Cloth Diapers 101: Troubleshooting

Are you struggling to make your cloth diapers work for you? Are they leaking, stinking or otherwise making it difficult to use them? In this post we troubleshoot four common cloth diaper problems. Hopefully some of what we’ve learned will be useful to you here at cloth diapers 101.Cloth Diapers 101 Troubleshooting l Four common cloth diaper problems and what to do l Homestead Lady (.com)

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I Had to do Some Research

If you haven’t yet and would like to read our cloth diaper saga, please visit this post and then this one.

My last diaper post detailed why I had to ditch the whole cloth diapering thing. It just wasn’t working while Baby Girl was still so little, and I was overwhelmed with four other kids.

I was committed to making them work eventually, though, because:

  • I don’t like throwing stuff away (commercial diapers create garbage)
  • And I don’t like to spend money (commercial diapers are pricey)

I had to search out information on troubleshooting cloth diapers so I could test drive some solutions to our cloth diaper woes. Here’s what I found, coupled with my own experience; this is my version of Cloth Diapers 101.

We’re going to be covering four common cloth diaper problems:

  • stink
  • rashes
  • laundry
  • leaks

Cloth diapers 101: Troubleshooting

Problem One – Cloth Diapers Stink

Well, we’re not going to figure out how to get poop not to stink in this post, but we can work a bit on the smell being present in the cloth diaper after you’ve washed it. I have two cloth diapering systems:

  • Pocket diapers
  • Prefolds

I decided that, for my baby and me, prefolds work much better for me. Here’s a little more information about what each system is and some troubleshooting tips.

Pocket Diapers

Pocket diapers are an outer, waterproof shell diaper with an absorbent insert. They’re called pocket diapers because the insert goes into a pocket that leads to the inside of the diaper. The insert is super sturdy and durable. I think you could wash it with dynamite and pound it with rocks to get clean, and it still it wont be damaged by much. The shell has a PUL (waterproof fabric) outside and a soft inside that lays directly against baby’s bum.

The Problem with Pocket Diapers

The problem with getting the body of these diapers clean (NOT the insert) is that the PUL fabric is finicky. From what I’ve read and experienced:

  • PUL shouldn’t be washed in hot, hot water every time
  • It’s also not advisable to use vinegar to clean PUL, except for occasionally to strip off built up soaps and residue
  • I’ve also had readers tell me that if you live where the water is hard, unless you soften it, you’re going to get build up on your PUL fabric

The best way I know of to get something as rank as a diaper really clean is to wash it in hot water every time. I also like to use natural cleansers like vinegar along with laundry detergent. That means that, if I follow steps to really cleaning the poop off the part that lays against baby’s bum, I mistreat the PUL fabric attached to the back.

The results for us were that the PUL started leaking and the diapers still stank because I discovered the my energy efficient washer just wasn’t doing a good job. (Urine is equally disgusting, by the way. The ammonia can build up and is actually quite dangerous to breathe and be around.)

*Ammended 1/24 – A reader’s comment alerted me to the fact that I haven’t mentioned pre-soaking and rinsing your cloth diapers when you remove them from the baby. I didn’t take time to go over that because I assumed you were already doing those things. However, if you’re brand, brand new to cloth diapers, it might be a good idea to scroll down and take a look at everyone’s comments. Most particularly Martha’s. Thanks, Martha – my readers are the best!

So What to Do?

Here are some ideas for dealing with getting the stink and the germs out of cloth diapers effectively. Or, you can just use prefolds – read below.

Prefold Diapers with an Outer Shell

The next kind of diaper I tried after I came back from my cloth diaper sabbatical earlier in the year; the prefold diaper.

These prefolds are the ones most like what I wore when I was a kid. Commonly referred to as “prefolds,” these cloth diapers have three parts:

  1. There’s a (prefolded and sewn in several layers) cloth diaper – a rectangle of poop and pee collection that you have to learn how to properly wrap around your baby’s behind.
  2. That diaper you secure with a diaper pin, or a Snappi, which is easier to use, in my opinion.
  3. Lastly, you have a diaper cover that goes around the whole shebang and snaps together. When I was a baby, this part was made of plastic, but these days those outer covers are made from PUL fabric which is softer and more comfortable to wear.

