Cloth Diapers and Diarrhea: Here’s What to Do


If there’s one thing that can make even the most die-hard cloth diaper advocate start to doubt themselves it’s when their little one has diarrhea (or as my Granny used to say, “the runs”).

Diarrhea in babies is common. Teething, viruses, food bacteria, and a ton of other maladies can bring on Diarrhea. But no matter what the cause, has a ton of nasty secondary consequences that are difficult, such as rashes, stains, and of course the messes.

While I can’t help you diagnose the cause of your little one’s diarrhea, or take it away, I can help you deal with all those cloth diaper consequences, so read on.

Important note: This article is for information purposes only.
The contents of this article is not medical advice. This article exists to help you deal with the troubles associated with diarrhea and cloth diapers; it does not address the treatments or medications needed to treat diarrhea or the many different causes of diarrhea.

If your child has diarrhea for longer than a few hours, or recurring diarrhea,or other signs of dehydration, they should be checked by a pediatrician. Never, ever, take another mom’s advice or an online article’s sayso over the expert opinion of a medical professional who has spoken to you about your baby’s health and circumstances.

How to Sooth Diaper Discomfort During a Bout of Diarrhea

Often, diarrhea stool is very acidic and can hurt and/or cause a rash on your baby’s skin almost immediately after contact. To help relieve some of the discomfort from acidic soil you can do three things:

  1. Put Softer Fabrics Against Baby’s Skin.
    Cloth diapers on a rash, especially when it’s a texture like a terry towel, can be very uncomfortable. If your child is also mobile, textured fabrics can end up chafing along the leg creases and bum area, increasing your chances of a secondary infection.
    If you can, opt for diapers that have softer fabrics next to your baby’s skin. Inserts made from softer fabrics like bamboo, using fleece cloth diaper liners, or using pocket diapers with microfleece linings are all good ways to soften things up.
  2. Change Baby As Fast As Possible. This one may sound a little silly, of course you’re going to change your baby as soon as they have diarrhea, but I mean changing them as fast as possible. Have a clean diaper and diaper changing supplies at the ready wherever you go so that you can stop and change them at lightening speed. Acidic poops really do “burn” a baby’s delicate skin fast. Anything you can do to speed up the diaper change, the better.
  3. Use a Good Diaper Cream at Every Diaper Change. A good barrier cream, like a zinc cream (just use a fleece liner with it) at every diaper change will help keep your baby’s body acids off the surface of the skin longer. Again, this will help reduce any rash and irritation it can cause.
    If you want to really protect the skin, you can even add a layer of cornstarch on top of your barrier cream.
    Cornstarch for cloth diaper rash works well and when layered on top of a barrier cream works even better. and I did this with my daughter’s acidic poops caused by food sensitivities, and it was what REALLY helped me get rid of the rashes.

How to Keep Diarrhea Mess to a Minimum

A diarrhea-loose bowel movement can and will leak everywhere, even in cloth diapers. It will get on your floor and carpet. It will ooze into your little one’s bedclothes and even get on beloved stuffed animals.

The number one thing to do is to make sure you’re cloth diapers are fitting right and are snug around the leg crease. While you don’t want your cloth diaper pinching or blocking off any part of your child’s body they may experience gas, you do want your cloth diaper snug enough to keep leakage minimal.

Using your less bulky cloth diaper inserts can also be a good idea. You will likely be changing your baby more often while they suffer from diarrhea, but the “volume” may be great so you want to make sure your diaper isn’t overstuffed.

How to Wash Cloth Diapers During a Bout of Diarrhea

Until you have had a chance to visit the pediatrician and get a diagnosis, I recommend treating all bouts of diarrhea as viral. By being extra cautious in this way, you’ll avoid any chance of reinfecting your baby (or other family members) with the same illness over and over.

Viruses that cause diarrhea, such as Rotavirus, are very contagious and can be spread back and forth easily if proper cleaning practices are not followed, including washing hands thoroughly after changing baby, and sanitizing cloth diapers after every soiling.

In babies and young children, rotavirus is the most common cause of serious diarrhea. It affects children between the ages of 6 and 24 months of age. Before the Rotavirus vaccine, almost all children had at least one episode of rotavirus diarrhea before turning five years old.

According to the National Health Service(NHS), even after the vaccine, it’s possible for a baby to get a rotavirus infection. However, this is uncommon, and it is usually milder than it would be without vaccination.

Side note: The Rotovirus vaccine contains no live viruses and therefore your diapers don’t need special care after vaccination. Click here for pediatrician-informed info on cloth diapers and vaccines.

How to Kill and Sanitize Viruses from Cloth Diapers

Here’s how to bleach your diapers to get rid of any viruses, bacteria, and/or yeast spores:

Ingredients: Use cold or lukewarm water and bleach with at least 5.25% sodium hypochlorite as the active ingredient.

Measurements: 

  • Average bathtub – 1/2 cup to 3/4 cup of bleach to water filled to the halfway point (from the top of the tub)
  • Other containers (including washer)- 1-1.5 Tbs of bleach to 1 gallon (about 4 liters) of water

Process: Soak diapers in the bleach solution for at least 30 minutes, but no longer than an hour. Rinse the diapers with hot water, followed by a regular (warm water) cycle in the washing machine, complete with detergent to completely break down the bleach.

If you still smell bleach on the diapers after washing, you can do an additional wash to be safe, but the bleach should be broken down and rinsed clean if used in the right proportions

Dry as normal.

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