Leaks happen occasionally, no matter what kind of diaper you use. With cloth diapers, persistent leaks shouldn’t happen. If you’re experiencing persistent leaks, you may need more absorbency, repair to the diaper, improvements to the fit, or some extra washing.

Your Baby Exceeded the Diaper’s Absorbent Capacity

Check to see whether the diaper is completely soaked. If you’re using a pocket diaper, is the insert totally saturated from front to back? If so, congratulations! Your baby is well on his way to excelling in life. Baby – 1, Diaper 0. To prevent this from happening again, you’ll need to add absorbency to the diaper and/or shorten the time between diaper changes.

The Waterproofing Has Lost Effectiveness

If your diaper seems to be leaking right through the waterproofing, you may have a delamination problem. Generally this starts in the back of the diaper. First, examine the PUL (polyurethane laminate – the slick inside part of the cover piece) for signs of wear and tear such as a cracked or bubbling appearance. If the lamination is damaged, it’s nearly impossible to repair it yourself. Hopefully the diaper is still under warranty.

Delamination Collage

If you’ve been using a wool cover, it may just be time to re-lanolize.

You Need to Adjust the Fit

Leaks most commonly happen when non-waterproof pieces are not tucked properly inside waterproof pieces or when the diaper isn’t fit snugly on the baby. Indentations from the elastic on your baby’s skin are normal and indicate a good, snug fit. However, these marks should fade quickly after the diaper is removed and should never make the skin turn pink or red.

Start checking the fit at the waist, legs, and back each time you diaper your baby to make sure everything is just right, and soon you’ll have the proper fit every time.

  • At the front
    • With pocket diapers, make sure the insert isn’t bulging at the top.
    • If you have a tummy sleeper, consider using a diaper or cover with tummy elastic for naps and overnight.
    • Check that the wings are tucked in straight along the sides.
    • Make sure baby boy parts are pointing down.
  • At the legs
    • Try snapping the rise down to a smaller setting, which will cinch up the legs a little.
    • Make sure the elastic is not resting on baby’s inner thigh, but tucked into the groin.
    • If you’ve been double or triple-stuffing a pocket diaper, it may be overstuffed, causing gaps at the legs. Try taking one of the extra inserts out.
    • With a prefold, check that it’s completely tucked under the cover all the way around the circumference of the legs.
    • Is the leg elastic shot? If so, many diapers have a warranty that will cover this for a certain period of time. Otherwise, it’s not hard to repair it yourself. (Tutorial coming soon!)
  • At the back
    • Some pocket diapers have a flap at the back that covers the pocket opening – make sure it’s tucked in.

Determine if the Diaper is Repelling

People who are frustrated with leaks often jump to the conclusion that a diaper is “repelling” (not absorbing properly) when in fact the absorbency is just fine. On the materials page, I explained that stay-dry fabrics work because they don’t want to absorb wetness. Therefore, if you pour water on a diaper with a stay-dry material (such as the pocket diaper in the photo below), the water will simply sit for a moment before soaking in. This is normal and does not necessarily mean the diaper is repelling. After all, the water doesn’t have any pressure to help it pass through the stay-dry layer like it would if your baby’s bottom were pressed snugly against it.

Leaks Page

A more accurate test of whether a cloth diaper is repelling involves a squirt gun or a medicine syringe. Put some pressure behind the flow of the water and try to “inject” it into the diaper. If it absorbs right away, you don’t have a repelling problem. (In my experience, normal cloth diapers take about 10 seconds to absorb 50 ml.) Instead, the culprit was likely that the diaper wasn’t fit well enough, or it became oversaturated.

If, however, it the diaper refuses to absorb the injected water, you probably have a repelling problem. Are you using natural fibers that haven’t been through enough wash/dry cycles? Have you been slathering on diaper rash cream heavily without using a liner? Did you accidentally use fabric softener on your diaper laundry?  These are all common causes of repelling. In this case, there are some extra washing steps you can take to fix it.