These Clean Up Much Easier

The best part about these diapers for me is that I can wash the pieces separately. Since the outer shell doesn’t get that nasty from use to use (unless the poop goes everywhere), I just wipe the shell clean every time I change the diaper and use it all day. Then, I wash the outer PUL shell in warm water and hang it dry. No big deal.

I use one, clean prefold insert each time I change baby’s diaper. When it’s soiled,  I rinse the prefold and put it in a waterproof bag to wait to be laundered. The prefold I can wash hard until its clean. I usually do a load of just those every other day.

I only own three PUL covers and about twenty prefold inserts so I have to do laundry often. (I’d like to own more but I have to buy food instead.)

If You Are Struggling with Stinky Prefolds

For my baby’s bum, my washer and the water in my area, it’s necessary for me to:

  • wash my prefolds in hot water with a natural detergent, regular or citrus vinegar and a dash of washing soda
  • I have to use the extra rinse on this first wash
  • Then, I have to wash in warm with natural detergent
  • To this second load (with no hot water and no vinegar), I can add my diaper covers or wash them by themselves

This is what works for me. Perhaps it will work for you, too.

Here’s an recipe for Homemade Cloth Diaper Detergent by Home, Ready, Home.

Problem Two – Cloth Diapers Gave My Baby Rashes

A lot of what you read says that cloth diapers will eliminate diaper rash, and so here’s where I really needed cloth diapers 101!

Make them cleaner

The problem (besides smell) with the diaper fabric not coming completely clean, especially on the pocket diapers, is that Baby’s bum was getting horribly rashy.

Now, disclaimer – I have a baby with very, very sensitive skin. Very sensitive. As she gets closer to two years old, its getting better but even with a very clean diet and wonderful salves, we still have skin issues here and there.

Before I figured out how to wash my cloth diapers well, ever time I put a cloth diaper on her booty, by the end of the day, she has a red rash starting. I could cure it with Mom’s Stuff but only if I put on a commercial diaper and applied the salve liberally. If you’re having problems with rashes, continue to find a way to get your diapers cleaner.

This post talks about some kinds of diaper rash ointment you can use with cloth diapers. I use Mom’s Stuff Salve and it works beautifully. moms stuff 300

To Prevent Rash – Use a liner

Something that was suggested to me that worked was to put a small piece of cloth against my baby’s bum, between it and the diaper to act as a liner to wick away moisture from the skin. Fleece was suggested and it’s what I used at first.

I cut up a piece of fleece from my fabric stash and also bought some non-pilling fleece liners. The non-pilling liners were a lot nicer to use over time but the fleece I had was free. (You can also buy non-pilling fleece at a fabric store.)

Eventually, I discovered that squares of cotton flannel worked better than the fleece for my baby. I was happy to use a more natural fiber against her skin since fleece is made from acryllic. (Says the woman who still uses Huggies.)Cloth Diapers 101 Troubleshooting l Soakers can help with rashes l Homestead Lady (.com)I never did manage to keep up with making my own diaper wipe solution and using homemade wipes, but if you’d like to do that, here’s a post from Pint Sized Farm on that very subject. And here’s another from Hybrid Rasta Mama. Eliminating commercial products like these can also help cure a persistent diaper rash. Often store bought equals highly perfumed and caustic to a sensitive baby.

To Prevent Further Rash – Change Diapers Frequently

I also realized that to avoid rashes with cloth diapers and mybaby, I was going to have to change her diaper about every two hours regardless of how “full” it was. She just can’t go any longer without having it damage her sensitive skin. Not all my babies have had skin that was tender, but this baby does. I have to respect that if I’m going to be successful with cloth diapers and this baby.

