Why Do Cloth Diapers Stink? How To Remove And Maintenance

It is not a miracle that clothes stink. Anything that is dirty can spread bad odors. Cloth diapers stink after use. But if your baby’s cloth diapers stink after washing there must be some issues.

The main cause behind a stinky diaper can vary from time to time and from place to place. It can occur if you wash your cloth diapers too rarely, don’t use enough detergent in the wash, or even if your kid is just a little dehydrated, have hard water, build up detergent residue, imperfect wash, etc. Sometimes a just washed diaper can smell like ammonia or barnyard. To remove the stink you can apply a variety of steps like changing detergent, bleaching, or hot water wash. Stinky diapers are common problems for mothers and can be easily cleaned.

This article will discuss reasons for stinky diapers, techniques for removing them, and tips for having clean cloth diapers.

Let’s dive in.

Causes Of Cloth Diaper Stink

1. Baby is growing

Young babies often receive all of their vitamins from fluids, such as breast milk or formula. This keeps their urine incredibly weak and ensures that they are properly hydrated. In any case, their urine will get more concentrated as they become older and start eating solid foods. There can be a slight ammonium odor as a result.

Additionally, when your child gets older, they’ll start to sleep for longer periods of time, even when they wet the bed at night. Because of this, cloth nappies seem to be the biggest ammonium offenders.

2. Detergent residue

Build-up residue causes more problems than just a dirty and stinky diaper; it can also cause severe diaper rashes on your child’s bottom. Overusing laundry detergent can result in spills and excessive buildup on clothing and diapers. A detergent overdose results in a cleanser bubble overload, which can prevent dirt from being properly removed. Additionally, it may clog your clothes washer’s mechanical and engine systems.

According to experts, a diaper odor is caused by feces and pee bacteria being redeposited onto your diapers. Use a bowl of warm water and a likely pristine diaper as a quick test for residue development. After placing the diaper in the bowl, ring it out. If suds appear, the detergent build-up has occurred.

3. Hard Water

One of the many problems that can be caused by hard water is diaper odor. Your water’s mineral content is referred to as “hard water.” The perception of water’s hardness increases with its mineral content.

These minerals can pile up as stains on your garments and cloth diapers, which over time prevents your cloth diapers from being thoroughly washed and causes your cloth diapers to smell. Additionally, hard water prevents the cleanser from starting entirely.

To determine whether the possibility that hard water contributes to your diaper issue, you might get a PH test kit from a home improvement store.

4. Pee residue

Are they similar to ammonia, in your cloth diapers? If so, you probably have urine buildup in your nappies at that stage. Urine buildup is frequently due to inadequate detergent use or insufficient water in your clothes washer.

If your machine has a preset fill, you can add one or two spotless towels to trick it into adding more water. After that, use the recommended amount of detergent and perform one or more additional wash cycles.

5. Using detergent Less than needed 

Detergent is the agent that cleans and removes stink from dirty nappies. But if you use less laundry detergent it is possible the dirt from the diaper isn’t cleaned properly. It will lead the diaper to a urine residue. This can cause diaper rashes on your baby’s bum. A hot pre-wash cycle can clean the mess perfectly.

Types Of Diaper Odor

As you know now what can lead your cloth diaper into a stinky condition it is better you understand how actually cloth nappies odor can be.

Actually, diaper odor can be classified into three major categories.

1. Pee or poop smell

A diaper’s stink can be so irritating if it smells like poop. This problem is often found. If your baby’s nappies stink like poop or pee it is because the diaper is not properly cleaned. Maybe the stinky diaper needs a hot wash or maybe you used less detergent than needed.

You did everything right and yet you can have that unpleasant odor from your nappies. If so you need to dry your baby’s diaper in direct sunlight. You can also use diaper deodorizer or enzyme spray for stain removal before washing them.

2. Ammonia Smell

It is possible your diaper smells like strong chemicals or a fishy smell. It is because of ammonia. Ammonia smell is the most found stink in baby nappies. This type of stinky diaper has nose burnt smell. When you get them out from the washing machine after a routine wash you can’t smell the ammonia. But when it is worn by your baby and it is wet the smell bust out.

The main reason behind an ammonia stink nappie is urine residue. It can sometimes mean your child is dehydrated. This smell is very hard to remove as many layers of ammonia residue are jammed in the diaper. Try enzyme cleaner as OxiClean or bleach soak. Otherwise, you can pretreat the stinky diaper with baking soda. Ammonia-contaminated diapers can cause skin rash so it is better to run a routine wash and hang dry in direct sunlight.

3. Barnyard Smell

Most often when you get the solid diaper out of the dryer it can smell fishy or cattle trucks. It can also have just dirty smells. You don’t expect a diaper to stink just after getting it out of the washing machine.

If you smell the barn from the diaper, some dirt must be left on it after washing. As it is a diaper it contains different types of bacteria. And needs to be properly cleaned. This type of smelly nappies needs an extra rinse with cold water. If you make your baby wear a stinky diaper it can cause a persistent rash on your baby’s bum.

