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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How to Treat Cloth Diaper Stains

Are you anal about cloth diaper stains?

OMG… my sincere apologies… I just couldn’t help myself.

Personally, I take a practical approach. To me, cloth diaper stains are as inevitable as bib stains. Since they are hidden on the inside of the diaper, the only people who will see them anyway are the elite and chosen group of my son’s diaper changers – me, my husband, and occasionally Crunchy Nana. However, if stains really bother you or you’re just trying to spruce up some stained cloth diapers before selling them, you might have a few questions about the best ways to remove the stains without damaging the diapers.

It’s a balancing act. Sure, you can soak those babies in chlorine bleach (clarification for CYA purposes: I’m referring to soaking the diapers, not real babies) and they’ll come out looking pristine. However, chlorine is so potent that it will weaken the fibers of the diapers and cause them to deteriorate sooner in the long run. Remember my chlorine vs. oxygen bleach test on a SoftBums bamboo pod stained beyond recognition courtesy of beet juice? Just a few weeks later, the end of the pod that had been soaked in chlorine bleach is now full of holes!

Stained Cloth Diaper Insert Bleach aftermath

The difficult thing is to find the gentlest possible method of removing the stain. Before anything else, always try sunning your cloth diapers first – clean but damp and in direct sunlight. If that doesn’t remove the stain to your satisfaction, here are some more natural ways to treat cloth diaper stains. (Keep in mind, there is no one foolproof stain remover prescription I can give you, because there will always be other variables at play – the type of stain, the type of fabric, whether you have any mineral build-up in your diapers from hard water, etc.)

Ways to Remove Cloth Diaper Stains

  • Baking Soda (Sodium Bicarbonate) – A nonabrasive cleanser and deodorizer; very mild. Some claim that it keeps diapers white with regular use, but for stubborn diaper stains, I haven’t personally found it to be effective. However, baking soda is cheap and you’ve probably got some around your house anyway, so it can’t hurt to try.
  • Borax (Sodium Borate) – According to someone with a PhD in chemistry, Borax cleans by converting some water molecules to hydrogen peroxide (H2O2), which bleaches out stains – a reaction which is more favorable in hotter water.
  • Citric Acid – Also known as lemon salt, citric acid is used as a preservative in foods and is non-toxic. You can likely find it in the canning aisle of your local grocery store. Citric can be used as a hard water additive and natural laundry softener. For stain removal, dissolve in water and spritz directly on the stain.
  • Hydrogen Peroxide – As sold in drugstores, 3% hydrogen peroxide is safe for household use as a disinfectant and stain remover. Make a mixture of 1 part peroxide to 3 parts warm water.
  • Lemon Juice – A natural bleaching agent due to the presence of citric acid. Rub directly on stain.
  • Oxygen Bleach – Powdered oxygen bleach is made from natural soda ash or borax and hydrogen peroxide. It is color-safe and doesn’t break down fibers like chlorine bleach. You can either add a scoop of oxygen bleach to your washing machine or, for tougher stains, make a paste and rub it directly into the problem spot.

If you’re just treating inserts, prefolds, flats, or wipes, it’s fine to soak them directly in a solution containing one of the stain-fighters listed above. If treating the lining of a pocket diaper or the absorbent material in an AIO, I would recommend making a solution or paste to apply directly to the stained part of the diaper without touching any elastic or PUL, since these substances could be caustic to those more delicate components of the diaper.

Have you tried any of these methods? Which is your favorite and why?

SoftBums: Boiled, Stained, Bleached, and Soaked

Remember the line from Forrest Gump where Bubba is talking about all you can do with shrimp?

Shrimp Is the Fruit of the Sea

“You can barbecue it, boil it, broil it, bake it, saute it. Dey’s uh, shrimp-kabobs, shrimp creole, shrimp gumbo. Pan fried, deep fried, stir-fried. There’s pineapple shrimp, lemon shrimp, coconut shrimp, pepper shrimp, shrimp soup, shrimp stew, shrimp salad, shrimp and potatoes, shrimp burger, shrimp sandwich. That- that’s about it.”

This is how I felt when contemplating how I could attempt to wreck a SoftBums diaper. The possibilities are endless! And how fun is a company that’s not just okay with me attempting to wreck their beautiful products, but actually enthusiastic about it?! I want the blog portion of Diaper Wrecker to informative but also fun, so I don’t do plain ole reviews. I only do wrecks!

I received two SoftBums Echo shells and two SoftBums one-size bamboo pods. The Echo shell and pod comprise an all-in-two (AI2) cloth diaper system. The Echo is a waterproof shell, lined with soft fleece on the inside, and the long “pod” (the SoftBums term for the absorbent soaker) snaps into the back of the shell.

When I opened the package from SoftBums, I was momentarily confused. The diapers were so tiny, they looked like they were made for newborns. In fact, I had several newborn diapers laying around my store, so I set them up for a comparison photo. (Warning – this photo may cause you to want to have more babies.)

SoftBums compared to newborn diapers

SoftBums Echo Shell (with elastic fully tightened), Swaddlebees Newborn Simplex, GroVia Newborn AIO, Lil Joey Newborn AIO.

Anyway, I then realized that the elastic was simply tightened up all the way on both diapers, so I used the toggles to loosen the elastic on one of the diapers. Voila! Now I see a lot of cloth diapers, folks, and this was so cool I think I may have jumped up and down with excitement. Most diapers that claim to be “one-size” make me roll my eyes – newborns are simply too tiny for them. This one, though? They’re serious! It’s the only real “one-size” diaper I’ve seen.

SoftBums Elastic Setting Comparison

Same diaper – different elastic settings.

