you either have buildup from urine, detergents, or hard water that has become trapped in the absorbent layers of the diaper; or your diaper contains some bacteria that likewise hasn’t been killed during the washing. So what can you do about it?

Take Good Care Of Your Diapers

First and foremost, you need to be sure that you are taking proper care of your diapers.

You shouldn’t use diaper creams on your baby’s bum unless they are cloth diaper safe.

Grovia Magic StickIngredients such as petroleum and zinc oxide aren’t safe with cloth diapers as they can cause repelling and are very difficult to wash out.

Instead, rub your baby’s rash with treatments such as coconut oil, breastmilk (no, seriously!), Grandma El’s or the Grovia Magic Stick.

If you must use a diaper rash cream that isn’t safe with cloth diapers, use a liner or switch to disposables until the rash is taken care of.

Another product that shouldn’t be used with cloth diapers is fabric softener.

This also leaves a residue and makes the diapers repellant rather than absorbent.

If you want to soften your diapers, consider adding wool dryer balls to your dryer instead of using fabric softener or dryer sheets.

Granted, PUL components of cloth diapers shouldn’t be dried regularly, but the inserts, fitteds, flats, and prefolds can go in the dryer regularly without a problem and will definitely benefit from dryer balls.

Finally, be sure your detergent is free from additives such as scents or fabric softener, but is also strong enough to really knock out dirt. Two great detergents for this are Tide Free and Country Save.

Check Your Water

Check The Water

Once you’ve made sure you aren’t contributing to the problem of the stinky diapers, you need to figure out what part of your washing cycle is the problem.

First of all, you need to check to make sure your water isn’t the source of trouble.

Rinsing your diapers sufficiently is the first step in removing your stink.

If your water is hard, it might be making the problem worse.

In my town, a water softener comes with every home because of all the calcium we have in our water. It’s so bad that you can literally see bits of it floating in your drinking glass if it isn’t treated and filtered!

Calgon Water SoftenerAll this calcium can cause a bad buildup in your diapers that extra rinses might actually make worse.

You can keep your water soft by using a water softener, or by adding Calgon water softener to your laundry loads.

Another thing you might try is using a bit more laundry detergent, as it will work to clean and soften the water as well as the clothes.

If you don’t use enough detergent when you have hard water, your laundry won’t get clean.

The bottom line with hard water is that left untreated, it will deposit calcium on your diapers with every wash, and you will also start to notice more pilling and wear and tear than normal.

Rinse, Rinse, Rinse

Lather Rinse Repeat

Once you know whether or not your water is hard and any problems in that area have been resolved, you need to make sure your washing routine doesn’t lend itself to buildup.

Everyone has a different wash routine, and different steps work for different people depending upon their water source, washing machine type, and laundry detergent.

It’s all relative. You need to find the specific routine that works for you.

The bottom line is that you need to make sure that your cloth diapers are sufficiently rinsed.

High efficiency (HE) washing machines often don’t use enough water to truly rinse out those thick, absorbent inserts of all the ammonia that urine can deposit, so adding rinses and soaks before and after a wash is usually necessary.

If you have an HE machine and it produces water based on the weight of the load, then adding a wet towel to your diaper wash should trick the machine into adding more water.

The amount of water my HE machine uses has nothing to do with how much the load weighs so I just choose the largest, heaviest setting on the machine and put the diapers through extra rinses.

I actually started pouring pitchers of water into my HE machine for awhile.

My washing routine was crazy.

When I used an HE to wash my diapers I rinsed with cold water, washed with hot water with detergent, washed with hot water without detergent, and rinsed a couple more times.

Now, I have two machines, an HE for my regular clothes, and an old fashioned top loader for my diapers.

The old top loader uses tons more water and now I only need to rinse and wash once with detergent and my diapers come out so clean.

While considering ways to get more water into your diaper loads, consider washing less diapers at a time, which will mean washing them more often.

Less diapers means a higher ratio of water and a lower ratio of urine and feces, making the diapers much easier to wash.


What Did You Just Say

I’m sure you’ve heard it, “Just strip your diapers if they stink,” and if you’re like me, that word, “strip” strikes fear into your heart.

I imagine my diapers falling apart in layers and disintegrating as I try to demolish the villain of stinkiness.

Obviously, that’s not what happens when you strip diapers.

The word “strip” is referring to the removal of buildup.

