Healing Rashes While Cloth Diapering
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Healing Rashes While Cloth Diapering

dandelion blowing

Written by Sherrie Cook, Contributing Writer

There are many reasons to choose cloth diapers for your baby. Many mums choose cloth to aid in the prevention of diaper rashes. Cloth diapers are breathable, allowing air to flow freely through them. ThisΒ  constant air movement provides a natural, dry environment without using harsh chemicals next to baby’s skin. In most cases, rashes are “gone with the wind”.

Unfortunately, not even using cloth guarantees a rash-free childhood for your little one. Rashes in the diaper area can be caused and/or made worse by a variety of different things.

Some of the most common irritants include:

  • moisture trapped against the skin from heavy wetters, infrequent diaper changes or insufficient diaper absorbency
  • irritation from urine and feces (pH is raised with this combo to a higher alkalinity allowing baby’s delicate skin to break down more rapidly)
  • chemical irritants from detergents/soaps
  • allergic reactions from dyes, fragrances, fibers, etc.
  • friction/chaffing
  • restricted air flow
  • oral antibiotics (kill the “good” bacteria and leave the “yeasty” bacteria to run a muck)
  • microorganisms
  • diarrhea
  • introduction of new foods
  • commercial wipes

How do you know which one(s) of these factors is causing your child’s rash?

Unfortunately, it’s basically a process of elimination (no pun intended). In the meantime, while you solve the mystery of the rash, it is extremely important to give your baby’s skin a helping hand while it heals. This does NOT mean you will be forced to dig into the far reaches of the hall closet for that dusty, left-over disposable diaper (now two sizes too small) from last May!

Here are a few ideas to give you hope for finding more natural solutions:

Healing Rashes While Cloth Diapering:: Ointments

Most diapering systems suggest that you do NOT use creams and ointments since these products can coat the fabric of your diapers and cause repelling issues. Nobody wants that! What I suggest to concerned moms is two-fold.

Choose a cloth diaper friendly ointment. A couple of my favorites are petroleum-free Baby Bottom Better Salve and Grandma El’s Rash Cream. (Many moms really like Northern Essence Diaper Salves, too, though I haven’t needed to try the latter because the first two always worked well for my babies.)Β  Used sparingly, a little goes a long way, these ointments should not clog your diaper fabric.

If you are still concerned that the use of ointments might ruin your diapers, place a piece of fabric (i.e. flannel, fleece, a cloth wipey, a prefold diaper, or even a strip ripped from an old tee shirt) between your baby’s bum and the cloth diaper.

This additional layer will serve as a barrier and will keep most ointment residue from transferring onto your favorite diapers. Once used, you may launder the fabric with your cloth diapers or, for cautious parents, with a load of jeans. If you think yeast may be involved secondary to your child’s rash, this may be one case where tossing the barrier fabric might be your best bet.

*Be sure to check your manufacturers warranty prior to the use of any diapering ointments listed here.

:: Naked Time

(If your babies are like mine, they’re cheering already!)Β  Babies generally LOVE to be freed from all things that bind them – including diapers!

Right after a bath or diaper change, consider letting your little one air out a bit before replacing the diaper. Make sure all baby’s cracks and crevices are patted completely dry.

Resist the urge to use talcum powder (bad for the lungs if inhaled) or cornstarch (cornstarch rings the dinner bell for yeast – you don’t ever want to encourage the presence of yeast by setting out a yummy treat) in the diaper area, especially when the skin is already broken and vulnerable with a rash.

An absorbent prefold placed under your baby (if he’s not yet mobile) will provide ample coverage for a few minutes . If your baby is on the run, a loose fitting prefold, soft diaper cover or trainer will do the trick for a few minutes – just don’t forget he’s not leak proof and start dinner. πŸ™‚

Happy Rash-Free Diapering!

baby happy outside

Photos courtesy of:Β  Ozrix, La Grande Farmer’s Market & crimfants

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  1. I love cloth-diapering but struggle with how to keep them clean/smelling fresh. Right now I use Arm & Hammer clear detergent (the one with no dyes, fragrance,etc) and I hang them out in the sun to dry. That keeps them stain free but they still have a lingering odor to them. Any advice? Other detergent suggestions?

