Residue in Cloth Diapers

Residue on Cloth Diapers

Are your diapers repelling and your covers leaking? Do clean diapers smell like a barnyard and wet diapers burn your nose? You may have residues in your diapers. Before you contemplate throwing it all away, you can fix it.

Let’s look at the symptoms, the causes, and the cures. It will help if you already know the basic guidelines for washing cloth diapers, a bit of laundry science, and you understand how your washing machine can effect the laundering process.

Keep in mind the WATCH formula: Water, Agitation, Time, Chemicals, and Heat. You can break through residues with water, time, and heat. If you use more heat, it will take fewer washes. If you don’t have the option of a very hot wash or that is not recommended for your diapering products, you can spend more time doing more warm washes.

Residue can cause smells. The filmy layer of the residue can trap particles that hold odors and leave your diapers stinky. If your diapers smell, residue is a likely culprit, and you don’t have to put up with it.

Get rid of the residue then change your wash routine so you don’t have to deal with stinky residue anymore.


What’s the Problem?


Problem: Stinky polyester, microfiber, or PUL

Cause: Most often stink is caused by detergent residue. This can build up over time as detergent isn’t completely rinsed out of fibers. There are several possible causes: you used too much detergent; you aren’t using enough water to rinse the right amount of detergent (perhaps because you have a high efficiency washing machine); or you used only cold water to wash and rinse.

Cure: Bust the residue with washing soda then adjust your wash routine.

  • Are you using the recommended amount of detergent? If so , try using half the recommended amount. If you are using more than recommended, cut back to the recommended amount. If you are already using half the recommended amount, try using one-quarter.
  • Are you rinsing twice? If so, try rinsing with warmer water. If not, add another rinse. Warm water will remove detergent more easily.
  • Are you washing or rinsing on cold? Try using warm or hot. Your first rinse should be about body temperature because dirt comes out of fibers more easily at the same temperature it was deposited in the fibers.
  • Do you have an HE washing machine? Try using the bedding or jeans setting to get more water, and the sanitize setting to get more heat.


Problem: Barnyard stink or fishy smell in clean diapers

Cause: Your diapers aren’t clean either because they didn’t get enough water or because they didn’t get enough detergent.

Cure: Wash on hot several times without detergent then adjust your wash routine.

  • Are you using the recommended amount of detergent? If so, are you sure? This is almost always a low detergent issue.
  • Are you using just a tablespoon or two of detergent? If so, use more. Use one-quarter to one-half the recommended amount. If that doesn’t solve the problem, use up to the recommended amount.
  • Are you using an HE machine? If so, adjust your settings to use more water in the wash cycle so the detergent can get to every part of the diaper to remove soil.


Problem: Ammonia stink in diapers as soon as baby pees

Cause: Your diapers probably have urine or other organic residue that hasn’t been washed out.

Cure: Deep clean the diapers as above with stinky polyester. Then use barnyard stink recommendations to be sure that you have enough water, enough heat, and enough detergent—not too much, not too little, but just right.


Problem: Rash wherever the diaper or diaper cover touches baby

Cause: This might also be caused by urine or other organic residue.

Cure: Try the same barnyard stink cure as above.


Problem: Leaking or wicking covers and repelling diapers—everything doing what it shouldn’t do

Cause: Often the cause of leaky covers and beading on diapers is filmy residue from diaper creams or laundry additives like softeners, brighteners, or oils. The absorbent fibers are coated so they can’t absorb, and the moisture-resistant fibers can’t hold moisture as they should.

Cure: Bust the film with hot wash without detergent or with washing soda if that doesn’t work.

  • Are you using a detergent that promises to make your wash whiter, brighter, softer, or smarter? Don’t. All of those leave behind a film. Use a detergent with no residue. Even if you don’t use additives with the diapers, if you use them with the rest of your wash, the residues will coat your washing machine then transfer to your diapers from there.
  • Are you using dryer sheets? Don’t. Rather than using chemical softeners, use a softening method that flexes the fibers. A wool dryer ball will work.
  • Are you adding essential oils to your wash or dryer? Don’t. Even using essential oils deep inside the wool dryer ball might transfer some of the oils and keep your diapers and covers from working properly.
  • Do you use diaper cream? If so, either use a diaper liner that you don’t need to wash with the diapers or switch to a cloth-diaper safe diaper cream.


Problem: Yellowish whites and greyish colors

Cause: The cause is likely the same issue that causes leaky covers and repelling diapers.

Cure: Check for additives in your wash routine, and try the leaking and wicking recommendations.

Image © Levsh | Dreamstime.com

3 thoughts on “Residue in Cloth Diapers

  1. Pingback: Artificial Fragrances in Your Home | ecobabysteps

  2. Pingback: Cloth Diaper Washing: Animal, Vegetable, or Mineral? | ecobabysteps

  3. Pingback: Cloth Diaper Laundry Hub | ecobabysteps

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>