People are always asking what to do about ammonia problems. You know… that stink that burns your eyes! The little red bum that breaks your heart to see! I myself struggled with ammonia for a while. Like anything, it is super frustrating to see your little baby in any pain at all, even just a rash.
What is ammonia anyway? I really like how Rockin Green describes it. Here is an excerpt from the article they wrote:
“Ammonia and urea are very close cousins…siblings even. With a similar chemical composition, they can share and trade molecules pretty freely. They can turn from Dr. Jekyll to Mr. Hyde in a matter of hours. In normal concentrations- like you drink plenty of water, and urinate often- the urea doesn’t have much time to convert back to ammonia and is pretty diluted. But if left sitting around, exposed to air and moisture it can quickly change its tune and turn into ammonia. What makes it even worse, is one molecule of urea can turn into 2 molecules of ammonia. Which means that things can get potent quickly!”
(edited: It looks like the post I linked to was removed. It’s still great info. Someone mentioned that they thought it was interesting that I linked RNG as it had caused their ammonia smell. I can tell you that I’ve known people who use tide and still get ammonia. Detergent is only one small part of the the clean diaper equation.)
How do you know you have a problem? Well, you can’t mistake the smell for anything else. Want to know what it smells like? Open up your wet bag with 3-day-old diapers in it and give it a whiff. You might smell that same smell after your little one pees. If you do, you have an ammonia problem. I never had the smell problem. I knew we had problems because my daughter would have a red area on her bum wherever the pee had been touching. It kind of looks like a bad sunburn. Ammonia smell can be normal. It’s not an issue if they don’t smell after washing and right after a pee. ;)
Here are a few things you can do to help prevent it. And believe me, you WANT to prevent it because once you have an ammonia build up problem you will feel like you need explosives to get rid of it.
Simple step 1: Rinse it out!
We only had ammonia problems with our night diapers. But I recommend doing this for any diaper that has a lot of pee sitting in it for hours, so also nap diapers if you need to. Rinse the diaper out with hot water after using it and before you store in your wetbag or pail. You can do this in your sink and wring it out by hand. Or you can use your washing machine. I have a top loader and do a short cycle on the lowest water setting with hot water and only let it agitate for 3-4 minutes and then I let them go one spin cycle. Since I started this, we haven’t had any more ammonia burns on Sophia’s bum.
Simple Step 2: Use natural fiber inserts or diapers.
We are talking about cotton, hemp, or bamboo blends. Two things make this effective. First, natural fibers don’t hold onto ammonia like a synthetic fiber (Microfiber). Second, natural fiber inserts, like hemp, tend to be thinner with less layers. This means that ammonia can be cleaned easier in the wash because there aren’t so many layers for the soap and water to reach.
Simple Step 3: Wash more often.
If you really have problems with recurring ammonia issues, you may need to wash more often to keep ammonia at bay. Washing more often, perhaps every 2-3 days, will give the pee less time convert to ammonia.
Simple Step 4: Check your wash routine.
Remember… keep it simple. I recommend using a WARM pre-wash cycle that acutally agitates (not all rinse cycles do this). The warm water opens up the pores in the fibers allowing more water in to hopefully rinse more of the ammonia away. Use enough detergent in a HOT wash cycle. *I use Tide and use the same amount of detergent I would for a load of the same size of regular clothes* The amount of detergent YOU should use varies depending on which detergent you are using and how much you are washing.
Simple step 5: Keep your baby properly hydrated.
Give them fluids like water or breast milk. Just as in adults, a well-hydrated baby will have less concentrated urine which means less ammonia. Just remember that children under 6 months should only get breast milk or formula. It can be dangerous if your baby drinks TOO much. Always check with your pediatrician about proper hydration amounts for your child’s age.
Do you have any other tips on how to prevent ammonia issues?
Jenn is a long-time cloth diaper educator and a passionate small business advocate. She has worked in the reusable diaper industry for over a decade, helping millions of families via her websites All About Cloth Diapers, Thinking About Cloth Diapers and Cloth Diaper Geek as well as hundreds of small businesses during that time. Her goal always to provide simple, reliable information.