    1. @Krista, White vinegar in the wash/soak is great. I usually do that every few loads. You could also try to put a few drops of Tea Tree Oil in the wash/soak.

    2. @Krista, I have issues now and then. I find mostly when I use the dryer, and not when I line dry. I have found a few things: one is that I need to put fewer diapers in the wash at once, and set it to the highest water level possible. The diapers need lots of water space to get really clean.

      I also was told by a diaper company to soak my diapers in Nature Clean’s oxygen powder bleach (its not chlorine and is non toxic and safe). I use prefolds though. The Nature Clean stuff is sodium percarbonate and is safe for my prefolds, but not the covers. I’m not sure about other diapers, you’d have to check.

      If you go on Bummis’ website they have a list of detergents. However the one I use is on their site as good, but I still have issues now and then. That is why I think it has to do with not having enough water to wash around in, and my hard water issue too. Using the Nature Clean stuff now and then hopefully will help me long term too. I’ve found that calling the company I bought the diapers from helps as they can trouble shoot with you. There are lots of factors.

    3. @Krista, Make sure that your water softener always has salt in it and is working properly. The build-up of hard water adheres to the diapers – if you know immediately, by the smell, that your baby has just pead, this is your problem. If it isn’t too bad yet, you can get it out by running the diapers through the wash (using only warm water) repeatedly (5-15 times), or by boiling them (if the directions allow it). About once a year I would take all my diaper inserts and soak them in either oxygen bleach or oxyclean – this gives them a fresh start (but doesn’t get rid of hard water build up) – this should be followed by at least 2-3 water waxh cycles in the washer so it is all out before sitting on your baby’s bottom. I am sure there are other harsher options you can look up, but it is well worth the work involved! One other thought, if it is not from hard water build-up, it could be also be detergent or diaper cream build-up. Once you get them clean and the build-up off, if you want to try 1 Tablespoon of Dr. Bronner’s Sal Suds in place of detergent (only use sal suds, nothing else but possibly vinegar), this does not leave any sort of build-up and your clothes (we have used this for all laundry for years now). **If you are washing diapers anyway, throw your used wipes in with the diapers, I hang them on the line with my diapers and reuse them multiple times (Target brand and pampers work best, huggies and the super thick are the worst). To re-use them, squirt on an oil/aloe water solution just before use. The natural doctor gave me this recipe.
      1 oz. almond oil
      1 oz. aloe gel or oil
      10 drops lavender essential oil
      10 drops tea tree oil
      fill the rest of the container with water

      I use the squirt bottle that was given to me at the hospital. If your baby has a rash, a quick follow up with lanolin on the bottom is a good cheaper alternative – I used a dry clean washed baby wipe for a barrier.

      1. @Deb Johnson, I have very hard water and have heard good things about Sal Suds for cloth dipes in hard water. My only concern is the essential oils that it contains, which are typically not recommended for diaper laundry. You don’t get any repelling issues?

    4. I started in disposables with my first then changed to cloth. I was told the rash in disposables was from the chemicals whereas the rash (if I got one periodically) was from introduction of new foods into my babies diet. We noticed a BIG difference -that our baby broke out way less and less severe in cloth. We went with organic cloth diapers Kashmir Baby just to avoid chemicals altogether and it was well worth the investment. If we did use a rash cream we’d line them between diaper and baby with these disposable bamboo no chemical liners by BlueSnail or Naturally Natures on Amazon -and they were very inexpensive like 300 for $10-$15 . That way we could toss them. There are reusable liners but we didn’t want to risk washing with the baby’s diapers we didn’t want the cream or ointments to interfere –because the creams will ruin your nice diapers. Happy Diapering! We sure love it and on our 4th kiddo!

