How to Ruin a Cloth Diaper

By Kanga Care Guest Blogger: Elizabeth “Bert” Anderson, of First Time Mom

I have a confession. I, Miss Cloth Diaper Blogger, have ruined my cloth diapers. No, it wasn’t a manufacturing error; it was my own stupid fault. I am consoling myself with the fact that I know I’m not the only cloth diaper expert to destroy their own cloth diapers…

I read the instructions, I saw that I needed to “tumble dry low.” However, I assumed that that was more of a suggestion than anything else. Let me tell you: it’s not a suggestion. For one entire year I dried my pocket diapers for not one cycle, not two, but for three cycles! Not the best choice but I wanted to ensure the inserts had a chance to dry! Well, after one year of this unrecommended method, the laminate (that shiny, waterproof lining on the inside of the pocket) started to crack. I first noticed this problem when my son’s diapers started leaking in weird places like the very back of the bum, not even close to a leg where leaking is more common.

Lesson learned? Yes.

Now before we get started, a little note: Anyone who has ever seen a Kanga Care diaper in person can attest to their quality. Those things are built to last! But even they can be destroyed! Follow their care instructions and your Kanga Care diapers should last and last and look great. If you ever need help, you can contact customer service and they will be happy to help you!

This article isn’t about Kanga Care diapers in particular, but they have been mercilessly destroyed by many of us, so, it does include them. So now that I’ve got that off my chest, let’s talk about all the ways you can destroy your diapers!

There are lots of ways to ruin your diapers (including Rumparooz or ANY brand!):  

  • Over-drying / drying on high heat. As I shared with you earlier, most cloth diaper care instructions say to tumble dry on low or no heat. This is to protect the waterproofing laminate within the cover, all-in-one, etc. Exposing the laminate to frequent high heat causes cracks in the laminate lining and can also melt the lining. One of my reader’s said that her diaper literally melted inside her dryer. Imagine the clean up for that one! 
  • Using the sanitize setting on your washing machine. Kanga Care uses TPU (waterproof material) instead of PUL. TPU uses a heat bonding process (instead of a chemical solvent) so the high heat on the sanitize cycle actually loosens the laminate from the fabric. Note: it is okay to use the sanitize cycle on inserts, but not on anything waterproof!
  • Bleach! The harshness of bleach can really do a number on the elastic and waterproof lining of your cloth diapers. One mom told us that she accidentally left some prefold diapers in a bleach water solution for 36 hours! The prefolds just fell apart with use. So if a bleach water solution can do that to cotton imagine the damage it can do to the elastic and laminate! Bleach is unnecessary if you’re using a recommended detergent anyway!  
  • Washing machine agitator damage. The picture does not do it justice but look at the serious damage done to these inserts! A loose agitator on a washing machine was the culprit. The mom who sent us the picture bought these pre-owned diapers in “good condition.”  There were a few snags on the inserts but the more she washed it, the more ripped up it got! Make sure your machines are in top condition!
  • Overwashing. As a general rule of thumb, a cloth diaper stash should be no less than 24 cloth diapers. A friend of mine learned this one the hard way. She bought 14 diapers hoping to save some money. With so few diapers, they had to be washed every day and within a year the hook and loop closures were destroyed, the pockets had delaminated and the elastic was useless. You wouldn’t wash a bra every day for a year and expect it to survive! You wouldn’t even wash a pair of jeans every day for a year and expect it to be the same pair of jeans after 300+ washes. Diapers aren’t invincible either! Invest in great diapers and enough of them!
  • Using non-compatible detergent. Not all detergents or diapers are equal! Make sure you read the care instructions for your particular brand of diapers. Detergents that have additives such as fabric softeners, borax, bleach, or any “free and clear” formulas are not cloth diaper friendly and can shorten the life of your cloth diapers. Through years of gathered data, Kanga Care has found that their products are most compatible with original Tide Ultra, Gain or powdered Ecover. If you choose to use a detergent not listed, then look for the following: 
    • a) Detergents that contain enzymes (yes, really!) 
    • b) Detergents free from fabric softeners, borax, bleach, and again any of the “free and clear” formulas 
  • Diaper cream! A fellow cloth diapering mom I know took her daughter to daycare in a cloth diaper (big applause for the daycare for accepting cloth!). The daycare provider thought she was helping by applying zinc cream with each diaper change. Without using a liner to protect the diapers, she effectively waterproofed them. It took weeks of scrubbing and stripping to get the cream out, and the diapers never looked the same. 

