Leaking Cloth Diapers
Updated: Apr 13
When you use cloth diapers there are certain problems that can occur. Here I try to cover all types of leaking cloth diaper issues and how to fix them.
Do cloth diapers leak more?
Generally speaking, cloth diapers don’t leak more often compared to disposable diapers but cloth diapers and disposable diapers don’t work the same, just like every brand of disposable diapers works a little differently, cloth diapers also work a little differently. When you use cloth diapers like you would disposable diapers you may indeed experience more leaks but with a few tips and tricks, you can cloth diaper without experiencing leaking.
Choose the right fit for your baby
Choose sufficient absorbency for the time of day
Learn your baby's poo and pee schedule and change the diaper accordingly.
Pay attention to clothing
Why are cloth diapers leaking
There are several reasons why a cloth diapers may leak.
Change the diaper more frequently
One of the easiest ways to stop a cloth diaper from leaking is to change the diaper more often. A cloth diaper does not have chemicals within the diaper that convert liquid waste to a solid gel-like substance like in disposable diapers but instead relies on the amount of absorbent fabric that is present with the diaper to absorb all the urine your baby is producing. This could mean that your diapers are completely saturated sooner than what would be the case for disposable diapers. This can result in leaking of your cloth diapers but is easily solved by changing the diaper more frequently. This may not only solve issues with leaking, but it could also prevent rashes as a baby's delicate skin is more prone to rashes when it stays wet for too long.
Just like for disposable diapers, choosing the right size cloth diaper is important to make sure the diaper is not leaking. As your baby grows they will change in shape and size considerably and you will need to adjust your cloth diaper accordingly.
What is the right fit?
Like all types of diapers, the fit is very important as it should keep all the bodily waste within the diaper. Generally speaking, a good cloth diaper fit should be:
A cloth diaper should fit snug around the waist, but not over-tight. You should be able to add a finger or two within the belly area without a problem.
There should be no gaps around the legs. Lift your baby's legs when you just put on a new diaper. Do the leg elastics stay snug around the legs? Yes? Perfect.
A cloth diaper is lower on the waist compared to a disposable diaper but higher up on the waist than where adult underwear sits. Generally speaking, a cloth diaper sits around the belly button area.
A cloth diaper you fit in the groin area. In between the bikini line crease.
All the absorbent material should be within the diaper cover. This is especially important with flats, pre-folds and fitted diapers as the diaper will leak when not all absorbent material is contained.
When you adjust the fit of your diaper, remember that elastics are made to stretch to get a nice snug fit. It is understandable that you could get worried about the diaper being too tight around your baby and that it might leave marks. These pink marks may be visible once you remove the diaper from your baby. They are similar to the marks from socks you get around your ankles. That is why we call these ‘sock marks’. They are completely normal and should disappear within a reasonable amount of time. Sock marks don’t hurt your ankles and these types of marks won’t hurt your baby. They are a good thing because this way you know that the diaper fits snugly. However, when these marks are too deep with white edges, you may want to adjust the fit as this could be an indication that the diaper does not fit properly.
One-size cloth diapers are amazing as they last you from the newborn stage to the potty training stage because you can change the size of the diaper with the snaps in the front. As your baby develops, they will change shape and size. While your chubby baby may have been on the second rise snap while barely being able to close the waist snap/velcro. However, the moment they start to walk, you may need to adjust the diaper size snaps to the first rise and you will have lots of space left in the waist area. So make sure you adjust the diaper accordingly when your baby grows and develops.
Sometimes you can have a difficult time getting the diaper to fit in the bikini line area no matter how much adjusting you do. This could be due to the too many thick inserts in the diaper. This is a common problem with pockets as these are made to hold a certain number of inserts. Too many inserts could push the diaper up and off the baby. This way the elastics are stretched too much and can’t close the gap. It also could cause compression within the diaper (more below). You can solve overstuffing by simply removing one of the inserts. However, if you need lots of absorbency within the diaper, you might have chosen the wrong kinds of inserts for your diapers. More will be explained below.
Sometimes your cloth diapers work just fine but you still experience leaking. This could be due to issues with the clothing your baby is wearing.