  2. we find that kissaluv’s diaper lotion potion spray (witch hazel, jojoba, and essential oils) and making sure to dry my babes thoroughly prevents most problems.

    my 2 yr old is driving me nuts, tho. she has terrible rashes/sores she’s never had before from sitting in messes–and she is fully verbal. oh potty training…i’m finding the line that clothe-diapered babes PT earlier to be a flat-out lie! πŸ˜‰

  3. I have twin 16 mo. old girls. I cloth diaper. One of my girls has trouble with rashes more than the other one. I usually end up using disposables and desitin on her when her rash is bad. Didn’t know about using cornstarch powder causing yeast growth. Icky!

  4. I do EC with my daughter – so I’m not too nervous about naked time, and am very aware of her elimination. Diaper rash has been very rare. However, with food issues, we’ve sometimes had diarrhea, and then I just put some lansinoh on her bum. Works wonderfully. I don’t know how it affects cloth diapers, we don’t test their limits too often since most goes in the toilet, but it seems to be fine.
    Oh – and I use some baby probiotic too – helps clear up diarrhea and yeasty issues!

  5. I recently discovered Rockin’ Green Detergent for our cloth diapers. I love it! I currently have a 2 yr old who occasionally wets at night only. Will have a newborn in the next few days so will put it to the test then. I did EC with my daughter as well and plan to with my newborn son when he arrives. Makes a huge difference in amount of laundry and messes. I wouldn’t have cloth-diapered without EC!

  6. What a great post! My daughter has gotten the occasional diaper rash using cloth diapers and I never knew how to cure it without ruining the diapers. Thanks a bunch πŸ™‚

  7. I was having problems with diaper rash when my DS started to sleep through the night. I started to use disposables (ugh) at night since I couldn’t bear his sore bum and didn’t want to always be using diaper rash cream. Then I came across the GroVia BioLiners. These are awesome! I have been using them with my prefold CD’s at night for several weeks now. They keep the bum dry and the diaper rash is gone (fingers crossed)!

  8. I make Ebelegy lotion and I have to say that even though the lotion is for eczema, I use it on Eva’s diaper rashes. She gets the worst diaper rashes in the world due to cloth diapering because I don’t change her enough. Never once has the lotion ruined the diapers and I slather it on. So maybe check out http://www.ebelegy.etsy.com (we are organic and all natural – for real and on etsy)

  9. The only solution to stink I have found… and tried the things the moms here listed… is soaking it in hard rock from Rocking Green. I think its hard water that made our diapers have the lingering bad smell.

    Do you know if California Baby rash cream is appropriate for cloth diapers?

    Do you know if using a BIo Liner prevents diaper damage due to creams?

    Thanks! Just saw your site on Bliss Reads… Love it!

    1. @Bethany,

      I have used the California baby diaper cream, and haven’t run into any issues. I have used it every now and then since he was born, and he is 8 months. If you are nursing, you might consider hand expressing breast milk to the area, letting it dry, and then fastening the diaper back on.

  10. Hi there- I have been reading this blog for a long time now and finally am going to comment on this very important topic.

    My daughter started to develop some rashes too about 4 months ago. I researched to the point of red eyes the probable cause(s) and here is what I did – and no rashes since:

    I bought some fleece liners to put between her and the CD. This is not exactly ‘natural’ compared to the bamboo/cotton inside, but neither is the shell so oh well. It allows the liquid in but keeps her cute tush dry.

    I ALWAYS do an extra rinse.

    I use HALF of what the detergents recommend on their bottle.

    I use nothing with enzymes or perfumes. I use store bought wipes but none with alcohol etc. I never use any cremes or rash stuff.

    I use a front load washer btw. I don’t soak them. I air dry them. And I change her EVERY 4 HOURS. Which is why at night she does wear an enviro friendly ‘disposable’ diaper.

    She hasn’t had a rash in months and these are pretty simple changes I made.