How To Remove The Stink From Cloth Diaper

The best way to rid cloth diapers of any odors or buildup that may occur is to strip them.

In the unlikely event that your cloth diapers are not convincing, they almost certainly require stripping. “Stripping” involves clearing out any buildup and development from your diapers.

Here are some methods for stripping cloth diapers

1. Boiling 

When your cloth diaper stinks it means the diaper contains a lot of bacteria.As you know most bacteria don’t live in high heat so the boiling is undoubtedly a good idea. Boil the stinky diaper in hot water for around 7-10minutes for perfect removal of detergent residue and bacteria. It is the fastest and cheapest way of stripping your cloth diaper. But you must ensure the diaper is not made with waterproof fabric as it can melt in a hot water wash.

2. Soak overnight 

You can add bleach or white vinegar in cold water and soak the stinky nappies for 14-16hours or overnight if possible. It is a lengthy but effective way of stripping cloth diapers. But you must ensure your baby doesn’t go near the dirty water.

3. Run multiple wash cycle

The hot water wash cycle is also very effective. You just have to set a high-temperature setting or hot wash setting in your washing machine. Then run several wash cycles to clean all the bacteria and residue of the stinky diaper. You will see suds through the glass of your washing machine. Don’t be misguided by the soap bubbles. When the diaper is 100% clean there shouldn’t be any suds. So stop the cycle when you see minimum suds in the machine.

No matter which method you choose, always try to air dry your cloth diapers in the sunlight as there is no better killer of germs than the sunlight.

Additives For stripping

You can use different types of additives to increase the efficiency of your stripping. Here is a list of assistance materials you can use for a perfect stripping.

Oxygen bleach

Oxygen bleach or washing soda is very effective as it is specialized for removing stains and odors from clothes. You can use this additive if you feel it’s needed because its oxygen bleach is very friendly with these cloth diapers.

Blue Dawn

Yes, blue dawns. Surprisingly green or white dawns cannot remove the stink from dirty diapers but blue dawns can. It aids in removing buildup from the diapers. It might be easiest for you to just wash them by hand with the blue dawn. Assuming you have a front loader, you can be sure they are properly flushed since front stacking clothes washers are famous for utilizing less water while washing diapers.

If it’s not too much work, heed the warning that using dish detergent in a clothes washer can void the warranty but damage the internal components. Therefore, many people actually opt to make it happen, but they are aware of the risks before making that decision (and maybe wash them in your sink or bath nonetheless, just to be safe!).

Water softener 

Most Americans get hard water from the supply. So it is possible to have residue in the diaper from hard water and cause stinks. It is better to use water softener if you are getting hard water to wash the cloth diaper. You can find different water softeners commercially.


Before using vinegar or white vinegar make sure the water you are using for washing is not hard water. If you add white vinegar with hard water your problem will just get worsen. Add half spoon of white vinegar in the rinse cycle and the stink from your cloth diaper will just vanish.


Another way to help in the unlikely event that your diapers or diaper covers smell is to bleach them. You should use cleaning bleach to remove the stink from stinky cloth diapers safely. The amount of sodium hypochlorite in the fluid solution should be at least 5.5%.

Either a bathtub or a top-loading washer can be used. Use a half-cup of bleach for a full tub. Use 3/4 cup of bleach for a heavy-duty load washer. Allow your diapers to soak for 30 minutes in cold water.

Put your diapers through a typical wash cycle after rinsing them with boiling water. Run your diapers during an additional rinse cycle if they genuinely do smell like bleach.

Alternate Detergents

Sometimes getting horrifying messes and foul odors out of your cloth diapers is almost as simple as developing cleaners. In any case, it’s possible that the detergent you’re using isn’t meant for use with cloth diapers or that it’s not compatible with the type of washer you have.

If you have a high-efficiency washer, you should use a detergent specifically made for these washers; otherwise, you risk permanently damaging your washer and clothes.

Correction in washing routine 

The washing routine is an important factor when talking about proper cleaning and removing of stinks from cloth diapers. Maybe it is the only thing you need to do for removing dirt and stink from stinky diapers.

You need to change your washing detergent in a few months or you can use enzyme boosters every week at least once. Otherwise, you can just run a few hot wash cycles with white vinegar and baking soda once in a while.

Maintenance For A Fresh Diaper

Here are some proven tips for maintaining fresh diapers.

  1. Keep changing the diaper regularly. A new diaper means less residue and no stink.
  2. Try to wash cloth diapers every one or two days.
  3. Before placing it in the wet bag always rinse the pee or poop out of your diaper.
  4. Always start the wash cycle with a cold water rinse and then add heat or hot water gradually.
  5. Last but not least air dry cloth diapers in direct sunlight.

Final Words 

Nobody wants to say my cloth diaper stinks. But it is a very common problem faced by newborn baby parents.80-90% of Americans get hard water from their tap and it can be the major factor behind stinky diapers. But some other factors can cause this issue.

In this article, we discussed what causes stinky nappies and how to troubleshoot them. Now find out the reason behind your stinky diaper and solve the problem easily. Make sure you don’t let the stinks come again in your cloth diaper.

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