Tuesday, January 6, 2009

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What's that Smell?

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No one enjoys pooh-pourrie! However, when your little one hasn’t had a bowel movement and the malodorous smells emanating from the diaper singe your nose hairs – clearly you have a problem with the funk!

Before discussing how to solve this stinky dilemma it’s important to understand the source of the problem. The two main culprits causing stinky diapers are detergent and/or hard water residue and bacteria.

Detergent residues can build-up and lead to stinky diapers in addition to repellency, leaking and wicking issues. For those with [untreated] hard water, detergent and minerals are being deposited onto your diapers, causing some of the more offensive smells. Stripping is the only way to correct stink problems caused by residue and/or hard water.

There are numerous recommendations for stripping diapers. This is a topic that could provide days worth of posts. Ask a number of people how to strip – and you’ll get a number of responses. However, it’s very important to consider what type of cloth diaper(s) you will be stripping as some processes are not good or safe for all cloth diapers. All in one’s and pocket diapers require a bit more care and caution as to not cause damage to the PUL and elastic. Flats, prefolds, and most inserts are easier to strip as the cotton and/or hemp fibers can tolerate alternative methods such as boiling water. Ultimately the best advice is to keep it simple!

With that in mind – the simplest and usually safest way to strip detergent residue from nearly all diapers is to wash your diapers in hot water (with no detergent); followed by a cold rinse (warm rinses, if an option on your machine do work best at residue removal). Continue the hot wash and cold rinse cycles until no bubbles or cloudy water remain. (I would post alternative methods but this post would be much longer than it already is!)

For those with hard water and mineral buildup, you will need to add a non-precipitating water softener (such as Calgon or Spring Rain) to the initial hot wash and to the initial cold rinse. Non-precipitating water softeners work to suspend the residues and mineral deposits in the water and prevent them from being re-deposited until they are rinsed away. (Note: Non-precipitating softeners also work relatively well for those with iron deposits in their water supply.)

Maintenance/Prevention: Add an additional rinse after your wash. If you notice your detergent not rinsing thoroughly after the additional rinse then you may consider adding vinegar to your rinse cycle. Vinegar serves a number of purposes; it works to restore the pH balance to your fabrics washed in highly basic/alkaline water, aids in removing residue deposits from detergents as well as mineral deposits, and naturally softens fabric and alleviates static cling. A little vinegar goes a long way, so a ¼ cup should work well.

Some diaper manufacturers do not recommend the use of additional vinegar or baking soda. I personally believe they discourage the use of additives altogether because most people are unaware of the appropriate amounts to use and using too much can be damaging to your diapers or even compound stink issues. However, I could be wrong.

Bacteria is the second most common culprit. Wet and soiled diapers are a natural breading ground for mold and bacteria. This is why it is especially important to wash your diapers frequently and use the hottest temperature possible. While most detergents are capable of thoroughly cleaning your diapers, some are not strong enough to rid your diapers of any residual bacteria. In all fairness, it’s not the detergents fault. Most, if not all, detergents were designed for laundering typical household laundry not heavily soiled diapers.

If bacterial residue is causing your stinky diapers you will need to disinfect them. This process seems simple but is a bit tricky as the methods for disinfecting will vary greatly depending on what type(s) of diaper(s) you have. The more acceptable cloth diaper friendly disinfectants are oxygen bleach, vinegar, tea tree oil, and grapefruit seed extract. Lastly there’s the B word: bleach. [I can hear some of your gasps!]

Again, keep it simple! It would be best to consult with your diaper and/or laundry detergent manufacturer for their recommendations regarding disinfecting. Disinfecting all in ones and pockets are more challenging than prefolds because special care must be made for the PUL.

Oxygen bleach does an excellent job at disinfecting when combined with very hot water and a bit of time to allow the compound to properly kill bacteria. Vinegar is also another option to disinfecting diapers; however since a larger amount is required to be effective (usually around 1 cup) it may not be the best option for all in one and pocket diapers. For effective disinfecting you would need to add it to your regular wash cycle (not the rinse cycle as previously recommended for detergent residue problems).

