Thursday, September 3, 2009

Dealing with stinky diapers...

Stinky diapers stink, both literally and figuratively! If you've been following along, you'll know we bought a shiney new HE frontloading washing machine a couple of months ago. Almost immediately, we had issues with stinky diapers. After fiddling around with my washing routine, and incorporating some of your helpful suggestions, I've gotten the problem mostly under control, save for a pesky musty smell, which was definitely an improvement. So what, you ask, causes diaper stink? There are a few common culprits:
  • adding too much detergent
  • using the wrong kind of detergent
  • not using enough water
  • having hard water
  • washing synthetic diapers (synthetic fibers are more prone to stink)
Adding confusion to the issue, not all washing routines are created equally -- dependent on your machine, the quality of your water, the type of diapers you are washing, and the type of detergent you are using, different approaches to washing diapers will work for different situations (translate: there's no 'easy fix', you'll have to figure out your washing routine yourself!).

Here are some general tips to keep the stink at bay:

  • wash your diapers more frequently -- the longer your dirty diapers sit, the more likely they are to smell.

  • use as much water as you can. If you have a machine that allows you to select a load size, set it one size larger than the actual load (ie, if you're washing a 'small' load, set the machine's load size to 'large'). If you have a machine that adds water based on the weight of the load, add a wet towel to the diapers to weigh the load down.

  • use a manufacturer-recommended detergent. Avoid anything with whiteners, brighteners, enzymes, perfumes, and dyes.

  • use 1/4 to 1/2 the recommended amount of detergent -- measure it, don't eyeball it!

  • add an extra rinse.

  • sun your diapers when possible (the UV light can kill odor-causing bacteria).

  • line your diaper pail with a wetbag that's washed everytime you wash your diapers (so they're not sitting in a stinky pail).

There are some products you can buy to help prevent diaper stink if it's recurring issue.

bumGenius odor remover quickly eliminates the source of odor-causing bacteria in cloth diapers. Designed to eliminate the odors in diapers and diaper pails, it also works great on pet urine, trash cans and more! It is non-toxic, biodegradable and is completely free of chemicals or oils, detergents, perfumes and solvents. Use instead of deodorizing disks.

Do you think you have hard water? It will affect everything you launder, not just your cloth diapers. Aside from installing a water softener, there are a couple quick, relatively inexpensive fixes. You could add Calgon water softener to your washing routine, it can be found in the laundry aisle at most grocery stores. Alternately, you could use a detergent that contains sodium borate, like Rockin' Green Soap, or CountrySave.

Magnetballs are a reusable option, simply add one to the washing machine with every load. How do they work? Quite simple, actually. As water passes through the magnetic field of the Magnetball or the Universal Magnetrod, dissolved calcium molecules in the water will spontaneously form calcium crystals. The magnetic field in the water will then cause the calcium crystals to break up into smaller, disc-shaped calcium particles that are easily flushed out with the water instead of attaching themselves to surfaces, appliances or clothing.
The result is a drastic reduction in the hardness of the water, because magnetically treated calcium crystals will release several hundred H20 molecules per single calcium molecule. The ability of water to dissolve dirt is therefore greatly increased.

OK, I didn't compose that text, it was provided by the distributor, but you get the gist of it, right?

Lastly, we've recently added one more weapon to our arsenal of stink-busters. RLR Laundry treatment. Is has clearly been around for a while, judging from the packaging (what? There's no laundry-related stock photography they could have used from 1990 onwards? I know retro is back, but I'm not sure this outfit qualifies! Do people even wear collared shirts anymore?). But I digress.

This is a product specifically designed to remove detergent residue and mineral deposits from laundry. It is not a bleach, blueing, or detergent. I tried a package last night, and spent about a half hour thrusting random diapers into my children's faces, instructing them to "Smell! Do you smell anything?" The musty smell was banished from even the worst-offending bum wipe, I was pretty impressed. If you regularly deal with cloth diaper stink, adding RLR to your routine on a monthly basis can keep the stink at bay.

So do you want to know what my new HE-friendly diaper washing routine involves? I've tweaked our washing routine according to some of your fabulous suggestions:

  • I wash our diapers more frequently. No more 5-7 days between washing diapers, I try to wash them every 3 days. In the house of never-ending laundry, it's not so hard. If you must know, I'm washing our diapers with our whites on a regular basis. Don't tell my children, they'd be horrified if they knew.
  • I'm more vigilant about taking the poop off Grace's diapers -- I shake what I can off, then rinse the rest of it off.
  • I pour almost 4 liters of water directly on top of the diapers after I've loaded them into the machine (instead of adding a sopping wet towel, which also works).
  • I always measure the detergent (no eyeballing), using 3/4 the recommended amount (and I'm sticking to the Nellies).
  • I do a hot wash/cold rinse, and I've added an extra rinse at the end of the washing cycle.

We're pretty thrilled with the RLR Laundry Treatment, all instore (Ottawa) purchases and online purchases today through September 6th will receive a free pouch of RLR Laundry Treatment. Try it, you'll like it!


  1. Hi Susie - glad you found the RLR - it really worked for our stinky Fuzzi Bunz too. I am going to try the extra 4L of water trick. Are you stocking RLR now? Thanks, Arwen

  2. We are, we have hundreds instock... we get so many 'stinky diaper' questions every week, and I know stripping can be a pain, this makes it a little easier!

    susie ;)

  3. Thanks for the tips... I'm at my wits' end with the new front-loader and my CD's. I think I've tried just about every combination of every wash/rinse/soak cycle on the machine and even doing THREE cycles (soak, heavy soil wash, 2 extra rinses) hasn't worked. Last time there was still poop stuck in the elastic of the FB's - EWWWWWW (and I had scraped, then rinsed it in the toilet before)! I've done the wet towel, but maybe I'll try adding a few L's of water manually and see if that works!
    Any other ideas?

  4. RLR - how much do we use in a front loader?


  5. I just used the RLR (Thanks!) in my front loader. I put it in with my Nellies washing soda. I used about 1/2 a small blue scoop of Nellies and 1/4 scoop of RLR (the scooper is about the size of a coffee scoop). I used a pre-soak, regular hot wash, and extra rinse and all was well.

    It worked wonders on the smell in my son's training pants and diapers. I had previously tried stripping/washing them three times with hot water and Dawn, then baking soda and vinegar, and it didn't take the smell away like the RLR.

  6. This is all great info b/c I too am at fits end with my HE washer. How often do you use the RLR, every wash or 1x/month? I will also cut down on my Nellie's serving, I was using one blue scoop/wash and even that doesn't seem like much at all. I WILL DO WHATEVER IT TAKES!!! Unfortunately my loader doesn't have a soak or size option so will continue with pre-wash and 2nd rinse...thx again

  7. We soaked our diapers in Rockin' Green detergent in our bathtub with super hot water, left 'em over night and then laundered... no more horrific ammonia stinkies (which had been made worse by Cotton Babies' "blue Dawn" recommendation!). Rinsing our diapers helps us get ahead of the stink, too!

  8. I love rlr laundry treatment- it is such a life saver because it is the only thing that got the STANK out of my son's CD's. 1990's packaging or not, it rocks.