Zinc Oxide and Cloth Diapers

Does ZINC OXIDE Cause Repelling in Cloth Diapers?  -via Diaper Wrecker

I don’t have to tell you that repelling is a dirty word amongst cloth diapering parents.

“You used WHAT BRAND OF DIAPER CREAM? Omg. You’re totally going to have repelling issues.”

You probably know that fabric softeners and ultra-greasy diaper creams are common culprits when it comes to repelling. Remember when I tried to ruin a diaper with Downy and Desitin? But how about zinc oxide? It’s an ingredient found in a lot of skin-care products and it’s hailed as a great cure for diaper rash.

Zinc Oxide and Cloth Diapers – Can They Get Along?

It’s a question that most cloth-diapering parents would like an answer to, considering the large number of popular diaper creams that contain zinc oxide – some marketed as “natural” products and some not. To name just a few, you have Desitin Rapid Relief, California Baby Diaper Rash Cream, Aveeno Baby Diaper Rash Cream, Boudreaux’s Butt Paste, Badger Organic Zinc Oxide Diaper Cream, and the new GroVia Magic Stick “Z”. Plus tons more.

More often than not, I read warnings that zinc oxide and cloth diapers aren’t exactly… sympatico. (Yes, I wrote that thinking in the voice of Flynn Ryder from Tangled. I’m putting that on my list of movies to watch again soon.)


For example:

  • According to a page on the Earth Mama Angel Baby website: “Zinc oxide coats cloth diapers and renders them non-absorbent.”
  • Similarly, the Motherlove blog indicates that “Zinc is not a cloth diaper friendly ingredient; it’s made to repel moisture from a baby’s skin so if it comes in contact with a cloth diaper unfortunately it will also work the same effects in the place where you really want absorbency.”

However, Anne over at the Zephyr Hill blog makes a fabulous case that zinc oxide has been unfairly blamed for repelling. Anne argues that it’s actually a matter of what else is in the diaper cream – after all, zinc oxide is a powder, so it has to be mixed with other ingredients to form a cream that can be applied to baby’s bottom.

Zinc Oxide Plus What?

Let’s take that list of diaper creams and examine the creamy/oily/greasy ingredients in each. Taking those other ingredients as an indication of whether the product is cloth-safe or not really matches up with most of the anecdotal evidence I’ve heard from other moms about which creams cause repelling and which don’t:

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What’s been your experience with zinc oxide and cloth diapers? Leave your wisdom below! 

Diaper Rash Creams and Cloth Diapers

If you’re just jumping into the world of cloth diapers, you’re probably thinking, “Whew! I finally got it all straight. I’ve figured out the cloth diaper systems, materials, features, and care. Wait, now you’re telling me that I also have to be careful about what kind of diaper rash creams can be used?!”

I know. I’m sorry. But I promise that it’s not hard to sort out the compatibility of diaper rash creams and cloth diapers. You just need to look at it on the ingredient level, which is what we will do in this article.

Diaper Rash Creams and Cloth Diapers

Common Diaper Rash Cream Ingredients

Ingredients Generally Considered “Cloth-Safe”

All of the “cloth friendly” ingredients should rinse away easily in regular the hot wash cycle of your washing machine without additional cleaning measures. These ingredients are not overly greasy or thick. They are best for preventative use.

  • Beeswax – locks in moisture; naturally anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, anti-allergenic, and germicidal
  • Vitamin E – high in antioxidants; benefits the skin by helping it retain its natural moisture content
  • Lanolin – a rich source of skin lipids
  • Shea butter – effective at repairing damaged skin due to high levels of natural antioxidants and essential fatty acids
  • Cocoa butter – a natural skin softener, high in Vitamin E
  • Aloe vera – cool and soothing; can reduce skin inflammations, itchiness, and blistering
  • Coconut oil – contains a unique combination of fatty acids that moisturize skin beautifully
  • Olive oil – a gentle moisturizer for dry skin, containing Vitamin E, Vitamin A, and four different antioxidants
  • Grapeseed oil – aids with skin repair, as it has mildly antiseptic qualities
  • Jojoba oil – acts as a natural barrier to environmental allergens, and may help slow the growth of bacteria because of its anti-microbial properties

