First consider: What do your diapers smell like?
- "Wet dog" smell: Dog owners will recognize this musty and dirty odor. If your diapers are smelling like a wet dog, this is a sign that your diapers might not be getting clean enough in the wash. Typically it is suggested to use 1/4 the recommended amount of detergent. However, those using a detergent specifically marketed for cloth diapers should use the manufacturer's recommended amount of detergent. Additionally, those with hard water may need to use more detergent to get the diapers fully clean. Adding more detergent can ensure that the wet dog smell is removed and diapers are fresh.
- Urine/Poop: A typical wash routine for cloth diapers is to: rinse, wash on hot (with detergent), and rinse again. Some diaper manufacturers claim that the initial rinse step is only necessary for especially soiled loads. I always recommend doing an initial rinse any time there are diapers soiled by poop, and especially if you have an older baby who is producing a lot of urine. It's best to get these contaminates rinsed away before proceeding to the detergent step. Some cloth diaper users like to use a diaper sprayer to rinse away urine and poop immediately after the diaper becomes soiled. If diapers are still smelling, you may need to add more detergent or strip your diapers (build-up could be causing lingering odor).
- Ammonia: Ammonia is a highly recognizable odor that makes your eyes burn. It is normal for diapers to develop an ammonia smell after sitting soiled and in a wet bag for over 12 hours. This is because urine converts to ammonia over time, and the smell will increase the longer the diaper sits. However, if diapers smell like ammonia immediately after baby soils the diaper, then you may have an ammonia build-up problem in the diapers. Diapers should be stripped to remove the build up.
- Detergent fragrance: Fragrances can cause irritation for some babies. Certain detergents use strong fragrances that can leave residue on the diapers, and possibly cause build-up, stink, and repelling. Some cloth diaper detergents do have fragrances, but they are designed to rinse away while laundering. If you are smelling fragrance on your diapers, you may be using too much detergent. You may also be using a detergent with too much fragrance. Using less detergent, or switching brands of detergent can solve the issue.
- Diapers smell clean, but not fresh: Your diapers may be smelling perfectly clean, but are lacking that "fresh" scent. For those looking to add some extra freshness to their laundry, I recommend line drying diapers outside. The outdoor air will freshen laundry, whiten stained diapers, and remove any residual odor that could be lingering. Sometimes line drying in a damp basement can make clean diapers smell less than fresh. A quick fluff cycle in the dryer can add some freshness when line drying outside isn't possible.
Stinky diapers are usually a result of too much detergent, too little detergent, or the wrong type of detergent. It may take a little bit of experimenting to find the right detergent combination for your diapers and water conditions.