Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Crazy Update

This will not make sense unless you've read part 1.

I have "processed" about half the diaper stash with the aquarium ammonia remover. (The other half hasn't been done because I'm out of the solution and have been too busy lazy to go get more.) The verdict is...it works. Mostly.

Per the directions on the blog post I linked in part 1, I used the highest water setting my washer allows, adding 60 mL of the ammonia remover, and soaked the diapers in hot water for 6 hours. After the soak I ran a rinse cycle, followed by a full wash cycle which included detergent and an extra rinse.

Immediately you could tell the inserts were better off. The ammonia remover got out a lingering funk that was on all of the inserts.  That funk never really smelled like ammonia, nor did it smell like barnyard (which is another scent all the diaper blogs caution you about), and I'd always chalked it up to leftovers from our strange water conditions. It didn't smell bad, but it was just sort of there. You would only notice it when you placed an insert against your nose and intentionally took a good whiff. And yes, I did that often while trying to assess the problem with these diapers. I'm not weird. Check the other diaper blogs...those moms did it too.  The scent might have actually been from our water, it might not have, I have no idea. Either way it's gone now, if only temporarily.

The majority of the diapers go on the kids, get used, and come off with no issues. No rashes, no immediate ammonia stench coming from the diaper itself. But there are a select few diapers that the solution seemed to help, but didn't completely rid them of ammonia. And it's random across the diapers that have been treated, not like it is one of the 2 brands we use or something like that. The random diapers are better than they were before, just a bit of redness on the kids instead of full blown chemical burns, and they clearly smell like ammonia when you take them off (instead of smelling like some ammonia-mix weirdness which was part of the problem in diagnosing this issue) so I know I'm making progress. If I segregated those diapers from the bunch and repeated the process it would probably do the trick.

We are at least back to a manageable point. I can use our cloth diapers, though there is still work to be done before I'll be completely happy again.  I'd recommend the aquarium ammonia remover as a last ditch attempt to save your diapers (like I needed), but not as a regular maintenance type of thing.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Trying something sort of crazy...

Remember back when I posted a video on washing cloth diapers? It was roughly a year ago. That cleaning routine was fantastic...until the day it quit working. Right about the time kiddo #2 was born we started getting some issues with ammonia build up. It only seemed to occur in Avery's diapers, and not Jake's so we chalked it up to toddler pee and tried making some small tweaks to the wash routine. Well...Jake is 8 months old now and we're still battling this thing, which has turned into a raging monster. Both kids are getting full-on ammonia burns after putting on 1 cloth diaper, and this is 1 or 2 wash cycles after stripping.  I'm at my wits end!

At one time or another over the past 8 months this is what I've tried:

  • Cutting back on the number of diapers washed at one time
  • Increasing the wash frequency to every day instead of every 2-3 days
  • Eliminating ALL additives from the wash. (For a while I had been adding a few drops of Grapefruit seed extract and tea tree oil after Avery got a yeast rash, so I wanted to make sure I completely killed that too.)
  • Switching to a different cloth-safe detergent, and another one after that
  • Switching to Tide
  • Soaking in Vinegar 
  • Soaking in Bleach
  • Soaking in a Vinegar/Oxi-clean solution
  • Stripping with blue Dawn
  • Stripping with RLR
  • Stripping with just hot water
  • Boiling the inserts using a pot on the stove
  • Adding more detergent to each load (we also tried less at the beginning as I thought our problems might have been from detergent build up and not ammonia)
  • Adding "Funk Rock" to the routine, including do a recommended soak with it
  • Rinsing both wet and dirty diapers before putting them in the diaper pail
  • Leaving the diaper pail lid open to encourage air flow
To a degree, some of these things helped.  It would knock back our problems for a little while, but then they'd come creeping back slightly worse for the next round. I'd say the boiling was the most helpful, but it was a complete PITA and it made me nervous to do it when the kids were awake, so it took forever to get all of our inserts done. I refuse to do it again. I also realize that ammonia in my diapers means they are not getting fully clean in the wash and that a change in my regular wash routine is required. However, nothing I change is ever going to work until I get the ammonia completely out of my diapers for good. I have to get them back to being super clean before I can truly test any changes to my wash routine.