    If you’ve made this mistake here’s what you’ll want to do to return your diaper to its waterproof state: 

    • Hot wash of clean diapers using a squirt or two of original (blue) Dawn soap. Run the cycle until there are no bubbles visible. This should return your diapers to their pre-diaper rash cream state unscathed (fingers crossed!). If you’ve tried this and you’re still having trouble, get in touch with Kanga Care for some expert cloth diaper help! 
  • Oh poop! Most of us have at least one child in diapers, if not two. Therefore, it’s safe to say, we get less sleep than most people and tend to do dumb things we wouldn’t do if we were allowed a decent night’s sleep. One mom told us that she accidentally, without even thinking, tossed a diaper into her dryer with poop still in it! Not only did she have to clean the poop out of her dryer, but it was literally baked onto her diapers. (*gag*) After lots of washes, time spent in the sun and some (not recommended) stain remover, the diaper sort of looks the same. Plop the poop into the toilet immediately my friends. Again I say, plop! 
  • Frequently line drying. Remember Newton’s law of gravity? Well, what goes up must come down! Hanging a diaper, heavy with water, tugs on the elastic and over time will stretch them out. If you don’t want to tumble-dry low, then lay your diapers flat to dry.
  • Machine-washing wool covers. Say it with me: Hand-wash wool. Wool doesn’t go in ANY machine: washer or dryer! One of Kanga Care’s own employees has banned her husband from washing the diapers after he accidentally shrunk FOUR hand-knit wool covers. Wool is super easy to care for: just toss them in the bath with your little one if they start to smell funky. The baby shampoo should be sufficient to clean the cover. Gently press the water out of the wool and lay them flat to dry overnight. That’s all! 
  • Too much sun! The sun is excellent at reducing stains as well as also acting as a natural disinfectant on your diapers, however, that same awesome strength from the UV rays can also damage the fibers on your diapers. We suggest using indirect sunlight when sunning your diapers because it’s gentler on the fibers and the UV rays that are present from sunlight can still do their job. Limit the time you let those diapers sun, too. 1 – 2 hours should do the trick.
  • Fabric softener is a no-no! We get it. That soft and snuggly bear tells you that everything that touches your baby should be as soft as he is! But that little bear will waterproof your diapers! If you’ve done this, you can try stripping them with the Dawn method above and cross your fingers it works.
  • Unusual drying methods… Once, a customer sent her diapers in to Kanga Care for snap repair. When they opened the package, they were astonished: the snaps had literally melted all over the place, stuck into the fibers of the diaper. The customer told them that her husband had laid the diapers on their wood stove to dry. Unfortunately, that is not covered by that snap warranty…
  • Opening diapers with a little too much gusto. Often, when a customer needs a snap fixed, they need the same snap fixed on half of their stash. If you notice the same snap popping off on all your diapers, or if the Aplix is coming unstitched, then it might be a good idea to be a little more gentle when you change a diaper. (There’s a reason Kanga Care gets the most snap repair claims with stay at home daddies…)
  • Hungry dryers. Sometimes snaps can get chipped in dryers, or get stuck in a crack in your dryer, which then scrapes it off like this. To avoid this heartbreak, try snapping just one snap from each tab down so that they aren’t flying around in the dryer. Since this isn’t a manufacturer’s error, it’s technically not covered by the warranty, but Kanga Care is usually pretty awesome about snaps. Just don’t tell them that you are positive that it wasn’t your dryer that caused this… 
  • Stain removers. It seems like a good idea at the time. After all, your diapers are stained and you have stain remover. But don’t underestimate the power of products like Bac-Out! I mean they do remove some major stains, right? One cloth diaper mom told me that she used Bac-Out on every diaper. Over time, the laminate became cracked and the diapers leaked profusely. It’s okay to use Bac-Out and other products like it on your inserts but keep it away from anything waterproof! 
  • Woops! Fluff in the garbage. This one sadly goes to a fellow cloth diaper blogger friend of mine, Polly. Polly told me that she accidentally threw a cloth diaper away! *Gasp!* I’m sure we can all relate. She was exhausted, had just moved and when she saw the diaper she absentmindedly pitched it in the trash. Guess we need a little more sleep, huh?
Now, if you’re considering cloth diapering, don’t let this spook you. Cloth diapering is super easy. It’s just another load of wash! If you’d like a quick 101 of how to take care of your diapers to ensure that they will last and last, you can do so here!