Tea tree oil is a natural essential oil with antibacterial, antiseptic and antifungal properties; therefore it also works great for diapers with yeast and mold problems. Although some will not recommend using this for all in one and pocket diapers you may still use this option so long as you use it sparingly (a few drops should suffice) and implement a very hot wash (or two) and an extra rinse to ensure the oil residues are thoroughly rinsing out.

I’ve also discovered grapefruit seed extract. It has antibacterial, antiviral, antiseptic and antifungal properties. It’s excellent for laundering because, unlike tea tree oil, you do not have to worry about the oil residue. This option is also ideal for use during and after a nasty viral infection, such as Rotavirus.

Bleach is often recommended as the last stitch effort when all else has failed or when you want an immediate solution. I know, I know – bleach is typically considered the mother of all evils in the cloth diapering world but ultimately, it does get the job done when nothing else works. bumGenius is the only cloth diaper manufacturer I know of who approves of the occasional use of bleach, even for their all in one and pocket diapers with PUL! Of course 1 or 2 tablespoons is more than enough to be effective. I would personally recommend using the largest volume of water your machine can accommodate and allow the bleach to dilute in the water before adding the diapers. Since it is best to err on the side of caution, follow up with a hot water wash (no detergent) and an extra rinse.

Post contributed By Serena


[Disclaimer: Every caution has been taken to provide the readers with the most accurate and safe information as possible. Please use your discretion before taking any decisions based on the information in this blog. The author and/or blog owner will not be held liable if you suffer any loss or damage as a result of using the information provided in this blog.]

- Thanks French Toast Girl for giving us permission to post her "smelly diaper" image.

44 comments:

Amanda said...

We have never had an issue with odor problems with our Bum Genius OS 3.0's. This is our routine...1st we use Imsy Vimsy (sp?) flushable liners to make poo cleanup easier and we can wash and reuse the ones that only have pee up to 4-5 times. We remove the stuffer, rinse & squeeze it out and also rinse the diaper it's self. Then we toss it all into the washer (this is our "pail") and there is NO water in the washer as soaking is not recommended. I keep antibacterial waterless cleanser by the washer so we can sanitize our hands after dropping the dirty duds into the washer. Then I wash diapers every other day. I will do any household laundry that needs to be done after washing the diaps. Believe it or not, using the washer as a "pail" provides enough ventilation to prevent gases from building up (which will make it smell really bad). I use Country Save as my detergent and once a month I strip the diaps per Bum Genius recommendations. Anyways...this system has worked really well for us and no icky smells to speak of. :)

Angela said...

I never knew about the grapefriut seed ex. I will have to look for some of that. I have found the oxy-stuff to work great... I usually have to do it about every two weeks, in the summer that will be replaced with hanging them out, also a great way to get ride of stink caused be bacteria and what not.

Kira said...

Thanks so much for the great info! I was wondering if anyone has had any experience with the bumGenius odor remover. I used it early on with my pocket dipes and it seemed to work, but now I'm not so sure. The inserts seem to have a very faint smell when they are still wet, going into the dryer. Once dry, they smell fine and I haven't had any "stink" issues yet with the dipes on baby. But I'm wondering if that faint smell is a prelude to bad things...

Also, for all those folk worried about bleach, I've followed the manufacturer's suggestion @ one-fourth cup per month and so far, so good...

And does anyone have any thoughts about OxiClean? I haven't been brave enough to try yet because baby has really sensitive skin...

kira_williams2003@yahoo.com

Shawna said...

That is a TON of helpful information about stripping! I had been so confused about how to strip the diapers b/c like you said, everyone does it differently!! Thank you so much :-)

one day in the life of me said...

Thank you, this was very helpful. Since as of recently I have noticed a nasty smell to our dipes.

Shannon said...

This post was super-helpful. I use the Fuzzi Bunz pockets and the Drybee's all-in-ones for my 9 month old and recently had a bad case of detergent-build up from the Ecover detergent I was using in my HE washer. I ordered some of the Allen's detergent and in the meantime stripped my diapers over and over with the Oxiclean versatile. I had to strip them repeatedly and rinsed and rinsed some more. After 3 or 4 days they were back to normal. I noticed such a difference in just the way the inserts felt. So now my diapers are detergent free and my Allen's arrived yesterday! Hopefully no more problems. Thanks for posting such great info! I'm sure every cloth-diapering mom has encountered these problems at least once.