Here’s how you do it:

  1. Wash your diapers like normal, then wash them again in a hot wash without detergent. And then another.

  2. Keep washing them in hot water without soap until there are no more bubbles in the wash.

  3. You can also soak your diapers in the tub to strip them. That’s what I’ve always done.

  4. I just fill the tub as high as I can and let the diapers soak. Then I drain, and refill, and continue until I feel they are clean.

Bacteria Issues


If sufficient rinsing and stripping doesn’t fix the problem, then you may have some bacterial buildup.

You need to not only rinse the diapers well, but kill the bacteria as well.

This is another thing that sounds scary to me because I’m so careful with my diapers. I really want them to last a long time!

Have no fear. There are a few safe ways to kill bacteria in your diapers:

  1. Bleach: Yeah, really. Bleach. As long as you don’t use this on any part of the diaper with PUL or elastics, it’s safe. Bleach the absorbent parts of the diapers and then rinse them with hot water a couple of times.

  2. Biokleen’s Bac Out: This is an all natural solution for those of you who don’t like the idea of exposing your kids to the chemicals in bleach. A good soak in a mixture of Bac Out and water will do your diapers some good. It’s an all natural way of killing bacteria. It uses enzymes rather than chemicals. It also smells really good!

  3. Sunning: This is another all natural way of disinfecting your diapers as the sun is a very powerful bleaching agent. Stick your diapers out on the clothesline or on a drying rack inside your house near a window and let the sun work it’s bacteria killing magic. You don’t even need full sun for this. In fact, an overcast day is preferable as lots of sun will be a bit strong for your diapers.

Reconsider Your Fabrics

Cloth Diaper Fabric

I’ve found that the fabric that stinks the most is usually synthetic microfiber.

That stuff is just so amazingly absorbent that it can sometimes be difficult to remove some of the nasty things it has absorbed.

True, I’ve fixed some stinky microfiber with all of the things I’ve mentioned above, but sometimes I choose to just avoid the problem altogether by sticking to less layers and more all natural fibers.

Cotton, hemp, and bamboo are some wonderfully absorbent natural fabrics that are often found in diapers.

Prefolds and flat diapers in particular are not only made with natural fabrics, but are extremely easy to wash.

Many of the things you aren’t supposed to do to their pocket, AIO, and fitted counterparts (bleach, the dryer, too much sun), actually make these diapers softer and more absorbent.

True, you still shouldn’t be using laundry detergents with additives, fabric softeners, or unsafe cloth diaper creams, but these diapers are far less fussy than their more modern counterparts.

I am a huge fan of switching out all my microfiber inserts for pad folded flat diapers.

Get Rid Of The Stink

Flat diapers are not only inexpensive, but they’re absorbent and have only one layer of fabric.

When you pad fold it (fold in half twice, then fold it into thirds), you end up with 12 layers of absorbency.

Then, in the wash, it unfolds into one layer (one layer!) and the water can flow through the threads to easily wash away urine and debris.

Of course, you can use your flat diapers in the traditional way as well.

Prefolds are thicker than flat diapers and will probably need a bit more water to get rinsed out, but they’re also made of natural fibers and aren’t finicky in the wash.

Fabrics such as hemp, cotton, and bamboo, though still absorbent, are more easily rinsed than their microfiber counterparts and thus less likely to build up a stink.

If flat diapers and prefolds aren’t your thing, consider pocket diapers, fitteds, and all in one diapers made with all natural fibers in their absorbent layers, and think about a diaper that will be easier to wash – say an all in one diaper that has a soaker pad that is only attached at one end, or one that has removable layers.

Grovia AIO DiaperThe Grovia AIO diaper is a great example of this type of AIO diaper.

Keep in mind that an AIO or pocket diaper will need to be line dried and they take a bit longer to dry than their synthetic counterparts.

If you prefer pockets, consider stuffing them with flats, prefolds, or a trifold insert.

Knickernappies pocket diapers have a microfiber/hemp insert that is sewn in a loop rather than in sandwiched layers. This allows water to get to the layers more easily.

I always liked how easily those inserts washed and how the mix of synthetic and natural fibers made it a very absorbent insert.

When your clean cloth diapers that are stinky, it can be a huge weight on your shoulders.

I know. I’ve been there.

Just know that you are not alone and that the stink can almost always be fixed.

Take a deep breath, check your routine, and then work through some of these solutions to see which works for you.

Good luck!

One Response

  1. Karen of May 3, 2016

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