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Ammonia & Cloth Diapers – What It Is And What To Do About It

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Ammonia smell and cloth diapers can sometimes seem almost synonymous.  Seems like everyone these days is complaining about it, having a rash from it or dealing with smells from it.  What is this epidemic and how do we fix it?

We’re glad you asked!  There’s a number of things you can do to get rid of ammonia in your cloth diapers and keep it gone for good.

But first, let’s clear something up.  Do you really have ammonia in the first place?  Sometimes ‘ammonia’ is a blanket term people mistakenly use to  label any smell or rash when it comes to cloth diapers when in reality ammonia is really a very specific thing.  Ammonia is different from smelly toddler pee, different from strong concentrated urine smell and different from a ‘barnyard’ type aroma.  Ammonia is a super strong, knock your socks off, your eyes will literally be watering, burning in your nose kind of smell like nothing else.  It is an unbearably strong smell and if present in your diapers can cause a very bad rash on babies very quickly on every bit of skin touching the wet diaper.  Ammonia is most often present in nap or overnight diapers that are on the bum for long periods of time.

Okay, with that said.  Do you have real ammonia?  If so, read on.

What’s happening anyway?  Where does the ammonia come from?
Great question.  Time for a chemistry lesson.  Ammonia comes from the break down of urine.  So, some ammonia will always happen when you’re leaving wet diapers in a wet bag between washes.  That’s not a problem in small concentrations.  But a few things speed up the breakdown of urine to ammonia (like heat, a closed diaper pail and bacteria).  What ultimately happens though, is that the soiled diapers are not being completely cleaned in the wash and that biological residue (I mean pee and poo) that didn’t get fully washed and rinsed away reacts with minerals in the water and with new urine and feces when they go back on the bum creating the recipe for those nasty rashes.  Eeew right?

So, logically, what do we need to do?  Get the diapers clean at wash time!  How do we do this?  First, we need to deal with the ammonia ASAP.  Funk Rock is a product specifically meant to neutralize ammonia.  Strip your clean diapers using Funk Rock.  Use the directions on the package or the directions here.  Next, and most importantly, you need to change your wash routine to ensure your diapers get fully and properly cleaned at each and every wash to prevent it from coming back.  This means making sure you are using enough detergent and enough water for the size of your diaper load.  We can always help you with troubleshooting here, but generally this means switching to a better detergent and/or often using more detergent.  Calgon can sometimes also be useful to help soften water and increase the effectiveness of the detergent in areas where harder water is of concern (ie. most of Canada unless you know for sure you have soft well water, a water softener etc.).  Calgon can be purchased in the laundry aisle at most supermarkets and should be used at a rate of 1/4 cup added along with the detergent.

Next, some things that will help keep ammonia at bay once you get rid of your acute case:
1) Keep your wet bag away from direct sunlight and heat.  Heat hastens the decomposition of urine to ammonia.
2) Wash your diapers every 1-2 days following this wash routine.
3) Have an open diaper pail or keep your wet bag unzipped and open to the air.  Wet diapers that dry out won’t smell as much as they wait for wash time.  Soiled diapers that are very wet and closed-in stew in the humidity and breed bacteria which makes ammonia worse.  This situation is also hard on fabrics and your diapers will break down sooner.
3) Rinse diapers before putting them in the wet bag between washes.  This can help a lot by diluting and removing some urine prior to washing.  Less urine = less ammonia potential.  Even if you only rinse nap and night ones you’ll notice a difference.
4) When you wash your diapers use a cold initial rinse before your hot wash with detergent.  Heat encourages ammonia, so cold on that first rinse is better if you have the option on your washer.
6) Keep baby hydrated.  The more diluted the urine, the less ammonia can be created in the first place.

Keep these things in mind and ammonia problems will be a distant memory.

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Author: splanchak

I am a WAHM (Work At Home Mom) to our precious kids, wife to a wonderful husband and owner of your online baby store ClothDiaperKids.com. Haven't tried cloth diapering yet? Come on over to the green side... But careful...it's addictive ;) www.ClothDiaperKids.com

2 thoughts on “Ammonia & Cloth Diapers – What It Is And What To Do About It

  1. Pingback: My Cloth Diapers Smell – How Do I Fix Them? | Cloth Diaper Kids Blog

  2. Just learned something new and I’ve been using cloth diapers for just about 6 years now and have diapered three different babies. My night time diapers always stink of ammonia so I have always rinsed them immediately after taking the diaper off in the morning but, I rinse them in hot water (just doing what was suggested to me). Well, the new thing I learned was – – do the initial rinse on laundry day in cold water. I have never done that before. I have always rinsed hot (again doing what was suggested to me). I now need to try the cold rinse first to see if that helps with our ammonia issues. Thanks for the great article.

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