Violet Gonzalez said...

Has anyone used Sensi-Clean to strip diapers? I bought it before lo was born - but we have not needed to strip in the 4 1/2 months we have been cloth diapering. Wondering if it works? Is safe for my diapers?

Thanks ~
Stacey

stacey.gonzalez @ gmail.com

Sara in Seattle said...

Thanks for the great post! I've only ever had stink issues with our microfiber inserts, but they're so much cheaper than bamboo or hemp that it's worth it to me to try to learn how to work with microfiber.

Katie said...

Hey thanks - I don't have much trouble with stinky diapers, but this is a great reference "just in case" or to help out friends who may be having issues.
Thanks!

Matt, Sara and Kinsley :) said...

Where can I buy grapefruit seed extract? Our hard water is starting to make our diapers stinky :(

Erika said...

great post!!! thank you- it's so helpful for cloth diaper virgins like myself :)

Kelly said...

I use Fuzzi Bunz and BG 3.0. I used to have a problem with stinkies. That is when I used Tide as my detergent. I occasionally had to strip the diapers and when I put a load in the wash, there was always an unpleasant odor coming from the washing machine. I switched to using Charlie's Soap for all my laundering, and I haven't had one single stink problem and haven't had to strip them. I find it rinses very cleanly and my diapers, inserts especially, just have a different "feel" to them after washing. I don't know if it makes a difference, but I have also started hanging my diapers to dry. Admittedly I have to do laundry a little more often to give the diapers a chance to dry, but they are usually dry within 24 hours. We will see in the summer when it is humid :)! Anyway, we have very sensitive skin in my household, and the Charlie's Soap has done wonders for my husband's eczema. Just what works for me in terms of the stinks! And when I did strip my dipes, I would use one TBSP of plain old Dawn on a load of clean, dry diapers. Hot water wash, then just rinse until now more bubbles, usually about 3 rinses, but I am fanatical about no bubbles, so 2 may have been fine!

Cassie said...

Thank you very much it is a big help to me. With going to be needing to know all this in a short time when I will be using cloth diapers.

writetanya said...

Can't thank you enough for your tips!

Senior Family said...

awesome post!!!!!!

Amanda said...

Kira,

I used the BG Oder Remover Spray in the very beginning and actually, I noticed more of a smell then than I did when I stopped using it. I went through one bottle really fast (less than 2 weeks) and it made me cough extremely bad every time I used it.

Chic Mama said...

I so appreciate this article! I am going to have to try the calgon- we have had terrible ammonia issues for the past few months- I'll try anything!

Denise said...

I run my diapers through a 2nd wash cycle using 1/2 cup of vinegar instead of detergent & I've never had a build up or stink problem.

Cassie said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kathleen said...

Thanks so much for this post. I've noticed that my BumGenius 3.0 are smelling a little like pee, so I'm going to try some of these tips. I think we have minerals in the water, even though soap does suds in it, but we get buildup in our toilets. Hopefully your suggestions will help!

Serena said...

Matt, Sarah, and Kinsley:

I was able to find it at my local Henry's fresh produce/health store (other places here in Southern CA that may be elsewhere: Whole Foods, Wild Oats, Trader Joes, and of course online).

Fair warning: it is a bit pricey (mine was about $12 for a relatively small bottle) BUT it should last for a VERY long time!

Not sure where you live; however, your best bet is your local health food store.

Hope this helps!

Serena said...

Kelly -

Charlie's is a great soap - I personally love it for my laundry! Unfortunately, for me and my super-duper hard water my poor Charlie's just wasn't able to handle my cloth diapers even with the water softeners! =(

I've since tried numerous detergents as part of my own laundry experiments (I'm very scientific about my processes and a bit of a nerd). I finally broke down and tried the Tide since it was highly recommended by some other CD manufacturers - I was NOT impressed. Not only does it have all the "no-no's" that you read about (enzymes, fragrance, dyes, and brighteners) but my diapers REEKED of Tide. It's also more likely to cause build-up issue faster/more often than other CD friendly detergents!

Katie said...

