How to Get Rid of Ammonia (Pee) Smell in Diapers

How to Get Rid of Ammonia (Pee) Smell in Diapers

Posted by Vanessa Tomchik on

It goes without saying that no-one likes a funky smelling cloth diaper! Clean reusable diapers shouldn’t smell like anything; but dirty diapers may smell like urine, poop, ammonia, and any number of other smells depending on what your child may have eaten that day.

How to get rid of Ammonia smell in cloth diapers. Lighthouse Kids Co. recycled pocket cloth diaper with Athletic Wicking Jersey and Tummy Panel.  Small WAHM business in Iowa City, IA.

Ammonia burns are never acceptable.  If you are having this issue, it is imperative that you reset your cloth diapers before using it on baby, you may even have to switch to disposables while your washing routine is sorted out.

If you baby is a heavy wetter, their diaper will be more prone to the odor, and of course, toddler urine is more complicated as as there is a higher input and output of liquid.

Stink in the diaper pail can vary based on lots of things, if you keep an open pail in and wash diapers every 3-4 days, your odors will be very different from a closed pail in a larger ventilated room washing every 1-2 days. 

It is also important to remember that disposable diapers mask any odors so if you are new to cloth diapering, what you are smelling might simply be the actual smell of pee and poop. In order to solve the cloth diaper stink problem, it's important to find out the source or the cause of the problem is.

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Remember, cloth diapers that smell fresh out of the dryer and diapers that do not smell of stale urine when freshly peed in means you are actually smelling the urea from the pee, there is nothing wrong with the diaper.  If diapers only smell of ammonia odors, or “strong urine” odors is in the pail after a few days may also mean the diaper is fine, it is just the urine smell left behind.  It's when the diaper smells immediately after baby pees or if it smells like ammonia (pee) or "fishy" out of the drier that you have a problem.  




    Tips for Preventing Ammonia & Stinky Diapers:

      • Pre-rinse your diapers. As soon as you remove the diaper from your baby send the inserts for a little swim in the toilet (sink or basin), or use a diaper sprayer and pre-rinse the urine out of the fabric. This will wash out most of the urea and prevent ammonia from taking over your diaper pail.
      • Good wash routine. Follow our simple washing instructions, use enough detergent, use the right amount of water, and a recommended detergent to avoid stinky diapers. Finding that perfect routine for you might take some time.
        • Rockin' Green Funk Rock and RLR can all be used to help fight the stubborn stinks that you may be smelling in your diapers. Follow the package instructions when using these products. 
    • Wash your cloth diapers often.  If you wait to wash your cloth diapers over three days, you may be playing with fire when it comes to Ammonia, especially in hot or humid environments.  Remember that bacteria reproduces quickly and waiting to wash may cause stink, ammonia, or even mold issues.  Your diapers are a long term investment that can last for multiple children so take care of them by washing them properly!

    Ammonia and Bacteria

    Our bodies are pretty amazing, when our kidneys work to remove wastes from our bodies they secrete ammonia to help neutralize excess acid. Yes, ammonia is a natural smell in our urine.  

    When you take a diaper off your baby, you might smell some ammonia. Especially in their overnight or nap diapers that smell may be stronger than daytime diapers. 

    • Morning cloth diapers can also smell of ammonia.
    • If your baby pees early in the night, that is 8+ hours of urine salts sitting in a nice, warm, moist environment, so it will smell in the morning. Adding absorbency to break down the concentration will help, but especially as your baby ages and starts eating solid foods that morning smell is normal. If your diapers smell fresh out of the dryer, and do not smell of urine within the first hour of being worn, your wash routine is otherwise fine.

    Depending on our diets and health, the strength and concentration of that ammonia might vary. Diets high in protein and nitrogen (leafy greens) may have a strong ammonia smell. If you are dehydrated, sick, or on certain medication your urine might also have a strong ammonia smell. While some smell is normal, too much of it may lead to redness, rashes, and ammonia burns. If you suspect that you have too much ammonia smell in your diapers, you might need to change your wash routine or strip your diapers.

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    Detergent Buildup

    Detergent buildup can also be a factor in creating ammonia smells in your diapers.  Detergent that is not properly washed out of your diapers can trap bacteria from feces and urine causing the dreaded ammonia smell.

    Diaper and Ammonia Stink 

    Are you using enough detergent?

