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Cloth Diaper Tip: Are My Diapers Repelling?

Posted by Valerie on 6/25/2013 to Cloth Diaper How-To

My typical day at Diaper Junction goes a little like this. Log in to my computer. Sip on some iced coffee while I check email. Then I move on to help the shipping and receiving team process some orders. Somewhere between talking about our kids and postmarking orders the phone will ring, "Thank you for calling Diaper Junction. This is Valerie."

Okay, so maybe it isn't quite that dramatic, but I certainly understand where the frustrated voice on the other end of the phone is coming from. There is a TON of information on the internet about leaking diapers, repelling diapers, stripping diapers--it's enough to make your head spin! Hopefully I can dispell a couple myths and help you understand what may be happening with your diapers should you ever be in this situation. Also, I'm gonna show you a few pictures of a totally handsome kid along the way.

Myth #1: My diapers are leaking, they must be repelling.

Diaper leaks are most likely to be caused by a poor fit or not enough absorbency. If you are finding that your inserts are only lightly damp and you are consistently leaking from the same area, then you should check the fit of your diaper. A good-fitting diaper will fit snug at the leg and the waist with no gaps and will allow the body of the diaper to fit flush against the skin. You should be able to work a finger into the leg and waist opening, but you should not be able to easily slide multiple fingers in.

No gaps in the leg or waist.

On the other hand, if you are finding your inserts are pretty wet you will probably just need to add some absorbency to your diaper. Most babies will have a change in absorbency around around 6-9 months, and then again around 18 months. You may also find that your child has a greater output during warmer months when they are consuming more liquids. This does not mean you will need new diapers--you might just need to add some extra absorbency in the form of a booster or doubler. For instance, in the picture below my son is wearing the same Flip diaper cover. At 2 months and 12 pounds the Flip Stay Dry insert was more than adequate. When he was 26 months and 32 pounds, though, we needed a Thirsties hemp insert added to keep up with his water intake.

Same kid, same diaper--different absorbency needs.

Myth #2: I know my diapers are repelling because water is beading up on my stay-dry lining.

Microfiber requires compression to allow liquid to pass through. This means that simply pouring or dropping water on the stay dry lining is not an adequate test to determine absorbency. It is very common for water to ball up or roll off of your diaper when you do a drop test. A proper test requires there be something under the stay dry liner to absorb, as well as pressure placed on the stay dry liner to encourage the liquid to flow through.

It is easy to do your own absorbency test to determine if your diaper is repelling. All you will need is a pocket diaper, 2 inserts, and a cup of water. You will just need one insert if you are testing an All-in-One style diaper.

You will need a pocket diaper, 2 inserts, and a cup of water.

Stuff your diaper with one of the inserts and lay it open on a flat surface. If you are testing an AIO diaper, simply lay it open.

Stuff your pocket.

Take your extra inserts and dip it in the cup of water. It is ok if the insert is dripping.

Stuff your pocket.

Press the soaked portion of the insert into the wet zone of the diaper you are testing. Use firm pressure to simulate the weight of a baby's body. Don't be afraid to lightly squeeze the insert to encourage a more rapid release of water.

Stuff your pocket.

You should see the liquid transfer from the insert, through the stay-dry lining, and then into the insert inside the pocket. During my test I was easily able to get 8 ounces of water to pass through.


Okay, so you checked your fit and inserts and did the repellency test and you think your diapers truly are repelling. No problem--we can totally fix this! It might take a little work, but there are things you can do to help your diapers regain their absorbent properties and prevent repelling in the future.

Tips for bringing life to your diapers:

  • Check for physical signs of build-up. This includes odd textures or stains on your diaper. If you are able to designate specific areas with build I recommend spot treating them with a toothbrush and a miniscule amount of dish soap (seriously, not even a whole drop--that stuff is potent!).
  • If you have soft to average water and your whole stash needs a deep cleaning, I recommend washing your diapers to remove soil and fresh urine, then following up with multiple hot washes with no detergent. Sometimes we just need to break up all the stuff that has built up in our diapers over time. I always recommend starting with just water--I mean, why are we going to add more stuff to the wash if we are ultimately trying to get stuff out of our diapers, right?
  • If you have hard water OR if straight hot washes aren't doing the trick, then I recommend following up with a laundry treatment such as RLR or GroVia Mighty Bubbles. Once again, follow the treatment with multiple hot washes with no detergent so we can rinse everything out. I strongly recommend consulting with your diaper care instructions to ensure any laundry additives will not void your diaper warranty. Contact your manufacturer if you are not sure--they pay people to help you with these things!

Things you probably should NOT do to "strip" your diapers:

  • Squirt dish soap in your washing machine. For one, it will void your washing machine warranty, and that would kinda stink. Also, contrary to popular belief, dish soap is not effective on diapers. Dish soap is formulated to remove grease from hard surfaces. Your diapers should not contain grease and they aren't hard. I know you will read a hundred stories telling you dish soap works and their diapers smell fresh. That fresh smell is the dish soap--it sticks around FOR-EV-ER. Also, in my experience most people using dish soap are going through this routine regularly, meaning they aren't really fixing the problem.
  • Use vinegar in your rinse cycle. Let me clarify--vinegar is AWESOME as a rinse aid for freshly washed diapers. It helps alkalis rinse cleanly from your laundry and leaves them soft and fresh. With that said, vinegar is not effective in removing build-up and set-in diaper funk. Also, vinegar can void your manufaturer's warranty.
  • Boil your inserts. Boiling isn't the worst thing for natural fibers, however it can ruin microfiber in a heartbeat. Microfibers contain tiny little channels that, over time, can break down and collapse. Over exposure to high heat is one of the things that can prematurely end the life of microfiber.

Some thoughts to consider to prevent build-up and repelling:

  • Make sure you are using a cloth diaper safe detergent. You want something clean-rinsing and additive-free. Contrary to popular belief, all "free and clear" style detergents are not clean-rinsing or additive free--they are allergen free. Avoid optical brighteners, fabric softeners, dyes, fragrance, and stain repellers. Also, avoid detergents with pure soap--this includes most homemade detergent recipes. Pure soap is a fabulous cleanser, however it does not rinse clean very easily, and it especially does not like to rinse out of synthetic fabrics.
  • Read the ingredients on your diaper cream. Zinc oxide and white petrolatum are commonly used as a protective barrier, however neither will rinse out of your diapers without a lot of effort. Look for creams with coconut oil, olive oil, and shea butter. Do not hesitate to ask if you have questions about your diaper cream.
  • Avoid baby oil. Baby oil is simply fragranced mineral oil, and it does NOT like to rinse out of anything. I do not recommend using baby oil as a moisturizer or in any diaper-related skin care, whether applied directly on the skin or used in a wipes solution, when you are using cloth diapers.
  • Keep it simple. Don't overthink your diaper routine. Ask an expert if you need help--we want you to succeed!

I hope I have given you some things to think about. If anything, I hope you enjoyed looking at the pictures of that really good-looking baby. If you ever get stuck or frustrated, just remember we are only a call or email away!