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Tips for solving cloth diaper ammonia problems!

by shethinksmedia

Last week we wrote a rather lengthy article on Ammonia 101 in our advanced washing tip series, today we will keep it more brief with a solution to solving your ammonia problems.

For any sort of bacterial rash or odor issue, the solution that we advise for your diapers is to disinfect them. Your child may or may not need medical follow up due to these issues, but that decision is best made by your pediatrician. For the diapers though, the solution to ammonia is first to disinfect, then to change the wash routine.

Again, I am going to reference our fantastic washing article on our blog:

To strip and disinfect the diapers, we recommend using bleach. Chlorine bleach is the only proven disinfectant for bacterial issues, and is safe to use on any of your synthetic fabrics, prefolds, coves or AIOs. The only diaper chlorine bleach can fade is any cotton fabrics that are prints or dyed, but depending on the severity of the rash, it may be a risk you need to take for the safety of your baby’s skin and health. If you have some of these diapers in your stash, you can bleach them with color safe bleach (which uses hydrogen peroxide rather than chlorine to do the bleaching), but if it comes back you may need to consider using the stronger, regular bleach. To bleach your diapers, wash and dry them as normal, then separate into piles of 12 diapers. You want to use 1/2 cup of bleach per 12 diapers per load, so you may need to do multiple loads. No detergent needed in this cycle, then rinse and dry as normal.
There are a number of methods you can research and google that suggest you can use essential oils, vinegar, oxi bleach, natural sunlight, plain hot water, or even drying on high heat to kill bacteria. Our official stance after years of research,working with hundreds of customers over the years, and continual reading on these method is that they are not as effective as chlorine bleach, and again, depending on the severity of the problem, may be the only thing that can fix the problem. A number of manufacturers approve bleach and recommend it for these issues.

I realize bleach isn’t “green”, but it is the more eco-conscious solution than disposable diapers, and when battling bacterial issues you really cannot work around the problem without disinfecting the diapers.

Additionally, we also recommend this treatment be used with any pre-owned diapers you purchase. Yeast and bacteria can live in diapers, and if you are buying from someone other than a family member or friend you know well, it is a process I highly recommend to avoid any contamination to your own child.

Next week we go over the wash routine itself in more detail.

Let us know if you have any questions!


ammonia smell in diapers (part two)

by abbyslanehype

Last week we offered some cliff notes on ammonia/what can be expected/what is not normal, etc.. On another forum I expanded our explanation we offer to our customers, so I am going to do the same his week :)
Ammonia burn/chafing is never acceptable, it is something we work with many customers to fix, usually by 1)fixing the wash routine or 2)increasing absorbency/breatheability depending on why the child is sensitive to the urine.
Ammonia isn’t present in urine until it leaves the body and meets air, the Urea that it is converted to internally is sterile until oxygen will start to convert it to ammonia (unless of course you have a bladder infection or UTI which isn’t the norm either). There are lots of factors that can cause that “ammonia” smell, some will never encounter it at all unless these factors are in play. Heavy wetters will be more prone to the odor, if you have had a light wetter versus a heavy wetter, you know the difference between the volumes. When you start adding half an ounce of urine to each diaper change, or more, you are really increasing the urea output. Toddler urine is more complicated as well, more going into it, more coming out-LOL
Additionally, if your baby pees when you put them down and it is a big one, you are getting several hours of a headstart on this whole process, so the odors will be much stronger. Imagine peeing on a tee shirt (fitted/prefolds), wrapping it in a plastic bag (cover) then leaving it for 8 hours, it would stink to high heaven when you opened the bag, on the flip side, if your had your 2 month old pee in a little tee shirt and did the same thing for 3 hours, the stench wouldn’t be nearly as much, hence the volume/concentration/age factors.
For the pail, it can vary based on lots of things, if you keep an open pail in a broom closet and wash toddler diapers every 3-4 days, your odors will be very different from a closed pail in a larger ventilated room washing every 1-2 days. Clean diapers will still do this in pails, it doesn’t matter how clean they are going in, if you have the right combination of volume and age in urine, it can produce the same effect.
Nothing that harms a baby’s skin is ever normal, and needs to be corrected. For some babies increasing absorbency does the trick, breaking down the concentration of urea leaving the body makes it less volatile on the skin. For some, they need more breatheable options, since air still gets into PUL diapers you never have an airtight diapering system, but for some babies the extra air flow to their skin is what it needs to tolerate that old urine breathing back onto their skin.
For some babies, you need to explore eczema and other skin sensitivities, if you have skin that is already compromised to begin with, adding urine breathing onto it for 8+ hours is too much. Middle of the night changes, eczema ointments,other options can help. For “yeasty” babies cornstarch is great as a preventative measure (not during an outbreak, as it will feed the yeast, but on healed skin to prevent it is great), plus lots of air flow/naked time so the fungus has a hard time growing without the moist and dark conditions.
We relay this to our customers who have perfectly fresh diapers out of the dryer (meaning nothing bacterial is left behind from feces), and the diapers do not smell of stale urine when freshly peed in (indicates buildup and need to be stripped), and the only time they smell the ammonia odors, or “strong urine” odors is in the pail when they lift the lid to toss in a newly soiled diaper, or the morning diaper on from 8 hours prior.

