My Diaper Washing Routine (to Avoid Ammonia Build-up)

by Jaime Sanderson – co-owner of Babes In Arms, cloth diaperer since March 2006

Calgary has hard water.  With hard water comes stinky diapers.  Hard water makes it very easy to get an ammonia build-up.  Over the last several years of cloth diapering, I’ve tweaked my routine enough that I no longer have a problem with ammonia build-up.  Here is *my* routine:

(1) I use a top-load washer.  Top loads use more water and therefore rinse diapers more thoroughly.  You can use a front-loader, but you may find you need to “trick” it into using more water, or you may need to do an extra rinse or two.

(2) I use a magnet ball in my machine.  Don’t ask me how it works, but it does — it somehow changes the calcium molecules so that the water isn’t quite as hard.  To me, it’s magical… & a key part of my washing routine.


(3) I do a cold rinse to help prevent any stains from setting.

(4) I wash my diapers (in hot) with a heaping Tbsp of Rockin’ Green Hard Rock (which is formulated to help with hard water — I think the secret ingredient is sodium percarbonate).  I usually let them sit for at least 20 minutes in the water & detergent before spinning them out.

(5) I do a double rinse.  Usually, I just start my cycle over after the diapers have first been washed — this means it ends up being a hot rinse then a cold rinse.

(6) About once every 4-6 weeks, when I do my wash, I use 3 Tbsp of the Hard Rock detergent & let it soak for over an hour.  One these days, I do yet another extra rinse.

That’s it.  That’s how I keep the ammonia away.

My biggest comment to people with ammonia is “Use MORE detergent!”  We’re always told to use less detergent when washing diapers, but sometimes we get a little too cautious.  With water as hard as it is in Calgary, it’s difficult for the detergent to work effectively, so we need to use more.

A quick note:  You can buy both the Rockin’ Green detergent & the Magnetbal at Babes In Arms, although that’s not why I mentioned them — they really are amazing products!



  1. Christina Said:

    Oh I almost cried when I found this! My diapers have been SO stinky I was using vinegar to no avail and finally just bleached them because I didn’t care anymore. Didn’t help a bit. Still stinky and then yesterday I take off my son’s diaper and he’s covered in this rash around his privates and the diaper REEKED of ammonia. I found a lady’s site that educated me about hard water- vinegar is exactly not what to do and I probably wasn’t using enough soap. So I rinsed and put calgon in, washed with dish soap with calgon, rinsed 4 times and just pulled a half dried diaper out of the drier and it’s STILL stinky. We live in a town but our water is gross and hard. I will be buying one of your magnet balls and I just started using Tiny Bubbles. It’s am miracle I wasn’t having problems before this considering all the things I was doing wrong… What do I do now? Do I boil them? Do a wash and rinse again on hot? My bamboo and prefolds do not seem to be holding on the the ammonia as much as the micro fiber (which I don’t like anyways…) and micro fleece seem to be. I would appreciate any advice you have.

    • Lindsay Said:

      Christina, I’m glad you found the post. 🙂 Hard water makes things a lot trickier with cloth diapers. Hard water is tricky in general! I would follow the stripping instructions on this post:
      Rockin’ Green Hard Rock is a MIRACLE worker and well worth getting your hands on. It does a similar thing to Calgon but is specifically formulated for cloth diapers. Bamboo and organic cotton (which I imagine your prefolds are) seem to be less likely to hold residue. With bamboo, it’s because of the inherent antibacterial property known as bamboo kuhn. Microfibre and hemp, however, suffer from build-up a lot more quickly, and worse.
      Basically, you need to effectively strip the diapers (again, look at the post I linked to, and the link within it to the Bummis website), and then after that is done and the stink is gone, following the instructions in this post should prevent future problems. Hang in there! You’re also welcome to call us as you go through the process – we re-open on Dec. 27!

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