Help, My Diapers are Stinky, Leaking, Repelling, or Visibly Dirty!

My diapers are stinky.

There are many causes of stinky diapers and many solutions to try.

  • Vinegar in the rinse. This can cause stinky diapers for some people, it can solve a stink problem for others, and it makes no difference for still others. If you have stinky diapers and you use vinegar, try cutting out the vinegar for a few washes. If you have stinky diapers and you don’t use vinegar, give it a try.
  • Detergent. Some detergents just don’t get things clean. Our family had terrible luck with Melaleuca detergent (but other families like it). Homemade laundry soaps often don’t result in a satisfactory clean, especially in hard water. For some, the “CD-safe” detergents just don’t get the job done. Consider switching brands.
  • Wash frequency. Diapers that sit for longer than three days can start to really absorb odors. If you can’t wash that often, at least rinse your diapers often.
  • Rinsing. A hot rinse can lock in odors and stains. Many families do not need a pre-rinse at all, but if you’re having stink problems, try a cold pre-rinse.
  • Diapers just not able to get completely clean. Maybe they’re too wadded up when you put them in the washer (like if you roll up your diapers when removing them from the baby). Or maybe your water level is too low to allow the diapers to agitate.
  • Not using enough detergent. Yes, if you use too much detergent, you could get detergent build-up, if it’s not getting effectively rinsed out. This is not as common as you might think. More common is too LITTLE detergent. If your diapers stink when you take them out of the dryer… they’re just not getting clean. “Barnyard stink” is often caused by too little detergent. Try using more detergent and hotter water.
  • Hard Water. Add a water softener like Calgon.
  • Join the FB group The Cloth Diaper Compenduim, read their files.

My diapers are leaking

Cloth diapers should not leak. Here are some common causes and solutions.

  • 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.
  • If you’re using a fitted or prefold, make sure the diaper is completely contained within the cover.
  • If you’re using a pocket, make sure the insert is completely inside the diaper, and not sticking out the back a bit.
  • 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 absorbent enough? 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.
  • Is your pocket or all in one wicking around the legs? Check to make sure that the fleece or suede inner is rolling to the OUTSIDE. Do not tuck this inner fabric back in! It should be touching baby’s skin all around the leg openings.
  • 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.
  • Is the leaking mostly at night, because baby is sleeping longer and going longer between changes? Up the absorbency and try a wool or fleece cover.
  • Are you using a waterproof cover? Fitted diapers and prefolded diapers must be paired with a cover to be waterproof. They can certainly be used without a cover, but they will not be waterproof.
  • Are you using prefolds that you fold into covers, relying on the cover to hold the diaper in place? Many families do this without problem, but sometimes, baby’s movements can make the diaper shift and bunch, which could mean that there’s no diaper where it needs to be when baby pees. Try using a Snappi or pins for a few days to see if that solves the problem.

Often, you can start your troubleshooting by looking at where the leak is coming from. Leaks around the waist are often caused by inserts or diapers not being completely contained by the cover. Leaks around the legs are most often caused by poor fit, not enough absorbency, or repelling. Leaking around the legs plus a diaper that is only damp usually means the diaper and cover are too big or not closed up tightly enough, or that the diaper is repelling.

My diapers don’t look clean

If your diapers are actually still dirty, you have a problem with your wash routine. Maybe you’re wadding the diapers up too tightly when you toss them in the pail, maybe your water level is too low in the washer, or maybe your detergent just isn’t getting the job done.

If your diapers are dingy, it’s probably your detergent. Try another brand.

If your diapers are stained, well, that’s pretty normal. We are talking about poop, after all. Hang them out in the sun, or try some Bac-Out.

My diapers are actually repelling water

This can be caused by soap build-up (not usually by regular detergents), by fabric softeners, by diaper ointments, or even by using too much essential oil in the wash. See Stripping Diapers to take care of this problem.


Author: sarahtar

Hi, I am Sarah, owner of Wallypop ( and Boulevard Designs ( I homeschool, work from home, and, along with my husband, raise 3 kids, one of whom has special and medical needs. Turn ons are people who are polite, honesty, and really good root beer. Turn offs are mean people and people who make my life more difficult.

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