  11. I also use EC, and find that the EC combined with plenty of naked time keeps my boy’s bum healthy and happy! If I get lazy or busy though, and use diapers full time, he gets a small case of diaper rash. When that happens, I clean thoroughly with fresh water and gentle soap, dry completely, and use Eden Salve, from http://www.bulkherbstore.com. I used it with my (now completely potty trained 2 year old son)- and I have never had any problems with it on the diapers. The salve is also wonderful for any type of skin problem- from burns to eczema to bug bites to rashes to boo-boos (my son actually calls it the Oooohhh cream).
    To answer the diaper cleaning- I think the tip about the amount of diapers in the wash was great. I use Charlie’s Soap, which I think is the best laundry soap in the world. I have also made my own, with pretty good success. I use regular plain oxyclean, 1 tbsp Charlie’s soap, 2 tbsp baking soda, and white vinegar in the rinse cycle (or the fabric softener section for front loaders)- and my diapers always come out smelling clean. Adding a few drops of essential oil to the dryer makes them smell sweet:-)

  12. Thanks for the great post. I didn’t realise cornstarch could encourage yeast growth, and that’s exactly what I’ve been using to treat my daughter’s nappy rash. I’ve stopped now. I also use a Weleda nappy cream, but do have the problem of it sticking to her cloth nappies, so now I’m going to try your suggestion of lining it with a rag first.

  13. I laughed out loud when you wrote “If your babies are like mine, they’re cheering already!”. My daughter will do all she can to escape me when I’m changing her. She LOVES naked time =).

    I make my own baby powder with arrowroot powder and lavender leaves. I also make my own baby wipe solution with warm water, tea tree oil, aloe vera, and olive oil. You can also make your own diaper rash ointment that will not leave residue in cloth diapers. I use evoo infused with calendula.

  14. Breastmilk! Either hand-express some onto a cotton ball or squirt a little on the bum during diaper changes and it can help πŸ™‚ It is antibacterial, antifungal, anti-anything bad or icky really. Breastmilk can also be used on cuts and scraps and boo-boos, acne, infected eyes or plugged tear ducts….the list goes on πŸ˜‰

    1. @Mama Eva,

      I was SOOO happy to see this post. That is what I do for my son, I simply hand express breast milk to the affected area. And make sure to let it dry completely before putting his diaper back on! I used it for cradle cap as well! It left him smelling sweet too πŸ™‚

  15. I have used and greatly recommend “Mom’s Healing Salve” by Julie, owner of Bailey’s Naturals in Safety Harbor, FL. Julie makes this salve herself and I have had great success healing anything from ant bites to diaper area irritations/rashes! (not sure about it’s affect on cloth diapers, so you could discuss with her, as the ingredients are all natural, and few of them.)

  16. I cut a piece of fleece and insert it into my cloth diapers. I did this with the first child and it worked wonders for rashes. I rarely ever had to use any ointment. I also would use Ammens powder (foot powder). I am having a hard time finding it now. Also, was easier to clean the messier diapers. I plan on doing this with #4 coming in March 2010.
    I use vinegar in every wash of diapers. It helps alot with the smell.

  17. I have been cloth diapering for a little over a year now and find I have to continue to tweak things but I have found some things that work for me. Thankfully I had a community of cloth-diapering warriors around me to give me hints, advise, etc. I have been using Charlie’s Soap and love it! I do a cold wash, a hot wash and a cold rinse with vinegar, then line dry (as much as possible). I have not had odor issues, and typically have no diaper rash issues. I make my own wipes but have discovered the tea tree oil I use in the wipes solution to prevent mildew and mold irritates my baby’s bottom. So I use Angel Baby Bottom Balm- its a bit expensive but you don’t need much at each use to help. Also I’ve use lanolin and this is great as well. I use prefolds and covers wool and pul covers, and find that these work pretty well. Once a month I use an oxygen type bleach for odors and as long as I do my vinegar rinse I don’t have problems with irritation or odor.

  18. I could still remember back when the days of cloth diapering is the only option. And mothers handled it well. Also, babies can be free of rashes that is being caused by frequent commercial diapers. Babies can breath and be free of moist brought by the commercial ones.

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