Top 5 Ways to Prevent Diaper Rash

By: Jill Jaracz

Diapers can overwhelm a baby's skin, but there are things you can do to prevent a rash from occurring. See more parenting pictures.
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Uh oh. Your baby is crying, and he looks uncomfortable. When you check his diaper, you see blotchy red skin that looks like it's been burned. This is a classic sign of diaper rash.

Diaper rash is a form of dermatitis, a skin rash that happens when the area of skin covered by the diaper becomes inflamed. A diaper rash can flare up when the skin is in contact with a wet or dirty diaper for too long, or if the baby has diarrhea. Diaper rash can also occur when babies starts eating solid foods, because their stool may change and irritate the area. Some babies even get diaper rash because their bodies react to the chemicals found in disposable diapers or detergents used on cloth diapers.


Some cases of diaper rash can be severe, where the skin blisters, bleeds or oozes fluid. This may be due to a secondary infection and should be looked at by a doctor. Luckily, most cases of diaper rash are easy to treat at home and can even be prevented. Let's take a look at some of the tactics you can use to combat diaper rash.

5: Change the Diaper Often

Happy babies don't like to hang around in a messy diaper.
Happy babies don't like to hang around in a messy diaper.
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Diaper rash generally happens when the skin covered by the diaper is wet or soiled for too long. The easiest way to prevent it is to change your baby's diaper often. Ideally, a diaper should be changed every time it becomes soiled. That way, any wetness won't rub up against your baby's skin and irritate it.

If you're having a hard time discerning when your baby's diaper is wet or soiled, check it every couple of hours during the day. Newborns will need changing more often than older babies. All caretakers, including baby-sitters and day care workers, should be diligent about checking a baby for wetness and changing the diaper as soon as it's dirty. At night you'll also want to check the diaper to make sure he doesn't spend several hours sleeping with a wet or soiled diaper next to his skin.


When putting on a baby's diaper, be sure that it's not too tight. Sure, you don't want anything to leak out, but if a diaper is too tight, air can't flow through it, which creates the perfect environment for moisture getting trapped and irritating the skin.

Cleanliness is also important, and next up, we'll look at how to keep your baby's bottom clean.

4: Keep It Clean

Keep your baby's skin clean, but don't use anything that might irritate.
Keep your baby's skin clean, but don't use anything that might irritate.
Jamie Grill/Iconica/Getty Images

It's really important to keep the skin around the diaper area clean to prevent bacteria from spreading. At every changing you should clean the skin with warm water and either a soft cloth or cotton balls. A soft washcloth or even a flannel cloth works well. Don't use soap, though, unless the area is really dirty. Even then, make sure the soap you use is mild.

Also, take a look at the type of baby wipe you're using. To avoid burning the skin and spreading bacteria, don't use wipes that contain alcohol or propylene glycol, especially if a rash is present. Fragrances in wipes can irritate a baby's skin, too.


After washing your baby's skin, be sure to dry it thoroughly. Use a clean towel and always pat the skin dry. Rubbing it can cause irritations. Finally, wash your hands after every diaper change so you don't spread any bacteria.

Drying your baby after a diaper change is just one way to keep him dry. Read on for other drying tips.

3: Keep It Dry

Allowing a little freedom from the diaper will keep things dry.
Allowing a little freedom from the diaper will keep things dry.
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Since diaper rash happens when your baby is exposed to prolonged wetness, it's really important to keep the diaper area dry. The best way to do that, of course, is to go diaper-free. Let your child spend some time naked (supervised, of course), which will allow air to flow around the diaper area and dry it out.

Parents who use disposable diapers may want to try a super-absorbent variety. These contain a gelling material that will trap the moisture and keep it away from the skin. Cloth diaper users should avoid using plastic pants, because those tend to keep moisture in.


Whatever you do, skip the talcum powder. Previous generations used it to keep a baby's skin dryer, but if a baby inhales the powder, it can irritate his lungs. Also, never use a blow dryer to dry a baby's bottom, because the heat may burn babies' tender skin.

Cleaning and drying may not be enough to combat diaper rash. Some babies will still have reactions, so let's look at how to deal with those next.

2: Avoid Irritation

Make sure you clean cloth diapers thoroughly.
Make sure you clean cloth diapers thoroughly.
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As we mentioned before, the perfume in scented wipes may irritate babies' skin, so if your baby has a skin reaction, try using unscented wipes, or test out an alternative to wipes, such as cloth or cotton balls.

Disposable diapers may be one culprit in causing skin reactions. This could be from either the absorbent gel or the bleach in the lining. If the diaper irritates your child's skin, try changing brands, because a different brand may contain different chemicals that don't act the same way. You may also want to consider switching to cloth diapers if disposables prove to be too irritating.


If you already use cloth diapers but find they're causing diaper rash, think about how you wash them. Pre-soak heavily soiled diapers, and wash them in hot water with a mild detergent. You may have to rinse them twice to make sure they're thoroughly clean, and you might want to use a half-cup (118.29 milliliters) of vinegar in the rinse cycle. Try changing the type of detergent you use, and be sure to skip the fabric softener to avoid fragrances that might irritate the skin. Those who use diaper services can ask them to follow these steps as well. If these tactics don't help, switch to disposable diapers.

Ointments and creams can also help in the fight against diaper rash. We'll look at some of the options on the next page.

1: Use Barrier Ointments

Use a proper ointment every time you change your baby's diaper.
Use a proper ointment every time you change your baby's diaper.
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Barrier ointments are especially helpful in protecting the skin against diaper rash. Look for diaper creams or ointments with petroleum jelly or zinc oxide. Some examples of ointments and creams include:

  • Desitin
  • Diaparene
  • A&D Ointment
  • Balmex
  • Hydrocortisone
  • Boudreaux's Butt Paste
  • Zinc oxide

An ointment or cream is a better option than using regular lotion or a liquid, because they're less irritating on the skin. Only use products designed for babies' skin, and slather it on every time you change the diaper.


Keep in mind that a barrier ointment does just that -- it creates a barrier on top of the skin so that nothing can get through, especially bacteria. But it also prevents air from getting through to the skin, so make sure your baby is dry before you apply it. A cream-based product, however, does allow air to reach the skin.

Lots More Information

Related HowStuffWorks Articles

  • "Diaper Rash." (April 23, 2010)
  • Mayo Clinic. "Diaper Rash." March 13, 2010. (April 23, 2010)
  • WebMD. "Diaper Rash." Aug. 1, 2008. (April 23, 2010)