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Why are my cloth nappies smelly?

HELP MY NAPPIES ARE SMELLY!


This can cause some parents a lot of problems in the laundry. I often get asked how to fix nappies that smell. There are only a few things that cause your nappies to smell and it is a matter of trialing a few different things to find your solution.

I hear a lot of parents complaining about a brand of nappies because they smell. When you first got the nappies they were brand new and had no odor at all. In fact you may have used them for several months and then all of a sudden they start to smell, generally when the baby wees in them. This is not a fault with the nappy or the brand. The question is what has happened to the nappies that has caused them to smell or what has changed with the baby in order for the smell to suddenly appear.

I would highly recommend not getting angry with the brand or your supplier as it is not their fault. But if you go to them and ask for their advice they are generally more than happy to assist you to help figure it out.

Always wash the nappies how the manufacturer suggests, especially to protect your warranty. Check the temperature restrictions and find out if they have suggestions on how you can best wash their nappies. They should know everything about their nappy brand.

But for now I am going to give you some advice which will help you prevent them from getting smelly and also highlight a few of the common causes of stinky nappies.
 

Prevention

 
  1. Rinse the nappies

    Either in the toilet by sluicing, rinse under a tap or install a nappy sprayer. Nappies that are sitting around soaked in urine can become damaged. I have seen nappies that have become threadbare because they have been sitting around for a few days every time they are used and eventually the fabric starts to wear away where the soiling is. This I saw with bamboo nappies especially. It is also best to rinse as soon as the nappy is removed because excess soiling and urine are easier to move when it is fresh.

  2. Wash regularly

    I suggest washing every day especially in the summer months. But if you don't wash every day, wash at least every other day. If you leave them for long periods hanging around in buckets, the odors may get stuck in the fabrics. This I found was especially the case with synthetic fabrics. If they are left too long you also risk mold because they are sitting in a damp state. They can also start smelling quite musty if they are not washed regularly.

  3. Make sure you are using the right cycle.

    When you wash your nappies, make sure you are using the best cycle. Some of the new eco friendly machines use much less water, which is great but often we over fill them with clothes or nappies so they don't wash the garments as effectively. So don't overfill the washing machine and that will help the wash be more thorough.

    Also if you do shorter washes it does not allow time for the detergent to do its job properly, especially if you are washing on cold. So it can be helpful to add an additional rinse cycle to my wash to make sure any detergent used has been rinsed properly out of the nappy.



My Nappies Are Smelly Now - What can I do?

We need to find the reason they are smelly.  There are three general reasons:

  • You are not using enough detergent and washing on cold
  • You are using too much detergent
  • The Urine smells like ammonia
 

You are not using enough detergent and washing on cold

 

I know there are lots of people who use half the suggested amount of detergent for a wash.  That is fine if your nappies are coming out clean. 

However, the detergent is what cleans your nappies.  If you don't use enough your nappies will not get properly cleaned.  You need to check what it says on the back of your detergent pack and use what it says.  Sometimes you can get away with using a bit less but if you notice that they are not getting properly clean you need to use the recommended amount. 

I also find that sometimes people are simply washing with the wrong stuff.  Everyone's water quality and washing machine is different and so not every washing product will suit everyone.  Normally what you use on your clothes will be fine but if you find the nappies are getting smelly, switch brands and try a different product and see if that makes a difference.  Most people need to try a few different ones before they find the best one for their household .

Also remember if you are constantly washing on cold and finding soap powder residue in your nappies, your cold wash is not working with your washing product properly and so it is likely your nappies and clothes are not getting properly clean.  It may pay to change to a warm wash and see what a difference that can make to the cleanliness of your washing.
 

You are using too much detergent


This is another common problem.  Because nappies are 'dirty' people often add a bit extra to their wash to get them cleaner.  If you add too much detergent, the wash cycle will not have a chance to get it all out.  So it builds up in the nappy.  Sometimes the nappies can get a bit stiff from a detergent build up but the most common one is that a detergent build up can react with the urine when it comes out and cause your baby's nappies to be stinky instantly.

