Will my cloth diapers leak?
This is a question I am asked often. “I’m going to switch to (or start with) cloth diapers and I want something that doesn’t leak. What type of cover should I get?”
Let’s start with this: Cloth diapers should not leak. If you are experiencing leaking, you are experiencing a problem. (There are, however, some situations where some wicking or dampness is normal. More on that later.)
MOST leaking can actually be traced back to the diaper, not the cover. The cover’s function is simply to provide a barrier between the wet diaper and the clothes. Once a diaper is completely saturated, or if a diaper isn’t absorbing, the extra liquid is going to have to go somewhere, and the cover can’t prevent that. So if you’re having leaking, start by looking at the diaper.
- Have you washed them? Some diaper materials and some diaper brands need to be washed 1-3 or more times before use to attain full absorbency. Check with the manufacturer of your diapers. It’s always a good idea to wash any diaper before use, just to make sure any dirt from the manufacturing and shipping process has been removed.
- Does the diaper fit right? The elastic around the legs and waist should fit snugly against baby’s skin without cutting in. Gaps will allow urine to run right out, particularly around the legs. Diapers that are too small or too big will tend to leak.
- Is the diaper completely saturated? This is an indication that it is not absorbent enough for your needs (or that you’re not changing often enough).
- Is the diaper repelling? To check, take a clean, dry diaper and pour some water on it. Does the water soak in, or does it bead up and run off? If it beads and runs off, that’s repelling. See Stripping Diapers.
- Is the cover a good cover? Covers tend to wear out more quickly than diapers, and many covers that are purchased second-hand or given as hand-me-downs are at or near the end of their life span. Old covers sometimes just leak and there’s nothing to be done. Sometimes, you can revive an older cover by giving it a good spraying with a waterproofing spray (sold in sporting goods stores for tents).
- Is it a pocket or an all in one? Try running it through the dryer. Needle holes in these diapers can open up over time, causing wicking and leaking. Drying will help seal those holes back up.
- Have you overstuffed your pocket diaper? Overstuffing can actually cause the diaper to fit very oddly – the center of the diaper will be firmly against baby’s bottom, but the leg openings will be kind of hovering just above baby’s legs. This means that urine will tend to run down the baby’s legs and out the diaper.
- And a simple thing: Is the diaper completely inside the cover?
Are you experiencing wicking or dampness? Sometimes with fleece covers, if they’re pressed into clothes or pajamas, or a tight carseat strap, can experience compression wicking. This means that there might be some dampness on the outside of the cover in these situations that is to be expected. (Note: that doesn’t mean they WILL wick in these situations. Just that they might.)
Wool covers also function slightly differently than PUL covers do. Wool WILL feel damp on the outside with a completely saturated diaper. This is how wool works – it absorbs some of the moisture from the diaper, and pulls it to the air to evaporate.
Cloth diapers SHOULD NOT leak. If your diapers are leaking… that’s a problem that needs to be solved, not something you need to learn to live with, or a reason to switch to disposables.