Some fun urine links-LOL:

ammonia smell with diapers.

by abbyslanehype

We fielded several emails this week about ammonia, so I am throwing out the reminder of the two times ammonia odors are normal.

1) in the diaper pail, when you lift the lid, ammonia wafting out is completely normal.

2)in the morning diaper. When a diaper has been on for 8+ hours, it will smell of ammonia in the morning.

Remember, our bodies cannot have ammonia internally, so we convert it to other acids and byproducts. When urine leaves our body and meets air, it will convert back to ammonia salts. If your baby pees early in the night, that is 8+ hours of urine salts sitting in a nice, warm, moist environment, so it will smell in the morning. Adding absorbency to break down the concentration will help, but especially as your baby ages that morning smell is normal. If your diapers smell fresh out of the dryer, and do not smell of stale urine within the first hour of being worn, your wash routine is otherwise fine.
Let me know if you have any questions!


by abbyslanehype

This week we are going to take a second to chat ammonia, we are getting lots of emails about what is normal/what isn’t, so I think it should be addressed :) Ammonia cannot “live” in our bodies. It is toxic to our internal systems, so our body converts urine into other ingredients until it leaves our bodies, when it meets air it will convert back to ammonia salts and other byproducts. When you have ammonia in your diapers, sometimes it is normal, sometimes it isn’t, so take a look below:

When it IS normal:
-When you open the lid to your pail, or unzip your all day wet bag, and you smell ammonia
-When you go to change your baby or toddler’s nighttime diaper after having it on for 6+ hours

When it is NOT normal:
-When the diaper has been on for less than a half an hour and you are wondering why your baby smells like a fraternity bathroom.
-When you take your washed and dried diapers and press them to your nose and take a deep whiff, and have ammonia odors.

Nighttime ammonia is completely normal, and will get stronger as they get older. Newborns have very pure urine, they are eating formula or breastmilk, and their output is in small and frequent spurts. As babies get older, they gain muscle control, holding urine for longer periods of time, and releasing it in higher quantities. Plus, their intake isn’t as pure, figure in solids, dirt and small plastic toy pieces from their older sisters who never put polly pocket’s shoes away, and you get a mix of conditions for ammonia to be stronger. Also, if you put your older baby/toddler to bed, and they pee right away, that urine is going to sit there in some sort of covered fashion for 8+ hours. Dip your cotton tee shirt in the toilet, put it in a ziplock bag and sniff it the next day, you have the same scenario here. What you can do is add absorbency to that diaper, if you can dissipate the urine and distribute it a little more so it isn’t as concentrated. This can help a great deal, also adding different fibers to the diaper instead of all microfiber/hemp/cotton to vary the density of the fabrics. Disposables use lots of chemicals to mask this smell, and to me a perfumy/ammonia disposable stinks worse then ammonia/cloth (personal opinion though). Same deal in the pail, when those soiled diapers meet air, they will off gas ammonia, and as time goes by this adds up.

Now, if you have it on the other two times, you likely have buildup/not enough detergent. You can refer back to our other washing articles or email me at AbbysLane@… if you fall into this category. Usually, fresh diaper ammonia is buildup, ammonia out of the dryer is not enough/wrong detergent. Fixing it can be easy, but you do need to catch it. Ammonia left behind on a baby’s skin can cause a nasty chemical-like burn, it will be bright red and painful, so keep an eye out. If you are getting that rash from the nighttime diaper, time to switch up fabrics/absorbency. For some this means using a fleece liner on natural fabrics, for others just increasing the absorbency of your natural fabrics can work. For very sensitive babies, sometimes a barrier cream is needed (but please follow our liner advice so you don’t get cream buildup).

