Saturday, January 19, 2013

Problems with a Stinky Diaper Pail

A reader recently emailed me a wonderful question about a problem she'd been having with her diaper pail.  She was gifted a Bambino Mio diaper pail, and had been placing soiled cloth diapers directly into the pail.  Suddenly, diaper stink started becoming a problem.  She was debating about moving the diaper pail to the bathroom, soaking diapers, or foregoing a diaper pail and using a wet bag.  With two seven-week-old twins she needed a solution fast.

  • Using a diaper pail with cloth diapers: Diaper pails are great options for use with cloth diapers, however they shouldn't be used alone.  Most pails are made of plastic, which is notorious for absorbing odors and developing some unpleasant funk.  I always recommend placing a diaper pail liner (aff link) or a wet bag (aff link) inside of the diaper pail.  The pail liner or wet bag should be washed frequently to prevent odor from accumulating. I like diaper pails because they offer some secondary containment for cloth diaper wet bags.
  • Soaking Diapers: It's not recommended to soak diapers anymore.  This can be a hazard for children (potentially drowning in the pail), and can cause more stink to build up if diapers are sitting in the wet/soiled water for too long.  It can also be damaging on elastic to soak diapers for long periods of time in urine-filled water. If you insist on soaking diapers, do it only for a maximum of a few hours, inside the washing machine (or in a pail out of reach of children), and only with diapers that don't contain elastic.

  • Diaper pail fresheners: Pail fresheners are a good idea that doesn't really work very well.  Some companies sell powders or essential oils that can help to mask odor.  Instead of masking odor, I prefer simply doing a load of laundry.  Diapers should be washed a minimum of every 3-4 days to prevent damage to the diapers and elastic.

Solving the issue
In this reader's case, I recommended that she purchase (or make) a couple of zippered wet bags.  She can still use her diaper pail as secondary containment, however she will need to wash it with white vinegar to get rid of the lingering odor.  Since she has twins in cloth diapers and a smaller stash, she will need to wash diapers about every 1-2 days to keep enough clean diapers available.  Washing more often will help reduce the issue with odor.  After sitting for a while, urine converts to ammonia (which has a bad eye-burning smell).  Washing diapers more often, and containing them in a zippered wet bag, will keep ammonia smell from escaping.


  1. Thank you for this helpful post! I currently have a Rumparooz pail liner, and it has been great for us. I want to purchase another one for use on laundry day. Currently, I hang the pail liner from the shower rod using a strong clip (the clip was originally from a clip lamp), but I'm considering purchasing some sort of pail to place in the shower instead. I have noticed that letting air circulate into the liner keeps the smell down. When the pail is closed tight the ammonia smell is stronger. Thanks again for the post.

    1. I'm so glad this was helpful for you. We've never felt the need for a diaper pail at home- our wet bags have always worked wonderfully- but we do use a diaper pail at daycare. I think it's a good idea to own at least two large wet bags and a small one for outings.

  2. Thanks for this post. We are just getting started. I have two wet bags for now, but it seems like another one may be in order.