Cloth Diapers 101: When Good Diapers Go Stinky

First of all let me be clear if you’re new to cloth diapers or just curious: good cloth diapers with a proper wash routine DO NOT SMELL. But, smells can happen. The good news? Stinky diapers can be solved!

Whether it be an ammonia, musty, or ‘barnyard’ smells, these lingering odors can be extremely frustrating to deal with. Figuring out the cause of your stinky diapers is the key to finding a solution, and I am here today to walk you through it!

At Lil Helper we receive emails every single day from caregivers who are desperate to find a solution to their stinky diaper problem. One of the first things we do when we receive these emails is encourage the caregiver to check out our handy ‘Stinky Diapers App’.

This simple online quiz can help you get to the root of your odour issue lickety-split! We cannot discuss diaper odour without talking about laundry routine. When caring for your cloth diapers on a day-to-day basis, here is what we at Lil Helper suggest:

Storing Cloth Diapers:

Prior to washing, soiled diapers should be rinsed of any solids (aka- poop!), the inserts unsnapped from the covers, and stored in a diaper pail or wetbag for no longer than 3 days. 


When wash-day rolls around, we suggest washing your diapers twice— a pre wash to remove most of the pee, followed immediately by a heavy duty wash. It goes without saying that washed, damp cloth diapers should never be left to sit in a washing machine for longer than 8 hours, as this can lead to mildew growth.


Hang drying your diaper covers and inserts in a well ventilated room (or outside) is always ideal, however diapers can be dried in a tumble dryer on a low setting if needed. We suggest that you remove the covers after 10-20 minutes as they will dry faster than inserts, and they are more likely to be damaged by heat than the inserts because they are largely PUL.

But what happens if you follow all these guidelines and you still encounter an odour issue? Here are some other things to keep in mind:

With Cloth Diapers, Detergent Matters!

Not every detergent is cloth diaper friendly. Generally speaking ‘free and clear’ detergents are not ideal for cloth diapers, and this is especially true if you have hard water. We encourage caregivers to check out the Flufflove University Detergent Index to find a detergent that will work for them.

How hard is your water?

This part of the wash routine is often overlooked and is a common culprit in cases of smells and leaks with cloth diapers. It is not enough to know if your water is hard or soft. You want to have the exact value or range of your hardness. This is because treatment of the water is dependent on the hardness value. 

You can obtain water hardness test strips from Amazon, Walmart, or your local hardware or pool supply stores.

What happens if your water tests hard?

Don’t stress! Borax (in Canada) is your easiest option as a water softener. Simply adding ½ a cup to your wash loads can solve a water hardness issue for many folks.

Are your loads ‘bulky’ enough?

Making sure your load is properly bulked is a critical component to the recipe and it often times overlooked. Proper bulking leads to better agitation and cleaner cloth diapers.

Adequate bulking is done differently depending on the type of washer you have. I will include a brief summary on how to do it both ways. Keep in mind when bulking a load you want to ensure you use nothing larger than a t-shirt. We often suggest using baby clothes and wash cloths. 

FRONT LOADER: This one is simple. Visually, you want your washer to be 2/3-3/4 full. 

TOP LOADER: This is a bit more complicated.

Step 1. Fill your washer with your items and water. 

Step 2. Now, stop the washer (please do this we don’t want anyone getting hurt checking their loads) & push down on the diapers until you feel resistance. You want to see about 3-4 inches of water above the diapers. If you have less its too full. If you have more it's not bulked enough. 

Clean that washing machine.

Washing machines get dirty. Lingering bacteria and ickiness in your machine can lead to transfer onto your clean cloth diapers. We recommend washing your machine once a month. This can be done by hand or by using the ‘self clean’ feature on your newer machines

The sun + Cloth Diapers = best friends!

Nothing kills bacteria quite like UV rays. If the weather permits, we encourage you to hang your diapers out in the sun for a full day. From sun-up to sun-down. Flip the liners over once in the middle of the day if you can.

When all else fails, bring in the bleach soak.

If you have done all of the above things and you are still dealing with persistent stinky diapers, it may be time to bring out the big guns. The Bleach Soak. This should be done in absolute worst-case-scenarios only, when all else has failed. For details on how to do a bleach soak properly, and with as minimal amount of damage to your precious cloth diapers as possible, check our knowledge base.

PHEW! That was a lot of information! If you have read this post and you’re still feeling overwhelmed by your stinky diapers, please know that you can email our incredible Delight Team any time at They would be happy to work with you directly to get to the bottom of your stinky diapers once and for all (and don’t forget our handy stinky app- a great place to send all the info to Delight fast, to save you time emailing back and forth!)

Talk to us about your experience with stinky cloth diapers! How did you solve it?