Cloth Diapering Mailbox Mondays Stink Washing

Cloth Diaper Advice – Mailbox Mondays 11/7/11 – Stinky Covers & Prefolds

stinky #clothdiapers covers via @chgdiapers

Well, I finally got a Mailbox Mondays submission! If you need cloth diaper advice, submit your question. Each week, I answer a reader submitted question, and ask my readers to help too!

Questions don’t have to be cloth diaper related, just email maria at with “Mailbox Mondays” in the subject, or fill out my contact form for readers, which you will always be able to find on my Contact Page.

I’m hoping to get some posts pre-written before the baby is born, so if there’s something you’ve been thinking about, please send it in!

Anne Marie says:

I love almost everything about cloth diapering EXCEPT for the frustrations I encounter in the laundry room! After 3 years of diapering I still cannot find a solution for the faint “diaper pail odor” that lingers in all of my PUL covers, and the ammonia smell I sometimes get in dirty/wet prefolds. I’ve tried diaper-approved detergents, I’ve tried long soaks, I’ve tried stripping and extra rinses and even sunning them for extended periods. I also make sure I condition my water because it’s really hard.

All I want is clean, fresh smelling diapers. Can you help?

Anne Marie

Hi Anne Marie! Figuring out a wash routine and finding the right detergent is tough. I published my cloth diaper detergent survey so that I can analyze what others are using, and help find solutions for people who need some help! I’m hoping to have that compiled and released within the next month or so.

The dirty/wet prefolds smelling like ammonia is normal. As urea breaks down, it turns to ammonia. You don’t, however, want your clean diapers/prefolds to smell like ammonia (or anything else)! You want your diapers and covers to come out of the washing machine smelling clean.

If you are finding that your covers are holding on to smells right out of the washer, I’d first ask what detergent you’re using and how much. Even if you are softening your water, you may need to use a bit of extra detergent. Also what type of washing machine you have, how much water you’re using, how many diapers/covers you wash at a time, and how often you wash them. You want to make sure the diapers have plenty of space to move around (but not too much space!) and plenty of water.

Answers to all of those questions would help me make better suggestions, and I’m sure my readers will have suggestions too!

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Maria is an aspiring "fit mom" of 3 children, writing about cloth diapers, going green, and her life as a single mom. Maria works with many companies within the cloth diaper industry and beyond, providing social media management, product development, and other services.
  • .:karen:.
    November 16, 2011 at 9:54 am

    At least for the prefolds and inserts, I think boiling once every 6 months or so will help immeasurably to get rid of any build-up. I just did that with mine after 7 months of hard use when the smell became unbearable and now they’re good as new. Not sure what to do with the PUL covers other than stripping those again, but separately – while you’re boiling inserts, with some Dawn or RLR. I’ve had the most success stripping with RLR. Still a novice at this but I think I’m finally finding my groove… 🙂 GL!

  • November 13, 2011 at 8:29 am

    An added note about Tide – I just recently switched to this detergent so perhaps it will do the trick. Before (and when I wrote the question) I was using All Free & Clear, because I was under the impression that those types of detergents are better for cloth. Wrong!

    • November 13, 2011 at 8:50 am

      All F&C doesn’t have a very good reputation from what I have seen…it tends to leave residue in diapers! (Like everything, that isn’t true for everyone of course!)

      If you still are having trouble, I’d perhaps try “stripping” first by doing several hot washes & rinses. Maybe consider doing a short warm wash first vs. just a pre-rinse, and adding a little extra detergent & extra rinse if it still doesn’t do the trick.

      I have a feeling that Tide is going to solve this! 🙂

  • November 13, 2011 at 8:28 am

    Hi Maria,

    I don’t know how I missed the post before, but thank you for answering my question. Here’s my wash routine:

    I do an extra-large load about every 2 days. I pre-rinse, and then do a normal hot wash with Tide, and then one final rinse. My machine is a top loader.

    Thanks everyone for the tips!
    Anne Marie

  • November 9, 2011 at 10:35 pm

    Some people will hate me for saying it, but with hard water, a lot of times you really need to use a commercial detergent like Tide. Even adding washing soda, it’s the only detergent I’ve tried that gets my diapers truly stink free (of the cloth diaper approved ones, Country Save does an okay job, but I have to use a LOT more than it says, and they still smell just a little weird, somehow . . . ) What detergent do you currently use/have you tried, and what’s your wash routine?

    • November 13, 2011 at 7:42 am

      I agree with you so much, LOL. I’m hoping she will come back and tell us a little more!

  • Hannah VW
    November 7, 2011 at 10:09 pm

    Hmm, I use prefolds and covers and I do a cold pre-wash, hot wash with Country Save detergent, extra cold rinse. Then dry on the clothesline, or the dryer in the winter. And I store covers and diapers all together in one pail.

    Do you have a front loader? I hear that sometimes it helps to add extra water to those. My MIL has some type of ec-friendly machine that has NO setting to fill it with hot water, the “hot wash” just sprays the items with hot water while spinning, so they never soak in the hot water. My diapers always stink a little bit after 2 or 3 washes there, and then go back to clean after a wash at home.

    • November 7, 2011 at 10:30 pm

      That has to be the single, lamest washing machine I have ever heard of, LOL. DO you know what kind it is? So weird!

  • Mary Michaud
    November 7, 2011 at 3:56 pm

    Came about this solution in regard to another problem, but it might take care of this problem too… try adding 1-2 Tbsp baking soda to the pre-rinse. It really helps neutralize all that acidic toddler pee. And perhaps an extra pre-rinse might help instead of extra (after-detergent) rinses. You want to be getting all that extra pee/acid out before they get cleaned. The extra after-detergent rinses purpose is to get all the soap out, not any extra yuckies.

    • November 7, 2011 at 3:59 pm

      Very true! I don’t know what her wash routine is, but I always do a rinse/speed wash first, and sometimes I even add an extra rinse in there!

  • Valerie M.
    November 7, 2011 at 1:16 pm

    I don’t know if you are doing this already but make sure you store your used covers separate from your dirty diapers. This helps keep the stink out of them.

    • November 7, 2011 at 1:21 pm

      That is a great tip Valerie! I don’t use too many covers so I didn’t know that would help. I will have to remember this since we have quite a few covers for the new baby!

    • C Hulsey
      November 7, 2011 at 1:59 pm

      Agreed. However, for those of us who sometimes store them together anyways, hang them to dry in the sun for a few hours. The sun will take out the stink.

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