I have had this problem with the microterry inserts. My diapers are used a lot, though . . . I do not have a lot of diapers and I have two in them. I have switched to Charlie's soap and that has seemed to help. I also double wash the diapers too. First, with detergent. Second wash, without detergent.

team krasean said...

We have had great luck using vinegar to eliminate odor in our prefold diapers and inserts. It also seems to help remove the stains.

Thanks to everyone for posting some great ideas here!

Angela Sundara... etc said...

You wrote: "Ask a number of people how to strip – and you’ll get a number of responses." I know you didn't mean it that way, but it helped me crack my first smile of the day- and it's been a rough day. Thanks! LOL!

the momma said...

When we were using kushies AIOs, we regularly added vinegar and baking soda to wash/rinse cycles to help combat the stinkies- and found we definitely needed to use both to restore the pH of the diapers- otherwise DD's little bum turned red in short order. BUT, we were also using any old detergent at that time, usually a purex w renuzit or gain. OH, how much we have learned since then! We now use fuzzi bunz and bumGenius and purex free and clear... no stink issues, no build up issues (although I add some oxi versatile every week just to be sure), and no red bums!!! I do still notice some stinkies in our thirsties AIOs and HH inserts...that will be my next mystery to solve!

Amanda Prince said...

GREAT adivice! Thank you!!!!!! :)

Kiera said...

Great post.

We've found the best "sanitizer" for smelly diapers is sunshine, vinegar, and hot water.

Also, because we're on sewerage, and not a septic tank system, washing with a splash of eucalyptus oil, or teatree oil makes a big difference.

The smelliest diapers we have are the ones that contain hemp. For some reason, the hemp retains odours, and the funk is very distinct.

All in the name of a nice healthy fluffy butt though :)

brietta said...

Serena-

Maybe you've shared this somewhere, but what detergent have you settled on at this point? I ask because as much as I love Charlie's, I wonder if the stink problems I'm constantly combating due to our hard water means I need to switch to something else.

Thanks!

brietta said...

Okay-- one more question:

What are your thoughts on the new Fuzzi Bunz detergent (Vaska, I think?) and hard water?

Amanda said...

A quick question....when you recommend 1/4 cup of vinegar...is this for a "large" wash cycle? I usually do a small wash cycle. And also, I do a cold wash, then a hot wash then a rinse cycle...at which point would I put the vinegar in? Cold, Hot or Both?

I was just planing on using the vinegar w/ the inserts and wipes only...because BG said the acidity in the Vinegar can ruin the PUL.

Serena said...

Hi Amanda!

The 1/4 cup is typically for a medium sized load - so if your load is smaller than you can consider a little less. However if you're not putting in the PUL pockets then it should be safe to use the full 1/4 cup even on the small load.

You can put the vinegar with the hot wash cycle or the additional rinse cycle - however your best bet would be to put it in with the hot wash cycle.

Yes vinegar is acidic - but most detergents raise the alkalinity (base) of the water and therefore that can also cause damage (especially if too much detergent is used)... Vinegar helps restore the pH balance to garments - in addition to helping items rinse clean, remove excess lint, and naturally soften fabric (and reduce static cling).

I've assumed BG advises against the use of additives such as vinegar (acid) and baking soda (base) because the vast majority of people do not know how to use them properly and hence will lead to excess damage.

Laundry truly is a science. And I am a laundry science geek! =)

Hope this helps!

Amanda said...

Thanks for all the help Serena.

How much baking soda should I use w/ the vinegar?

Anonymous said...

Serena, I started using smartipants diapers two months ago on my 17 month old. I am having horrible ammonia smell problems that are burning my sons bottom! I didn't start with the right detergent, but now use Country Save. I have stripped and stripped and stripped with no success. I have purchased Calgon for my hard water and tried vinegar and baking soda for the pH. I have also tried dawn dishsoap to break down ammonia salts. Nothing seems to be working for me. Our water is 16 grains of hardness which is very hard I guess, and the pH is 7.45. What can I do? We don't have iron in our water, just calcium and I think magnesium. I'm very frustrated, and need to figure this out because I have a new one coming in 4 weeks!

Cloth Diaperer Extraordinaire said...

