Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Preventing and Treating Cloth Diaper Repelling

You are having a repeated problem with diaper leaks and the problem is not related to sizing or “operator error”.  Diapers are supposed to absorb liquid, so why is more liquid going out of the diaper rather than into it?  You probably have a case of repelling diapers.  Repelling can happen for a variety of reasons, and prevention is the best defense.  The method for treating diaper repelling is commonly called “stripping” the diapers.  If you’ve purchased pre-owned cloth diapers, be aware that you may need to give the diapers a good stripping if you notice problems with absorbency.  I've broken this post down into various reasons for repelling, and given some suggestions on how to solve the repelling problem.

You’re using the wrong type of detergent or too much detergent:
Cloth diaper safe detergents are critical for preventing repelling issues.  Detergents that have brighteners, perfume, or fabric softeners, will leave residue that will eventually create a barrier on your diapers and result in repelling.  Use a detergent that is recommended for cloth diapers, or specifically made for cloth diapers.  Using too much detergent can also cause repelling.  If detergent is not able to fully rinse out of the diaper, it may create residue and cause repelling.  As a general rule, start out with 1/4th the recommended amount of detergent (unless using a detergent made exclusively for use with cloth diapers).

  • How to solve: Since repelling is most frequently caused by a detergent issue, this is the best place to start trying things.  First wash your clean diapers with hot water and check for any soapy bubbles in the water.  If you see bubbles, follow up with another 1-3 washes on hot until no bubbles appear.

Hard water build-up is all over your diapers: 

Hard water makes cloth diapers very unhappy.  When we lived in Omaha, our water was so hard that within 4 months of using our diapers, they began repelling liquid like crazy.  If you are noticing lots of white stains on your shower curtain, you probably have hard water.  Think about all that residue you see in your shower all over your diapers, and it’s no wonder why hard water causes repelling issues.  If you know you have hard water, then prevent repelling by softening that water for washing diapers.  You can do this by buying a water softener, or using Calgon  water conditioner (safe to use with cloth diapers) to supplement your detergent.

  • How to solve:  You will have to treat your diapers to remove the hard water build up.  You can use a detergent made specifically for this task (like Rockin’ Green) and do a soak in the recommended amount of detergent.  DO NOT use vinegar or baking soda, as some cloth diaper users may recommend.  This will alter the pH of your diapers, creating a scary scenario for bad diaper rashes.  Vinegar also degrades elastic found in most diapers- take home message is don’t try it.

Your diapers are made with synthetic fabrics:  

Synthetic fabrics, like fleece, are naturally prone to issues with repelling. Sometimes you can be doing everything right, and still have a problem with repelling.  Maintenance is key for your synthetic fabrics.  Be extra careful about selecting a detergent that does not contain oil and may cause problems for synthetic fabrics.  FuzziBunz diapers specifically recommends FuzziBunz® Cloth Diaper Detergent, Rockin Green Soap, Allen's Naturally and Charlie’s Soap for use with fleece.  You should consider doing some maintenance stripping of your diapers by washing them on hot with no detergent every few months, or doing a full stripping by soaking clean diapers in a cloth diaper detergent specifically made for that purpose.

  • How to solve:  A bad case of repelling fleece can be solved with Oxiclean Versatile.  Make sure to get the “Versatile” variety (for common household uses) and not a different variety of Oxiclean. Wet all diapers in hot water and sprinkle a little Oxiclean on each individual diaper cover.  Rub the Oxiclean onto the fleece of the diaper, and also scrub the inside of the fleece (if it’s a pocket diaper).  I like to soak the diapers for at least 30 minutes in hot water before doing a wash on hot, followed by a second wash on hot and a rinse.  You should notice an immediate difference in the softness of your fleece diapers (they may have even felt sticky or “squeaky” before treating).

You’ve used rash creams: 

Don’t use non-cloth diaper safe rash creams.  Rash creams are nightmares for cloth diapers.  Rash creams can permanently stain your diapers, and also create a sticky barrier where liquid cannot pass.  This is the absolute last thing you want touching your diapers!

  • How to solve: If caught right away (like a once or twice accidental use by a daycare provider) rash creams can be mostly removed from cloth diapers.  There will probably be some residual staining to the diaper, but the absorbency can be restored.  Use Dawn dish soap with an old toothbrush, and scrub the area where the rash cream has contacted the diaper.  Scrub both the inside and outside of pocket diapers.

This is a nice video talking specifically about stripping diapers with repelling caused by hard water and using the wrong detergent.  In this case the blogger uses Calgon water softener and a detergent soak to remove build up from her diapers:

Consult your manufacturer's recommendations for how to strip diapers to avoid damaging diapers or voiding the warranty.  Some diapers have special detergent or temperature requirements.  Cloth Diaper Guru can not be held responsible for damage to diapers as a result of laundering or stripping.


  1. So...what if you used a "cloth diaper friendly" diaper rash ointment without a liner over a month ago? I'm having issues with my (favorite) Rumparooz pocket diapers and I'm guessing that is the issue since I've watched the YouTube video about putting them on baby properly. Two out of four leaked. I didn't know to use a liner when we began cloth diapering. I'm going to do the basic "strip" to see if that works. But if it doesn't? Also, on the Rumparooz website, it recommends USING detergents with enzymes, but didn't list any examples. Would you be able to recommend any specific detergent to try? Thank you!! :-)

    1. Rumparooz uses a thicker fleece, and, honestly, it caused some problems for me as well. Since the fleece is thicker, it is more prone to repelling issues (more fabric fibers for liquids to fight through). Definitely do the stripping procedure with the blue Dawn- as is suggested on their website. I found that harsher detergents worked better for Rumparooz. Rockin' Green or Tide are both good choices- Tide Original has enzymes and is safe for cloth diapers. You might need to plan for some maintenance stripping every few months. Oils from baby's skin will deposit onto fleece-lined diapers and if it isn't completely broken down in the wash it can eventually result in build-up. Good luck!

  2. Hi! I've been using Rockin' Green, and have never had repelling issues (using pockets for well over a year), until yesterday. So far it appears to only be *one* diaper in my stash. Liquid runs right off the fleece, leaving inserts clean and dry. Definitely not what I want. The fleece doesn't feel any different from how it did before… though I guess I should check across the diapers that are the same brand… I have stripped with RLR previously for stink, but since starting with Rockin' Green, I haven't had any further issues. My water is supposed to be on the soft side of normal, so we use Soft Rock… Any advice?

    1. Is that one diaper a different brand than the others--possibly a different fit? I would only worry if the baby is having leaks when waring the diaper because sometimes tossing some water onto any fleece will make it roll off if there is no pressure moving the liquid into the diaper. My other thought would be that someone was over zealous with rash cream and the diaper may have some oily residue on it. You could try rubbing some blue Dawn dish soap onto the diaper cover or soaking it in Oxiclean. Let me know how it goes!