Are your cloth nappies leaking? Here’s what to do!

There are so many benefits to cloth nappies, but one of the most important is that they are super reliable. Poonamis are almost impossible, and once you’ve got things figured out you’ll rarely have to worry about changing clothes.

We do know, however, that the learning curve with cloth can be a little steeper than for disposables, and leaks when you’re first starting out are pretty common. If you’re struggling with leaks then you’re in the right place - today we’re sharing some of the most common reasons why your nappies might be leaking, complete with solutions to help you work things out. Let’s go!


1. You need more absorbency

One of the wonderful things about cloth nappies is that they can be versatile and adjustable to suit your baby. The downside is that it can take a little trial and error to work out the best combination for each child, and this means that you might be getting leaks simply because you haven’t got enough absorbent stuff inside your nappy. The best way to tell if you have a lack of absorbency is to see how damp the inserts are when you remove them. If they’re completely saturated, then it’s quite likely that you need more absorbency. 

Before you start adding more inserts, you may find the problem improves simply by washing your nappies a few more times. If you’re using nappies with some natural materials like ours, then they usually need several washes to reach full absorbency.

If you’re still having trouble once your nappies have been washed plenty of times, you can easily fix the problem by adding another insert or two to your nappy. This is one reason why we love pocket nappies, since the absorbency can be easily adjusted by adding or removing inserts from the pocket of the nappy. If you’re using Pim Pam nappies, you can buy extra inserts for your nappies here.

Remember that cloth nappies generally aren’t quite as absorbent as disposable nappies. Newborn babies might need changing every 2 hours, and older toddlers will still likely needing changing every 3-4 hours. Also, as your baby grows you might need to adjust the absorbency to cope. Most newborn babies are fine with just one of our inserts, but you could find you need to add both inserts in the nappy after just a few weeks. Some babies will also wet more heavily at different times of the day, particularly in the morning after a (hopefully!) long night sleeping.


2. Your nappy fit isn’t quite right

Fitting cloth nappies is a little different to disposable nappies, and while it’s not difficult it’s worth learning properly so that you give your nappies the best chance at doing their job. Leaks tend to turn up when the leg elastics are too loose and creating gaps, or when the elastics are sitting too far down the legs. Here are some pointers to help avoid these common issues. 


Firstly, since most nappies including ours are one size, you may need to adjust the rise snaps along the front of the nappy. Finding the right rise setting can take a bit of trial and error, but you’ll know you’ve got it right when you find the leg elastics are snug and comfortable on the legs, and the nappy sits just below the belly button at the front.

To put the nappy on, sit it slightly lower than you would a disposable nappy, so that it’s just above the top of your baby’s bottom, then bring the front of the nappy up at the front, tucking the leg elastics right into the groin, where the elastics on a pair of pants would sit. Fasten the nappy and check that the elastics on the legs are just tight enough that there are no gaps. If you’ve got some of the rise snaps closed, push your fingers up between the snaps to tuck the excess fabric up (rather than down). This helps prevent leaks at the front of the legs. See our hand drawn fit guide here.


3. Your wash routine needs tweaking

If you’ve tried adding more absorbency and you’re sure your nappy fit is fine, it’s worth revisiting your wash routine. Washing nappies inadequately for a long period of time can cause build up of minerals on the nappy that can mean they lose some of their ability to absorb. You can find our full wash instructions here, but the most important things when it comes to keeping your nappies leak-free is to make sure you’re using the right amount of detergent per the packet (not too much, not too little!), and that you’re giving your nappies as long a wash cycle as possible (ideally 2-3 hours).


Another thing to check is that you’re not using fabric softener, which coats the fibres of the nappy and prevents them from doing their job. Some washing detergents come with fabric softener added, so make sure that you’re not using one of those. 


Finally, while this isn’t an issue caused by wash routine, it’s important to make sure you’re not using heavy duty nappy creams directly against your nappies. Certain creams, usually barrier creams, act by stopping moisture from escaping the skin, and if they get on your nappy fabrics, they can also stop moisture entering the nappy itself. If you’re using a nappy cream, always make sure you use a fleece or disposable liner inside the nappy. Our nappies have an in-built fleece layer which will do this job for you, though you may like to add an extra liner to be on the safe side.  


If you think you have a build up of anything on your nappy, you will need to do a ‘strip wash’ to thoroughly clean your nappies. 


The most straightforward method is as follows:

  1. Run a rinse cycle with no detergent.
  2. Put your machine on its longest cycle (several hours long) at either 40°C or 60°C, with a full dose of detergent as specified on the packet.
  3. Repeat the longest cycle but this time with no detergent.
  4. Run a rinse cycle and check that there are no suds in the machine. If there are suds, run another rinse cycle. Repeat until there are no suds.      


4. The nappy is acting like a sponge!

Certain nappy fabrics act a little bit like a sponge when they’re squeezed, causing them to leak. This is most likely to happen when your baby is sitting for a long time, such as on a car journey or in a sling or baby bouncer. It can also happen if your little one is wearing clothes which are slightly too tight, such as a vest or pair of leggings. 


To avoid these sorts of leaks, the most important thing is to make sure that your nappy is at least partly made of natural fibres. Our inserts are a mix of microfibre, which is a synthetic fibre that’s great for quick absorbency but can leak when compressed, combined with bamboo, which helps to counter the compression leaks, so this shouldn’t generally be a problem if you’re using Pim Pam nappies. 


Alongside this, if it’s a vest that’s causing the problem, you can try using a little piece of fabric called a vest extender, which creates a little more space for the nappy. You can also look for clothing that’s specifically ‘cut for cloth’ - scandinavian brands tend to be particularly good for this.


5. Your nappies are damaged

In rare cases, it could be that your nappies are damaged. This is one of the rarest reasons for nappy leaks, particularly if your nappies are new, so it’s worth investigating the other suggestions before you go hunting for damage. 


The most common areas of damage are stretched elastics and failing waterproofing. Stretched elastics are easy to spot - they will have lost their ‘spring’ and it might be difficult to fit the elastics to legs well. If you are handy with a sewing machine they’re often easily replaced or you could even find a local seamstress to help you with the job. 


Failed waterproofing is more difficult to spot, but can be checked by taking a look inside the nappy. If the waterproofing is failing you will likely be able to see visible cracks or tears in the lamination (the waterproof layer inside the nappy outer). If you can’t see anything and you’d still like reassurance that the waterproofing is intact, you can try the ‘tea towel test’. Here’s how to do it.

You will need:

  • 2 tea towels or muslins
  • The nappy/wrap you’re testing (clean and dry)
  1. Lay out one of your towels or muslins on a dry waterproof surface and put your nappy on top, open, with the inside facing up.
  2. Fold your second towel/muslin into a rectangle and wet it so that it is very damp to the touch but not dripping. Place it on top of your open nappy, making sure that it is well away from the edges of the nappy. The test won’t be reliable if the towel has leaked over the side of the nappy, so make sure it’s just in the middle.
  3. Leave for an hour.
  4. When you come back to it, check your bottom towel for wetness. If it’s at all damp, it means that your waterproofing has failed. The area where the dampness is usually matches where the hole or damage is. 

Unfortunately waterproofing is not easily fixed and usually means it’s time to retire a nappy from normal use. You can use failing nappies as swim nappies - just make sure to cut out or remove any absorbent bits so that your little one isn’t getting weighed down! 

If you’re still struggling…

We’re always happy to help! Do get in touch via Instagram or email and we can help you work out what the problem is. 




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