Ok, so I use cloth nappies on my child. Lucan just turned 3 though, he only uses them at night. I guess since he is pretty much toilet trained, I just stopped being as careful about sanitizing them-- and lately those things have started to reek of ammonia! Also, the built-up ammonia in the nappies caused some nappy rash on my son's skin recently --it's due to the soap buildup as well, that can occur if you're not looking after them well enough-- which just caused my husband to get frustrated with me that I wasn't using "proper" nappies.
People haven't always had disposables, and something I have observed is that in modern culture we are so spoiled we are unwilling to let our children suffer the slightest bit. It just doesn't make sense to ruin the earth so we can reach that high level of perfection, not give our children the slightest mark-- but ruin the environment totally for future children. I think that if people knew that they were making that decision, that tradeoff, I don't think that they still still would. So 1) it's not the end of the world. 2) cloth nappies require something called "skill". (Many of us have forgotten what that is.) It's that thing that allows us to use far less of a resource, as we use it with care, intention and, well skill.
With skill, one is actually meant to keep those things clear of ammonia build-up! I didn't give up, I looked up my online resources, and reminded myself of how to rid the nappies of the chemical buildup-- from a local nappy provider, "Snazzipants", who have a good website FAQ.
To summarize their advice, do extra rinses as the soap buildup provides something for the ammonia to stick to. Do regular oxygen soaks (called "Napisan" here), but not bleach as that is too harsh for babies' skin. If they do get unbalanced, you can soak them in baking soda. (And from other research I have done, alternate washing them with vinegar as well.)
In their words, from http://www.snazzipants.co.nz/
"How do I wash Snazzipants nappies?
You will quickly work out a wash routine that suits, and I'm not going to prescribe one here. If it works for you, and your baby's butt is happy, then stick with it. However, there are a few tips I've picked up through my nappy obsession so far, so I thought I'd share.
You may like to use a nappy soak such as Napisan, but it is not imperative to use every time. These products do eat away at the fibres and thus make your nappies wear out faster if you use them daily, but some people find this system easy, and that's fine too. If you are concerned about the use of such products on the environment, you can clean nappies using ordinary washing detergent, but there are some things to remember.
- Too much detergent can cause a build up on nappies (especially microfleece). Some babies have such delicate skin that it reacts to residual detergent. Use a little less rather than more.
- If you get a detergent build up, it might cause your nappies to smell. Ironic I know, but try washing them on hot and see if you get suds. If you do, use less detergent.
- Do an extra rinse at the end. This will help stop build up and remove any residue that may irritate your baby's skin.
- If you have a frontloader be sure that you use the 60 degree water setting (no hotter or you may damage the PUL) on a long cycle. Front loaders use less water than top loaders, so you need to be quite sure your nappies are being cleaned and rinsed thoroughly. (I'm not a fan of frontloaders - always use the special frontloader powder and give your nappies the occasional Napisan soak if they start smelling odd!)
- Soap based products like Lux are notorius for causing build up on nappies, and are no good for covers. Avoid them like the plague!
- Hot water will help sanitise your nappies, as will the hot dryer and sunshine. Sunshine is FANTASTIC for killing bugs and removing stains.
- I would use an antibacterial nappy soak if baby has an upset tummy, and after vaccinations. Hygiene at these times is super important.
- If you use a nappy soak you don't need to wash with a detergent. Read the instructions!! Using too many different cleaners means they can react and causes rashes. Keep your routine simple.
- If your nappies start to get a bit whiffy add a couple of capfuls of Dettol Fresh to the wash cycle once in a while. It will immediately freshen them up. Alternatively you can try a soak in baking soda.
- If you have nappies that are constructed from man-made fibres (aios and pockets with microfibre inserts) you will need to hot wash them to keep them clean.
- Don't use chlorine bleach (like Janola). It is far too harsh and apart from ruining your nappies it will give your baby a very sore bottom!
- Don't use fabric softner!! It will coat the fibres of your nappies and make them less absorbent. It also may cause rashes on a sensitive baby.
- Nappies shouldn't smell when they come out of the dryer, off the line, or get a fresh wee in them. If they do you need to give them a soak for a couple of hours in something with sodium percarbonate as the active ingredient - Napisan, or a similar nappy soak. This is sometimes referred to as oxygen bleach. Older babies' overnight nappies may need this treatment more frequently, otherwise every few weeks should be enough to keep your nappies smelling sweet as a daisy :)
You'll know if your nappies are clean because they whiff if they're not!! If you start to get whiffy nappies give them a soak in oxygen bleach or add some Dettol Fresh once in a while and it should clear right up. Man-made fibres hold smells more than natural fibres, so do hot wash all-in-ones, pockets and microfibre inserts regularly."
P.S. Stand up for all your "green" behaviour. I know it can seem a drag to your family, your children and partner, compared to what others are doing, but that's obviously because we are first to be aware of this. Keep connected with some others who also understand to support you.