Do Reusable Nappies Smell?

  • By: Gian
  • Date: June 16, 2022
  • Time to read: 5 min.

One of the biggest concerns with reusable nappies is whether or not they smell. In general, no, but if you have some washing issues then that may cause them to smell.

Parents are always concerned about their children’s reusable nappies smelling like urine or otherwise stinking. The reality is that if the nappies are properly cared for and cleansed, this is quite unlikely to occur. If your nappies do smell, something has gone wrong with your washing routine and you need to fix that. We go through the common problems that cause nappies to smell below.

When it comes to cloth nappies, one of the most common issues that some people encounter is coping with stinking nappies. While using cloth diapers for the first time, I had to deal with the problem of stinky nappies. Generally speaking, cloth diapers smell better than disposable nappies, but every now and again, parents discover that their cloth nappies have developed a strong odor of their own. There are a variety of reasons why this occurs, and most of the time, a few minor adjustments may be made to eliminate the scent.

Why Your Cloth Nappies Might Smell

Why Your Cloth Nappies Might Smell

Cloth nappies can be affected by a variety of factors that contribute to the eye-watering ammonia odor.

It can come on gradually, as your wash routine is not quite right or all of sudden you notice the smell.

I will go over the many approaches of dealing with the various sources of the ammonia odor but the three main reasons are:

  • Washing detergent build up
  • Ammonia build up
  • Bacteria

Washing detergent build up

Fabric nappy detergent buildup, also known as powder residue, is a typical problem that many individuals who use cloth nappies have to deal with. The buildup of detergent in your nappies can cause them to smell, leak, and become less absorbent, as well as potentially causing nappy rash. I’ve covered washing powder build up in detail in this article and how to deal with it.

Detergent buildup is a major problem in cloth nappies, and it can also occur in clothes, but it seldom causes problems in clothes in general. The problem occurs when there is too much soap residue left on the fabric after washing, resulting in your nappies not being as absorbent and smelling unpleasant. It is purely a matter of semantics whether this is referred to as powder residue or build-up. This refers to powder that remains in your garments after the final rinse cycle has completed.

Ammonia Build Up

A combination of time and urine in soiled cloth nappies can result in the formation of ammonia, which is responsible for the stench. Because ammonia is not water soluble, simply cleaning them will not always be sufficient to eliminate the problem. The instant your kid wets his or her nappy, you will begin to notice the foul smell. 

The breakdown of proteins in urine can result in the formation of urea, which can then decompose further to produce ammonia.

When a person is well-hydrated and goes to the bathroom frequently, urea does not have the opportunity to convert into ammonia. However, if a person becomes severely dehydrated or if urea is allowed to stay for an extended period of time — such as in a damp cloth diaper – ammonia will begin to build.

  • Maintain the temperature of your diaper bucket; the higher the temperature, the more pee will convert to ammonia. Don’t keep your nappy bucket next to radiators and in the summer time wash more frequently.
  • Remove the lid and let the air circulate around the nappies to help slow down the conversion to ammonia production.
  • After using your nappies, give them a quick rinse in cold water before placing them in the nappy bucket. This will remove a lot of the pee, reducing the amount of urine that will be converted to ammonia.
  • Don’t leave wet nappies sitting for too long before washing. It’s really advisable to wash every 2 days and not any longer.
  • Hard water can also cause an ammonia smell because of the high mineral content which stops your washing powder working as well as it should.
  • Too much detergent in your wash or residue can also cause an ammonia smell.
  • Conversley if you don’t use enough detergent, you are simply not washing your nappies and they will not be cleaned properly.

If you suspect that this is the source of your problem, you should do a strip wash as previously recommended before making any further changes to your regimen.

Bacteria Build Up

Bacteria Build Up

This is mainly caused by not washing your dirty nappies well enough, either too many in your washing machine or not enough washing powder.

Or again, leaving soiled nappies to sit for too long.

We always advise doing a pre-wash cycle which will help agitate and loosen any bacteria.

If you have bacteria build up consider doing a deep clean, on at least 60 for 12 minutes to really clean the nappies. Switch to paper liners from fleece if you are using reusable liners and ensure that you swill out any remaining poo on the nappies. Rinsing nappies and inserts before putting into your bucket will help.

Get into a routine of rinsing your nappies before dry pailing them. There are a handful of compelling reasons why you should always rinse your nappies before use. Cloth nappies, in contrast to the majority of other goods that you wash in your washing machine, are typically soaked through when they are placed in the machine. If you take a moment to consider what they’re bathed in… mmm, that’s quite delicious. The nappies will already have all of that delicious things inside of them if you don’t rinse them before washing them, and they will swish around in the washing machine while you’re attempting to get them clean. In the event that you rinse your nappies before running them through a full wash cycle, you will have already washed out and dilute a significant amount of the pee that has seeped into the nappies.

Use a diaper sprayer to rinse your nappies into the toilet as soon as you remove them from your baby. You may also rinse them in the laundry sink under the tap once you remove them from your baby. Alternatively, you can give them a quick rinse in your washing machine before putting them in the wash. Pre-washing is possible in some machines; simply run them through a cold pre-wash cycle with no extra detergent to do this. If your washing machine does not offer this option, as mine does not, you can do what I do, which is to first run them through the rinse cycle and then run them through the full wash cycle after that.

Most smelly nappy difficulties can be resolved by just adding a little additional water to the diapering process to rinse everything. If you are experiencing serious difficulties, particularly with night diapers and the like, giving them a thorough rinse as soon as they come off will be really beneficial. If necessary, I would even soak just the inserts of our night nappies in cold water (without any other ingredients) for about an hour before placing them in the nappy bucket. With it, you no longer have to deal with the awful, eye-burning stink that is commonly associated with toddler night nappies.

This article was written by: Gian MIller – Full-Time Writer, Baby Whisperer & Dad of 3.

Gian spends a lot of his time writing. A self-proclaimed baby whisperer, Gian has been through it all with his own children and is passionate about sharing his hard-won wisdom with other parents. When he’s not writing or changing diapers, you can find him playing the guitar or watching baseball (or preferably both at the same time).