'Panadol' staining and cloth nappies

Have you ever discovered a dark grey/brownish 'tide mark' stain on your nappies or inserts? This is often called 'Panadol staining', but what causes it and how do you get rid of it?

The stain is actually caused by sorbitol. Sorbitol occurs naturally in some foods, and is also added as a sweetener (where it is usually derived from corn syrup) to other foods and to medications like paracetamols and some teething gels and multivitamins. Sorbitol occurs naturally, in various amounts, in stone fruits like peaches, apricots, apples, pears, plums & cherries and also in dried fruits like prunes, dates & raisins.  It's also used to sweeten 'sugar free' lollies, icecreams & soft drinks, and is used in 'diet' drinks and foods.

For most children in nappies, the cause of this type of staining is either a medication containing sorbitol (like many childrens' pain relievers), or eating lots (LOTS!) of the fruits containing sorbitol.

Here's the weird thing - only a proportion of those children who ingest sorbitol in whatever form will have stained nappies. And sometimes, it's a one-off incident that doesn't occur again. It might have to do with how much sorbitol is involved, how each individual child processes the sorbitol, how concentrated the urine is, or a combination of factors.

Because the sorbitol is in the wee, this means that using a liner will not help prevent stains. This photo of pocket nappy inserts shows how extensive the stains can be.

If you are going to get a sorbitol stain, rinsing your nappies before putting them in your nappy bucket can actually make very little difference - even if no stain is yet evident. The stain usually develops after a few hours in the nappy bucket. Sometimes you won't notice you have a stain until your nappies come out of the wash and you're hanging them up.

So how do I prevent sorbitol staining?

1. As far as baby pain & fever medications go, some contain sorbitol, and some don't.  It will state on the packaging in the ingredients if it does. If all other things are equal (with your child's needs being the priority), choose one without sorbitol.

2. That's it! OK, you could stop using your cloth nappies if your child is having pain relief or a fruit binge - but these are nappies. They need to be clean, but they don't need to be stain free to do the job, and sorbitol stains will not harm the nappies or make them ineffective.

I have sorbitol stains, what can I do?

The two easiest things that remove sorbitol stains are time and sun. So, don't stress about it and keep using the nappies as normal and make sure you wash them and hang them in the sun as often as possible. While some stains may never fade completely (it really is very individual how much a nappy stains) and some fabrics take longer than others, the majority will fade to imperceptibility gradually over time.

Photos courtesy of RAWr Nappies & the Cloth Nappy Market