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Why are my cloth diapers and/or diaper covers leaking?!?

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Dear Catherine;
Help! My diapers and covers are leaking...

With a good quality cloth diapering system, you should be experiencing almost no leakage. As a matter of fact, even disposable diapers are not leakproof - many parents find themselves trying several brands of disposable diapers before they find the one diaper that fits their baby best - to prevent leakage.

However, if you are experiencing leaking problems with your cloth diapering system on a daily basis, something is wrong. Below is a list of things to check, that should help solve the problem:

QUESTION: Did you wash your new cloth diapers before using them for the first time?

New fabrics have a special chemical finish on them that gives them that new fabric smell and feel. This finish is water-repellent, and must be removed by machine washing before use.

Make sure to wash your new cloth diapers several times to remove this special finish on the fabric, before using them to diaper your baby. This also fluffs the cloth diapers up and brings them closer to their proper size. (Cotton shrinks 5-10%.)

Your cloth diapers will not reach their most absorbent state until after at least three complete wash/dry cycles.

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QUESTION: Is the leakage mostly around the leg openings of your diaper covers?

Leaks in diaper covers often occur due to improper fit, especially if the cloth diaper inside doesn't seem that wet. The cloth diaper and diaper cover need to fit snugly (though without leaving red marks) around your baby's legs and waist to prevent leakage.

If your diaper covers are leaking, your baby may have outgrown it or the cloth diaper inside - are either of them too small or tight? Time to move up to the next size!

On the other hand, sometimes parents buy overlarge cloth diapers and/or diaper covers, in hopes that their baby will get longer use out of them and save a bit of money as well. But if the cloth diaper and diaper cover cannot be pulled snugly around your baby's legs and waist, the resulting gaps will allow leaking. If your interest is saving money, it would be better to purchase quality diaper doublers (such as All-Terry Doublers) as well, for use as small or newborn diapers until your baby fits into the bigger cloth diapers. These diaper doublers can be used again when baby wettings get heavier.

If both fitted cloth diapers and diaper cover wraps (with elastic at the waist and leg openings) are used together, this will allow for the best adjustment in the fit around your baby's legs and waist, and offer double protection from those messy leaks.

Some brands of cloth diapers and diaper covers may just not fit your baby well. Tall skinny babies will not fit well into the same diapers and diaper covers as short, chubby babies. If you can, try out a few brands before you invest in a new cloth diapering system.

Read my article on diaper fit - How to Measure for a Perfect Fit!

QUESTION: Is any of your baby's diaper sticking out of the diaper cover?

This is the most common reason for leaking cloth diapers. Make sure to carefully tuck all parts of your baby's diaper securely inside the diaper cover, or moisture will wick out on to your baby's clothing. Even one tiny corner of the cloth diaper sticking out of the diaper cover can cause leaks.

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QUESTION: Do you think your diapers are absorbent enough?

The second most common reason for leakage is that the cloth diapers you are using just aren't absorbent enough. How do you check the absorbancy of your diaper? If you have a food or other type of weigh scale that measures in grams or ounces, try this:

Weigh one of your cloth diapers dry and write down the weight. Soak the diaper in at least 1000 ml. (4 cups) of water for one minute. Remove the sopping wet diaper and hang to drip-dry for 15 minutes. (Do not wring!) Now weigh the wet diaper. The absorbancy capacity is calculated by subtracting the dry weight from the wet weight.

(i.e. wet weight - 250g., dry weight - 150g. Then the absorbancy capacity of your diapers would be 100ml.)

Weight of 1 ml. of water = 1 gram,
31.25 grams = 1 oz. approx.,
250 ml. or grams = 8 oz. or 1 cup approx.

Your cloth diapers should offer almost double the absorbancy capacity of your baby's average wetting.

An average newborn-6 mth. baby wetting is 60-110 ml. during the day or at night.
Average 6 mth.-1 yr. baby wetting - 110-140 ml. during the day and 143-182 ml. at night.
Average toddler wetting - 130-160 ml. during the day and 195-240 ml. at night.

You could also try weighing your baby's cloth diaper after a diaper change to see how much your baby wets.

You don't have to replace your diapers even if you should find they are not absorbent enough. Just increase your diapers' absorbancy by adding a second (or third) layer of flat or prefold diaper or using (one or more) diaper doublers or night liners. If you run out of diaper liners late at night, a folded washcloth makes a great emergency substitute!

However, watch for gaps around the legs and waist of your diaper covers if you are double (or triple) diapering. You may need to use a diaper cover in the next size up, to make sure the diaper cover will completely cover the bulky cloth diaper and still fit snugly around your baby's legs and waist.

If you are using a Diaper Service, try asking them if they have a heavier-weight diaper. I remember complaining to my Diaper Service about leaking diapers (way back when!), and they started to send me the Toddler prefold diapers instead - which were 4-8-4 ply, while the Infant prefold diapers I had been using were only 3-5-3 ply. This really made a big difference to the diaper's absorbancy capacity.


Continued on page two...


This article compliments of Born to Love.

The Diaper Facts column:

How Do I Get Started With Cloth Diapering?
Cloth Diapering With A Diaper Service
How Do I Wash Cloth Diapers?
Expensive to Wash Cloth Diapers?
The STINK on Stinky Diapers
Why are my cloth diapers and covers stinky?
Here's my Stinky Diaper Solution!
Why are my cloth diapers and/or diaper covers leaking?!?
How Do I Make My Diaper Covers Last?

Other articles that might be of interest:

How to Choose the Perfect Cloth Diapering System
Feeling Confused About Your Cloth Diapering Decision?
Diapering Expert Shares Secrets!
Do Cloth Diapers Seem Too Expensive?
Frugal Diaper Washing
Frugal Diapering
Frugal Baby Tips: Make Your Own Baby Bum Sweaters!
Your Choice Does Make a Difference!
What's Wrong With 'Disposable' Single-Use Diapers?
Environmental Concerns - What Do They Mean For You and Your Baby?
Environmental Concerns II - Looking at Both Sides of the Issue


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Last updated - February 8, 2017