Let me know if you have questions!

Cloth diapers and ammonia odors

by abbyslanehype

Some of you this past week were asking about ammonia odors in wet bags and pails. In past articles we have addressed this as really the two times where ammonia is normal. When urine leaves the body, it will start to break back down into ammonia salts, which the body converts as it cannot process ammonia internally. Old pee will stink, especially when kept in a dark and warm pail for 24-48 hours. Overnight diapers will also stink, and this can almost literally happen overnight, if your baby pees early after you put him down, that pee is usually 8-12 hours old by the time you change it, depending on how long they sleep. Diapers are fabric, so those odors will be present, disposables do a pretty good job at masking them with chemicals.

When ammonia is not normal is when diapers come out of the dryer, or if they smell like stale ammonia when the diaper is freshly peed in. If that occurs you have some washing issues we need to go over, please e-mail us.
You may see the morning odors improve as the baby gets older, as they start to have bladder control as toddlers, they may start holding it more at night and flooding the first diaper in the morning, or very close to waking time. Even though the diaper is soaked, it is relatively fresh, and won’t have that strong ammonia smell.

Cloth Diaper Mythbusting: Do you need 3-4 dozen cloth diapers in order to cd full time?

by shethinksmedia

mythbusting,cloth diapersThis is week #2 in our “Mythbusting” series, week one covered natural fiber washing and “stripping”, it can be viewed here.

So how many cloth diapers do you really need?

This week brings us to our next topic, which is focused on cloth diaper quantity.  I think a big misconception on many cloth diapering forums is that you have to invest in 3-4 dozen diapers to get a “full” stash for one child, which of course is a tremendous investment for a family new to cloth.  Of course if you want to purchase that many, and absolutely have a large stash, that is your right, but our point today is that it isn’t *needed* to get into a regular cloth routine.

For newborns we recommend 18-24, older babies around 12-15, toddlers will be using 6-9 diapers a day. Some will say if you buy twice as many diapers, the wear and tear will be cut in half, and you will see them last twice as long. This may or may not be true, anecdotally I can vouch for many brands being washed daily with hot water and machine dried and lasting for years, and others will see they have worn out within a year’s time. The advice is kind of “six of one, half dozen of the other”.

You can buy twice as many, but on the off chance yours would have lasted, you would have spent half as much, and saved that much more money for the next size. If they wear out anyway, you will have to purchase more, and spend what you would have in the first place, so it didn’t cost you anything extra.

Also, we tend to see customers with dozens of diapers washing every 3-4 days, which causes huge amounts of wear and tear, the longer a diaper sits in ammonia in a dark pail, the shorter the life span of the elastic will be. Even if you swear you will be disciplined and still wash frequently, it will creep up on you that if you don’t *have* to, it won’t get done daily or every other day. Our advice, start small, enough for daily or every other day. If they go, buy more and you would have spent the same, if not, you just saved half of your diapering budget.

You can always add to your stash,we feel it is better to be diapering and say “gosh, three more diapers will be exactly where I want to be with my wash routine” then “man, I never get to the last 6 diapers in my stash, I could have used that money for the next size up.”

For tips on frugal cloth diapering, and making things around your house count as a diaper, take a look at our youtube video below.

Cloth Diaper Life Expectancy, How long will they last?

by shethinksmedia

We are talking about the life expectancy of a diaper, many of you ask about how to make your diapers last for more than one child, so here are tips and advice we have:

-If you are saving your diapers for more than one child, store them in a temperature controlled room. Not the attic or unfinished basement, extreme heat and cold will rot your elastic and make aplix brittle.

-The diapers that will last the longest, through several children, is prefolds. If you want to invest in a system that is economical and lasts for quite some time and many washings, prefolds and covers are the way to go.

-Many mamas ask how many children their one size diapers will last through, and some are disappointed when their one size pockets only last from one child. We tell customers to expect them to last through one child for the size range of that diaper. Do you get lucky sometimes? Yes, we have had several brands of diapers last through 2 children partway, but usually halfway through the second child they are retired. Sized diapers will typically last through two children, but think of it this way:

A one size diaper, if started at birth or shortly thereafter, is washed three times as much and used three times as much as a sized diaper. Your cost is triple, too. You can buy a sized-diaper brand in small, medium and large and have them last through 2, possibly 3 children if cared for properly, but you have spent three times as much as if you had a one size pocket last for just one child. Being soaked in urine and feces, washing in hot, machine drying, being stuffed and worn puts wear and tear on a diaper over time, so keep in mind realistic expectations for your one size diapers. I know I used pockets as examples, the same can be said of one size fitteds versus sized fitteds. PUL covers seem to wear better, they aren’t soaked in urine and ammonia to the extent that absorbent diapers are, and they aren’t stretched out after drying so covers in general see more life than the actual diapers. Wool covers can last for quite some time if you keep them away from moths and wash them carefully.

