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Why are my cloth nappies leaking?

Leaking cloth nappies is a big reason why parents get frustrated with cloth nappies.


The best news is that it is often an easy thing to fix if you know what the problem is in the first place. I have outlined a few issues I know parents have.

Many parents have huge expectations of cloth nappies because they pay $20 - $40 per nappy. When you are only paying $0.80c each for a disposable, you tend to find leakage frustrating but then you can just buy a different brand to try next time. With cloth nappies you have a significant investment and you need to make it work.

Unfortunately the nappies that you buy may not always be perfect for your child from Birth to Toilet Training. Especially because your child's needs change over time. When they are a newborn you need containment for runny poo and they only wee a little bit at a time. When they are older their poo is more solid and they hold the wee in for a long time and let it go all at once. So your nappies may be leaking because the nappy is not meeting their current needs.

Also nappies will wear out. They are a fabric garment and have elastic which keeps the leg fit nice and snug. If you have second hand nappies and they have been well used or if you are using the same nappies on a second baby, the elastic will have been washed numerous times and it doesn't last forever. Think of your own underwear. You wouldn't expect to wear the same underwear everyday for a couple of years and then expect it to still fit awesomely. If the elastic is had it then the nappy wont fit unless it is possible to repair it.

There are lots of different reasons but I hope to be able to give you lots of ideas on how you might be able to work with what you have.  

My New Nappies Are Leaking

This is a common complaint I have from parents new to cloth nappies. When fabrics are new, they are not really absorbent to start with. Take a new towel or tea towel, they don't seem to work well for quite a while. You always reach for the most absorbent ones.

However it is a really simple problem to rectify and you can do this with your any new towels or tea towels. All you need to do is get all of your new nappies and soak them for 24 hours in a bucket of cold water (no detergent). This makes the nappies soak up as much liquid as possible over the 24 hours and they will become really heavy and sopping wet. Once you have done this, pop the nappies though a normal wash and they will be all ready to go and will be nearly 100% absorbent.

My Nappies Don't Seem To Be Absorbing

Barrier creams and nappy balms are generally oil or fat based and they build up in a fabric it can cause the nappy to leak. Even the most natural oils that some parents use like Cocoanut oil, will build up in your nappy overtime, especially if you always wash on cold. It is not possible for oils and fats to break down in a cold wash.

So if you are using something on your baby's skin, I would suggest regularly washing on warm to help prevent it from building up in the layers of fabric or on the stay-dry liner like the one in a pocket nappy. Every now and then you may need to strip wash your nappies which you can find out about here

The Whole Nappy is Soaked

If the whole nappy is soaked and it didn't leak out, great it is doing it's job. However if the whole nappy is soaked and liquid has overflowed out then the nappy is not absorbent enough for your baby right now.

Regardless of the type of nappy you are using, you need to change the nappy frequently. If the nappy has been on the baby for only a short time and all of the fabric inside is sopping wet, the nappy may not have enough absorbency for your baby at that time. In this case I would look at weather the nappy is suitable for your baby.

Perhaps your baby is a heavy wetter and needs to have more absorbent nappies (read about the different styles of nappies here) or needs some extra layers - but beware of over stuffing. For heavy wetters I have always found that natural fabrics are generally better. Fabrics such as Hemp, Cotton Terry Toweling and Bamboo are far more absorbent over a long period of time than synthetic fabrics.

Remember as your baby grows their needs change. In the early days they wee a little bit at a time. As they get older the start holding on to it and letting a lot more go all at once. So A newborn baby and a toddler will have different needs.

It is not often that a baby will use the same nappies all of the time from birth to potty. You may find that you need a combination of nappies that suit your baby.

Other Reasons For Leaking

If the nappy has leaked and the fabric inside the nappy is still quite dry, it could be because of one of the three reasons explained below.

There are generally three places you get leakage:

  • Out the top of a nappy
  • Out the side of a nappy
  • Up the back of a nappy
  • Or in the case of a poonami - all three.

Leaking out the Top of the Nappy


This can be cause by people stuffing the insert too far up the front of a pocket style nappy.  Or it can be because the stay dry layer has rolled out the front of the nappy and this will cause it to wick out on anything touching it.

Another thing can be if there is a piece of clothing that has been tucked inside the nappy when it has been done up.  This can be a common problem with tummy sleepers especially where the insert in a pocket nappy has been pushed right to the front of the nappy.

The reason is; that the bulk of the fabric starts putting pressure on the seams. If you are using a synthetic fabric, you many find that if the insert is over full, the pressure of them lying on their stomach may allow excess liquid to leave the insert and seep through the seams up the front especially if there is pressure on them.

To prevent this, ensure that there is a couple of fingers gap between the top of the insert and the top of the nappy. Make sure that the inside layers are all tucked in and that there is no stay dry layers showing and that none of their clothing is tucked in the front of the nappy.

Perhaps try a natural insert instead of a synthetic one to see if changing the fabric makes a difference for you.

Or in my case with having a boy, sometimes it was just that his bits were facing up instead of down.


Leaking out of the Side of a nappy


This is often caused by fit issues or because the nappy has been over stuffed full of absorbent boosters.

Over stuffing will put pressure on the leg seams and could allow liquid to escape through stitching holes that have been stretched open because too many inserts have been put inside the nappy. 

You need to make sure that the nappy is fitting nicely around the thigh so that it can create a seal.  If the nappy is too small or too big this can cause it to leak.  You will need to adjust the fit settings.  Make sure the domes are all done up in the right place or make sure the velcro is straight.

If you are finding the inside of their thighs are getting wet but when you take the nappy off it is quite dry here are a few things you can try.

  • Make sure there are no gaps around the thigh when you fit the nappy.
    • Are all of the snap in the right place, is the velcro straight
    • Make sure you are using the right size nappy
    • Using a nappy that is too small or too big can make it leak
    • One Size Nappies fit most babies but not all babies and they don't give a perfect fit all of the time
  • Make sure that you don't have too many inserts inside the nappy
    • If you have too many layers inside the nappy it can make it impossible to get a nice thigh fit
  • Make sure the liquid can get to the absorbent layers
    • If you have been using barrier creams or nappy balms, it may have built up on the liner layer and be preventing the liquid from getting through to the absorbency below. If this is the case you will need to Strip wash your nappies - find out how here


If you have done your best and you cant get it to stop leaking, just pop a waterproof cover over the top of the nappy for now.  It is likely that your baby's shape has changed and there is nothing you can do about it right now except make what you have got work.


Leaking out the Back of a Nappy


If you are using pocket nappies and the nappy is leaking up the back, make sure that the absorbent layers are flat and not poking out the back of the nappy.

If you are using fitted nappies, ensure that the entire fitted absorbent nappy is covered by the waterproof cover. I used to find sometime because you change them lying on their back we would forget to check if any of the nappy was poking out or if his singlet was caught in the back.


The Poonami


Unfortunately this is an unavoidable situation. Sometimes it doesn't matter what nappy you are using, there is all together too much that comes out at one time and it leaks out of every possible place. This is when you tend to have to change everything. Some of you will be lucky that you never have to experience this but the ones who have know exactly what I am taking about.