Why Cloth Diapers Leak and How to Fix Them

Why cloth diapers leak and how to fix them

One of the most common questions I’m asked is “Why are my cloth diapers leaking?” Cloth diapers can leak for several reasons and typically, it’s an easy fix. While delamination can happen, the process where the waterproof part of the diaper fails, most of the time cloth diapers leak for the basic reasons found below. No one wants to have leaky cloth diapers but the good news is that typically the problem can be solved with little effort. Post contains affiliate links.

why cloth diapers leak and how to fix them

     Why are my cloth diapers leaking? There can be several reasons cloth diapers leak. Most causes stem around not having enough absorbency, compression leaks from synthetic fibers and improper fit. However, there can be catastrophic damage to cloth diapers, known as delamination, where the polyeurathane laminate (PUL) actually separates and is no longer waterproof.

Causes for cloth diaper leaks

1.Not enough absorbency

     One of the most common reasons cloth diapers leak is simply because the diaper doesn’t have enough absorbency. Maybe the insert the diaper came with isn’t enough for your baby and you need two inserts. Perhaps adding a natural fiber booster, such as a folded up newborn prefold or wash cloth, will fix the problem or maybe you want to get high-tech absorbency like Geffen Baby super absorbers to boost your not-so-absorbent all-in-one cloth diapers.

For some lower cost diapers, like our Alva Baby, the microfiber/bamboo insert they came with simply is not enough. For a long time I doubled them, until purchasing some actual doublers

Fix this by adding more absorbency. You can add a booster, natural fiber inserts like prefolds or double what you have. To find out if boosters will work for you, take something like an old wash cloth folded in half or even a cut up t-shirt and add it to the diaper. If it works, boosters are your answer!

cloth diapers leak

2. Diaper is worn for too long

     Cloth diapers, just like disposable diapers, need to be changed regularly or your cloth diapers leak. Often standards recommend checking hourly and “visually inspected” every 2 hours for a change. (1) Maybe you’re trying to get 3 hours out of a 2 hour diaper, or you have a well hydrated newborn who needs to be changed hourly. All of my boys needed to be changed almost hourly as newborns, but started to go longer stretches after they were a few weeks old.

     This can be fixed by changing the diaper more frequently, adding more absorbency or both. In my opinion, the dryer baby’s bum is…the better for baby. I like to change diapers at least every 2 hours and look forward to the next print from our stash!

(Pin image to Pinterest)

3. Compression leaks

     Compression leaks are exactly what their name describes. Pressing = leaking. Synthetic fibers, unlike natural fibers like cotton or hemp, hold liquid in between fibers and pee can even pocket between the large layers. If the insert is saturated and baby sits or rolls onto it…pee squeezes out.

     How does this happen? Similar to the way a sponge holds water until you squeeze it, synthetic/microfiber cloth diaper inserts leak when baby’s weight or a caregiver’s pressure pushes on them.

This can be fixed by using natural fibers, adding natural fiber boosters or changing before the insert becomes saturated enough to cause the leak.

cloth diapers leak

4. You use fabric softener

     Is your baby’s diaper leaking, but the insert is fairly dry? Fabric softener can cause cloth diapers to repel or to allow liquid to roll off without being absorbed. When I first learned this, I called Proctor & Gamble. The customer service representative told me that fabric softener shouldn’t be used on anything designed to absorb liquid: Cloth diapers, towels and even wash cloths. Why? The fabric softener coats the fibers to make them feel soft, but the chemicals repel water.

     To test, you can pour some water over your inserts. If it rolls off and generally won’t absorb, your diapers may be repelling.

     To fix this, wash items in several washes (more or less depending on how heavily they’re coated) with regular detergent should remove the softener. Stop using fabric softener.

5. You used diaper rash cream

     Another thing that can cause cloth diapers to repel pee instead of absorb, is the use of non-cloth-safe diaper cream. Generally, the natural/organic creams are cloth diaper safe and mainstream products like butt paste are not. Why? They contain ingredients designed to keep baby’s bottom dry by allowing pee to roll off, but they do the same for your diapers!

    Fix this by using a bit of dawn dish soap. I came home from work…to find that Grandma put Max strength butt paste on my cloth diapers! I had washed with a little dawn dish soap and it came out. I rinsed and laundered with my regular cloth and the problem was solved! If you have a thicker layer, it may take more to correct them but generally dawn is the way to go.

6. Diapers are not prepped

     If your cloth diapers leak and you haven’t prepped the fibers, this can be the cause. Natural fiber cloth diapers require several washes to reach maximum absorbency. The number of washes varies for each manufacturer, but the general consensus is 4-5 wash and dry cycles.

     What needs to be prepped? Included in the “need to prep” category are items like all-in-one diapers made with cotton or cotton blends, prefold diapers, flats, and natural fiber inserts. In addition to increasing absorbency, prepping the fibers often changes the appearance and diapers look wrinkled and are smaller when done.

     To fix this, complete prepping. I usually wash new diapers with my regular laundry loads and just toss it back into the washer when it comes out of the dryer. Make sure to check specific manufacturer instructions to get the best results. However, the AIO SmartBottoms Dream Diaper is a natural fiber AIO that comes already prepped!

cloth diapers leak

7. Diaper doesn’t fit well

     I have spoken to Moms who are sure that gaps around their cloth diapers lead to leaks. I personally am the gap queen. Sometimes I have a large chunk of inserts in the middle that encourages a giant leg gap…and still no leaks. However, this is not true for all. Sometimes the diaper is on wrong, if shifted to the side, the diaper in generally too big or your baby pees so quickly that it runs out of the leg gaps before the inserts can absorb it.

     This is fixed by making diaper adjustments on your one-size diapers, checking fit and practicing until you get the perfect adjustment settings. Once you figure out the best settings, baby will grow and they may need to be changed all over again!

8. Worst case scenario: PUL is bad

     Most cloth diapers are made with a water-resistant layer known as PUL. This material is normally what prevents cloth diaper leaks. If you look at your diapers, it is often the colored outer-layer of a pocket diaper, the material that completely makes up a cover, and may also be hidden under cotton in a WAHM custom.

     While PUL is commonly used for it’s water-resistant propertie, not all PUL is created equal. There are different methods for creating PUL and some Eco-Friendly and not so Eco-Friendly options.

     Sometimes the PUL just fails. It can delaminate and peel, crack or develop bubbles under what looks like a layer of skin. Sometimes this is from mistreating the diapers, not following manufacturer’s wash instructions or sometimes it’s just from low-quality diapers.

This does not apply to normal wrinkling.

     There is no fix for this. The diaper can be turned into a swim diaper or used on toys…but in general, purchasing better quality diapers and following the company’s wash instructions is the best way to avoid this.

     The reason your cloth diapers leak can be single, or maybe a combination. I hope this list helps you troubleshoot issues and have more dry-days. I used disposable diapers with my first son and even though we have the occasional cloth diaper leak, overall cloth diapers absorb better, are cuter and environmentally friendly.

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Lindsay Gallimore-O'Breham

I’d say the main reason people give up on cloth is because they leak. Troubleshooting leaks keeps more families in cloth! Yay!

4 years ago

Trying to master the absorbency game is so hard! Especially if you have misconceptions about how long to wear a cloth diaper.

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