Ingredients to Use with Caution

Paraffin, petroleum jelly, white or yellow petrolatum, and mineral oil are common ingredients to see on the labels of diaper rash creams. These ingredients are derived from hydrocarbons and put through a refining process. Because they have a heavier, greasier texture than most of the ingredients in the section above, I recommend using these with caution on cloth diapers. Test them first (like I did with Grandma El’s – which contains yellow petrolatum) or use a disposable liner as a precaution.

Zinc oxide is questionable; many sources claim that it causes repelling and stains.

Ingredients to Keep Away from Cloth Diapers

The three ingredients in diaper rash creams that you should always keep away from cloth diapers are:

  1. Cod liver oil – will cause repelling and a “fishy” smell in cloth diapers.
  2. Calamine – may cause repelling; will leave a pink stain.

Tips for Avoiding Problems with Diaper Rash Creams and Cloth Diapers

Remember, natural fibers are more forgiving when it comes to washing away any kind of build-up, because the pores of the fibers are larger. Prefolds, flats, or any natural-fiber AIO or AI2 are great to have on hand for those times when you might need to use a particularly thick ointment. My mom, Crunchy Nana, recalls using Vaseline fairly regularly with prefolds without ever encountering a repelling problem.

If you’re not sure about an ingredient (or a combination of ingredients), just go ahead and use a liner to be safe. I’ve had to turn to Triple Paste a few times to resolve a bad diaper rash quickly, and I kept using my cloth diapers. Thanks to disposable liners, I had no issues with the thick cream transferring to the diaper.

One additional caution: If you’re dealing with a yeast rash, consider switching to disposable diapers until the rash has cleared up. It’s not necessarily the creams that cause a problem with your diapers (although they might), but you could have a bigger problem with the yeast lingering in the diapers.

Stripping Greasy Build-Up from Cloth Diapers

Oops! So let’s say that you were blissfully unaware of the problems that some diaper rash creams can cause for cloth diapers. Let’s say you smeared globs and globs of the greasiest possible ointment all over your baby’s bottom and then put on the best, most expensive, most beautiful cloth diaper in your entire stash.

The horrors!

Is there any recourse?

I’m certain that you can fix any build-up problem you have. I once tried to ruin a diaper with Desitin, but was able to fully restore its absorbency with just a few extra steps. (It does still have some stubborn gray stains that won’t go away, but that doesn’t affect the performance of the diaper in any way.)

What types of diaper rash creams have you had problems with? What is your favorite “cloth-friendly” diaper rash cream?

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Will Grandma Els Cause Repelling?

Does Grandma Els cause repelling?

One of the precautions you must remember to take with cloth diapers is to avoid using just any old diaper cream on the shelves of your local supermarket or big-box store. Using a particularly pasty or greasy ointment can lead to a cloth diaper woe known as repelling, in which the fibers of the cloth aren’t able to absorb moisture properly because the residue from the ointment doesn’t wash away completely without some serious extra scrubbing.

A number of diaper creams and ointments – including Grandma Els – claim to be “cloth diaper friendly”, but many of us still wonder if we should use a liner in the diaper as a precaution just in case too much of the ointment touches the surface of the diaper. After all, most of the cloth-friendly ointments still include some type of disclaimer about how they can’t be held responsible for damages to diapers.

For example, the Grandma Els homepage clearly states:

“While Grandma Els works well with many brands of cloth diapers, there may be some brands or styles with which it may not. Grandma Els is not responsible for possible damages to cloth diapers or clothes.”

