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Troubleshooting Leaks in Cloth Diapers

Posted by on 10/14/2015 to Helpful Tips
Troubleshooting Leaks in Cloth Diapers
Leaks do not have to be a fact of life when using cloth diapers! Although there are more reasons they could happen in cloth than in disposables, they don't have to happen. This handy chart can help you figure out how to banish those leaks for good! More information about the various types of leaks can be found below. 

Absorbency Maxed Out

Even the most absorbent diaper has a maximum amount of liquid it can absorb. If your diaper reaches its full point, the pee has nowhere else to go. If you are already changing baby frequently (every 2-3 hours, more as newborns) or your diaper is for overnight, adding absorbency is your next step.

Hemp is an awesome addition to add absorbency ro a diaper. It absorbs a ton of moisture, while being really thin, so it won't make baby's bum super puffy. Hemp absorbs slowly, so put it underneath your current insert to create a "reserve" for drawing in excess pee. 

Not Fully Prepped

You will notice that on all natural fiber diapers that there are directions for prepping before use. The world will not end if you don't follow these directions, but they are there for a reason. These instructions are generally to wash separately 3 to 5 times. 

Natural fibers (e.g. bamboo, hemp and cotton) contain natural oils that repel moisture. These oils are washed away in the prep washes, preventing pee from just beading off the surface. As well, it "fluffs" up the fibers, increasing their ability to absorb. Most materials reach their peak absorbency after about 10 washes, so if you are experiencing leaks before this, give it time. Your leak problems may disappear on their own after a few more washes. 

When you are prepping, make sure to wash synthetic diapers (e.g. stay dry, microfiber) separately from the natural materials being prepped for at least 2 washes. This is to prevent the natural oils from depositing on the synthetic fibers. Instead of washing your new diapers alone, you can throw them in with towels or regular laundry, as long as you are using cloth diaper friendly detergent (and no softeners). They don't need to be dried between prep washes. 

Improper Fit 

Think of a hole in the bottom of the bucket. Water will leak out (dear Liza, dear Liza...) Gaps in a diaper's fit will do the same. It can be a learning process to get a good fit, especially with tiny wee babies. Most diapers have multiple ways to adjust the fit so that they will be leak free on any shaped babies. I can attest to this, as my kids are polar opposites - one is tall and svelte, while the little one is a tank. All of our diapers work well on both of them. 

Basically to get a good fitting diaper, you don't want to be able to see any gaps at the waist or around the legs. The elastics should lie against the skin, but not tight enough to leave big red marks (little pink marks like where your socks sit are fine and won't cause discomfort). You should be able to fit one finger in the elastic. If you can't, it is too tight, and if more than one finger fits it, you may end up with gaps and leaks. 

There are lots of videos out there about how to get a good fit in a diaper, and here are a couple of my favourites from Funky Fluff and Applecheeks. They are specific to the brands, but a lot of the tips can be used for any diaper. 

If you are unsure how your fit is, send us an email. We're happy to talk you through it, and look at pics of your cuties!


Just like a wick sucking up oil in a lamp, fabrics can wick moisture out a diaper. If part of the absorbent inner of the diaper is sticking out or some clothing is tucked into the diaper, pee will very quickly travel out of the diaper and onto your kiddos' clothes. 

When you are putting on your diaper, make sure that there is no insert sticking out. Gently tuck it inside of the elastic. The Applecheeks ruffles are an exception to this - they may look like they should be tucked in, but they are actually designed to stick out (adding to their cuteness). The material of the ruffles will not wick moisture out onto clothes.

Onesies are notorious for getting damp between the legs because the edges often touch the diaper and wick out. Try snapping only the centre snap, or switching to tshirts if this is happening often. For overnights, wearing either fleece or wool bottoms can prevent wicking as well. 

Compression Leaks

The easiest way to explain compression leaks is to think of a sponge. It can absorb a ton of liquid, but as soon as you squish it, the liquid runs out. This sponge effect can happen if diapers are squished too, especially if you are using microfiber inserts. This squishing commonly happens when extra absorbency is added for car rides, naps etc. If you stuff a ton of inserts in, they sometimes get too squashed together to function properly. Compression can also happen when the diaper is squished externally, like when a baby is in a car seat or wearing a tight onesie. 

There are a few things you can do to prevent this type of leak. One is to not overstuff your diaper. If you are having problems with leaks even when using a TON of absorbent materials, this could be the problem. If you do have to add lots of absorbency, consider using natural fibers (another shout out for hemp!) as it is less puffy and less prone to squeezing out liquid than synthetics. 

Other solutions are to go down a rise snap (i.e. make diaper bigger) when you are adding more layers to make sure the diaper itself isn't compressing the inserts. Just make sure you are still getting a good fit when making this adjustment. And if your kiddo is wearing onesies, try unsnapping them or just doing up the center snap. Garment extenders can also be really handy for making onesies fit longer and more generously over a fluffy bum. 

Residues and Repelling

Sometimes, despite your best efforts, you may have a problem with diapers getting buildup and repelling moisture. This can be for a variety of reasons including improper wash routine, mineral buildup, detergent buildup, someone using a non-cloth diaper safe diaper cream or fabric softener, etc. 

Residue causes, prevention and treatment are a blog post all in itself, but basically if you have reason to suspect this may be a problem, stripping may be your answer. If your diapers smell bad after being washed, baby is getting frequent rashes or you know that a product not recommended for cloth has been used, then residue may be the cause of your leaks. 

There are ways to test for repelling, for example by dropping water on your diapers and seeing if it beads up. I personally prefer looking for other signs of residue, as these tests aren't extremely accurate. Many fabrics require there to be pressure (e.g. the weight of baby's bum) on the fabric for moisture to absorb, so it may appear to repel moisture when really it is not. 

Notice that I put residue waaay down at the bottom of the flowchart for leak troubleshooting. This is because the other factors should be checked first, as frequent stripping shouldn't be necessary, and can be hard on fabrics depending what technique you use. I suggest using the stripping method recommended by the manufacturer, as many of the advice floating around the internet can be extremely damaging to your diapers. 

Still leaking?

Don't hesitate to contact us. We will help you figure out the cause of your leaks. You don't have to go through life with a damp lap because you have chosen to cloth diaper, and you most definitely don't have to switch to sposies to prevent the problem. My email is always open:

Cheers to non-leaky little bums!


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