Anonymous! Have you tried bleaching the inserts?

Typically the ammonia smells is due to a buildup of bacteria.

Adding vinegar when your diapers are already stinky and you have hard water will actually only make the smells worse (believe me - I've tested the vinegar theory and we had HORRIBLY stinky diapers after that laundry experiment).

Therefore, your best course of action at this point is to bleach the inserts (inserts ONLY NOT the diapers). The problem is usually the micro-terry fiber. Yes, it's oh-so-absorbent but that's all the pitfall with micro-terry because it doesn't readily let go of what it absorbs so it is terribly hard to clean sometimes!

Take the "clean" inserts and run them through a hot wash with about 1/2 cup of bleach (again you're only bleaching the inserts). When you've done that - I would suggest putting them in the sun for good measure. This should definitely help resolve the stink problem immediately.

Now, for ongoing maintenance you will want to bleach the inserts regularly (the timing you just play by smell- when they start getting foul you will want to bleach them). However, if you're using the Calgon and if you're able to sun the inserts/diapers at all - this should help prolong the length of time between the bleaching sessions.

Also - it's important to make sure the diapers/inserts come out of the wash smelling clean (hold it up to your nose and take a whiff - if it's smelly then it's not clean and you'll want to run the load through another time).

I also highly recommend the following wash routine - regardless of what type of machine you're using:

1 short cycle cold wash w/detergent

(I prefer to use OxiClean instead of detergent with the cold wash - but some manufacturers do not "authorize" the use of OxiClean with their products so you'll want to double check and see what Smartipants has to say with respect to OxiClean).

1 heavy duty hot water wash w/detergent

1 additional rinse

(Calgon for hard water - you should only need to use it with the hot water wash - use 1/2 the amount for a top loading machine and 1/4 the amount for a front loading machine).

I hope this helps!!! If not - please contact us at Kelly's Closet and I'll be happy to try and help you figure it out in more detail:
http://www.kellyscloset.com/crm.asp?action=add

-Serena

Attila & Tamara said...

Well, we have very hard water and we are beginning to get ammonia stinkies. I'm planning on going tomorrow to get some Calgon. Thanks for the information!

Mamahen said...

I never had stink issues until I tried Hard Rock. I've been spending the last 2 months trying to reverse the stink caused from that and I cant catch up with it. I'm trying to do it with vinegar but I think my next step is going to have to be a good stripping then the b word. Hopefully it works!

CHRISTLIKE said...

I treied bleach but still stinks, not ater wash but after soiled. I will try again with an extra hot wash and rinse.

Chantal said...

We have relatively hard water here and I've been battling stinkies. I've tried bleach/hot water soaks, tea tree oil, vinegar, and now Calgon. My problem is that it smells fine coming out of the wash, but out of the dryer= stink! What can I do??

Lauren said...

I'm having stink issues with my 5 mo dd. The issue I'm having is they smell fine out of the washer and fine out of the dryer, but as soon as she wets them they smell like a barnyard! I just did a huge stripping all day yesterday with RLR. First diaper out of the the batch just didn't smell as strong. It's infuriating! What am I doing wrong with my HE washer?

Lauren said...

I'm battling stinkies with my 5 mo dd, who is still exclusively breastfed. My problem is they smell perfectly clean out of both washer and dryer. It isn't until she wets them that they reek of barnyard. I just did an overnight soak in RLR and literally rinsed non-stop all day long. I even add a gallon of water to each load in my HE washer as a part of my routine. First diaper out of the batch still stinks! It's infuriating!!! What am I doing wrong?!

Jess said...

Lauren, I had the same problem. My HE washer wouldn't allow me to add more water. Before running any cycle, I made sure my diapers were FULL of water (submerged and squeezed the air out so they soaked in the water). Then made sure to rinse rinse rinse after my wash routine. I think they are too good at absorbing soapy water, so clean water already in them was important.

Mykal said...

mine too

Anonymous said...

The only thing that has worked with our smartis , alvas, and thristys is adding a 1/4cup of bleach, but I toss in white towels to add weight so my he frontloader uses more hot water once a month I have a 2yr old boy super strong pee cd since 7mths old and a 10mth girl cd since birth I wash every day