My Cloth Diapers Stink!!

How to deal with smells in cloth diapers is a common question that pops up in cloth diaper groups, and for good reason. Cloth diapers are exposed to some of the stinkiest substances imaginable, and there is not one catch-all cure for smells. Here are a few pointers that may help banish the stinkies though!

Usually smell issues don't appear all of a sudden - there is usually a gradual "these don't smell awesome" evolving into a "HELP, these stink!" problem. I advise cloth diapering parents to monitor whether their laundry routine is working well by using their nose. Give those diapers a smell when they come out of the washer and dryer. Do they smell good? If they do, great! If they don't, getting a handle on it early is much easier than trying to fix a problem later. 

If diapers smell coming off of baby or in the dirty diaper pail, it is much more difficult to determine whether there is actually a problem with the diapers, or if it is just a normal diaper smell. For example, some baby pee smells really strong. Eau de Toddler Pee first thing in the morning can take the breath away from even the most seasoned parents. Strong smells at any time can tip you off that there is a problem, but giving them a sniff when they are clean is a better indicator. 

The type of fibers your diapers are made of has an effect on smells as well. Microfiber is notorious for holding onto smells more than natural fibers, so many people notice that these start to smell before any other diapers. 

What Do They Smell Like?

Describing a smell in words is pretty difficult, but there are a few common ones: 

Pee Smell

If diapers come out of the wash still smelling like pee, it means that there is still pee in the diapers, and that they aren't getting truly clean. There can be several reasons for this. One is that the prewash is not washing away enough of the pee in the diapers for the main wash to get them completely clean. You want your prewash to use lots of water, and have enough time and agitation to flush out as much pee as possible before the main wash. The prewash is such an important step that I wrote an entire post on the topic!

Another possibility is that your laundry detergent is not sufficient to get the diapers completely clean, either in the amount or type of detergent you are using. You want to use enough detergent to wash a very dirty load of laundry, but not so much that your washing machine can't rinse it all away in the rinse cycle. Leaving detergent in the diapers after the rinse can lead to more smell issues down the road. If you are only using a small amount of detergent, increase the amount to see if that resolves the issue.

If smells persist, you may want to change your detergents. There are websites out there with lists of detergents that absolutely will not work on cloth diapers, including natural detergents, but I don't completely agree with this. I successfully used natural detergents on our diapers (mainly due to children with SUPER sensitive skin) that make it on the "don't work" list, so I know it is doable. That said, some detergents work better with different water types and fibers, and so you may have better luck with them. Most manufacturers have recommendations for detergents that work well with their diapers, and I am happy to help you find this information if you are looking to switch detergents. 

To "reset" your diapers if they have a pee smell, it can be as easy as rewashing them with your new wash routine. This should get them nice and squeaky clean again.

Barnyard Smell or Ammonia Smell

Both of these smells are pretty recognizable, and indicate that there may be residues in the fibers of the diapers. Residues can be urine, detergent buildup, minerals or a combination. This is when stripping may be necessary to remove all of those buildups and get your diapers back to square one. 

Before You Strip


Before stripping, I recommend contacting your diaper retailer (e.g. me) first. Each manufacturer has different instructions on how to deal with residues, and some of the instructions found on the internet can actually damage your diapers and void your warranties. For example. bleach soaks come highly recommended as a first step by some sites, but bleaching can cause extensive damage to some diapers. Additionally, I can help troubleshoot your wash routine to make sure the smells don't return. 

Ways to Prevent Smell Issues

  • Make sure you do a good prewash
  • Use enough detergent for a heavily soiled load
  • Follow your manufacturer's care instructions
  • Wash diapers every 1-2 days, 3 days maximum
  • Troubleshoot smells sooner than later.
If you have any concerns about smells in your diapers, please don't hesitate to contact me at info@bumbini.ca.  I am happy to guide you back to good smelling diapers!