Cloth Diapers Mailbox Mondays Stink Washing

Cloth Diaper Advice – Mailbox Mondays 4/25/11 – Ammonia Stink

ammonia stink and #clothdiapers via @chgdiapers

If you are looking for cloth diaper advice, on Mondays, I answer reader submitted questions, and ask my other 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.

Jen says:

I’ve read many posts and comments about moms battling the stinkies (ammonia smell) but I’m not sure what that smells like. Will I know it if it happens?

I do notice that my baby’s diaper will smell like urine in the morning (after a 12-hr night) but I don’t smell it during the day. Is that normal from the overnight wearing or is that the dreaded stinkies?

If you are having ammonia issues, you will know it (and you’ll probably be pulling your hair out!) Night time diapers smelling strongly of ammonia/urine/like a dirty public restroom is pretty normal.

If your diapers smell clean coming out of the wash but make your eyes water as soon as baby wets them, you probably have detergent residue. There are lots of opinions on how to fix this. In my opinion, what works best is to just rinse rinse rinse the diapers until the water is clean and there are no bubbles and no residue. If they need a little extra help, a load of only inserts with a dab of bleach and several extra rinses takes care of it. I know not everyone approves of bleach though. (Some brands approve of occasional bleaching on shells as well but I prefer to do inserts only.)

If they are smelling stinky out of the dryer, you probably need more detergent (or a different detergent, particularly if you have hard water.) I have well water, a softener and an HE washer, so I use around the lowest load line of HE detergent, and I still need some extra rinses sometimes.

It’s again, just my opinion, but I think it’s better to use a bit more detergent and add an extra rinse, than to not use enough and not get the diapers clean!

How about you all? Have you dealt with ammonia stinkies? Did you know it right away? What was causing it and how did you fix it?

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Maria Moser
Maria is the mother of 3, writing about cloth diapers & going green. You'll often find her juggling her preschooler and typing 1-handed in between sips of cold coffee. Maria works with many companies within the cloth diaper industry and beyond, providing social media management, product development and other services.
  • Alicia
    July 26, 2012 at 12:24 pm

    We had this problem three times. The first was when my son was a baby. We tried everything, but what saved his little bum (and our nostrils) turned out to be the rinse and wring method (just rinse and wring every pee diaper after the diaper change so urine doesn’t sit in the diaper turning into ammonia). It worked wonders!

    Then when he was about a year and a half, the ammonia came back…we again tried everything, including fish tank ammonia neutralizer, but finally what made the difference was just giving my son more water during the day. The ammonia stink cleared up within a day.

    Now he’s two, and suddenly the stink and rashes came back with a vengeance, but only in the nighttime diapers. We tried all the old tricks plus one new one, soaking the nighttime diapers in a zeolite solution (it’s an ammonia neutralizer used in garden care). Still no luck this time. I finally concluded it wasn’t the diapers at all, for two reasons: 1) he could stay int he diapers for up to five hours at a time with no problem (usually ammonia buildup in the diapers causes the diapers to stink very quickly after baby pees), and 2) One night I tried putting him into a fairly new diaper which we’d only been using during the day. It couldn’t possibly have had ammonia buildup in it, yet he still had an ammonia burn and overwhelming stink in the morning. It must just have been because he’s older and his urine turns into ammonia faster now (plus he has sensitive skin to begin with). So I figured we had two choices. We could get up and change him at around 1 or 2 am every morning, usually waking him up in the process, or we could put him in disposables (which have ammonia neutralizers in the gel) every night. So that we could all keep sleeping, we decided to go with disposables. I hated doing it at first, but we found a somewhat eco-friendlier brand, and since it’s only one diaper a day I’m okay with it now. Especially since he’s rash free!

  • Beth
    April 28, 2011 at 2:37 pm

    We have the same problem, and if you have it you’ll know. I’ve read on some pages that “stripping” should no longer be called that and that people should just call it upkeep. We’ve tried LOTS of different detergents, but our water is just WAY too hard. Now, I’ve resided to “stripping” them ever few weeks with some oxi-clean (I make my own diapers for less then $5 a pop, so I figure if it ends up breaking them down, I can deal with that. Plus, I get new inserts for free from my husband’s aunt, who gets them from her work for free, so I’m not overly concerned if anything doesn’t “live” because of my oxi soaks) The soaks have helped A LOT. But this week my son started potty training, so I won’t have to worry about this as much! Hooray for cloth diapers making potty training easy!

