Why Do My Cloth Nappies Stink?!

a baby in a green reusable nappy
*Contains affiliate links

When it comes to cloth nappies there can always be a few stumbling blocks to overcome. Topics that often come up include wash routines, leaks, fitting cloth nappies and a biggie, why do my cloth nappies stink?! Unfortunately, yes every now and then cloth nappy problems happen but thankfully there is always an answer (or several) and often a lovely cloth nappy Facebook group, retailer or cloth parent on hand to help. I have previously written about washing cloth nappies but as we know, sometimes things change, children get ill, teething happens and they can end up stinking. Let’s delve deeper into this issue…

What Can Cause Cloth Nappies to Stink?

There are several reasons you may be getting some lingering odours and these can include:

  • Wash routine isn’t working
  • Ammonia build-up (often linked to wash routine/illness etc)
  • Sickness/illness
  • Yeast infections
  • Teething
  • Nappies left too long between washes
  • Wrong type of washing powder
  • Build-up of washing powder or nappy creams
  • Dirty washing machine
  • Load size either too big or too small

Overcoming Stink Problems

If someone comes to me saying that their cloth nappies stink after a wash my first port of call is to review the wash routine. Now, even though there are some fairly strong opinions online on how we should all be washing, there isn’t always a straightforward ‘do this and it will be ok’ answer. There are always individual factors and some things that can affect the efficiency of your wash include:

  • How hard/soft the water is in your area
  • The age of your washing machine
  • How much water your washing machine uses (many are now eco machines and use far less water)
  • The cycles available to you
  • And as mentioned above, how clean your washing machine is

So, let’s start by making sure your machine is nice and clean

  • Remove the tray and wash this in warm soapy water (I use castile soap which is organic and eco-friendly)
  • Use the same soap to wash the inside of the door and the rims. Check the rubber for any mould problems. If there is some present, tackle this with white vinegar mixed with a little water.
  • Add 1 cup of white vinegar into the drawer
  • Run your machine on a hot wash (some have a clean cycle, my Samsung Eco Bubble does)
  • If you can still smell something a little wiffy, run another quick cycle with some bicarb in the drum (this should eliminate any odours)

Once finished you should have a sparkling clean washing machine.

What washing powder/detergent is being used?

To make sure you have beautifully clean and non-stinky cloth nappies you want to use a non-bio powder, no conditioner (this will affect the absorbency). An ecoegg, homemade washing detergent, soap nuts and so on as great as they are for the environment just do not cut it when it comes to cleaning deep down. We need to remove that urine and faecal matter in order to leave the nappies smelling good so keep those products for your lighter washes and find a powder that will cut it for the nappies. I personally have always used Persil with zero problems.

Once you have found a washing powder that works for you, make sure you use the recommended amount depending on water type in yout area and load size. Too little powder may not wash your nappies sufficiently and too much can lead to build-up. If you do have a build-up of washing powder you can solve this problem by following the strip wash instructions below.

Now take a look at your wash routine

Your routine should take place every 2-3 days. Any longer than this can risk the development of smells and damage to your cloth nappies. Of course, every now and then won’t matter (if you are on holiday for example) but consistently leaving them can be problematic.

You want enough nappies to fill your machine to around 3/4 full. This is enough to create agitation between the materials – too many or too few won’t allow this to happen. I store mine in a cloth nappy bin until I have enough to use. I have never soaked my nappies before a wash, dry pailing has always worked perfectly fine.

A good routine should look a little like this:

  • Cold rinse or short wash cycle with no powder
  • Your best cycle on a 40° or 60°** with a full dose of powder (no conditioner) with a spin of around 1000 rpm (I always use 1200 and my nappies have been fine with that)

And that is it. It should be simple, yet effective.

**Check the recommended temperature of the brands you are using. It is up to you if you feel that you need to use a higher temperature (say a 60° instead of a 40°) but be aware that you will be voiding any warranties if you do so and then run into issues.

You will never, ever need to boil wash your nappies, this will ruin them. Those days of cloth nappy washing are long gone.

Different washing machines

Different machines will give you different results. I used to own an older washing machine which used a lot of water. When we switched to the eco bubble I had to re-learn how to wash my cloth nappies effectively as most of the settings used very little water and I found that they weren’t coming out as clean as before. Trial and error can be a little tedious but once you find the right routine for your machine it will pay off.

On my eco bubble I use the daily wash on a 20°, no powder, no spin (this makes the load heavier for the next chosen cycle).

