Ammonia Build-Up in Cloth Diapers

The last few months have posed the biggest challenge to my zero-wasting efforts yet: dealing with ammonia build-up in cloth diapers. The diapers had been smelling ammonia-ish for a while, but one day a chemical burn diaper rash appeared on my babe. That was confirmation that we had a problem. Those ammonia burns are painful and are not easily treated. After much research and work to rid the dipes of ammonia, I concluded this was the end times! The behemoth of cloth diapering. The kiss of death for our expensive CD stash.

…So I thought.

Turns out the internet just sucks at helping us solve the problem of ammonia build-up. I have lamented over this problem for over 3 months now, all the while using disposables for fear that my babe will get burned again. I have researched high and low, asked friends, asked businesses, and more. I bought a soap product specifically for ammonia. When that didn’t work, I was given an intensive wash routine (which made it better, but still did not totally work). I was told I needed to fix my wash routine so it wouldn’t happen again (not true). Further, the internet REALLY didn’t help. There are as many “fixes” as there are bloggers out there (so, here, I’ll add another one). Nothing worked until I called my FAVORITE cloth diaper store, Green Bambino (which, unfortunately, is in Oklahoma City and not Tulsa). The owner, Morgan, told me it was a quick and simple fix. And she was so right. I am now even more loyal to Green Bambino than I was before!

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My first attempt at soaking the diapers to remove ammonia build-up.

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My second attempt at soaking the diapers (a different way) to remove ammonia build-up.

My biggest advice is to call your local cloth diapering store. In the Tulsa area, we have Bottoms and Beyond Boutique in Sand Springs and Oui Oui! in Broken Arrow. Also, if you haven’t been to Green Bambino, it is absolutely worth the short trip to OKC. (None of this is to say the Tulsa area CD stores are not fantastic–I will be singing their praises in future blog posts!!) The shops can ask you questions about your wash routines and tailor their recommendations thereto.

The solution depends on the type of washer you have and the type of soap you use. I have a high efficiency (HE) washer and I use Charlie’s soap. Because of the simplicity of the wash and ammonia-removal methods, I would highly recommend you start using Charlie’s over whatever you may be using now.* (Do your research on the soap you use and whether it causes build-up. If your CDs are not absorbent enough, you could have a soap build-up problem and will have to “strip” the dipes.)

Every day wash routine: 

  • Cold rinse
  • Hot, heavy wash cycle with 1 rounded scoop of Charlie’s soap
  • Tumble dry low

Ammonia-busting wash routine:

  • Cold rinse
  • Hot, heavy wash cycle with 1 rounded scoop Charlie’s soap AND 1-2 tbsp of BLEACH
  • Cold rinse, if necessary to remove all bleach
  • Tumble dry low

The only difference between my regular wash cycle and what I need to do for ammonia removal is the addition of the bleach. Note: obviously this will not work if you can’t use bleach on your laundry for one reason or another. I was also told that I need to wash every other day (I was previously washing every 3 days).

Guys, I’m back to cloth diapering and I couldn’t be more relieved! I’m not ashamed to admit I needed a break from the work of CDs. I don’t think it is damning for ZWT or that it undermines my credibility as a dedicated zero waster. I think it’s just a fact that it can get exhausting. It isn’t easy to be zero waste, and the lack of resources out there compounds the difficulty. This whole experience proves we need more information out there for all things zero waste! It should be easy and cheap, and we’re getting there one day at a time. And that’s just that.

*I do not derive any economic gain from discussing any of the aforementioned products or merchants.

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