Food sensitivities, moisture sensitivity, reactions to detergents and synthetic fabrics, wash problems, and just general irritation are common for babies in all sorts of diapers; and that’s without touching on the more severe causes like allergic reactions and infections.
So when a rash happens, what diaper cream can you use that won’t damage or cause product build-up on your cloth diapers? In other words, what’s a safe diaper cream for cloth diapers? Any common diaper cream, balm, or lotion without zinc or petroleum is completely safe for cloth diapers.
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Why is Zinc (or Zinc Oxide) Bad for Cloth Diapers?
Back when I began cloth diapering in 2015 the general advice was that zinc-based diaper rash creams were not ok for cloth diapers.
As this 2015 article from Hello Natural Living explains, “It’s not the zinc that builds up on the nappies, it’s the oil. The oil becomes trapped in the fabric of the nappies, so that you get less absorbency.
It’s the same reason that you can’t use fabric softener with cloth nappies. Fabric softeners contain oil, which gets into the fabric and stays there. Oil repels water, so you end up with cloth nappies that won’t absorb wee.”
This 2015 article from Mama Loups Den agrees with me that it was the standard feeling at the time, stating, “The conventional wisdom that I read all over the Interwebs and cloth diaper forums is ‘Zinc Oxide creams are not cloth diaper safe.’ By ‘unsafe,’ people mean that these creams will cause your diapers to start repelling moisture, thus leaking, and/or they will cause stains.”
Fast forward to today, and many cloth diaper blogs and communities online swear that zinc creams only stain, and will not cause repelling issues for diapers. Some making distinctions between creams made with cod liver oil and those not, but some just explaining that all zinc creams are ok.
For instance, our friends over at Fluff Love University say, “Zinc oxide is a common ingredient in many diaper creams, which can cause white or gray stains that wash out. Some waxes and clays may also cause stains.“
So what’s the deal? Is it safe? Is it not? What changed in those five years?
Well, nothing changed, except for the general opinion. I currently still recommend steering clear of zinc products. There are many great alternatives to zinc products, and until we know for sure that it’s not going to cause issues, why risk it.
Of course, this is pretty lazy thinking, so see below for more of what I’m doing about this problem so that we can all know what the deal is once and for all. But first, let’s take a quick look at the other ingredient known to cause some problems, petroleum.
Why is Petroleum (a.k.a. Vaseline) Bad for Cloth Diapers?
I’ve written about using Vaseline on cloth diapers at length in this post, but in short, it’s universal cloth diaper advice to not use petroleum products on cloth diapers.
While petroleum jelly is great for healing and preventing diaper rashes because it’s so thick that it blocks moisture (and everything else) from touching baby’s skin. It’s that same thickness and refusal to melt away easily that causes the problem. Because petroleum stands up against hot water so well, it’s the general belief that it’s incredibly hard to wash out of fabrics, especially synthetic fabrics like microfiber.
Because it doesn’t wash off of fabric (what cloth diapers are made from) well, it builds-up on them and eventually, diapers will do just what the jelly is meant to do: repel liquid. Unfortunately, when diapers repel moisture instead of absorbing urine, they are useless.
The Great Cloth Diaper Cream Experiment Part 1 (November 2019)
Now that I have just told you using diaper creams with zinc or petroleum may be bad, and why, let me add that this may change.
As I talked about above, the common advice with zinc has changed even in the short five years since I’ve been involved with cloth diapering. What’s that about? Though I haven’t looked into the science of zinc on fabric too much, mostly because it a needle in a haystack, if any even exists, I’ve decided to do my own experiment.
I call it, The Great Cloth Diaper Cream Experiment because it’s going to help me greatly when it comes to making recommendations about cloth diaper creams here, on this site, to you, and other cloth diaper beginners like you.
Here’s a video of me explaining the experiment, revealing the products I’m testing, and showing you the process:
If you’d like to be notified as soon as part two is released with the conclusion, you can subscribe to the Cloth Diapers for Beginners YouTube Channel here but don’t forget to click the bell for notifications or YouTube might not show it to you.
Cloth Diaper Experiment Update: November 27, 2019
If you watched the Great Cloth Diaper Experiment Part 1 video above, you’ll know that I began the experiment putting a lot of each cream on its diaper each time. This made sense in my mind because I would be able to really see results quickly.
Well, that was silly. After just two washes, I found clumps of both Vaseline and Penaten on the clothing washed with the diapers while I was taking them out of the dryer.
I love this community and I want to get results for them, but I can’t be ruining my washing machine and/or clothing! After finding the lumps, I adjusted the amounts of cream I am putting on the diapers each time (you’ll see that adjustment in the part two video) and cleaned my washing machine. That seemed to have gotten rid of the clumps and as of the time of the last update, they have not returned.
I also noticed that I’m no longer finding as many grease spots on many of my daughter’s clothes coming out of the wash (spots that weren’t on them going into the laundry hamper.) So I suspect those spots were caused by the overabundance of creams I was using at first as well.
If nothing else, this has taught me at least to recommend to anyone using Vaseline or Penaten, to use small amounts otherwise, they may see clumps of the stuff on their diapers out of the wash (likely with bacteria and other things on it). I also note that these were the only two creams I found clumps of in the washer, which is consistent with believing they may be a problem for cloth diaper build-up.
Update: December 5, 2019
I just took photos of the fifth wash results this morning before reapplying and tossing in with today’s bedwetting pant laundry. Here’s what they look like so far:
As you can see, there’s not a whole lot going on yet, though the Baby Balm does have some staining, which occurred right away, but doesn’t seem to be worsening to the eye, though we will see by comparing photos later on. It should be noted that Baby Balm was the only cream being tested with any color to it. the rest being white or translucent.
More to come soon, but for now, I’m just continuing to wash and reapply.
What are some Good Creams that are Zinc and Petroleum-Free?
Since the results of the experiment are still to come, what are some diaper creams we know to be safe because they were created with cloth in mind and no zinc or petroleum ingredients? Here’s a short list, with my absolute favorite three listed on top (these are the tested and true ones both I and the Cloth Diapers for Beginners community love):
Top Three Best Cloth Diaper Safe Diaper Creams:
|Organic Diaper Balm by Earth Mama||Burt’s Bees Baby Multipurpose Ointment||LIVE CLEAN Non-Petroleum Jelly|
|See Price & Details |
See Price and Details on Earth Mama Website
|See Price & Details on Amazon||See Price & Details on Amazon|
Other Cloth Safe Diaper Creams Available:
- Thirsties Booty Love Diaper Ointment
- Delish Yum Bum Butter
- Baby Bottom Better Diapering Salve
- California Baby Calendula Moisturizing Cream
- CJ’s BUTTer
- GroVia Magic Stick