So I went browsing, again, for a solution. This time I found a suggestion for using ammonia remover that is used in aquariums. After a quick google search of "Aquarium Ammonia remover for cloth diapers" the first article came back with a title along the lines of "Ways to ruin your cloth diapers". While this was not a promising start, I read several more articles claiming this actually worked with no ill-effects to the diapers. And now I have 28 microfiber inserts soaking with this stuff in my washer right now. (Here was the article with actual directions.)

Quite frankly, it doesn't matter if the ammonia remover ruins my diapers.  They are already ruined in the sense that I can't put them on my children without causing physical harm. Cloth diapers do not benefit me sitting in a drawer. And I'm dumping cash into disposables while I'm trying to heal their rashes and get the ammonia out of the diapers. This stuff will either be a $5 miracle fix to get rid of ammonia, or I'm dropping a lot more money to find a new solution. That may be in the form of buying cotton prefolds to stuff into my pockets (Supposedly, those are less likely to cause ammonia issues because the fabric washes more easily than microfiber) or giving up cloth completely and switching to disposables. I'll let you know how the experiment turns out...

Here's the verdict.

Monday, September 1, 2014

My! What a snazzy helmet you have!

So here's Jake, in all of his adorableness, now accessorized with his swanky new cranial remolding helmet.

Wait. Hold up. Huh? A helmet? Explain Kacie.

Jake has torticollis and positional plagiocephaly. In language we all understand, that means he has a stiff neck muscle (torticollis) and because it was so stiff he had trouble turning his head to his left side. Since he wasn't moving his head around, he developed a flat spot (the plagiocephaly part) on the back side of his head where it was constantly resting against whatever he was sitting in. (Swing, bouncer, crib, car seat, whatever...) So for a few months he has to wear a helmet to fix the flat spot. His torticollis has resolved with a bunch of physical therapy stretches, thankfully, so now the "silly hat" as we like to call it can get on with doing its job.

Only...A plain white helmet is no fun! So we decided to give it a bit of spunk and personality, just like our little Jakers. Since I never found a tutorial on how to do this (trust me, I looked) I thought I'd share how I did it.

I used a combination of clip art from the web, and Microsoft Word to create a series of images and text that would be turned into stickers. There was no real good way to do this, and the process changed a little depending on what I was trying to achieve for each sticker. I will say, I took my time with it, and all told it took several hours. Of course, if you had some version of Photo Shop, I'm sure the process would go much more quickly and easily. I don't have that, nor am I willing to pay for it, so...yeah. Essentially, I laid everything out the way I wanted it to appear in Microsoft word by combining my images and text on a drawing canvas (or a text box) and played around with the "bring it forward, send to back" junk until it looked right. I'd take a screen shot of the computer and paste that into Microsoft Paint. From Paint, I could crop the item I was working on and save it to become one single image. Then I'd load it back into MS Word and resize the image to the dimensions I wanted and make the background transparent. (Think small if you want a lot! My images are roughly 1 to 1.5 inches and we have about a dozen stickers on the entire helmet.) By loading it back into Word, I could place all my images on a single sheet for convenient printing. This also allowed me to resize them as needed if they didn't fit the spots on the helmet nicely. (We didn't have the helmet at the time, so I had no idea how much room I would have available.) By making the background of each image transparent, the helmet color would serve as the background. I felt this would lend toward a more natural blending, almost like the images were printed directly on the helmet. The only exceptions are a couple of colored stickers, like the one in the image above on the right. As it turned out, sticker design was the easy part...

The first time I printed my stickers (Yes. First. In all, this took 3 tries.) I used Printable Sticker Paper made by Silhouette. I set my printer for overhead transparencies since this was the most appropriate setting my inkjet printer offers and clicked the print button. These printed BEAUTIFULLY! I was so excited! The images were sharp and the truly clear background was just what wanted. And then I tried to put them on the helmet. The problem is that these sheets are some sort of plastic-y/vinyl combo, so when I cut my images out and went to apply them, the material wasn't flexible enough. The odd, multi-directional curves of the helmet were just too much, and no amount of stretch and manipulation would make the stickers lay flat against the helmet. Back to the drawing board...