For the purposes of this attempted wreck, the ocean blue shell and its pod were treated properly, while the chocolate shell and its pod were subjected to various forms of cloth diaper torture. With these diapers, I went on a quest to discover:

  1. Is boiling an effective method of prepping natural fibers?
  2. Is vinegar bad for elastic and/or PUL?
  3. Is borax bad for elastic and/or PUL?
  4. Is oxygen bleach just as effective as chlorine bleach?

Boiling Cloth Diapers

As explained on the “Cloth Diaper Care” page, the extent of prepping required for new cloth diapers depends on whether they are made of natural or synthetic fibers. Natural fibers, such as SoftBums’ bamboo pods, require repeated washing and drying to help them reach full absorbency. I generally put natural fiber diapers through three wash/dry cycles before use, but I hear a lot of people talk about boiling as a faster means of prepping. And of course I’m game!

So here I’m boiling the SoftBums bamboo pod. Anyone know the melting temperature of plastic snaps? I’m secretly hoping the snap will melt, or at least get a little warped. That would be exciting.

Boiling diapers

I boiled the bamboo pod vigorously for 20 minutes. You could do the same or until al dente. Remove with tongs.

Boiled Diaper

Side note: Clearly this is the closest I’ll ever come to running a cooking blog.

As you can see, the snap fared just fine through 20 minutes of boiling. In addition, when I did a side-by-side comparison of the three-times-washed-and-dried pod versus the boiled pod, they had both shrunk to the exact same size. The boiled pod (right) just looks a little more wrinkly, but that’s because I hung it to dry whereas the other one had tumbled in the dryer.

Regular Prepping vs Boiling

So, sadly, there was no wreckage to report with the boiling. However, I really don’t recommend this route and here’s why. First, it created so much extra heat in the kitchen. I live in Memphis and it’s summertime, y’all – ugh! Also, I’m a somewhat forgetful multi-tasker and it could be a fire hazard. If you’re chasing after little ones or dealing with pregnancy brain, it’s not worth the risk.

Soaking in Vinegar and Borax

Have you ever heard that vinegar and borax are both too harsh on cloth diapers? I have, but some people choose to use these products on their diaper laundry anyway. Time for Diaper Wrecker to investigate!

Vinegar and Borax

Distilled white vinegar is commonly used as a natural alternative to fabric softeners such as Bounce or Downy (both of which will cause greasy build-up on cloth diapers). I’ve also read claims that it will kill bacteria and restore the pH balance in cloth diapers. Vinegar is essentially a mixture of acetic acid and water and has a pH of about 3 (acidic), so the bacteria-killing properties make sense. However, as the pH of human urine varies by individual and diet, whether or not it will balance out the pH in your diapers is a bit of a gamble, in my opinion.

Borax may be a natural mineral, but is toxic to humans when ingested. Less than 5 grams can be lethal to a child if ingested. Therefore, if you use this product in your household, keep it stored away safely where your little ones cannot reach it! It has a slightly alkaline pH (about 9.5).

As you can see from the pH chart below, these products are on opposite ends of the spectrum:


So of course, I had to subject the chocolate Echo shell to a good, long soak in these two products to see if there was any noticeable effect. First, the shell enjoyed a 36-hour bath in about a gallon of water and two cups of distilled white vinegar. After that, it hopped into a 36-hour soak in about a gallon of water and a cup of borax.

The results were quite boring – I could find no evidence of immediate damage to the PUL or elastic of the SoftBums Echo shell. However, my recommendation is that if you use these products on your cloth diaper laundry, do it on inserts only. After all, PUL and elastic are the more delicate (and expensive) parts of a cloth diaper, and I have no doubt that repeatedly subjecting them to acidic or alkaline products would cause unnecessary wear on them in the long run.

Battle of the Bleaches – Chlorine vs. Oxygen

My final experiment involves another hotly debated laundry product. Aren’t you tired of wondering whether bleach is okay for your cloth diapers or not? I think the pH chart above helps explain why you don’t want to use it frequently – it’s highly alkaline. But sometimes a stubborn stain might make you a bit desperate.

We had some delicious beets for dinner one night, when I got a wonderful, awful idea. Why should I throw out all that wonderful beet juice when it would make the PERFECT STUBBORN STAIN?

Beet Stains

My husband said it looked like the SoftBums pod had been used for some afterbirth cleanup. And so it did. Now you know why they use blue dye in all the diaper and feminine product demonstrations!

After a couple of washes, I was really excited about how good and stained it was. Hard to believe this is a brand-new pod. Beet stains; who knew?!

Stained pod

I soaked one end of the pod in oxygen bleach and the other end in chlorine bleach for two hours. I love oxygen bleach, so I was really pulling for it to do an equally good job as the chlorine bleach!  Oxygen vs Chlorine Bleach

Good thing I didn’t put any money on this bet. The chlorine bleach-soaked end of the pod was a beautiful white, while the oxygen bleach-soaked end remained quite dingy. There you have it – if you have a really stubborn stain, go for the big guns! Oxygen vs Chlorine Bleach Test

TL;DR Version (“Too Long; Didn’t Read”)

  • Boiling the bamboo pod was just as effective as washing & drying it three times, but I’m not converted to boiling.
  • Vinegar and borax are on opposite ends of the pH scale, so both could be harsh for your diapers. However, 36 hours of each didn’t harm my SoftBums Omni Shell, so if you’ve been using these products on elastic and PUL, you may not see immediate signs of damage. I’d recommend using products like that on inserts only.
  • For tough stains, chlorine bleach is much more effective than oxygen bleach. However, it is highly alkaline, so use it only when necessary (and again, I’d recommend keeping it away from elastic and PUL).

Are you intrigued by the SoftBums’ “Slide2Size” toggle elastic system? You should be! It’s the coolest thing I’ve seen all week. Coming up tomorrow – a SoftBums giveaway!