Stinky cloth diapers

I wanted to address something we have discussed in the past, but over the past two weeks I have gotten numerous emails about.

The topic is “what is normal in regards to odors and what is not?”
A quick summary:

Urine smell in the morning diaper
Urine smell in the pail with sitting soiled diapers
Urine smell in a wet bag with soiled diapers, even for a few hours

Not Normal:
Odors in clean diapers out of the dryer (take a deep whiff when you pull them out)
Strong “stale” urine odor within a few minutes of a clean diaper being on. Meaning, first urination, not the morning diaper, and not after being on for a few hours.
Odors in your washing machine when empty
Anything “fishy” while the diaper is on

Morning diapers will smell. They have been sitting in urine for 8+ hours, even newborns will have smelly morning diapers. Pail odors are normal. It is o.k. to have stink come up when you open the lid. You can work with this a few different ways, the easiest is to wash daily/every other day at most, to keep the load light. You can add other things to the pail to deoderize it, but if you open and shut quickly this shouldn’t be a problem.

For the not normal odors, remember our easy rules:
Diapers smelling out of the dryer is usually the result of
a. not enough detergent (don’t skimp, only one out of a few hundred of you need a tablespoon in a picky front loader to get the diapers clean, most of you need a healthy amount, don’t fear suds!)
b. The wrong detergent, meaning free and clears, natural detergents, etc…

Diapers smelling of stale urine after a few minutes means you have buildup, you need to rid the buildup by stripping (please, do not boil them or run them in the dishwasher), and start with a new wash routine.


September 23, 2010. cloth diapers, Q & A, Wash routines.


  1. Christina replied:

    I miss my top loader! I’ve had nothing but issues with cds since I bought my front loading washing machine.

  2. Kara replied:

    I have a top loader HE machine. I use Rockin’ Green Hard Rock 2.0. I have stale diapers 😦 I have tried everything I can think of to try and get them smelling clean and I fail. I haven’t boiled the inserts or anything and it seems to only be my microfiber inserts that cause me issues. My bamboo and cotton smell great!

    • Christine replied:

      Sounds like you have microfiber stinkies! I’d do the Dawn. Just squirt about one tsp of it in a hot wash, then do a bunch of cold rinses until you can’t see any suds. The other way you can do it is to actually rub Dawn into the microfiber and just rub and rub, then rinse in cold until the water runs clear. You could also do cold rinses in the washing machine if you don’t have the time to sit there and rinse each one by hand.

      You could lastly Rock a Soak. Take your MF inserts and put them in the sink. Fill with hot water and put two scoops of RnG in and swish it around a bit. Let them sit overnight then do a rinse in the washer. If they still smell then do another 8+ hour soak and rinse again.

      You might have to use a tiny bit more of RnG to get the microfiber clean. Send Kim an email, it’s on the RnG website. I’m sure she’ll be more than thrilled to troubleshoot with you.

  3. Kristy replied:

    We have a top-loader and used Purex Free and Clear for the first several months and had terrible problems with stink (we also have very hard water!) I switched to Rockin Green Hard Rock and we haven’t had a problem since. We love the stuff!

  4. April replied:

    Any idea what causes that “fishy” smell? I have ultra hard water and use a mix of Calgon, borax, and Planet detergent and it is just awful. I have stripped and boiled my inserts, but they still smell awful!

  5. Alyssa replied:

    Why do you ask that we not boil the diapers? I just boiled all my inserts to strip them and it really brought out the build up. I had tried everything else between “rockin’ a soak” to hot washes even vinegar. I had clean diapers after the boil but after just one wear and wash they stink again. We have a water softner which softens our water A LOT so I have soft water I just can’t get rid of the stink. HELP!

    • Christine replied:

      With regards to the Rock a Soak, sometimes doing so will make the diapers smell WORSE until you do enough soaks. The soak pulls all the stinkies out and depending on how severe your buildup is, you need to do more than one soak. Also, you might have to use a tiny bit less detergent since you have soft water.

    • abbyslane replied:

      -fire hazard and -can shorten the life of them. You can bleach safely and get the same result 🙂

      Of course anything with elastic or aplix/snaps won’t boil without really ruining the diaper (just putting that out there, I know you just did inserts) 🙂

  6. Carlee H replied:

    I’m a newb, so I’m sorry if this is a stupid question….. I’ve heard of stripping diapers, but how is it done? I think mine need to be stripped!

  7. Sarah Theroux replied:

    Don’t leave me hanging! How do I strip a cloth diaper! I just started cd’ing at the beginning of the month and my diapers stink already :/ I’m using Mountain Green detergent….What am I doing wrong????

  8. Erin Becker replied:

    To strip your diapers, first run them through a cold rinse. Then do a hot wash, but instead of detergent use a few squirts of blue (classic) Dawn dish liquid plus about 1/2 cup of bleach. Keep doing hot washes on the largest load setting (you get more water that way)until all the suds are gone. Personally I run one more cold wash + vinegar after the suds are gone. Then dry as usual. HTH!

  9. Erin Becker replied:

    Oh and to Sarah – if you’re having issues already then you need to change your wash routine. You should be doing a cold rinse (I add 1/4 cup baking soda), then a hot wash + detergent, then another cold rinse (I add 1/4 cup vinegar). If you’re doing that and having issues you probably need to try a different detergent. Make sure you know what kind of water (hard/soft) you have as that makes a difference.

  10. alli replied:

    hmmm… I have a front loader and try to add a little water every time I do the rinse and then the wash. But stripping- can you do that with bum genius and gro baby and still keep them to hold up? For some reason I though that the companies advised against using vinegar or bleach. It seems that the insert don’t smell, it’s the actual shell that has it bad…

  11. abbyslane replied:

    For stripping we advise bleach over Dawn. If you have a front loader, Dawn will clog your hoses and likely void your warranty. Dawn isn’t made for washing machines, you can really do some damage to your machine. Bleach is fine when really needed, if you have a good wash routine, you shouldn’t need to strip but for a medical issue or maybe once every few months for buildup. If you need it more than that, email me at and we can tweak your routine 🙂

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