Picture this: you've made the eco-conscious decision to cloth diaper your baby, taking a step toward sustainability, savings, comfort, and cuteness! But what happens when an unexpected intruder, like mold and mildew, decides to crash the cloth diaper party? Don't let these uninvited guests ruin the fun! In this blog post, we'll discuss what causes mold and mildew. Even more importantly, we'll equip you with the knowledge and practical tips you need to tackle this issue head-on, ensuring that your cloth diapering journey remains smooth and worry-free.
“I’m not too sure… are my cloth diapers moldy?”
Great question ;) While the terms mold and mildew are often used interchangeably, they are two distinct types of fungi, each with its characteristics and appearance on cotton.
What does mold look like on cloth diapers?
Mold can manifest as fuzzy patches in various colors, but often times with cloth diapers it resembles tiny black dots when it's deeply ingrained in the natural fibers. Mold tends to penetrate deeper into the material, making it challenging to eradicate the little stains completely.
What does mildew look like on cloth diapers?
On the other hand, mildew is typically white or gray and appears as a powdery substance on the cotton's surface. In some cases, mildew can even take on a pinkish hue. Unlike mold, mildew usually remains on the fabric's surface, which makes it less prone to staining your diapers.
That being said, whether you’ve got mold or mildew, the treatment of these two issues is the same. But we’ll get to that in just a moment.
What causes mold in cloth diapers?
Mold/mildew spots can form when there is excess water trapped in a warm, dark environment with little air circulation. Thankfully pee (due to the ph and ammonia) does not cause mold/mildew growth, so soiled diapers on their own are generally not an issue - but how they are being treated and stored between washes could be! Let's explore a few culprits to help you pinpoint the origins of mold and mildew, as well as provide information to help you gain some valuable “do’s and don’ts”
Do: Make sure your dirty cloth diapers have room to breathe. You’ll want to store your diapers in between washes in something that allows for enough room that the diapers are not suffocating. And be sure to wash every 2-3 days with a simple yet powerful routine like the one detailed here: www.esemblybaby.com/laundry
Our Pail Pouch on its own hanging on a hook or doorknob works beautifully! Or, if you prefer a diaper pail, the Diaper Dekor Plus paired with our Pail Pouch as a liner is a great combo.
Don’t: Overstuff the bag or pail with diapers. Are we getting a little redundant? But really, cramming too many diapers into a pail or bag is a common reason we see mold growth, and one that can be easily avoided! Even the perfect bag or pail can be problematic when overstuffed!
Also don’t leave your diapers for longer than 2 - 3 days between washes. Keeping on top of regularly washing your diapers will also help ensure that mold doesn’t have a chance to pop up.
And lastly... NO PLASTIC! Do not ever store your dirty diapers in plastic bags (ziplocks, grocery bags, garbage bags, etc) . Plastic does not allow for any air circulation and is a surefire way to grow mold.
Rinsing and Spraying
As mentioned, pee diapers alone are generally not a culprit for mold or mildew, but if water is introduced, this could cause problems: enter rinsing, spraying, and soaking.
Do: avoid unnecessary exposure to water. We caution against rinsing, spraying, or soaking your diapers on our How It Works page since these practices on their own can lead to premature degradation of the cotton, but they can also easily trigger fungal growth in cloth diapers.
Don’t: ever ever ever rinse or spray your diapers and then toss them soaking wet into your pail or wet bag until laundering day. As mentioned, we advise against practices like rinsing and spraying your cloth diapers, but if you do, be sure to wring them out thoroughly and let them dry out a bit before putting into any sort of wet bag or pail.
Mold and mildew are well-known for flourishing in damp conditions, and if cloth diapers are not thoroughly dried, they can become ideal breeding environments. Properly drying your diapers is essential to preventing the intrusion of mold or mildew.
Do: ensure that your cloth diapers are 100% dry before putting them away between uses. If you’re using Esembly diapers, we recommend drying everything (Inners, Outers, Day Bags, etc) all together on Timed Dry for 65-75 minutes on medium-high heat. If you opt for air drying your cloth diapers, it's essential to choose a location that is dry and well-ventilated, and of course, check every diaper to ensure it’s fully dried before stashing them to be used again.
If you’re having any trouble getting your diapers dry per the instructions above, you can try the below tips that should help save on drying time:
- If you're washing with our Agitators (which we recommend), be sure to transfer those over to the dryer, too. And, when transferring your diapers from the washer to the dryer, be sure to shake open your Inners and push them inside out so the center pad is flat and exposed.
- If washing and drying any storage bags (like our Day Bag or Pail Pouch), make sure the bags have not collected any puddles of washer water, and if they have, dump the water into the sink before placing in the dryer.
- Make sure you empty your lint trap before each diaper dry cycle.
- As a general rule (for both washing and drying), make sure not to overload your machines. You'll want your washing machine drum filled 1/2 way, or 2/3 max. This will help ensure that your diapers are getting enough of that essential "swooshing" action needed to get them deep cleaned, and also it will help cut back on the drying time.
Don’t: store your diapers until they are completely dry. Failing to do so may trap moisture within the natural fibers, creating a favorable environment for mold growth in areas with lingering dampness. This mold can then potentially spread to other moisture-prone areas.
My Diapers Have Mold. What Should I Do Now?
If you discover mold or mildew on your cloth diapers, it's important not to panic. Remember, mold and mildew issues can typically be resolved. If you happen to notice the dreaded black specks on your diaper stash, it doesn't mean your entire collection is ruined. First step is to identify the cause (using Do’s and Don’ts above). Once you've identified the factors contributing to the mold's appearance, it's time to take action and zap it. We recommend following our "Optional Refresh" method with chlorine bleach* to effectively “kill” any remaining mold or mildew, restoring your diapers to a safe and usable condition for your little one.
*We recommend picking up a fresh bottle of original Clorox for this.
Depending on the kind of washing machine you have, your refresh cycle might look something like:
Run a “Normal” cycle with 1 scoop of Washing Powder (or measure for a "normal" load if using another detergent)
Run a “Heavy Duty” (avoid settings like “Sanitize” or Extra Hot, as these are likely too intense for your diapers) with 2 scoops of Washing Powder (or measure for a "heavy duty" load if using another detergent) + 3-5 ounces of chlorine bleach in the bleach dispenser of your machine. (never pour undiluted bleach directly onto your diapers)
For further info check out the “Optional Refresh” instructions here: https://esemblybaby.com/laundry
Finally, while the Refresh above will help to kill the mold/mildew, the little black stains will often linger (though they will likely fade over time). The presence of the stains DOES NOT mean your diapers are unusable. If the stains are bothering you, one trick is to spray the diapers with a mix of white vinegar and water and lay them in the sun for natural bleaching. (the sun’s rays are remarkably effective at zapping stubborn stains!)
Ensuring a Mold-Free Future for Your Cloth Diapers
As you've learned, mold and mildew are manageable challenges if they ever do invade your cloth diaper stash. Don't let these unwelcome guests spoil your cloth diapering experience. Whether you've noticed a few black specks or powdery white spots, remember that with the right approach, you can restore your diapers to a safe and usable condition for your baby. Follow the "Optional Refresh" method we've outlined and consider the tips we've shared for prevention.
Want to learn more?
Our co-founders host a free, virtual, Cloth Diapering 101 class every month to help cloth-curious parents get all the tools and information they need! You’ll learn:
- How to use the Esembly diapers and accessories
- How to easily and effectively launder your Esembly diapers
- The impact that your choice has on the planet, your wallet, and your day-to-day.
You'll leave with the confidence to Live Less Disposably and a 20% discount code to use on your first order. 🥳 We hope to see you there!