Wednesday, April 25, 2012
Our Dirty Little Cloth-Diapering Secret: Ammonia Problems
proponent of cloth diapers. I have found them to be superior to disposables in every way (except that disposables come out a little ahead in the "convenience" department). So when I finally had to admit to myself several months ago that our cloth diapers were definitely the cause of a nasty recurring rash that Sly had been getting, I just stayed quiet about it. I didn't want anyone to start doubting the greatness of cloth diapers, or to be even more intimidated about giving them a try!
But now that I've finally managed to tackle the problem, it's time for me to come clean (just as our diaper stash, after two grueling months of experimental laundry treatments has finally "come clean"!).
I first noticed a problem when Sly began breaking out in all these little bumps in his "diaper area". They looked pretty unpleasant, and when they got really bad, would crack and bleed. He was not a happy little man. I consulted several pediatricians about it, was given various diagnoses and medications which didn't work. Finally, we were sent to a pediatric dermatologist. He was certain he knew what it was, and gave us a really expensive medication mixture to use. But that didn't work either. When the rash got really bad, I began switching Sly to disposables for a few days just so I could use Desitin on the area (which you aren't supposed to use with cloth diapers, since it clogs up the pores and reduces their absorbancy), and the rash would always clear right up. As soon as we switched back to cloth, it would return.
I realized that modern doctors really don't have much experience with cloth diapers, and if the issue was being caused by that, I would need to consult an "expert" in that field. So I went to my local awesome cloth diaper store. I described the rash Sly had, and the owner immediately recognized my problem: "ammonia burn". Yikes.
He asked whether our diapers smelled like ammonia when they were wet, and Tom and I both shouted, "YES!" That has been an issue for us for a long time now, and we both just assumed Sly had developed really strong pee or something. But apparently, they aren't supposed to smell like that...haha.
It was explained that when urine dries in a diaper, it can leave behind uric acid crystals which don't get washed out in the laundry. When the baby pees in the diaper again, these crystals get reactivated, creating immediate ammonia. As anyone who's used it to clean with knows, ammonia is pretty nasty stuff. The problem, though, is that ammonia issues can also sometimes be caused by build-up of detergent in the diapers or by bacteria. So in order to fix it, you really need to approach it from all three fronts.
So then began my long crusade to get rid of the problem. I hope someone can find this little guide useful.
If ammonia is caused by...
Uric Acid Build-up
To prevent: Pre-soak or spray all wet diapers before throwing them into your laundry bin. We had only been doing this for poopy diapers in the past.
To get rid of: Strip all diapers (several wash cycles in a row using the hottest water possible). Try a product such as Funk Rock to blast the ammonia.
To prevent: Use less detergent (see directions on your package - you usally need less than you think), or switch brands. The water quality in different parts of the country can really affect the ability of different brands to effectively clean your diapers. Most people need to try a few different ones before they find the right fit. Also, add a second hot rinse after washing/rinsing the diapers.
To get rid of: Strip all diapers [see above].
To prevent: Follow proper wash routines - a cold pre-wash, a hot wash/rinse using your detergent, and another hot rinse. About once a month, you can add a Tablespoon of bleach (check diaper instructions and warranties first!) to your hot wash.
To get rid of: This is the last thing I tried, and the one that finally took care of the ammonia once and for all. I had to just blast the diapers with bleach. I poured in about a quarter cup while it ran on hot, then rinsed twice. Make sure diapers are already clean before you start, and do not put any PUL covers in - JUST the cloth. The bleach can degrade the water-proofing material on the covers.
The process was frustrating, and required several more phone-calls to the cloth diaper store for suggestions. But finally, the ammonia is GONE, and now, thankfully, I know how to prevent it. No more yucky rash for my baby. No more nostril-burning ammonia smell for us.