Hard water, ammonia, and cloth diapers

You’re cruising along your journey into cloth diapers and everything is going smooth. You’ve finally figured out the terminology, you know how to get a good fit, you know how to wash with ease, then it happens – P-U! You wake up one morning to the horrid wreak of ammonia from your nighttime diapers. You want to curse – WT…but you bite your tongue and instead scour the internet looking for tips on how to get rid of it.

Here’s the thing, even if you get rid of it how are you going to prevent it from coming back? What caused it in the first place?

For starters you ABSOLUTELY MUST KNOW YOUR WATER TYPE!!! In a recent  cloth diaper survey (results will be revealed very soon) by DiaperShops.com (home of Kelly’s Closet) almost 25% of respondents said they had no idea what type of water they had. Of those respondents who did know their water type, 42% of them reported that they had hard water!

What is hard water? Water hardness is caused by compounds of calcium and magnesium (and other minerals) that are naturally occurring in our water supply. The USGS has some helpful information and a map (from 1970) that shows average water hardness around the U.S. If you have hard water you may notice mineral deposits on your dishes (especially glassware) that leaves them dull and drab. For laundry it will dull the fabric colors (think faded black t-shirt) and it can wreck havoc on your cloth diaper routine.

How do I know if I have hard water? The easiest and most dependable way to tell is to contact your water supply company (City, County, etc) and ask for the water hardness levels in your area. They are reported in mg/L (or ppm) by most laboratories. You can also purchase a simple water hardness test strip . For less than $1 you can test the water hardness of your home. You can also look at general maps like the one the USGS provides but the data may not reflect the real time water hardness.

What do the numbers mean?

  • 0-60 mg/L: Soft water
  • 61-120 mg/L: Moderately hard water
  • 121-180 mg/L: Hard water
  • 181+ mg/L: Extremely hard water

I have hard water, now what? Knowing is half the battle.

Some families are lucky enough to have a water softener installed on their home to help battle the water hardness. This equipment is much like a drinking water filter that filters out the calcium and magnesium minerals (among other things) from your entire home. Not only will your diapers thank you but your laundry and dishes will thank you too. You’ll also notice that you need less soap in the shower and the water feels softer/smoother when you are done showering. The benefits are worth the investment but prices vary and can cost you several hundred to thousands of dollars to install depending on the type of filter system you choose.

Water softening additives – Many diaper companies recommend Calgon or Rain Soft detergent additives (water softeners). You add these (available in liquid and powder) to your machines (most are HE friendly) every time you do laundry. At around $4-6 a bottle the cost may add up quickly and your local retailer will get to know you well. You don’t have to use it with every load, however those who use it consistently will notice less mineral build-up. What about vinegar? It’s true that vinegar can soften fabrics but if you have hard water and use vinegar you could actually be making the problem worse.

Do nothing! If you do nothing you will continue to fight the battle of ammonia. The minerals fill all the holes in your diapers (making them less absorbent) and will trap detergents and ammonia inside the diapers making that pungent smell that you notice in the morning. This smell (actually the ammonia) can result in diaper rashes that are difficult to clear up because you’re never getting your diapers clean enough.

Some great articles on ammonia and hard water:

Rockin’ Green Water Hardness Map
Understanding Ammonia in Cloth Diapers
How to Strip Cloth Diapers

About The Eco Chic

Calley Pate is a 30-something wife and mom of 2 with a love for the environment. Her passion led her to cloth diapering and all things related to natural parenting. Calley is a Biologist turned Social Media & Marketing addict who enjoys spending all day online talking about diapers and gets to call it work. You can find Calley on The Eco Chic blog, hosting cloth diaper Twitter Parties at Eco Chic Parties, and working behind the scenes with many of your favorite cloth diapering companies including DiaperShops.com/Kelly’s Closet and itti bitti.
Tags: ammonia, cloth diapers, hard water, troubleshooting

6 Responses to Hard water, ammonia, and cloth diapers

  1. Carrie says:

    Thank you for the great information. Feel free to delete this comment after, but I feel I must point out some rather glaring grammar errors in the article. First, ammonia has a reek, not wreak as used. And second, it is wreak havoc, not wreck havoc.

  2. April says:

    So how do I fix my diapers?? I’ve been using Calgon, but to no avail. I’d really rather not go to soaking in a pail (keeping my 1-year-old out would be such a hassle) but I’m running out of ideas!

  3. sarah heart says:

    I have a question. Lets say you have soft water, and use a detergent like rocking green soap (?) and use the formula they have for hard water. Would that be bad?

  4. Melissa Romero-Gomez says:

    Thank you! I never knew your water type really did matter or minerals could cause build up in your diapers!

  5. Jodie A says:

    We have a well so naturally our water is hard. However, we have a softener installed which does make a huge difference. If you don’t have one, get one because it is instantly better. You’ll wonder how you went so long without it!

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