Dealing with cloth diaper leaks (and a little on stinks)...

Posted by Megan Bolin on

Well, dangit. Those cute cloth diapers you spent hours researching and precious money buying are giving you some trouble! One of the most frustrating things about diapering (disposable or cloth) is leaking. Whether you are dealing with full on floods, or just a wet spot on a onesie, it's annoying all the same. Let's troubleshoot.

Check the fit first! 

The most common cause of leaking is an improperly fitting diaper. Generally speaking, the diaper should:

  • Fit snug around the waist and belly without gaps
  • Fig snug around the legs without gaps
  • Sit high on the waist
  • Fit inside the thigh chub
  • All absorbency should be completely covered by the PUL/TPU - meaning you shouldn't see any of the inside of the diaper sticking out! Even a teeny bit of absorbency hanging out of the waist/leg will wick straight through to clothes.
  • Diaper leaving marks? Generally that's ok - think of it like your socks. When you take them off you might see some (painless) indentions. You shouldn't see angry red marks though.

"I'm so confident in my diapering skills I could diaper a spider monkey....that's not the problem."

If fit isn't the issue, it could be compression leaks. The most common culprit is microfiber. Think of a wet sponge. When it's just sitting there it can hold quite a bit of water. But if you were to squish it down with your hand, where does the water go? Same with a diaper. If your toddler is walking around, fills their diaper, then plops down on their bottom to inspect the rock they just picked up (am I the only one with a kid fascinated by rocks?) you can have a leak.

You can either change a little more often, or pair your microfiber insert with a natural fiber like hemp or bamboo. Layer the microfiber on top (it will absorb quickly) and the natural fiber on bottom (it will hold the bulk of the liquid). 

"Fit is awesome and I don't use microfiber, so next..."

You probably have an absorbency issue! When you change the diaper, if the insert is completely saturated and dripping wet you simply need to add more absorbency. You can add a doubler/extra insert, or change up your fabric. 

If your insert is saturated in just one area but is dry everywhere else, that one particular area is getting more liquid than it can handle. This happened to me a lot when I was learning to diaper my first son (I had mastered diapering a girl and this was new territory - keep their penis pointed down!). I added more absorbency up front by folding the long tongue of the AIO I was using (Smart Bottoms) and the problem was solved. 

"I ran my insert/diaper under water and it beaded up on the surface, so I'm thinking buildup...."

Okay, so this isn't a totally accurate test, but build up can definitely cause leaks. When you add water to your diaper/insert, apply a bit of pressure with your hand. Some diapers need the pressure to absorb. If it beads up and rolls off despite the pressure, build up is the culprit.

Build up can happen from soap scum, fabric softener, minerals (in hard water), or using diaper cream that isn't safe for cloth diapers.

  • Build up from conventional diaper cream: Petroleum is usually the ingredient that gives you trouble. In my experience, one or two accidental diaper cream applications from a well meaning caregiver (despite your repeated instructions!) won't cause a repelling issue. But continual use can definitely do it. If your normal hot wash + detergent isn't removing it, use a degreaser, like Dawn dish soap, and SCRUB. Make sure you throughly rinse afterward before it goes through the wash again. 
  • Mineral build up: Washing in untreated hard water can cause repelling over time. If it's severe, you may need to strip. To avoid, add a water softener during your wash cycle and skip extra rinses afterward. 
  • Oil build up: Using homemade detergent or fabric softener can cause a build up on fibers. It creates a coating that isn't easily removed during a wash routine. As you can imagine, a thick coating on fiber won't allow it to absorb.

A note on stinks. If you are having a build up issue (from any of the above instances), bacteria will become trapped inside the fibers. Not only will your diapers not absorb, they'll stink. In addition to changing up your wash routine, you might need to strip/bleach. We'll touch on that soon in another blog post.

"Still a no to all of the above..."

How does the PUL/TPU look? Cloth diapers are meant to be breathable, so under the right circumstances liquid WILL pass through. However, delamination or cracks in the PUL will cause leaks regardless of doing everything else "right." Delamination is pretty easy to spot - you'll see a thin layer of plastic bubble up and completely separate from the outer print/color of the diaper. To look for cracks, try holding the diaper up to the sun or light. You'll spot them pretty easily that way.

I hope this helps! Sometimes you can have a combination of issues, which leads to some pretty frustrating diapers but is totally fixable. Please never hesitate to reach out if you have a unique circumstance or the outline above just isn't helping. You can message me on Facebook, Instagram, email or use the contact button on the left side of the website. 


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