-So reading the above, which do you recommend? It really is six of one, half a dozen of the other in the case of one size vs. sized diapers. It is up to you, if you prefer the fit of sized diapers, invest the money since you will love you fluff all the more, care for them and store them properly, and they will last. If you want the simplicity of a one size pocket, expect them to last for one child (if you start half way through with one child, expect some life in a second child), and enjoy your fluff. If you really want your diapers to last and last, invest in prefolds, wool covers and take care of your PUL covers in between.

-Always remember, cloth diapers are fabric, and how you care for them is important. Frequent bleaching will shorten their life span, as will regular vinegar use or abrasive cleansars. Now, sometimes with various washing situations you need these items, but using them sparingly will keep your diapers in the best condition~

Have a wonderful weekend, everyone, email us with any questions at

Washing Routine, Hot or Cold? Does it matter?

by shethinksmedia

This week as part of our washing series we are going to go over the actual wash part of this whole process.

Our entire washing article can be found below:

We have gone over troubleshooting ammonia, stripping, and the pre-rinse. This week is short and sweet.

Wash on hot, not the sanitary, not the “whitest whites”, but the regular hot cycle which is about 120 degrees on a standard water heater. *Your wash cycle will be about 10-20 minutes depending on your machine.

We have worked with customers who did not have access to hot water, and despite our tips on washing in cold could not get the diapers clean, and a great solution is a portable washer:

This is also fantastic if you don’t have access to a machine washer, or only have access to expensive shared facilities as in some apartment or townhouse complexes. You add hot water manually, put the diapers in and use the handle to wash your diapers. Works for clothing, too, we don’t sell it but have referred customers to it for close to 10 years now with excellent feedback.

Even though your diapers are filled with urine and feces, there is no need for the sanitary cycle. If your diapers are getting clean, they are not harboring bacteria, and you can’t mask the smell of fecal bacteria (honestly, all you will get is perfumey smelling poop). If you trust your hot water to get your bed linens and undergarments clean, trust it to get your cloth diapers clean, we don’t throw away clothing that has vomit, urine, blood and other bodily fluids on it, the machine will be able to do the job.

Next week we tackle detergent to finish our series, have a wonderful week everyone!


How to fine-tune your cloth diaper wash routine

by shethinksmedia

After tackling ammonia for the past two weeks, we are moving onto to nitpicking a great wash routine. Like we have previously said, if your routine is working for you, don’t even bother reading on, but if you have odors sneaking up when your child pees in a clean diaper, or out of the dryer, we can work on fixing it. Today we are going over the start of the wash routine, the pre-rinse. Your pre-rinse cycle is a 2-3 minute process that wets the diapers down, then spins them out to loosen solid or semi solid soils, as well as giving urine soaked diapers a good rinse through.

The best routine we have found for diapers is

  • Warm or hot pre-rinse (see notes below)
  • Hot wash with good amount of detergent (not the sanitary cycle, your regular hot cycle, your water heater should be set to 120 degrees F)
  • 2 cold rinses. Your machine will do one automatically, add another if you can.

For years we actually advised doing a hot pre-rinse, the reason for hot being that many water heaters didn’t get up to 120 in the pre-rinse, so setting it to warm gave you room temperature water, setting it to hot gave you the higher temperature that is needed. In recent years with more sophisticated machines, we are adjusting our advice to say warm pre-rinse, not hot or cold.

Bummis recently had this article as well for some of the science behind the warm prerinse:!/2011/10/laundry-science.html

In our practical experience and lots of testing with our customers, we found the cold prerinse set in stains and make it much harder to wash the fresh feces and urine out of the diapers. Switch your prerinse, see if it helps. If your water heater doesn’t get very hot, consider doing a hot prerinse to boost those temps a little.

