Our cloth diapers reeked.
It didn’t matter how many times we ran them through the wash, the stink would persist. By the time they’d run through the dryer, the entire front half of the house smelled like a zoo. Anything that went into the wash with them smelled terrible and would have to be rewashed–sometimes several times before the stench would go away. It had gotten to the point that even after we stored them, the smell would persist, so that any time I opened the cabinet where her diapers were stashed, the smell would hit us like a brick wall.
I was mystified. Back in February, we stripped our diapers after a brief switch in diaper detergents caused detergent residue to build up on the diapers, leaving our diapers leaky and our daughter’s bum red. Dawn and bleach solved our leak issues and temporarily solved most of our stink problems, and since we’d gone back to our cloth-diaper friendly detergent, we’d had no more issues with leaks or blistered bottoms. The smell, though, was back with a vengeance.
I began to do my homework.
I found out one thing that I had already guessed: stinky diapers mean dirty diapers. Even if they look clean, even if they aren’t repelling liquid, even if they aren’t causing irritation, they’re still not clean. In fact, the awful smell comes from bacteria that builds up in the diapers. Using the wrong detergent is one of the primary reasons that bacteria builds up in the diaper–some detergents create a layer of residue that trap bacteria that washing yet again with the wrong detergent only makes worse.
We were using the right detergent, though.
Another common problem is hard water. Hard water, similar to bad detergent, causes a layer of residue to form on the diaper, trapping bacteria in the diaper, a problem washing would again only make worse. Most places have hard water, so this seemed like a plausible culprit. After digging through local water reports, though, I found out that Portland actually has soft water, which means that special detergents or laundry additives for hard water probably wouldn’t do us any good.
The next item on the list was amount of detergent. If you use too little detergent, diapers won’t get clean. If you use too much, it only causes more build-up. So I experimented. I tried using a little more detergent, then a little less. No change.
I was prepared to give up and go through the lengthy process of stripping my diaper again when I stumbled across this little gem: the problem might be not using enough water.
We generally wash our diapers every 2-3 days–within most recommendations for how long you should allow your diapers to molder in a diaper pail–and by the time our diapers make it into the wash, our diaper pail usually runneth over. Not only do our diapers, wipes, pail liners, and wet bags all go into the pail, our sitter tosses everything Isla soils while at daycare into the wet bag with the diapers, meaning clothes and blankets also usually are in the mix. A full diaper pail translates to a washer that’s about 2/3 of the way full, which doesn’t seem like a lot, but for a giant pile of stuff covered in urine and excrement, it’s way too much.
For a washing machine to be effective, the stuff in the washer has to have room for the water to get in and clean it. For lightly soiled adult clothes, you don’t need a lot of water to get your clothes clean. For dirty diapers, you do. It makes so much sense, I honestly can’t believe I didn’t recognize the problem sooner, but I’m glad someone on the internet was around to clue me in.
I cut our next load in half, and miracle of miracles, by the end of a single wash, the stink was gone, and we haven’t had any stink problems since.
Case of the stinky diapers closed.