Here’s the bottom line problem with that. I’m too busy. It doesn’t sound like something that would be hard to do, does it? Change the baby’s diaper every two hours – it only takes a few minutes. Every morning I wake with the sun and crash long after the moon has risen, and in those waking hours I work non-stop. I don’t regret my career choices as homemaker, homeschooler and homesteader but the reality is that I don’t have a lot of negotiable time or gray matter left. I look up at the clock one minute and its morning, the next “minute” and its nearly dinner time. And I am NOT good with details.

Bring in More Troops to Help

The only solution I was able to come up with is employing the other four to help with the baby’s bum needs. The older two are in training to learn to change the prefolds (they require more finesse than the pocket diapers because of the snappi). And the younger two can help me remember to get the changing done. Baby Girl has helped us out with this problem, too,  by telling us when her “Bum. Yuck.”

She doesn’t like it and makes a point to tell me to change it. Huzzah!

Problem Three – Cloth Diapers Add to the Laundry Piles

Cloth Diapers 101 couldn’t help me with this one. The ironic thing about my laundry problem was that the solution to it was so not eco-friendly!

Since I have to wash my diapers twice, we use a lot more water than we did before. It was the only way to make it work, so I’m just happy that I found a solution.

Yes, cloth diapers create more laundry and use more water than commercial diapers but they un-create garbage in the landfill. (Third most common landfill item, so says people who count that kind of thing. Ew.)

Pick your poison.

Problem Four – Cloth Diapers Leak

Well, honestly, all diapers leak at some point. However, I never use cloth diapers at night because, with this baby, they fill up by morning and leak. So, we use disposables at night. I could control how much my baby drinks at bedtime, but I give milk free choice for several reasons at bedtime, so that’s not an option that I use.

To prevent leaks during the day, it’s imperative to change baby’s diaper every few hours without fail.

If you get leaks, check the elastic around the legs of your outer diaper. The elastic failed on the legs of my pocket diapers and that’s why we were getting so much leakage. There is a solution, though! You can open the diaper, pull out the loose elastic bands and replace them with new. Here’s a post on that – it only requires basic sewing skills and time. I have yet to do that because I decided I don’t prefer to use pocket diapers; plus, I hate sewing and have no time. They make a good emergency preparedness item, though, and I’m hopeful that someday I’ll get to it.

Speaking of pocket diapers and preparing, Jane from Mom with a Prep weighed in for me with her opinion on pocket diapers:

I have noting but praise for pocket diapers like fuzzibunz. There are many brands out there and you can make your own, but we used a lot of different kinds and by the time we were finished, this was our hands-down favorite kind of diaper to use, and the one that made my husband least squeamish about using cloth. When I’m old and need diapers, I’m gonna make adult-sized version of them to use for me!

In the Final Cloth Diaper 101 Analysis

Every day use for us nearing two years old:

  • I have three Thirsties diaper covers and cotton prefolds and find this system to easiest to use and keep clean
  • Also in use are flannel liners, or fleece liners if the flannel haven’t been washed yet, to prevent rashes
  • Cloth diaper laundry gets done about every other day
  • I use cloth diapers during the day most of the time; my husband never uses them (he doesn’t complain but he doesn’t like the cloth diapers and will not put them on Baby)

Cloth Diapers 101 Troubleshooting l Pockets or Prefolds l Homestead Lady (.com)Cloth Diapers 101 Confessions

  • I don’t use cloth diapers when we travel
  • Or when Baby has an illness that causes her to poop a lot
  • Cloth diapers also don’t get used when I’m sick, or on days when I just can’t handle it
  • My babysitter doesn’t use cloth diapers
  • Grandma would but doesn’t get how to use them very well.

Do I like that my baby’s bottom comes in contact with commercial diapers and wipes (we use an organic but still)? No, of course not. Is this what I do to get through my day? Yep.

I figure, with the time in cloth and then in commercial, she’s about 50/50.

That will have to do for now.

What do you do for your diapers when they’re just not working?