The next product I tried was a Clear Full Sheet Label by Avery (#18665). When I went to print I was a little confused because the label itself looks almost white. I had to peel the backing off a section to convince myself it actually wasn't. This is because Avery's version of "clear" is like a frosted window. It is not truly transparent. But we printed anyway! And it worked! I set out cutting my images and placing them on the helmet. The label paper is thin enough that you can manipulate the curves and get it to lay flat or close to it. There were a few stickers that had some wrinkles along a curve, but nothing bad enough that I had to scrap the sticker. The major problem I had was that the ink wanted to smear off while I was applying the stickers. (I let them dry overnight trying to avoid this.) I got around this by setting the sticker gently on the helmet and placing a paper towel over the top before applying pressure to adhere the sticker.  If I got a weird wrinkle, the adhesive on the back of the label is forgiving enough that I could peel it right back off and make adjustments to its placement. I got all my stickers on, went out to take all the above photos, and Jake started wearing it as soon as his nap was over. 

Then, "baby" happened. Jake is hard core teething right now, so his hands are always in his mouth getting nicely coated with drool. And since he was still adjusting to the helmet, he was also constantly grabbing at it and trying to figure out how to itch his sweaty little head. Drool plus sticker equals printer ink EVERYWHERE! In just a couple hours the ink was completely gone from at least 3 stickers and there were black streaks all over the plastic exterior. Don't worry though...rubbing alcohol (the same stuff you have to have on hand to clean the inside of the helmet) takes the ink right off the plastic. So I pulled the stickers off and "washed" the plastic back to a clean white start. We still have a bit of ink on the velcro strap that holds the helmet closed, but it isn't too bad. It was bound to get grungy anyway so I wasn't heart broken that I couldn't get the ink out.

After the ink fiasco, I needed to find a way to seal the stickers. Now remember when I said I had looked for tutorials? The only thing I could find were tips on how to apply pre-made vinyl decals. A site called Bling Your Band suggested using Mod Podge to seal the edges of their decals to prevent them from peeling off. It was something I was willing to try with my own stickers, but past experience with that product has taught me Mod Podge itself will smear anything printed on an ink jet printer. If it doesn't smear, it will cause the ink to bleed a little, meaning my nice crisp designs would turn into a fuzzy blob under the Mod Podge. Enter the sealer before the sealer...

I printed my designs for the third time. I let them dry on the label paper overnight. Then I sprayed the stickers with 3 coats of Krylon Matte Finish, which is a spray-on acrylic sealer. It only takes a couple minutes to dry to the touch and about 2 hours to dry completely. I did some chores around the house and then came back to cut out my stickers. As I started to put the stickers on the helmet, I already knew this was working out better. The ink wasn't coming off on my fingers as I applied pressure to the stickers. No more paper towel needed. The Bling site also showed the decals being applied with a squeegee to help eliminate bubbles and wrinkles.  I didn't have a squeegee, but I did have a plastic scraper for my Pampered Chef baking stone.  I used the edge of that to help smooth out my stickers even further and it worked great. I have a couple of stickers where I dug in with the scraper a little too much because I was really trying to even them out along a curve. It took a little of the ink off because I went right through the acrylic layer.  So if you do decide to use another tool, just be careful with how much pressure you apply to a "sharp" edge.

Once the stickers were all on the helmet, I used a 1" foam brush to apply Mod Podge with a matte finish
Just follow the directions on the bottle. The small size is more than plenty. I used 3 coats and felt that was enough. (And by that time, it was close to 2 in the morning...) I let it dry the rest of the night and Jake wore his helmet the next morning. The finish has held up well, and NO INK SMEARS!! It's been roughly 2 weeks since I put the stickers on and the Mod Podge doesn't even look scratched.  If I do need it, we have plenty leftover after the original application to add some layers.
A few more notes about the stickers: 
  • The label paper I used, as stated before, has a frosted background.  When applied to my white helmet, it blends in and you can't see it at all. I do not know if this will be true if you have a colored helmet.  The edges of your stickers might show more. However, the borders will be more noticeable anyway after you apply the Mod Podge, so this could be a moot point.
  • Even if the shape of the sticker lends itself better to being cut in a circle, I found square stickers were easier to apply and get to lay flat. If there were going to be wrinkles, the square stickers wanted to do it in fewer directions when applied to a curve.
  • Finally, there were some comments on the Bling site that state rubbing alcohol will remove the Mod Podge if you wanted to swap out your stickers.  I plan to keep the same ones, but just in case, I've been careful when cleaning the helmet to make sure I don't over-spray the exterior. The comments say the alcohol will cause the finish to bubble and then you can peel it off in sheets before reaching the sticker itself.