  • April 26, 2011 at 11:34 am

    I have struggled with ammonia stinkies. To me the difference between regular stink and ammonia stink is the sensation of burning nose hairs/mucus membranes with ammonia. Sometimes it’s so strong it makes my eyes water. Regular stink causes more of a “eeewww, gross!” reaction, like one might have to any distasteful smell.

    I think for my family, toddler pee is what caused the ammonia. I’ve tried a variety of natural “diaper safe” detergents, and most do an okay job, but ultimately things like bleaching the inserts, using oxyclean on the inserts, and laying them wet and flat in the sun (not hanging to dry) on a bright sunny day makes a difference. If I start smelling some ammonia coming back, often times an overnight soak in rockin’ green helps, but usually, a few weeks down the line I resort to one of my other bleaching tools.

    My final solution for ammonia so bad it burns baby’s bum? Disposable diapers at night. I know. How un-green. Better than burns that caused the baby to wake up crying.

  • becky
    April 26, 2011 at 9:26 am

    I am also working on this issue right now. I hate my HE washer for diapers. And also our water softener was not working right for a month, so I certainly have hard water build up. I am trying to remove it with a product by Whink (laundry rust remover) The first wash with Whink definitely left them white… but in spots not 100%, which goes back to the HE issue, I bet the water didn’t fully cover the dipes. So another wash in Whink today then a lot of washes before I’ll try them on my son- then i can update if it helped (& how our PUL did with this product)

    • April 26, 2011 at 10:35 am

      If I were rich & had a huge house, I’d totally have a cheapie washer for diapers. Though I’ve noticed that I have to use a tiny amount of detergent on our clothes too. If I use even half the lowest load line for a full load, the water is still soapy in the rinse cycle. Darn HE washers don’t save water if I have to wash everything twice, LOL!

  • April 25, 2011 at 3:48 pm

    Rockin’ Green’s funk rock works, but it is really expensive. We have recurring ammonia issues but not because of detergent build up (never have any residual bubbles and no absorbency probs). Could be our hard water or maybe that Rockin Green soap just isn’t working as hard as we need it to (I’ll be trying planet this week). I strongly caution against bleaching anything except microfiber inserts. Bleaching causes natural fibers to break down. I had a friend who borrowed all my gDiapers. She bleached them. I got them back and the covers all had holes and the hemp inserts that had been bleached were thread bare! There goes about $70!

    • April 25, 2011 at 4:32 pm

      Oh yes, I only bleach microfiber inserts! I accidentally bleached two hemp inserts once,a nd they were OK, but they looked bleached out in color! So sorry about your gDiapers. RIP gDiapers. 🙁

      Funk Rock didn’t work for me, but I have a water softener and well water. I rinsed 10 million times but they just reeked of ammonia worse than ever. I know they say to keep rinsing, it lifts residue etc. but it was crazy. I’d rather use my usual stuff with an occasional bleaching, as long as they don’t smell and aren’t causing rashes!!

  • April 25, 2011 at 12:57 pm

    I’m working on mine right now. For my hemp inserts….I boil them for 5 minutes to strip them. For my MF inserts, I do a hot wash with a little blue Dawn dish soap and then I do a few extra hot washes with full water load until the bubbles disappear. Once in a while I will add 1/2 cup bleach to one wash rinse if they are really bad. And then rinse, rinse, rinse. I can’t wait for it to get sunny outside to put them out, but it’s Spring, so it’s very cloudy, wet and chilly here. To strip my shells, I just do an overnight soak with my fav. detergent and then rinse, rinse, rinse. I’ll scrub them with Dawn and a toothbrush before hand if they’re really bad and repel (I use FuzziBunz and that is what they recommend.)

  • April 25, 2011 at 12:10 pm

    diapers really almost SHOULD smell a bit like ammonia after overnight- the urine starts to break down into ammonia after so many hours (4 or 5??)

    when your diapers have buildup you can tell- they stink almost instantly when they pee in them. iew. we call it the skunk baby syndrome here! rinse, rinse rinse in cold, then rinse rinse rinse in hot is what helps here. then washed and rinsed on 2-3 hot rinses

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