If you don’t have the option for a warm or hot pre-rinse, you can do a little trial and error to see if your water conditions make it better to skip the pre-rinse completely ( I would advise using a diaper sprayer to rinse the poopy diapers individually before going in the pail if that is the case), or using a cold pre-rinse. Depending on how “pre-cleaned” the diapers are from your sprayer, many customers found they could eliminate this step completely, however if you don’t have that option or are running into issues getting them cleaned, opt for the cold. I would say for HE machines, go with the cold over opting out of the prerinse, if your machine is water efficient using as many rinse cycles as you can will help in the water-efficient wash cycle.

Next week, onto the wash cycle :)
Any questions? Email us at

Cloth Diaper Washing 101 and Beyond

by shethinksmedia

This week we are diving into wash routine 101 and beyond.

Washing and stink issues continue to lead the majority of our customer service emails and calls, so we know help is always needed in these arenas!

We have our comprehensive overview on or blog here:

Rather than go point by point as we have done in the past, I am going to go over the most common questions for washing that can be solved using our techniques in that article linked above.

The most common question we get from customers who need help with washing is in reference to ammonia. Now, the first question you have to really answer is whether it is ammonia or strong urine. Many customers we talk to who think they have ammonia will troubleshoot to no avail, then when true ammonia hits they always say “Oh, I had no idea how strong ammonia really is!”

Ammonia will sting your nose and smell very chemical-like. It almost always causes rashes, and can also burn your eyes if you get too close to it. If you can ever whiff cleaning ammonia, it smells pretty close to what diaper ammonia is.

A little Ammonia 101: Our human bodies cannot tolerate ammonia internally, so our bodies convert our urine to other byproducts. When our urine exits our body, and begins to break down, that is when you can get that “strong ammonia” smell. Now, if you combine urine that has exited our body with bacteria (could be internal bacteria, external, old feces from the pail, old feces on the diapers), you get ammonia. You *can* have ammonia in otherwise clean diapers, we have seen this time and time again in toddlers who wear disposables at night and have ammonia present in the morning. The bacteria needed to create that ammonia smell could be present in or on your child.

That all being said, the first step we walk customers through who have ammonia in he diapers is disinfecting the diapers, and re-evaluating the wash routine. 99% of the time this fixes the problem, and for that 1% that are still getting ammonia in perfectly clean diapers, increasing absorbency to break down the concentration of the urine and time the baby is in that diaper is the solution.

*BUT, please note:  Ammonia burn, rash or chafing is *never* acceptable, it is something we work with many customers to fix, usually by fixing the wash routine or increasing absorbency/breathability depending on why the child is sensitive to the urine.

1) in the diaper pail, when you lift the lid, ammonia wafting can be normal.
2)in the morning diaper. When a diaper has been on for 8+ hours, it can smell of ammonia in the morning.

If your baby pees early in the night, that is 8+ hours of urine sitting in a nice, warm, moist environment, so it will smell in the morning. Adding absorbency to break down the concentration will help, we can also troubleshoot the wash routine, but it still may be the norm for your baby.

To see why the nighttime diaper can smell like ammonia, imagine peeing on a tee shirt (similar to your fitted/prefolds/pocket inserts), wrapping it in a plastic bag (cover/pocket) then leaving it for 8 hours, it would stink to high heaven when you opened the bag, on the flip side, if your had your 2 month old pee in a little tee shirt and did the same thing for 3 hours, the stench wouldn’t be nearly as much, hence why your newborn never had this problem but at 17 months does (volume/concentration/age factors)

For the pail, it can vary based on lots of things, if you keep an open pail in a broom closet and wash toddler diapers every 3-4 days, your odors will be very different from a closed pail in a larger ventilated room washing every 1-2 days. Buildup-free diapers still do this in pails, it doesn’t matter how clean they are going in, if you have the right combination of volume and age in urine, it can produce the same effect just given time. I see “have an open pail” as frequent advice for preventing ammonia, but air doesn’t do anything to prohibit bacterial growth. A closed lid pail isn’t airtight, even if it has a lockdown feature, unless you vacuum seal it after each time you put a diaper in, you allow lots of air flow in the pail to open and close the lid every 90 minutes to a few hours, plus the lid itself doesn’t seal air out, so it is fine to have a closed-lid pail (this is beneficial for other reasons than containing odors, like keeping out bugs-yes it does happen-and exploring little children).  When you have an open pail, the odor just has more room to dissipate in, and not hit you in the face when you open the lid, so if you are happy with your closed-pail lid there is no reason to switch~

Phew! OkY, so we tackled what ammonia is, when it is normal, and when it isn’t. Next week we will get into more washing 101 and beyond tips!


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