For our method of making your own Citrus Vinegar Laundry Wash, please visit this link. If you’d like to try your hand at making your own laundry detergent (and dryer balls), please visit this link.

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9 thoughts on “Cloth Diapers 101: Troubleshooting

  1. I use the cloth diapers during the day, and a disposable at night. I’ve got two in diapers now, so it really helps keep the price down. I do have to change more regularly, too. And my husband is the same way! I use all-in-ones, and they work for me. They do stink, but not until they are full. It’s not easy when I’m bent over the toilet trying to shake out the contents, but it’s also not a huge deal.

    1. That’s part of my diaper changing problem, Jennifer – I can’t smell them as easily. Do you think that’s because they’re thicker? Those commercial diapers are immediately rank. Maybe I should set a timer to go off every two hours to help me remember to check her diaper whether I smell it or not! Sigh. If I only had a brain.

  2. I’m loving the honesty in this series! We used cloth diapers off an on with our 6 children and for the most part they were great. But they aren’t all rainbows and butterflies like some cloth diaper users would have you think. I still think it’s a great choice, but it’s nice to have some really objective advice. Good job!

    1. Yeah, nothing about motherhood is rainbows and butterflies. I’m grateful for your words because an honest experience is what I was trying to relay so that hard working, cloth-diapering attempting moms didn’t feel like they were failures if they didn’t perform as dreamed about.

  3. I raised 5 kids. I always used cloth diapers. Some the kind I had to fold, some the pre folded kind. My diapers always looked beautiful on the line.

    My secret? I rinsed the diapers out after every use. Poopy ones in the toilet first. I had the cleanest toilet in town! I cleaned the toilet before and after the diaper rinse. It is bad enough rinsing out a poopy diaper. I never wanted to put my hands in a dirty toilet! One hint, dump out the poop and flush first. The pee diapers were also rinsed in the toilet. That urine stinks also. But, it is a good indicator of your baby’s health! Strong urine, not enough fluids, etc. You get it. (PS. I also got a good pair of rubber gloves and set them by the toilet)

    Next, I had a tall diaper pail with a lid and pre-soaked all the diapers with a good pre soak. I used a biz, oxyclean, bleach equivalent. There are sites out there that have recipes.

    I never put a soiled diaper in the pail, pee or poopy. It spoils the whole diaper pail. I then would dump the pail out when full in the tub and wring them all out, and off to the washer to be pre rinsed before washing as usual.

    I always hung them on the line using the dryer only in bad weather. Yes, I was considered a hippy at the time although I wasn’t. Everyone else used the expensive disposables and their babies had rashes all the time. Mine never had a rash, and I saved lots of money!

    A side note here…. My house never smelled like dirty diapers. Yes, it is a little more work, and yucky at first, but the pride you have when you see all your beautiful diapers hanging on the line is incredible! Also, having children is not for the lazy or fainthearted! LOL

  4. When I had my son, a nurse told me to hang his diapers outin the sunshine once in a while. Apparently that kills the germs that can cause diaper rash.

    1. Yes, it works wonders! If you follow the links in this post, you’ll find all the remedies we discovered to our cloth diaper ills and line drying was one of the most effective. Thank you for sharing your experience!

  5. We used cloth diapers off an on with our 2 children and for the most part they were great. But they aren’t all rainbows and butterflies like some cloth diaper users would have you think. I still think it’s a great choice, but it’s nice to have some really objective advice. Good job. If you had more insight i will greatly appreciate it.

    1. Ha – no rainbows and butterflies at my house! They are a great choice and there’s so much about them that I love. As in all things regarding parenting, you just need to be adaptable. As Jan Karon wrote, “Circumstances alter cases.” Sometimes you just have to change up how you do things!

      Here are the other two articles we have on cloth diapers – Cloth Diaper Confusion and Why I Ditched Cloth Diapers.

      I hope those are helpful! Let me know if I can help in any way. Go you for being an awesome, engaged and caring parent!

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