Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Fluff Talk Thursday #19- Ammonia Smell, Cause and Treatment

Ammonia Smell, Cause and Treatment

If you have been cloth diapering for any amount of time, I am sure you have encountered ammonia smell coming from your baby's diapers. If you are like me, you are also fed up with dealing with the retched smell!

Let's first figure out the possible causes:
  • Detergent residue
  • Leaving diapers too long in pail
  • Urine residue
  • Dehydration in Baby
  • Washer not thoroughly cleaning
  • Hard water issues
  • Bacteria

Detergent residue- Detergent residue is thought to be the #1 cause for ammonia odor in cloth diapers. Detergent residue is caused when diapers are not rinsed properly, too much detergent is used, or using the wrong type of detergent. Make sure you are using a cloth diaper approved detergent. Click here for list of brands that are okay. When washing cloth diapers you only need half the amount of detergent you normally use. Be sure to use enough water to ensure diapers have plenty of room to agitate. Don't overload your washer, if you have a large load of diapers split it into two smaller loads. After the first initial rinse, do not let your diapers spin out. Cloth diapers are very absorbent. If your cloth diapers are already saturated from the rinse, this will make cleaning easier as they are not working on absorbing again. Dirty water is worked out more efficiently.

Leaving diapers too long in pail- You will need to wash your cloth diapers every other day to stay on top of odor. Leaving your diapers to set longer than this causes bacteria growth in the diapers. Also, be sure you are using a dry pail storage method. Wet pails have been known to create more bacteria in diapers.

Urine residue- If your diapers smell clean after being washed but then have a strong ammonia smell after the first urination, urine residue could be the problem. Our bodies naturally contain ammonia. Ammonia in our bodies is created into urine. After the urine is released, it turns back into ammonia. This then causes the foul smell we have all come to hate. This is also a sign it is time to strip your diapers! Stripping cloth diapers can be done by soaking diapers in very hot vinegar water, followed by several hot water rinses. You may need to bleach your inserts from time to time as well. Do not over bleach though, a small amount will do the trick!

Dehydration in Baby- Strong ammonia smell in diapers can also be an indication your baby is having strong urine. Strong urine in babies and children is most always caused by lack of fluids. If your baby is even the slightest bit dehydrated, this can be a problem. Really push the liquids, especially with your toddlers. It is easy when your child is no longer on a feeding schedule, to forget to sit down and have your child drink. With the hot summer weather upon us, this is vitally important for your babies overall health.

Washer not thoroughly cleaning- While researching the causes of ammonia smell in cloth diapers, I came across several complaints from parents who use front loader washers to clean their diapers. Many complained of stinky diapers strait out oft he wash. Although I do not use a front loader, I would suggest adjusting the water level to a higher setting. You can also add wet towels to your load in order to trick your machine into adding more water.

Hard water issues- Hard water can be another cleaning culprit! If you have hard water I suggest using a cloth diaper detergent designed for hard water. Rockin Green has a hard water formula available that I have heard works wonders. Another trick I've read about is using Calgon in the final rinse. Not sure how that works though.

Bacteria- Bacteria can be a result from all of the above. If your diapers have lingered, not been washed properly or maybe your child has been sick, bacteria can build up in your diapers. I suggest stripping your diapers and drying in the sun. Sunshine is great for killing off bacteria! Regularly sun drying your diapers may also help cut down on the amount of times your need to strip your diapers.

Ammonia Burn

Ammonia burn is another topic I would like to cover. Ammonia burn is serious and should not be taken lightly. When you change your baby and find overall redness, blisters or fleshy wounds, it is time to get serious about battling against the ammonia odor!

Almost 2 weeks ago my toddler son woke to a horrible ammonia diaper. I pulled him out of his crib as tears streamed down his face and he cried out in pain. When I opened his diaper, to my horror he had not only been burned by the ammonia but had a dime size open wound! The skin had been burned off and he had several blisters in other places. It looked as though someone had put out their cigarette on his butt cheek!! I was so angry, I could have tossed all our cloth diapers into the trash! Of course, I know that is not the logical solution to this problem. My son does not drink enough, we have hard water, and I ran out of our regular diaper detergent. There were reasons it was so bad this time.

I am still trying to troubleshoot the problem, but my main focus at the moment is treating my son's burns. We have used every diaper cream, ointment, aloe vera, etc. to no avail. His burns are not healing. One of my friends suggested I try burnt flour. I am currently experimenting with this. This is our first day with the burnt flour and so I am unsure of how well it works. I did research about it online and read a TON of positive comments on how well it works. I will keep you posted. In the meantime, my son is having to wear disposable diapers until this problem clears up. I am not going to subject him to more burns while he is trying to heal. If any of you have suggestions on how to treat ammonia burn, I would appreciate the help.

Today's Assignment:
How do you keep the ammonia smell at bay? Tell us your tips and suggestions and link up your blog post! Don't forget to grab my FTT banner for your post.

Reminder: Next Fluff Talk Thursday will be July 22nd- Topic will be "Cloth Diapering on a Tight Budget". I will be reviewing a line of quality cloth diapers and showing you how to cloth diaper your baby full time for more than half the price you would typically pay! If you have been wanting to make the switch to cloth diapering, but have not had the budget for the initial don't want to miss this! *Don't forget to grab my Fluff Talk Thursday banner for your post (can be found at my right hand side bar). Then come back and link up your post.*

Assignment for July 22nd:
I want to hear your money saving tips when it comes to cloth diapering. Have you learned how to buy cloth diapers on the cheap? How did you get the money together for the start up cost? Write about it! We all want to know your secrets to affordable cloth diapering.
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Monkey's mama said...

Love this! That's for doing this. I am also doing a mini series for moms who cloth or new to it. It's called "cloth back to the basics" if you want to check it out on my blog.


Tamara said...

Ok, so what do you mean by burnt flour? Do you literally set some flour on fire? Also, I don't have a clothesline, I use a wooden, accordian style fold up rack. It's great because I can use it inside and outside!

HappilyDomestic said...


With the burnt flour, you just put some flour in a dry pan and cook it until it turns dark brown. So far it is working better than anything we have tried. His sore is finally healing. We have been using it at every diaper change for the past 3 days and it is already half way healed. It was actually getting bigger and almost infected looking before we tried this.

Amanda said...

do you keep the burnt flour in a container and just put in on the sore until it's gone, then make a fresh batch? I've never heard of such a thing! Good to know!

I've recently seen a thread on the Baby Center cloth diaper board about using a fish tank Ammonia Remover solution in your wash every so often. People are having pretty good results with this. I haven't tried it myself.

HappilyDomestic said...


Well, this is the first time I have done the burnt flour thing so I have just been using the same batch. And yes, I store it in a container.

That is interesting about the Ammonia remover. I wonder what is in it?

Holly said...

I have build up alot, mainly because of the front loader problem. It is so annoying! Thanks for the tips though!

Paula said...

I had a bad ammonia problem too (though thankfully not so bad that my daughter got ammonia burn). If you have hard water, vinegar makes it worse. I ended up using Rockin' Green (Hard Rock) in combination with Arm and Hammer washing soda (which is sodium carbonate). So far this has worked really well- the diapers even smell cleaner coming out of the wash. I used about 1/4 cup per load (though I don't have a lot of diapers). I am now trying to just use the Rockin' Green and not supplement it with the washing soda except for every couple weeks. We'll see how it goes! Hopefully this will help- good luck!

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