    If you aren’t using enough detergent, you might not be rinsing out all of the ammonia from your diapers which can lead to horrible stink (and can cause rashes).  Always make sure that the detergent amount corresponds to the amount of diapers you are washing.  A full or super load will require more detergent than a small load.  Keeping your diapers clean is key!

    Make sure you are using enough water.  Washing with too little water, cold water, or hard water may be preventing your detergent from working effectively. Do You Have Hard Water? Simply put, hard water has a lot of minerals in it, namely calcium and magnesium. These minerals, if not properly rinsed away, can lead to a mineral build-up in your diapers which may cause offensive odors!


    How do you know if you have hard water?

    Over 80% of the US has hard water, there are a few ways to find out if your water is hard. The easiest way to find out is to contact the water supply company where you live and ask. You can also purchase a water quality test strip. Many pool supply stores will also check your water quality for you free of charge. Hard water can lead to stinky diapers because: The detergent is not able to work as effectively in hard water The minerals from the hard water are being deposited back onto the diapers.  Many detergents don't work as well in hard water because they have to work at softening the water rather than cleaning. Therefore, we recommend using a separate water softener, such as Calgon Water Softener* (NOT Calgon bath products). Calgon Water Softener is considered safe for use on all types of cloth diapers. *Use the recommended amount for your machine type based on the directions on the package. If you do have hard water and haven’t been using a water softener, you might need to strip your diapers to remove the mineral build up.

    reusable diapers smell bad.  How to get rid of pee smell in cloth diapers 

    How do you strip your diapers once you have ammonia pee smell?

    If you are battling with a rash or burn, please consult with your child’s physician, it may require medical attention.  However, you can strip your cloth diapers by doing the following:

    Method One

    • Soak your clean cloth diapers in hot water in Rockin Green Funk Rock for 3-4 hours.
    • You may replace hot water as it cools.
    • Swish it around during that time, and re-wash.
    • You may need to repeat the process if the ammonia smell persists.

    Method Two

    • Wash your cloth diapers like usual, but do not dry them (dryer or outside)
    • Neutralize the ph of the ammonia smell by soaking your ammonia inserts in vinegar for 2-4 hours.  Ratio of soak should be 1 cup of vinegar per water tub or soaking tub (95% water).
    • Rewash your cloth diapers as usual and dry as usual.
    • You may need to repeat the process if the ammonia smell persists.


    Do cloth diaper materials matter?

    Yes!  Microfiber cloth diapers are notorious for holding on to stink.  Once dirt particles become trapped in the microfiber "curls" it is almost impossible to get the dirt smell out.  If your diapers are consistently holding on to smells, you may want to replace your inserts with bamboo inserts.


    What about bleach?

    Bleaching will clean your diapers, however, if your washing routine is off in the first place, bleach won't help with that issue.  You will continue to get the dreaded pee, ammonia smell.  Bleach is a high PH and ammonia is a high PH as well, mixing the two will not bring the inserts/diapers back to a neutral PH, so we advise against bleaching in regards to ammonia issues.  Doing a vinegar soak to neutralize the PH, then washing with a simple washing routine is much more helpful in this case.  


    Detergent Choices

    Though every family has different needs when it comes to cloth diapering detergent choices, we have found that detergents that contain enzymes work much better to break down the ammonia as well as feces smell out of cloth diapers.   I have found that Tide or Tide free and clear works very well when it comes to keeping your cloth diapers clean.


    When to Contact your Doctor

    Here are some signs that ammonia, or rashes have gotten out of hand and you need to contact your health care provider:

    1. Open, oozing, or bleeding rash
    2. Raised, bumpy redness
    3. Baby is in pain, discomfort or is feeling itchiness


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    Written by

    Vanessa T.

    Vanessa is a proud mama of two baby boys who were of course cloth diapered! Vanessa has helped thousands of parents cloth diaper since 2012. She was a cloth diaper leader educator through the RDIA, and helped parents navigate eco-friendly diapering through her cloth diaper brick and mortar store. In 2017, Vanessa started Lighthouse Kids Co. through feedback from parents in her weekly cloth diaper 101 classes who wanted an easy to use stay-dry cloth diaper with natural fibers. Since then, LKC has sold millions of quality cloth diapers in the US and abroad. Vanessa believes in cloth diaper advocacy and education and that every parent can cloth diaper sustainably.

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