As discussed before, overstuffing could lead to compression leaks. These are caused when there is too much pressure on the absorbent material/inserts. This is similar to wringing out a washcloth. Without any pressure, it can hold on to moisture fine but with pressure/wringing, the moisture will be removed from the washcloth. So, to prevent compression leaks within the diaper, we have to make sure that there is not too much pressure on the inserts. We do this by not overstuffing the diapers but also by avoiding tight clothes. Onesies are especially known for this as a cloth diaper is quite chunky and sometimes parents pull on them once too hard to make it close around the diaper. Don’t do it as it could result in compression leaks. Use a larger size onesie or use onesie extenders to make the clothing between your baby's legs a little longer.
When you put on a diaper make sure that there is no clothing stuck within the diaper. If there is, the absorbent material within the diaper will collect the moisture and pass it through to the clothing reusing in a wet baby.
Also, make sure that all the diaper material is within the diaper. If the inserts stick out of the diaper, they will pass the moisture to your baby's clothes easily.
This also is the case for disposable liners. These are extremely thin and easy to miss (it is my most common cause of leaking cloth diapers). Even this thin piece of material will pass on moisture resulting in wet clothes.
Your cloth diapers work because they have absorbent material to absorb the bodily waste your baby produces. To prevent leaking there need to be enough inserts to absorb everything and it needs to be the right material so it can do this fast enough.
Are you using enough inserts?
This sounds so simple but many leaks happen due to insufficient absorbency added to the diaper. Especially if you are already changing every time your baby has wetted the diaper, adding more inserts to the diaper may be necessary.
Also, when your baby grows, they eat and drink more and therefore also poo and pee more and you need to adjust the absorbency of the diaper accordingly.
Are you using the right type of inserts?
If you are already using sufficient inserts and you still experience leaking, you might not have the right kind of inserts. As your baby grows and develops they learn to hold up their pee to a certain degree. When they feel they need to go, they do this in the diaper. This means that, over time, your baby pees more at once and you need to adjust the inserts accordingly. Even though natural fibers for inserts are great because they are made from a renewable resource, they absorb moisture much slower compared to synthetic fibers. Therefore, it is recommended to combine a fast-absorbing insert with an insert that holds lots of moisture. In this case, the fast-absorbing one quickly takes up all the moisture when it enters the diaper while the slower absorbing one slowly takes over all this moisture from the faster absorbing one. When these two work together, you have a much lower chance of leaking cloth diapers.
Are the inserts in the right place?
This may initially feel like a funny one as all inserts should be in the diaper and in that case you are correct. However, boys and girls are not anatomically the same. Boys may need more absorbency in the front. In this case, leaks may appear at the front while the back of the diaper remains dry. Add extra inserts in the front or fold the insert in the front to create extra absorbency in the right place. Also, make sure they are pointing down and not to the side to avoid leaking to the side. Girls pee more in the middle so if you experience leaks in the middle with a girl, add extra absorbency in the middle area.
During the night you may need even more absorbency your baby sleeps longer when they are a little older. Choose a diaper with sufficient absorbency to prevent clothing/bedding changes during the nights due to leaking. Pockets, AIO, and AI2 usually can’t handle this amount of absorbent material therefore I recommend using a fitted diaper that will give you maximal absorbency so all of you can sleep through the night.
If you feel like you use a sufficient amount of inserts but that they are not absorbing enough this could be due to repelling of the material. This may be due to several reasons.
If your diapers and inserts are newly bought, this natural material still contains its natural oils. These oils need to be removed from the diaper so they will no longer repel moisture but absorb. To do this, your diapers need to be pre-washed. When you start cloth diapering a newborn a few washes will do fine. Just wash your diapers 3 times, without drying in between until most of the oils have been removed and the diapers take up sufficient moisture to function as diapers. If you however start with cloth diapers with a baby that is a little older, the diaper may need more pre-washing as cloth diapers will reach maximum absorbency after about 10 washings. If your cloth diapers have not yet reached this amount of pre-washings, wash them a few more times to see if the absorbency improves.
Cloth diapers need to be properly cleaned to avoid problems like smell and rashes on your baby's skin. You do this with a good washing routine. If your washing routine is not good enough, your diapers may suffer which could not only affect the skin of your baby but also the absorbency of your diapers. The buildup of detergents, minerals from hard water, products like fabric softener, and oils from creams could all cause repelling. This usually does not happen overnight but due to having a washing routine that is not good enough for a longer time. Repelling and build-up are often accompanied by smelly diapers even when freshly washed and or a rash on your baby's skin where the diaper is worn. To fix this problem you may need to strip your cloth diapers. Read this blog post if you need instructions on how to do this.