Clearly, there are a lot of ways to ruin your diapers and most of us have done this at some point… Tell us how you did it in the comments below! 

28 Responses to How to Ruin a Cloth Diaper

  1. Anonymous says:

    I use my sanitize cycle all the time with no problems! In fact it is the only way i have found to get my diapers clean with my HE washer and very hard water. Maybe the water temp varies by machine, but I wash prefolds, flats, microfiber, bamboo, TPU and PUL this way and my covers, pockets and wetbags are all over a year old and some 2 years.

  2. Sarah says:

    none ruined yet… knock on wood!

  3. A. Smith says:

    Why can’t you use Free and Clear detergent on diapers?

    • judi says:

      Most of them have optical brighteners which coat the fibers to make them look whiter or brighter. That coating can cause repelling and rashes.

    • Anonymous says:

      because of the brighteners and enzymes… they can irritate baby’s pieces and I really don’t think they get things as clean. I use Rockin Green for my Gdiapers, and my clothes and the carpet…

    • LeettleBaby says:

      Many “free & clear” detergents still include oil based surfactants brighteners & fabric softeners that can leave behind a waxy film which can cause repelling issues. However, I have used Seventh Generation Free & Clear on my children’s diapers when visiting my parents for month and did not have any repelling problems, but at home I cannot used it because of the extremely hard water…so water type may play a major role.

    • Eva says:

      I use tide free and gentle powder with no problem!! I have hard water

    • Barnheartbabe says:

      I use the PC brand ‘Free’ and have had no problems with build up. Im guilty of wrecking the elastic, though i didn’t know how until this post.

  4. Rumsita says:

    Hm. Good tip about the line drying. Makes total sense! Guess I’ll pop them in the dryer occasionally & bust out the drying rack more often (to achieve flatness), instead of hanging to dry all the time.

    Our daycare doesn’t apply anything to baby’s bum that hasn’t been supplied by the parents, and a release form signed. Hoping I never need to deal with babe needing diaper cream, but if I do I’ll use a CD-safe one AND supply flushable liners.

  5. Mrs. Butler says:

    Guilty of poo in the washer just last week!! LOL Luckily, I caught it after my initial rinse just as I was about to add detergent. SO GROSS!! I think hubby had changed that diaper and left it for me to finish cleaning out the poo and I just totally forgot. Hopefully won’t be doing that again!!!

    I’ve heard many times about not using “free & clear” detergents…if they’re truly free AND clear, wouldn’t that mean that they DON’T contain any of the brighteners, enzymes, etc? Or am I missing the manufacturer’s definition of “free & clear” to just mean free of perfumes? I use Arm&Hammer Free for Sensitive Skin and have loved it all along. Then again, I just have prefolds and covers, so maybe they’re just not as sensitive to different types of detergents?

    Also, all clothes that I’ve ever read the label on say “tumble dry low”…my dryer doesn’t have a high and low heat setting. Do you think it’s safe to assume that the timed dry that I use is low heat? I mean, it gets fairly warm, but not crazy hot. Either way, I always hang dry my covers because I did have a pail liner get a little messed up once (not sure if it was the washer’s or dryer’s fault).

  6. Megan says:

    I have been using Purex free and clear for 8 months now, which is super cheap, and my diapers are perfect so far… (knock on wood) p.s. That is cotton prefolds, pul, microfiber, and fleece.

  7. Anonymous says:

    Why cant you use Free & Clear detergent?

