>It’s every cloth diapering parent’s most dreaded fear and worst nightmare: your cloth diapers could be leaking. Perhaps you stood up and found the lap of your jeans damp when you passed Baby off to Grandma. Or, maybe you picked Baby up from her nap only to find the crib sheets soaked. Immediately your heart races and you panic, because the only thing more perturbing than the extra laundry you now have to do is the thought that there really could be something more serious going on with your precious fluff.
So, how do you know when diaper leaks are really a more serious problem to tackle? Where do you go from here? Many parents jump straight to the conclusion that their diapers will have to be stripped (stripping refers to a variety of techniques used to restore cloth diapers back to their original state of cleanliness and to reduce possible buildups that cause a variety of problems). We are here to reassure you that there are a few things to investigate before you sink much time, money, and elbow grease into stripping your dipes.
We recommend you start with Step #1 and work your way up the list until you narrow down and eliminate some of these options.
STEPS TO TAKE WHEN YOU SUSPECT YOUR CLOTH DIAPERS ARE LEAKING:
Step #1: Check that the problem is actually urine
I know it sounds like common sense, but I have to remind you to first of all check to make sure that the dampness you are feeling is actually urine that is coming out of your baby’s diaper. When gripped by a feeling of panic, even I have jumped to the conclusion that my diapers were leaking only to, moments later, realize that the wet spot under baby was actually just spit-up or perspiration. The best way to tell the difference between fluids when you weren’t there to actually witness what happened? First, give your baby a pat down. Feel for dampness on other spots of the baby’s body and clothing. Wet crevices around the neck or behind the ears might reveal that it was actually a large load of spit-up that wet the crib sheets (particularly with babies under 3 months old). If dampness has made its way all the way up Baby’s back, perhaps your baby is simply clammy or perspiring from laying too long underneath a non-breathable blanket or on top of a waterproofed crib cover (I find even when covered with several layers of organic cotton, my waterproofed crib mattress can still cause Baby to sweat at night!). If your pat-down is inconclusive, do that grodie thing that us moms do best of all–give it the sniff test. The smell of spit-up is undeniably sour, and we all know what pee smells like. A baby’s perspiration will have the least scent of the three, smelling mildly sweet if anything. If urine is the culprit, then most onto Step #2 of checking your dipes.
Step #2: Inspect your diaper’s fit
Once you know that urine has actually exited your baby’s cloth diaper, you’ll want to go to the most common culprit of diaper leaks: a poor fit. Don’t underestimate this step; even if you’ve used a diaper a hundred times before, it could be fitting differently today than on any other occasion for several reasons (growth spurt, being put on crooked, Baby shimmied the diaper up or down, etc.). Of course, when your baby has a leaky diaper, it’s tempting to just whip that sucker off and replace it with a clean, new nappy. However, next time you encounter a leak, put off changing the diaper until you’ve given it a good once-over. Checking the following things will allow you to find the culprit or at least rule out these possible issues:
Check the waistband – Is the waist fitting snugly? Move baby into several different positions and see if gaps are forming at the waist (especially at the back). If there is elastic, check that it is tight enough and not gapping.
Check the legs – Is the fit working well here? Are the elastics/gussets snug and do they bounce back well, without gaping, even in different positions and with lots of wriggling going on?
Check for escaped fabric – Wicking is a common diapering problem often mistaken for leaking (read more about wicking). Are any bits of inner fabric peeking out of the diaper’s shell (sometimes a tiny corner of prefold or a bit of the pocket from a pocket diaper come up out the back of the waistband, for instance)? Are there cute, cotton-covered edges on your diaper/cover? Feel them. If they are more saturated than other parts of your diaper, then they are likely sucking (wicking) the pee to the outside of the dipe. In a poorly constructed diaper (no matter how cute it looks!) there is no real way to fix this if it is a design flaw. Simply do what you can to make sure that absorbant materials of the diaper (like cotton) are fully confined to the inside and are not used and rolled outwards to cover leg elastics, etc.
Check for intruding fabric – similar to above, make sure that pajamas or clothes haven’t been tucked into the diaper by accident. If even the tiniest roll of fabric touched the inner lining of the diaper, it may have wicked a great deal of urine out onto Baby’s clothes or bedding.
Check the rise – I began having leaking problems when I hadn’t lengthened my diaper’s rise in quite awhile. While my baby was awake and playing in an upright position, the rise fit her well and I didn’t have any clue that we had to move onto the next rise snap position. However, I soon figured out that the leaks we were having at the back of her diaper were because when I laid her down in her crib, her diaper skidded down a little, leaving a tiny portion of her cute little butt crack coming out the top of her waistband. This formed a perfect channel for liquid to flow out of her diaper. Sometimes I’ll still use the old rise setting for awake time and just lengthen it when she’s lying down.
Step #3: Consider your baby’s habits
Do your diapers only leak when your baby is lying down?–then check for fit. Wearing a diaper for 4+ hours?–then add more layers, or change him more frequently. Sleeping on his/her side or tummy?–then check for fit in that particular position, or add more inserts the problem area. Once you can figure out a pattern to the leaks, it will be easier to fully troubleshoot the specific problem you’re having.