Sometimes people are simply washing with the wrong stuff.  Everyone's water quality and washing machine is different and so not every washing product will suit everyone.  Normally what you use on your clothes will be fine but if you find the nappies are getting smelly, switch brands and try a different product and see if that makes a difference.  Most people need to try a few different ones before they find the best one for their household .

Try washing your nappies on a longer cycle and make sure the water is able to rinse out the detergent properly - so add an extra rinse cycle. 

If they are have gotten really bad then there are a couple of things you can do.
  1. Hot soak your nappies (check manufacturers suggested temperatures) for an hour or so in a bucket (or your machine) with 1 whole cap-full of your washing liquid or a scoop of powder. (You require slightly more liquid to help to dissolve the residue). You can then wash as usual. It may be necessary to hot soak 2 – 3 times, depending on the amount of oil buildup.  
  2. If that doesn't work then you may need to strip the nappies which you can find all of the information for that on my strip washing page here


Then go back to washing your nappies with the correct amount of washing detergent.
 

My Baby's urine smells like ammonia


This is actually quite common.  You may think it is the nappy that is smelly because every time they wee in it it smells.  But it can be because the wee smells and then of course that is absorbed by the nappy which makes you think it is a problem with the nappy.

It could be caused buy the foods your baby is consuming, medication they are on or perhaps it could be because your baby is unwell or that they are teething.

It may not actually be in the nappy it maybe in the urine itself which of course ends up in the nappy.  If you are worried about the smell or colour of your baby's urine, seek medical advice with your local doctor.

If you find your babies nappies are really pongy, make sure you give the nappies a really good rinse before putting them in the bucket.  If it is really bad, I would rinse them and then store them in a wet bucket until it changes.

You definitely want to add an extra rinse cycle to the wash for this one and I would also invest in some Canesten Hygiene Rinse or Detol in Wash and pop a cap-full in the final rinse which will give them an antibacterial / anti-fungal treatment as well.

 

Here are a few reasons why your babies urine might smell of ammonia

Dehydration

If your baby is dehydrated, his/her urine is likely to be very concentrated, which can often lead to a strong ammonia odor. If you smell it as soon as you walk in to your baby's bedroom in the morning, then dehydration may be the cause. It is possible, that your baby has not had enough water before going to bed, which can cause the urine to be concentrated and smell like ammonia.

Also keep a watch on the color of the urine. The darker the color of the urine is, more dehydrated the child is.

Foods

A high ammonia smell can be present in your baby's urine at different times.  It can be dependent on the food they are eating i.e Asparagus always makes urine more smelly.

If your baby is eating a diet high in protein, a higher quantity of ammonia is produced, which is then excreted through their urine. So if you have recently changed your baby's diet this may be the cause.  Or if your baby is eating a diet that is high in nitrogen this can lead to excess ammonia in their system. Foods  that are high in ammonia are things like soybeans, cheese, meat, and eggs.

Keep an eye on your baby's diet, does the problem arise only after consumption of these foods?

There is some great info about this at Buzzle: http://www.buzzle.com/articles/ammonia-smelling-urine-in-children.html

Bacteria:

Bacteria can build up in your nappies if you have a soap powder residue in them or from cold washing all of the time.  This can also cause your nappies to smell.  The best thing to do is pop the nappies through a hot wash (60 degrees) and add a bit of Detol laundry liquid or Canesten Hygiene rinse which is an antifungal, antibacterial treatment. and make sure you do an extra rinse at the end.

Important: If you are worried about the smell or colour of your baby's urine, seek medical advice with your local doctor.


 

Specialized Nappy Washing Products



There are lots of excellent products out on the market that are made specifically for washing cloth nappies or some even have special formulas to use on smelly nappies.  They are a little more expensive to buy but if you only use it for your nappies the pack will last you a long time.  There are also a number of companies who now make their own washing products to go with their nappies.  Most companies have a sample pack you can buy to have a try of the product, or some will send out a free sample with a nappy order. 

They are all lovely products but as with your day to day brands, they work for some and not for others depending on water quality etc.  But they are definitely worth a try.