this is something very valuable i have learned recently, and while i'm definitely no expert, i want to share what i know! in the past 19 months of cloth diapering, there have been three times when river's diapers started leaking out of the blue, and i had no idea why. each time, i felt hopeless and wondered if my diapers were on their last leg, and each time, i was able to trouble-shoot with the help of more experienced cloth-diapering friends, and even my covers that i thought were ruined because of a tiny bit of delamination of the PUL still work great (i can even use them overnight).
the most common reasons for leaky diapers are:
1) you're using the wrong kind of detergent
about a year ago i didn't take diaper-friendly detergent on a trip to pittsburgh to visit my family, and i used whatever detergent they had on hand. the diapers started leaking like crazy, so much so that i had to buy a pack of disposables. i had been drying the covers in the dryer with the prefolds and thought that the PUL was separating, and thought i'd absolutely ruined my diapers. but when i went home (and started using our diaper detergent), my diapers magically started working again. then, back in november, we stayed with some friends for a week while we were finishing the tile in the house, and i used their detergent to wash our diapers. once again, they started leaking so much so, that river wouldn't last an hour without a diaper change. this was so frustrating, but i realized then that it was obviously the detergent, both this time and the last. switching back to a diaper-friendly detergent fixed the problem.
2) the diapers aren't rinsing well enough
if you are having leaks but you are using a natural detergent like charlie's soap, rockin green, or country save, then your problem is your wash routine. either you're not using enough water, you're using too much detergent, or the diapers aren't being rinsed well enough, before and/or after the wash cycle. a typical diaper wash routine with a top-loading washer looks like this: cold rinse, hot wash with detergent, cold rinse. but i found that with my mom's washer, it was better if i did cold washes (with no detergent) rather than cold rinses. but at home, we have an HE washer, and you don't even want to know my wash routine... the diapers started leaking last month even though i was doing three washes, and i didn't know that the HE washer uses so little water, that the diapers either weren't getting clean enough, or they weren't rinsing well enough. now, i know that i have to do multiple rinses and washes to get them clean, and if i try any less, they start leaking on me again. it's almost with the snap of a finger -- it only takes one wash cycle with too few washes/rinses and they leak. it's also possible that the natural detergent you're using just doesn't work for your diapers, for some reason. try switching to another natural detergent.
3) it's simply time to strip the diapers
even if you have the perfect wash routine, cloth diapers need to be stripped now and then, because build-up can happen over time. you don't want to do it more than needed, but you shouldn't need to do it any more than every six months. the simplest way to strip your diapers is doing multiple hot washes without detergent. i also like to boil my prefolds and inserts (never your covers, pockets, or AIOs, obviously!) because i know they are getting completely clean and disinfected.
4) the particular diaper just doesn't work for you.
there's only one diaper that just does not work for us, and that is a knickernappies. from the time we bought it brand-new, river leaked out of it. that's not to say it's not a great diaper. i recently put it up on facebook to do a diaper trade and was contacted by a mama who said she loves knickernappies and has an entire stash of them. i don't know why they leak for us, but they just do! it's not something that should happen often though... so if none of your diapers work for you, it's more likely a case of one of the above. ;)
a few more tips on leaky diapers:
- don't use a rash cream unless it's manufactured for cloth diapers! some rash creams contain greasy ingredients that will cause bad build-up in your diapers that can be very difficult to remove. i use plain olive oil on river's rashes. it works great and is cloth-diaper safe.
- your toddler may reach a point when their pocket diapers need to be double-stuffed. i've heard this is pretty common, so don't get discouraged if you are experiencing small leaks and need to add a little something extra to the diaper.
- typically, a cloth diaper should hold up to multiple pees. i know this is different for everyone (and also dependent on how much liquid your child drinks during the day), but when our diapers are working how they're supposed to, they last for about four or five hours. obviously, you may want to change your child more often than that, but they should be able to last that long. if they are leaking out of their diaper every hour or two, then something's not right.
- check the PUL on your older covers, pockets & AIOs. it might be that the PUL is separating (especially if they are constantly dried in a heated dryer) and that is what's causing your leaks.
- you can occasionally do a quick wash of your covers in the sink with hand soap after a change, but doing this too often may wear down the PUL.
- onesies can cause leaks! they get wedged in with the diaper and the pee wicks out (these shouldn't be big leaks though).
- night-time leaks with cloth diapers are common if you're not adding something extra. we've found that a PUL cover with a prefold and a microfiber insert in between works great for nights. i've heard that real wool covers are fantastic for night-time (many even say the best).