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Do cloth diapers have anti-microbial properties?


Cloth diapers get wet, are often humid (though less so with our Venties AirCovers) thus creating a perfect environment for micro-organisms to grow. These microorganisms can cause rashes, bad lingering odors, and fabric deterioration. Through proper washing and frequent changing, the microbes can be mitigated, but did you know there was another way to reduce the growth of bacteria? It is through the cloth diaper fabric itself.

In this post, we'll look into the anti-microbial properties of cloth diapers.

Do cotton or bamboo cloth diapers have anti-microbial properties?

It looks like cotton does not have innate antimicrobial properties though it can be treated with various chemicals to make it antimicrobial.  

Same thing goes for bamboo fabric, although the bamboo plant has antimicrobial properties. The fabric, sadly, does not because of all the processing it goes through.

Cotton is considered the least anti-microbial, along with wool, jute, and flax. The reason seems to be its water retention is high in natural fibres. Although bamboo wasn't included in this list, I think since it is cellulose, like cotton, it will have the same level of 'anti-microbialness' (that is, none).

Do nylon and polyester cloth diapers have anti-microbial properties?

No. They resist microbe growth better than natural fibres because they are not hydrophylic. However, this study indicates that these fibres tend to hold stale perspiration in the holes between the fibre strands, and this is where microbes flourish to an even greater extent than in cotton or other natural fibres.  A study on cotton vs. polyester socks (sorry, this gets gross) found that foot fungus grew more rapidly in polyester socks than in cotton ones.

Can additives help with anti-microbial properties?

Yes. Dyes, Chitosan, copper, and silver seem to be the chief additives to textiles.

  • Certain natural dyes can hinder bacteria such as e.coli by 99% on cotton. Other non-natural dyes can be impregnated with molecules that have copper, chromium or cerium in them are shown to have good anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties. Additionally, there are light-activated dyes that generate oxygen when light hits them. The oxygen kills microorganisms and bacteria.
  • Chitosan is a natural, biodegradable derivitive of chitin that helps against the growth of certain fungi and bacteria. Unfortunately, Chitosan cannot be used on cotton (and I guess, by extension, bamboo, since they're largely the same thing). There's currently ongoing development to create a cotton-friendly version of Chitosan.  
  • Copper compounds has been added to various natural fibres, and is used extensively to treat tents, canvas items, bags, and geotextiles. It has excellent anti-microbial properties, hence its popularity.
  • Silver compounds seem to be less abundant than copper, and I haven't not seen anything on Google about silver being added to cotton or bamboo. Just wool and synthetics. Silver is the only metal that effectively works on synthetics like polyester.

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