Dealing with Ammonia
Cloth diapers are easy; if you've been keeping up with our blog, you know that. But there is one thing that can be a menace to your diapering routine: Ammonia. And if you've experienced it, you know what we're talking about. Ammonia is unmistakable; one sniff and you know if you have a build-up on your diapers. If a wet diaper smells so strongly it singes your nose hairs, you have an ammonia build-up. So what is it and how do you deal with it? I'm glad you asked...
What is ammonia?
Ammonia is a chemical byproduct of urea that our bodies produce and expel in urine. In normal concentrations - if you drink lots of fluids and urinate often - urea doesn't have time to turn into ammonia and is fairly diluted. But when it is left, exposed to air and moisture, urea can quickly turn into smelly ammonia.
If you have a young infant, you may not find that ammonia is much of a problem because they tend to be changed more frequently, are drinking breast milk or formula and have less concentrated urine because they are on a liquid diet. However, when babies get older, ammonia can become more common. Once baby starts eating solids and sleeping through the night, you may start to smell that unmistakable odor. Night time diapers can be the biggest offenders because you aren't changing your baby until the morning.
The problem with ammonia
Ammonia is more than just a bad smell, it can cause flat and red rashes that can get so severe they lead to open sores. ammonia 'burn' is the worst case scenario, which is actually a chemical burn. If you have a strongly smelling diaper, you want to deal with it as soon as possible to avoid this.
Can ammonia be prevented?
In a word, yes! If you know your baby is prone to ammoniacal diapers, you can try a few things:
Pre-rinse wet diapers
Use your diaper sprayer or just rinse your diapers in the sink after you change your baby. Rinsing away the urine and not letting it sit until laundry day will prevent ammonia from building up. When soiled diapers are stored for too long, they become harder to wash too, so if you are noticing diapers becoming a bit smelly from ammonia, consider rinsing them immediately if they won't be hitting the washing machine for a few days.
Hydrate your baby
Make sure your baby is drinking lots of water. The less concentrated the urine, the less ammonia that is present.
Very hot washes will kill ammonia, provided there is not already a build up. If you are worried, you may want to temporarily raise the temperature on your hot water heater to 140 degrees to wash your cloth diapers and kill bacteria.
How to deal with ammonia
One of the main problems in dealing with ammonia is that eco-friendly and homemade detergents are becoming more popular. Unfortunately, they do not have the strength to get soiled, ammonia-filled diapers properly cleaned. It may seem to work for the first few months, while your baby's diet is mostly liquid, but as your child gets older and the urine becomes more concentrated, these detergents just don't hold up.
The solution? Use a good quality detergent so your diapers come clean the first time. Bleach can help, but we recommend that as a last resort. Always try a few extra rinses with your quality detergent first.
Ammonia can be a deal breaker for parents, but it doesn't have to be the end of your cloth diapering days. Remember, you invested in cloth for a reason, and by following the tips above, it doesn't have to be difficult to be ammonia-free.