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Cloth Diapers Smelly? How To Tell If It's Barnyard Or Ammonia Smell And What To Do About It

Cloth Diapers Smelly? How To Tell If It's Barnyard Or Ammonia Smell And What To Do About It

It happens to the best of us.  If your diapers were coming out of the wash clean and smelling great but now they're starting to have a bit of a smell then it's time to go into troubleshooting mode.  

Barnyard Smells
If your diapers are coming out of the washing machine or dryer smelling faintly like poo or like a bit like a 'barnyard' then this is telling you that the diapers did not get clean enough in the wash. This can be caused by lots of things:

  • Baby is bigger and starting solid foods and the loads are 'dirtier' going in.
  • Perhaps you got a new washing machine and your settings need to be adjusted to get your diapers coming out just right.
  • Maybe you changed detergent recently.
  • Maybe it was a really busy week and you didn't wash diapers as usual and they've been sitting a couple more days before washing.
  • Maybe your baby is now more of a toddler, using fewer diapers per day so you are washing less often or not as many at a time. 

If your diapers have a faint, 'not quite clean enough' smell then that's a 'barnyard smell' and a good deep-clean and perhaps some tweaking of your wash routine is in order. Here's the wash routine I generally recommend. That should be all you need for a general case of smelly diapers. 

Ammonia Smells
Ammonia, however is different. Ammonia buildup happens when diapers sit too long and the urine breaks down into ammonia, or when it's trapped within the fabric fibres for a long time and creating ammonia within the fabric. Ammonia smell is VERY distinct.  It's a very strong odor ( like stings your nose and makes your eyes water).  Sometimes you'll notice it first in nighttime diapers that are heavy with pee when you change in the morning.  Sometimes the diapers will seem perfectly clean out of the wash and then as soon as baby pees, it's a super strong stink. 

You need to be careful with ammonia because it can cause skin burns.  If you take the diaper off of baby and the skin is bright red everywhere that the wet diaper touched and the diaper smells really really bad, that's ammonia and you have to deal with it before using the diapers on baby again.

Treat ammonia first with a good deep clean of all your diapers, then the trick with ammonia is you have to neutralize it.  Ammonia is a base (remember high school chemistry?) so we can bring it back to neutral with an acid.  Vinegar is perfect for this and adding a cup or so of plain white vinegar in the fabric softener tray of your machine will help a lot. You can add vinegar in the rinse cycle like this if you're treating ammonia or to refresh your diapers every so often. It's wonderful for so many things. 

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