The cover of a cloth diaper is what should keep the moisture in so your baby's clothes don’t get wet. However, if there is something wrong with the cover, it could be resulting in leaking cloth diapers.
The elastics around your baby's legs need to fit snugly to prevent leaking. If, however, the elastics of your diaper are no longer stretchy enough, you won’t be able to remove the gap around the legs. This is a natural process when you have used cloth diapers intently over a longer period. All the wearing and washing causes lots of stress on these elastics and over time they will wear out.
How do you know if the elastics are worn out?
There are a few things to look for to figure out if the elastics are worn out.
How do they look?
If the elastic is rolled rather than laying flat it could cause gaps and it may be time to change the elastic.
How do they feel?
If the elastic feels hard or brittle, or if it crackles when you pull it, the elastic is worn out and needs to be replaced.
Most diaper covers, and shells (meaning the outside of pockets, AIO, and AI2 diapers) are made of polyurethane laminate (PUL). PUL is a type of fabric (usually polyester) that has been heat laminated on one side to a layer of polyurethane film to make it waterproof making it great for cloth diapers.
So, when there is an issue with the PUL layer of your diaper cover or shell, it could be that the diaper is leaking. This usually shows as a diaper leaking right through the layer of PUL. So not from the top or around the legs which is usually the case. There are 2 types of issues that could happen to PUL.
Cracking of PUL is very hard to spot to the eye it may not be noticeable. PUL covers are a little stretchy so they go over flats, fitted diapers, inserts nicely. You can check for cracks in your PUL by stretching the cover. If tiny cracks show once the PUL fabrics are stretched it will cause leaking of your diapers. It looks similar to cracking of a print on a t-shirt that has been washed a few times.
Delamination is a different issue that could happen to covers and shells. In this case, the laminated layer is receding from the PUL. This looks like a plastic layer that is laying on top of the cover.
Both delamination and cracking can not be fixed which means that your diaper cover has reached the end of its lifecycle.
Specific leaking issues
Leaking from the legs
This is most likely caused by a poor fit due to overstuffing or issues with the elastic. So make sure the diaper is not overstuffed with too many inserts. If the elastics are working properly and the diaper fits snugly in the bikini crease and there are still leaks there may be a different issue.
Is there a sufficient amount of absorbency and is the moisture absorbed fast enough? If moisture is not absorbed fast enough it may go through the tiny openings around the leg area causing leaking. In this case, try combining a faster absorbing insert like microfiber with a slower absorbing insert that holds onto moisture better like hemp.
Leaking from the top
This is most likely caused by poor fit. Make sure the diaper is high enough on the waist. A cloth diaper doesn’t sit as high as a disposable diaper but should be around the belly button area. If the diaper is lower, it is time to size up so the diaper fits in the right place.
For boys, make sure you have enough absorbency at the from as they mostly pee forward while girls pee more downward. If there is insufficient absorbent material at the front, this may cause leaking in that area.
Leaking at the seams
This is usually caused by issues with the waterproof layer of your cloth diaper. If the waterproof cover is new, it could be that it was never properly “sealed.” You can do this yourself with heat by either putting it in a hot dryer for a few minutes or carefully using a lighter in that area. This sealing is needed because when sewing the diaper, the sewing machine makes tiny holes in the waterproof material. These need to be sealed to prevent leaking. Most manufacturers take care of this for you but on occasion, they may miss one.
If the cover is older, there may be another PUL issue like delamination or receding PUL meaning the cover is at the end of its life.
Leaking during the night
Night-time leaks are usually caused by insufficient absorbency of the diaper. Babies wear the diaper longer during the night so you need a diaper that can handle more moisture. Pockets, AIO’s or AI2's are usually not sufficient enough for the night. I recommend using a fitted diaper with a PUL or wool cover to get through the night without leaking.
Leaking during the night with a side sleeping baby
This is again most likely an absorbency issue. Especially for a side sleeper, you need absorbency in the right place. If you are already using a fitted diaper, add a microfiber insert (or another fast-absorbing insert) to the diaper to make sure the moisture is absorbed fast enough when the baby pees during the night.
These are all the possible issues (I could think off) that could cause leaking of cloth diapers. If you however still experiencing leaking of your diapers due to issues not mentioned here please let me know in the comments and I will try to help you.