Of course, you can’t blame a company for putting out a disclaimer like that. They have no control over how much ointment you use, what kind of diapers you have, or how you wash the diapers. If someone makes a habit of using enormous globs of ointment and then washes their diapers in a high-efficiency machine with lukewarm water, there’s a good chance that the diapers will eventually show signs of repelling.

I took my sincere question to Google, which magically finished my question about Grandma Els being cloth-diaper safe. I’m not the only one hungry to know: “Will Grandma Els cause repelling?”

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Public Service Announcement: Google can also help you if you need to communicate with your grandmother in Elvish or if she’s in an elevator.

The first time I smelled a tiny sample packet of Grandma Els, it whisked me back to the days of playing with my collection of Strawberry Shortcake figurines. Needless to say, I was hooked on the sweet scent. I also appreciate the fact that it’s a little thicker than most other cloth-friendly ointments. It’s my go-to tube when my baby has a slightly red bottom, and usually after  just one or two uses, his skin clears right up. I have never used a liner and never had a repelling problem.

But I wanted to know: Will Grandma Els cause repelling in my cloth diapers if I try really hard and use a TON of it?! 

I devised a little experiment:

  1. Take two clean diapers – an unbleached cotton prefold and a bumGenius 4.0 – and mark a target on each.
  2. Test the time it takes each diaper to absorb 50 mL of water under pressure within the target area.
  3. Smear an entire teaspoon of Grandma Els on each target. Let it sit for an hour.
  4. Rinse off the diapers with a sprayer; put through regular laundry routine.
  5. Re-test the time it takes each diaper to absorb 50 mL of water within the target area.

Test for repelling with Grandma Els

The results?

  • The prefold absorbed the water in 16.5 seconds the first time and 17.1 seconds the next time (a 4% increase).
  • The bumGenius absorbed the water in 19.3 and 20.5 seconds, respectively (a 6% increase).

Although there was a slight increase in the speed of absorption, it was not significant enough to cause a leak if these diapers had been worn by a baby. In addition, I don’t think anyone in their right mind would use that much ointment on that small of an area!

Therefore, I’m happy I can now *officially* recommend Grandma Els Diaper Rash Remedy & Prevention as truly cloth-diaper safe based on my own personal diaper wrecking attempt.

BUT WAIT! That’s not all…

You can enter the giveaway below for a chance to win a 2-ounce tube of Grandma Els! (Open to US & Canada, 18 & older.)

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Earth Mama Angel Baby Helps Celebrate the Diaper Wrecker Debut!

EMAB title pic

Remember how bad Desitin is for cloth diapers? Turns out it’s also not so great for baby, either. Earth Mama Angel Baby’s Bottom Balm is gentle, all-natural, and won’t cause cloth diapers to repel.

And remember how you can make your own baby wipe solution with other ingredients you already have? Earth Mama Angel Baby’s calming lavender shampoo would make your wipe solution smell amazing!

What if I told you you could win these things? It’s true. Earth Mama Angel Baby is generously giving away three awesome prize bundles, each one with an adorable reusable tote bag, to celebrate the launch of Diaper Wrecker!

The wonderful thing about Earth Mama Angel Baby is that their products are as safe as mama’s arms, made with certified organic ingredients – no toxins EVER! – and truly honest labels. While Johnson & Johnson is dilly-dallying around, promising to remove carcinogenic chemicals and other harmful substances from baby products by the year 2015, Earth Mama Angel Baby has always been committed to doing things the right way, holding themselves to the highest standards of product safety. Every Earth Mama Angel Baby product is made with only pure, natural, worry-free ingredients. It’s time to experience this goodness for yourself!

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So You’ve Got Repelling Cloth Diapers

Repelling cloth diapers (and how to fix them) are a hot topic in discussion forums. As the Diaper Wrecker, I felt it was my duty to investigate this problem and see whether it’s really so angst-worthy. After slathering this poor diaper with Desitin and soaking it in a Downy bath for 24 hours, I was pretty sure I had successfully created a repelling problem. I hung it up to dry, and I was haunted by two thoughts: (1) Downy has a way strong smell, and (2) ohhh emm geee how am I ever going to remove all of that smeared-on, greasy Desitin?!