Step #4: Feel the absorbent layer
Absorbent layers can tell you a lot about how your diaper is performing. Don’t be afraid to get in there and really get your hands dirty–it will prove to be very enlightening. Is the absorbent layer completely saturated (soaked)? If this is the case, then no wonder your diaper is leaking–it simply cannot hold any more liquid within its core! Fixing this problem should be easy–simply add more bulk to the absorbent layer. If it is a pocket diaper, tuck in another insert (try hemp or bamboo for extra absorbency!). If it is a prefold or all-in-one, add a booster or doubler of some sort. High levels of saturation might also mean that you need to simply change your baby more frequently, or find a different type/style of diaper for that particular occasion (i.e. try a different style of diaper for nighttime sleeping).
On the other hand, if you feel your diaper’s core and find that it has barely absorbed any liquid, then you likely could be dealing with diaper repelling. See Steps #6 & #7 for more information on how to troubleshoot this issue.
Remember, too, that all-in-one diapers or diapers with “stay-dry” layers may feel dry to the touch at first. This is because they are doing their job, not because they are necessarily repelling. To get a better sense, apply pressure with your fingertips when feeling the absorbent layers–this may help you to feel the wetness of the layers deeper within the core. Also, use the diaper’s weight to help you in your sleuthing: if the diaper is considerably heavier than a clean diaper, then it is likely heavily saturated. A light diaper will indicate it is not absorbing properly and that repelling may be occurring.
Step #5: Consider the effectiveness of your cover/shell
All diapers require a cover for long periods of use. (As a side note, if you feel that your fitted diaper is “leaking” but you are not using a cover, then know that adding a cover will solve all your troubles. All diapers require some sort of waterproofing layer in order to fully prevent them from leaking/spreading dampness). Sometimes covers have problems of their own. If your covers are wool, they may need to be re-lanolized. If your covers are synthetic (i.e. PUL), they may have microscopic holes from the manufacturing process or from normal wear & tear. To attempt to seal these holes, you can ONCE IN A WHILE run your synthetic covers through one hot dryer cycle as opposed to the normal line drying you may do with them. The heat from the dryer can sometimes be just what is needed to “reseal” any tiny holes present in the plasticized layers. Do not do this often, however, or the wear and tear on your covers will be greater and can actually cause worse leaks and problems.
After heavy use (or in situations where they are defective), PUL and other laminated synthetics can also see their laminated layers wear out. You’ll know if this is the case because you’ll quickly be able to see the laminated backing detaching from the fabric or sloughing off like dead skin layers. If this is the case, contact the manufacturer if you still have a warranty, or else you can attempt to re-waterproof the covers yourself using a special type of spray (similar to what you can use to waterproof outdoor tents).
Of course, as with anything, make sure that your cover itself also has a good fit in the waist and legs, and check that the elastic is in good working order as well.
Step #6: Check for repelling
When the problematic diaper(s) are clean and dry, perform a little test on them. Pour some clean water into a few different areas and observe what happens. Does the liquid absorb well into the pad? If so, then repelling is not the problem (the problem is likely fit). Does the liquid form beads and swiftly roll around in the diaper liner–or even roll off the edges (think of how mercury behaves when an old thermometer was broken)? If this is happening, your diapers are repelling liquid and need to be stripped (see Step #7).
Step #7: Strip your diapers
Only when all else fails (or when it seems to be apparent that your diapers are definitely repelling liquid) should you consider stripping your diapers. Stripping diapers puts a high degree of wear & tear on the dipes and thus should not be performed often.
Different methods are available for stripping, and a variety can be found by searching online (including using special products such as Rockin’ Green detergent, Blue Dawn dish detergent, or Oxyclean), but a good place to start is simply by adding as much hot, hot water to your washing machine as possible, and doing hot, hot washes/rinses on your clean diapers for as long as it takes to see absolutely no suds left in the wash water. Often this will be enough to remove the buildup of detergent scum or other elements that may be causing repelling problems.
Please note that if you are repeatedly having to strip your diapers, then you may be contributing to the problem by:
- using non-cloth diaper safe rash cream directly on your diapers. Ointment with cod liver oil, zinc oxide, or petroleum products are particularly problematic. Stop using these, or use them only with a liner or disposable diaper instead.
- using essential oils in the wash or in a wipes solution. Oils can build up on your diapers and cause repelling to occur. Try using less or else cut them out entirely.
- using a non cloth diaper approved detergent. Switch to a detergent that rinses cleaner and contains fewer additives, enzymes, brighteners, etc.
- using too much detergent. Even cloth-diaper-friendly detergents can build up over time if you are using too much of them. Reduce the amount you add to the laundry.
- using too little water. Increase the amount of water that is added to your wash and rinse cycles, or do extra hot/warm rinses on your diapers to remove detergent residue more fully.
Step #8: Know when to ask for help
If you have tried all of the above things to no avail, know when to ask for help. Talk to other mamas online (try our forums or Facebook wall!) to see if they have any specific advice. Contact the retailer or company that sold you the diapers in the first place. If your diapers are under warranty, discuss the possibility of having your diaper replaced, especially if you think it may be faulty.
We will all experience leaks, dampness, or wicking from time-to-time. In the majority of cases, these issues can be solved with a little clever sleuthing and a bit of TLC. Good luck becoming your own CDing Sherlock Holmes, and here’s to many dry nights, pristine laps, and happy bums!