I then select the baby care cycle at a 60° with a full dose of powder (I live in a hard water area) with 3 or 4 rinses, added bubble soak and 1200 spin.

Dealing with that stink!

Strip washing

So now we have hopefully solved the wash issues we can now move on to removing those smells and we achieve this by carrying out a strip wash which should look like this:

  • Rinse cycle.
  • Wash on 60° with a full dose of detergent on your best wash. If you have super rinse choose this option also.
  • Wash on 60° with no detergent.
  • Rinse cycle again. If you continue to see bubbles of detergent give it another rinse to fully remove this build-up.

This wash should work to remove the build-up of washing powder, bacteria, fungal spores and ammonia.

When your child is unwell

Colds and viruses

If your child is unwell, you will probably notice that their nappies smell more than usual. This is just the body’s way of dealing with the infection. To help with this, make sure you are changing their nappy more regularly and by keeping them hydrated. During this time you will also want to perform strip washes in order to eradicate any germs. You may well find using your cloth nappies is just too much during this period so if the easiest option is to go to disposables for a while and that is perfectly ok to do. You have to do what is best for you and baby at this time.

Fungal Infections

Fungal infections such as thrush can cause serious problems for both your child and their cloth nappies. If the doctor has provided you with a cream this can also have problems for your reusables as it will affect their absorbency. Your options during this time are to stop using your reusable nappies until your child is better OR use reusable or disposable liners to protect the inside of the nappy from the cream.

The smell from the infection along with their urine can cause stinky nappy issues so you will need to keep up with those strip washes to ensure your nappies stay clean and hygienic.

The other issue is that if your wash routine isn’t doing its job effectively enough, you could end up with fungal residue on the nappy and inadvertently giving the infection back to your child when you come to reuse them. It is so tricky, isn’t it?

At the end of the day, if you want to keep using your cloth nappies you will need to do a really good strip wash after each use in this instance.


At some stage, all babies/children will have loose stools or diarrhoea. This can occur due to illness, medication or even through teething due to the amount of saliva being swallowed. The best advice here would be to use a nappy liner to help to protect the nappy from stinks and stains and again, strip wash after use.

Nappy rash

Nappy rash occurs because of illness, teething or leaving a nappy on for too long. Thankfully, cloth nappies really help to limit rashes like these due to their natural and breathable materials but they cannot eradicate this issue fully. If your baby does start to suffer from nappy rash you will need to use a cream that will help this but will not affect your cloth nappy. Choose a cream that contains mostly natural ingredients such as Weleda and Balmonds. You may also find a liner beneficial during this time and, you know what I’m going to say, wash your nappies well! If you think there is a build-up of cream leading to stinks, give your nappies a strip wash.


The best way to dry your cloth nappies is air drying and if you are struggling with stinks, then get these outside and let mother nature do her thing.

Do stains cause stinks?

Not usually no. Stains are often just the result of a reaction from your baby’s bodily functions and as long as your cloth nappies are clean, stains are just slightly annoying. However, do check yours and if there is a strong scent coming from them this is a very good indicator that your nappies are not getting cleaned well enough in your machine.

You can tackle stains quite simply by leaving them out in the sun for a few hours. Sunlight is a natural bleach and should gently lift those marks away. If this doesn’t work you could also try Violet’s Natural Bleach.

If you are having stinky cloth nappy problems I really hope that these tips have helped. Good luck.

my signature

Pin for later:

If you enjoyed this post you can follow more of our life, opinions and antics over on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Instagram. Plus feel free to come and join in with my parenting group ‘From One Parent to Another’ on Facebook.

If you’d like to contact me you can either leave me a comment or drop me a line via my contact me page.

For other topics similar to this one check out these suggestions below…

Related Posts:
5 Great Reasons Why You Should Give Reusable Nappies a Go!
a baby in a green reusable nappy

As a Mum who has used both single-use nappies and reusable nappies, I can hand on heart say that reusables Read more

How Many Cloth Nappies Do I Need?
cloth nappies in a basket

When you first start looking into using cloth nappies, it can feel a little overwhelming but one of the most Read more

How To Dry Cloth Nappies In The Winter
cloth nappies drying on a line in snow on the winter

*Contains Affiliate Links The summer is over and the chillier days are now upon us which can only mean one Read more

Affordable Ways To Get You Started With Cloth Nappies
3 cloth nappies with money near to them

Starting out with cloth nappies can seem daunting for quite a few reasons and one that comes up most often Read more

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *