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.

Diaper Sunning 

The diapers aren’t smelling too good once they’ve been soiled. Even if it’s just #1. I’m sunning them to see if that may help resolve the issue. This is my first go-round on cloth diaps, so I’m still finding my way.


This isn’t all of the diapers, but darn near most (of my all-in-ones and pockets, anyway).

The smell isn’t like ammonia, so that’s good. More just like they need to be extra-sterilized. Here’s hoping the sun can take care of that for me.

Cloth Diapering: wipes on the go

I shared in my post on recycling plastic Tupperware that I have been storing my cloth baby wipes in said Tupperware to get them to/from daycare. As usual, I came upon this method one morning as I was scrambling around (late) and needing a quick solution for transporting the wipes. Now that my container was destroyed in my hot car, I need to come up with a more sustainable, waste-free storage method.

Ziplock bags: No way 

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Researching what other parents do, I have discovered some people actually put their wipes in ziplock bags. Obviously, I won’t be going that route. That’s worse than a food storage container from a waste perspective. Now, in the past, I have used ziplock bags with reckless abandon for all kinds of stuff. So I’m not judging. But this is a horrible solution from a waste perspective–a fact which may not be overlooked.

Using what you have 

You may not have to go buy anything at all. Most people probably have something sitting around their house that is perfectly suitable for a travel wipe container. This is a zero waste solution if you are not using the container for something else. This satisfies our zero waste principle of Refusing. You do not need to acquire something if you already own a thing that will work (if it could not otherwise be put to better use).

Examples of things you may have siting around your house are: any rigid plastic container you are not using for something else, makeup bag, pencil case, etc. Look around at leftover packaging for items you have bought. For instance, some flip flop brands include a little cloth bag in their packaging. You may have something like this sitting around your house. Of course, the type of container you use will depend on whether you decide to wet your to-go wipes or keep them dry. Or, maybe it will be the other way around–the type of container you have will dictate whether you wet your wipes or leave them dry.

Small wet bag 

If you’re already cloth diapering, you may have an extra wet bag that is small enough for wipes that you could put to use as the travel wipe bag. It may be a good option to purchase one for this purpose if you do not already own something else because wet bags are always useful for cloth diapering. You won’t regret having an extra wet bag.

We also need to look at the usefulness of a wet bag beyond the cloth diapering days. You can always sell the bag–there is a healthy resale market for cloth diapers and accessories. Or you could continue to use it for wet wipes, even well beyond your kids’ early childhood years.

These are my two smaller wet bags that were included in the set of used diapers I bought. Currently, only the pink bag is in commission because the zipper is broken on the green bag. My personal solution to the wipe container problem is to fix the zipper and use one of the bags for wipes. I only use these bags for going out on the weekends (they aren’t big enough for an entire day’s use at daycare), so it won’t impede the bags’ current usefulness.

Waterproof lunch bag 

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The idea of using a waterproof lunch bag like the one depicted comes from Dana Ryan’s Cloth Diapers Unwrapped YouTube series. Here is the video, which is right on topic and has some great suggestions (except the ziplock bag at the end (nothing but love, Dana)). I am going to start watching a lot more of her videos! I think neoprene lunch bags are great for the purpose of toting cloth diapers. It looks like this one could do double-duty as a wet bag. Dry or wet wipes could go in the front pocket, and used diapers and wipes could go in the larger pocket.

Above all, the takeaway is that you do not need to buy something if you already have a perfectly good vessel to serve your purpose. But, if you don’t, buy something with a useful life beyond cloth diapering purposes.