In spite of your best efforts to keep your baby clean, happy, and generally all-around perfect, stuff happens. Spit up. Baby acne. Allergies. And yes, rashes may flare up from time to time. These ideas will help you identify the causes of various types of diaper rashes and how to address them while using cloth diapers.
Some babies have such sensitive skin that even the chemicals and fragrances in the expensive “sensitive” baby wipes irritate their little bottoms. Use cloth wipes along with plain water, a gentle premixed wipe solution, or a homemade wipe solution. (Bonus: cloth wipes save money, too!)
With a disposable diaper, you can touch the front to check for the squishy feel of the polyacrylate gel which indicates that the diaper is wet. With cloth diapers, it may be harder to tell until you’ve figured out your baby’s rhythms. As a rule of thumb, newborns should be changed at least every two hours (and every time they have a dirty diaper). If wetness seems to bother your baby’s skin, use a stay-dry fabric against your baby’s skin and/or a cloth-safe diaper ointment as a barrier.
If a rash develops after being outside in warm weather, it may be caused by a combination of heat, sweat, and urine. A cornstarch-based baby powder* or a medicated zinc powder will keep baby’s bottom dry, reducing the chances of a rash developing. If you’re just spending time outside at home in warm weather, you can put your baby in a fitted, prefold, or flat diaper (without a waterproof cover) for maximum air circulation to the bum.
* If you have any suspicion that it’s a yeast rash instead (if pimple-like spots are present in the rash or your baby has recently been on antibiotics), be aware that cornstarch can feed the yeast and worsen the rash.
If your chosen laundry detergent isn’t rinsing completely away, it can build up on the fibers of your diapers and cause irritation to baby’s skin. If you suspect you have build-up, take your clean diapers and put them through a hot water rinse cycle in your washing machine. Are there any sudsy bubbles? If so, you have build up. Keep rinsing until the bubbles are gone. Then modify your regular laundry routine with either less detergent, more rinsing, or both so that the problem doesn’t happen again.
The breakdown of human urea causes the release of ammonia. This is normal, and unless you leave your cloth diapers unwashed for 3 days or longer, you generally won’t notice any smell from this natural process. However, sometimes cloth diapers begin smell unusually strong in a way that burns the inside of your nose immediately after baby wets them or after just a few hours in the diaper pail. If you notice this happening, your cloth diapers are harboring ammonia in the fibers, which can lead diaper rash, particularly overnight. To get your diapers fresh once again, give them an extra rinse or two in hot water (if you remove anything with PUL or elastic from the load, you can use boiling water). You can also soak with a tablespoon or two of RLR or Funk Rock Ammonia Bouncer and then rinse. Going forward, be sure to modify your regular laundry routine with more rinsing so that the problem doesn’t happen again.
Yeast rashes are the most frustrating to deal with, because the yeast can transfer back and forth between the baby and the cloth diapers. If you see a rash with pimple-like spots on your baby, take immediate action. To treat your baby, add a splash of vinegar to the bath, and use a topical anti-yeast or anti-fungal cream after every diaper change. Sanitize your cloth diapers by washing them in oxygen bleach along with a few drops of tea tree oil and/or grapefruit seed extract. Use boiling water on inserts, prefolds, and flats (anything without elastic and PUL). Dry them in direct sunlight if possible.