  8. Julie Kieras says:

    Wow I have never seen diapers so awful! I think I have used the sanitize setting for both washer/dryer for 2 years and never had any issues with my diapers. I line dry the covers. Again no issues. These stories are just amazing… and a great read! 🙂

  9. Kate says:

    I bet that wool cover was eaten by Oxiclean.

  10. Pix says:

    A newbie comment at the beginning of the article might be nice. You’d be lucky if a potential newbie cloth diapers after reading this. It’s not that hard.

    I also disagree with the 14 diapers comment. Yes they might only last a year, but is that a bad thing? Being able to cloth diaper your child on 14 diapers for a year doesn’t sound so bad, just buy another 14 for the next year… what’s wrong with that!

  11. Anonymous says:

    I also use Purex, Ecos, and All Free and clear with no issues. When I line dry I fold them in half over the line so not so much stress is on the elastic. I mostly just lay my diapers out to dry inside and they dry overnight.

  12. Anonymous says:

    Am I the only person who’s seeing the detergent part as confusing?? It says to not use free and clear detergents then lists it as what to look for. I think it’s really annoying that different brands recommend different types of detergent. What are you supposed to do? One brand says no to this and the next says it’s ok. It’s really aggravating!

  13. Lois says:

    I hang dry by the middles so I don’t have the stretched elastics. Some have been done that way for almost two years and are still in great condition.

    My horror story is the time that I spilled the bac out into a load of pocket and it made even the suede cloth fuzzy like old fleece and those diapers shedded on my son’s bum after every single wash. UGH. They looked so bad! Lesson learned. Always make sure the cap is on securely because I am not coordinated obviously!

  14. Jama Lenig says:

    I will say that when my daughter got a yeast rash the only way to completely get rid of it, was to put a tablespoon pof bleach in every load for about a week ( to make sure I had gotten all of the diapers). I did not ruin them they still absorb quite nicely and some of my prefolds look better than ever!

  15. I checked the ingredients in my Free and Clear detergent and found no offense. It’s the only thing I use in all my diapers. If I’m lazy and accumulate 2 days of diapers, I separate the cotton from the synthetic fabrics and feel free to use more specific stuff that would be a no no for it’s counterpart.
    Anyway, so far, 2 accidents: left a soiled pocket unwashed for over a week and DH decided to leave another soaking in Murphy’s oil soap. Both were rescued and are working fine.

  16. Also, the dryer will eventually wear out the stretchiness of the elastic in diaper covers! 🙁

  17. Anonymous says:

    How about using Fels Naptha? Has anyone used that to know if it’s safe to use on the diapers? If so, what is the suggested amount to use?

  18. Nadine says:

    I first hung up my diapers on a line in the basement, then got a drying rack when he was about 2 months old. My son will be 2 in a couple of weeks, and he’s been in Rumpz since he was 10 days old. We have 24, and the elastics in the legholes of several have unfortunately stretched so much that when he sits, there’s a gap in the crotch: leaks everywhere! I’m not sure where I’ve gone wrong, since only the liners have ever been machine-dried, and the shells have been laid flat to dry for the past 21 months. He’s not toilet-training yet, so I might take this opportunity to splurge on some of the new colors.

  19. Anonymous says:

    I’m sorry this list seems like a sure way to deter everyone from cloth diapering. I feel that cloth diapers have become so complicated and high maintenance, that you end up spending more money on them vs disposables (expensive diapers, water, electricity, detergent, time and paying to fix them). Not to mention stripping and yeast prevention. Flats have always been the best way to CD for a reason.

  20. Anonymous says:

    Are my RAR really suppose to stay white? The insides of my diapers and the inserts look like they are the victim of non-compatible detergent, however that is not the case. I used to use tide original but switched to ecover because with hard water we were getting a lot of build up which was giving my son a rash. After 18 months they clearly look like they have been through many uses is that normal? Also, is there a way to prepare your diapers for the next child?

  21. Anonymous says:

    Lol, thanks for this. I hear people touting bleach and super hot water ALL THE TIME. It drives me crazy. Tide and Gain both have enzymes which is why they work. Is there a way to just add some enzymes to your regular wash though? Just curious.