Repelling Cloth Diaper

Before I describe how I went about excorcising this diaper of its evil, greasy build-up, I have a word of caution for you. This is an extreme example of a repelling diaper. If you have a problem with persistent leaks and think your diapers might be repelling, check a few other things first. It may just be that the diaper is fully saturated or not fitting properly on your baby.

Now let’s talk about stripping. It’s a word I hear waaaaaay too often in cloth diapering discussion forums and it usually makes me cringe. Why? Because if you have to strip (i.e. deep-clean) your cloth diapers on a regular basis, it means something about your regular wash routine is out of whack. There are many different ways to strip cloth diapers, and the method you choose should depend on what kind of build-up (detergent, ammonia, ointment, etc.) is present:

  • For detergent build-up, a few extra hot washes with RLR Laundry Treatment
    will generally do the trick, and then you need to reduce the amount of detergent in your usual wash routine.
  • For ammonia build-up, a soak in Rockin Green Funk Rock Ammonia Bouncer
    followed by a hot wash with detergent usually does it for me.
  • For serious greasiness, unfortunately, laundry products don’t usually help, and we turn to a product made for de-greasing dishes – Dawn.

Blue Dawn is a de-greaser, which can help your repelling cloth diapers

This was actually my first time to use Dawn for diapers and I wanted to be careful. Dawn generates some pretty intense suds, which can overwhelm the pump and motor of your washing machine if you use too much. We had to replace the pump of our washing machine a few years ago and it cost about $300 when it was all said and done, so I’m not interested in risking that for the sake of one cloth diaper. This is a job that requires scrubbing by hand.

I added this much Dawn. It made me laugh because it made me think of a Smurf skid mark.

9_Dawn application

Anyway, then I started scrubbing it with hot water and a toothbrush. It didn’t seem to be doing much – I could still feel the Desitin clinging to the fleece. Out of frustration, I threw it in the soaking bucket, added 2 more drops of Dawn, filled it with hot water, and left it for a few hours.

10_Dawn Soak

After the soak, I rinsed it with hot water until most of the suds were gone, and then tossed it into the washing machine and did a hot rinse.

After the pocket and insert had dried, I re-tested to determine the time it would to absorb 50 ml of water under pressure. (Before the experiment, it only took 8 seconds.) I was pleasantly surprised to find that although now it took 13 seconds to absorb the same amount, the water did go through. I was really expecting it to just sit there on top of the fleece.

I was doing diaper laundry anyway, so my next step was to throw it in the pre-wash with my other diapers. I added a scoop of Country Save oxygen bleach in the pre-wash just for the heck of it, and then did my normal hot wash with Country Save detergent followed by a final rinse. After everything had dried, I noticed that the “wrecked” diaper no longer smelled much like Downy. There was just a faint hint of it.

I laid the “wrecked” diaper next to its twin (which been cared for properly and never exposed to the Downy, Desitin, or dryer sheets) and poured a little water on both of them. I let them sit this way for 15 minutes, but neither one of them absorbed the water. As I’ve explained before, this is normal behavior. I bet you can’t even tell which diaper is which:

Side by Side Comparison

Ok, ok, I’ll tell you. The diaper on the left is the one that went through the gauntlet. After this photo, it absorbed 50 ml in 10.5 seconds, while the diaper on the right did it in 8 seconds.

Based on my experience, it wasn’t too hard to bring the diaper back to decent performance. I was actually hoping that it would be harder, because I wanted to share an idea for what you could do as a last-ditch effort to prevent repelling.



Snip, snip.

13_Snip Snip

Ha ha! Just did. Ok, I don’t actually recommend this. I suppose if  you were at the end of your rope, without a warranty, and just seriously pissed off a diaper, you could do it. It might feel liberating.

(But it only improved the time to 9.5 seconds, which wasn’t too impressive.)