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CD Tip: Preventing and Treating Mold in Your Diapers

Posted by Valerie on 6/11/2013 to Cloth Diaper How-To

Warm weather is here and the time is right for picnics, playdates, and trips to the beach. Warmer temperatures are often accompanied by an increase in humidity, which can bring about an increase in mold. While mold in diapers is not terribly common, the majority of the calls and emails we receive about moldy diapers come in the summer months.

What is mold?

Molds are a type of fungus that can grow indoors and outdoors. Tens of thousands of species of mold exist throughout the world. Warm, humid climates encourage mold growth, which is why we are more prone to see mold in the summer months and in our bathrooms and kitchens. Mold can be black, green, red or brown in color and often gives off a musty odor. In some individuals mold exposure can cause nasal stuffiness, wheezing, and eye and skin irritation. While not all molds are harmful to all individuals, mold has the potential to be toxic and we want to take extra precautions to keep our families safe.

How can I prevent mold?

Benjamin Franklin once said “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” This definitely rings true in regards to mold. Since mold thrives in moist environments, the best way to prevent mold is to minimize your diapers’ exposure to humidity.

  • Store your dirty diapers in a cool, dry place. It might seem logical to store dirty diapers in your bathroom or laundry room, however these rooms are often warmer and have higher humidity than the other rooms in your home.
  • Make sure your diapers are well-ventilated. Sometimes this is as easy as leaving your wet bag cracked open or removing the lid from your diaper pail. Some people may find it is necessary to run a dehumidifier (especially if your home is just prone to mold), but running your AC unit can often have a similar effect.
  • Wash your diapers regularly. I always recommend washing your diapers every other day. Not only can this preserve the quality of your diapers, but it can also help with mold and ammonia issues. Washing frequently does not allow mold the chance to grow. Some of our customers wash daily during particularly warm or humid weeks.
  • Maintain your washing machine per the manufacturer guidelines. Mold can grow in your washing machine and imbed itself in cloth fibers during the wash cycle. Be certain to follow manufacturer instructions to keep your washing machine clean and sanitized.

How do I treat my diapers if they have mold?

Mold on your diapers isn’t the end of the world, but you do need to act quickly to prevent the problem from spreading. All of the diapers sharing the storage space will need to be treated regardless of how many diapers are actually affected by mold. There are a few methods you can use to treat your diapers:

  • Bleach. Chlorine bleach can kill mold. I recommend using 1/4 cup of bleach in your top-loader, or just 1/8 cup in a front-loader. Just pour the bleach into the appropriate receptacle in your washer and run a hot wash cycle. This method is generally safe for pockets, covers, and prefolds, but you will want to try a different method if you are using a dyed or printed natural fiber (such as a fitted).
    *The use of chlorine bleach may void your manufacturer’s warranty, so I always recommend reaching out to the manufacturer to confirm that using bleach is safe in this type of situation.
  • White Vinegar. Vinegar is mildly acidic and has the capability to kill a majority of mold species. You can spray vinegar directly on your diaper or add 1/8-1/4 cup to your wash cycle. Vinegar is less hazardous than chlorine bleach, however it is not as effective and will require multiple treatments to ensure the mold has died.
    *The use of vinegar may void your manufacturer’s warranty, so I always recommend reaching out to the manufacturer to confirm that using bleach is safe in this type of situation.
  • Tea Tree Oil. Tea tree oil can be used to treat mold, however it needs to be in a concentration of at least 4% in order to be effective. I recommend mixing a few drops of tea tree oil with a tablespoon of water and a small amount of detergent and spot scrubbing with a toothbrush. Follow up with a regular hot wash. This method works well on a small number of diapers, however it can be quite costly if your whole stash needs treatment.
  • Grapefruit Seed Extract. Like tea tree oil, grapefruit seed extract is a natural mold-killer, however it can also be costly. I recommend mixing 5-10 drops of grapefruit seed extract with half a cup of water and spraying it directly on the affected diaper. Allow the diaper to sit for 30-60 minutes and follow up with a hot wash.
  • Sunlight. UV rays from sunlight are effective at sanitizing your diapers. Sunning diapers works in some areas, however it may not be worthwhile if you live in an extremely humid climate or have an abundance of mold spores in your environment.

Bleach is definitely the most effective and least costly method for treating mold in your diapers, particularly if you have a large number of diapers that are affected. I certainly understand why some families may choose not to use bleach and I encourage you to weigh both the risks and the benefits before choosing a course of action. Mold can often stain fabrics which makes it hard to tell if the mold is actually dead. It is always a good idea to thoroughly inspect your diapers following treatment. Do not put a diaper on your child if you have any reason to believe the mold may still be living. Try retreating your diapers if the problem still exists. Remember to sanitize your diaper pail and/or wet bag to prevent further occurences.

Continuous bouts of mold in your diapers is not to be expected. If you have problems with persistent mold it may be worthwhile to have a specialist inspect your home for mold and moisture damage.

For More Information

I recommend checking out the following resources if you would like to learn more about mold and it's effects: