BASIC ELEMENTS IN LAUNDERING DIAPERS
Here at Pinstripes and Polkadots we pride ourselves on being your best resource and premier store for cloth diapering and laundry care. I know how important and overwhelming it can be to choose the right diaper and detergent for your needs and that’s why we created and maintain this online resource for you so you get the same level of service I provide my customers in my local store.
At the capstone of my store is my commitment to educating every caregiver here in Central Illinois and beyond to make babywearing and cloth diapering a wonderful, loving experience. I hope that love exudes in every package that I ship, class that I teach and product that I offer.
Baking Soda (Sodium Hydrogen Carbonate or Sodium Bicarbonate):
Baking soda can successfully reduce or eliminate odors. Sprinkle a little in the bottom of your diaper pail if desired. When you dump your diapers into the washer, the baking soda will wash away and take some odors with it. Caution: Some manufacturer's are currently asking users to not use Baking Soda when washing their brand of diapers.
Baking soda is recommended by some people for use in washing your diapers. Baking soda is a weak base and has only a slight ability to remove non-soluble matter found in bodily excretions. Because breast-fed infant poop is completely water soluble, using baking soda in the wash during the period the baby is exclusively breastfed generally is acceptable. When the baby's diet changes washing soda would then be a better choice for use. Both Baking Soda and Washing Soda should be thoroughly dissolved in warm water before adding to your wash load. Both of these additives can be abrasive if not dissolved prior to use.
Caution should be used before adding borax to any diaper laundry. Borax is abrasive and may void any warranty with some manufacturers. Borax is often an ingredient in laundry detergents. For powdered laundry detergents containing borax you will want to completely dissolve the detergent before adding it into your washing machine.
The Calgon we are discussing here will not be found in the beauty section ready to carry you away; rather, it can be found in the laundry aid aisle near your bleaches, etc. Calgon is used to soften water used to wash your diapers in areas with severely hard water. We also recommend the occasional use of Calgon to strip your diapers of mineral build-up if you live in an area of the country with hard water. Click here for more information on hard water treatments.
Chlorine Bleach is generally not recommended in the diapering community. Chlorine Bleach has been known to ruin diaper covers. Wool diaper covers will actuall dissolve in Chlorine bleach. The elastic in diaper covers, fitted diapers and pocket diapers can also be harmed by multiple exposures to chlorine bleach.
Cotton prefolds can be bleached. However, use extreme caution and consideration. Bleach will weaken the cotton fibers and lead to fraying and holes, greatly shortening the lifespan of your diapers. Bleach also has the potential for leaving harmful or irritating chemicals on the diapers that may cause a problem for your baby so plan to at least double rinse in the rare time you do use bleach.
Bleach is often suggested for sterilizing diapers especially if baby has or is recovering from a yeast infection. However, other methods do exist for killing yeast and bacteria read more on sanitizing or disinfecting your diapers here. For specific information on dealing with yeast click here.
A situation may arise in diapering where it would be advisable to use chlorine bleach. Realize that these situations are exceptions not the norm. When using, please remember that a little goes a long way. Add no more than 1/4 cup to your nearly-full, water-filled, top-loading washing machine; add detergent and bleach; agitate; then add diapers into the solution. For a front-loader follow your machines guide for using bleach and realize that a stainless steel washer drum could be harmed by bleach. Lastly, Before you use a chlorine bleach on your diapers please check with your diaper manufacturer's instructions.
Using a clothesline is an environmentally friendly way to dry your diapers. You can reduce your carbon footprint all year long. Indoor clotheslines can added desired humidity to a home during the winter months. Outdoor clotheslines can be used even in winter with good effect for all but your wool covers.1 Drying your diapers on an outdoor clothesline will help reduce stains and naturally sanitize your diapers from bacteria, viruses and mold.
1 Osgood, WIlliam. Wintering in Snowcountry. pg. 118
Dawn Dishwashing Detergent:
Dawn dishwashing detergent is often recommended for use in stripping diapers that have been exposed to diaper rash creams or fabric softener. This recommendation is based on the fact that dawn dish detergent is excellent at binding to greasy, oily substances and allowing them to be washed away. When diapers have been exposed to fabric softener (animal fats/plant waxes ), essential oils, or some natural detergents (creating soap scum) then using Dawn can help "strip" the diapers from these waxes or oils.
Often people will asks about using Dawn dish soap on a regular basis for cleaning diaper laundry, here is my take on that. As a preventative for diaper build-up used every other week or monthly, I do not see it being problematic with a top loading washing machine. However, i much more highly preferred that you identify and eliminate the cause of build-up in the first place.
As an everyday way to clean you diapers, I wouldn't recommend Dawn. I also would ask those of you using front loaders to use extreme caution using dish soap for any purpose. Dishwashing liquid is not low-sudsing and may damage your machines.
But regardless of the type of washing machine used, I do not suggest using Dawn or any dish detergent for use in a daily, or every couple of days washing routine. Why? The main reason is that dish detergent is not formulated for washing fabrics or for washing easily out of fabrics. It has been specially formulated to wash hard, non-porous surfaces. This means it will be difficult to rinse Dawn from the fabric when you use a sufficient amount for cleansing. The extra rinses needed when using dish detergent have the potential to waste time, money, and water.
Many dish detergents also contains enzymes, dyes and fragrance which have their own issues discussed at length on this website.
From Too Much Detergent - Detergent buildup could be the simple result of using too much detergent. This type of detergent build-up can often be recognized because diaper smell fine coming out of the washer or dryer but then smell awful once a child pees in the diaper. Generally you should be using half of the manufacturer's recommended amount of detergent (less for soft water, possibly more for hard water).
Detergent should be added to the wash water before adding diapers, not dumped on top of your diapers. Make sure you do not overstuff or under-fill your machine with diapers. Diaper laundry needs room to wash and then rinse completely. Diapers also need other diapers to wash against. Washing 24-30 infant diapering items at a time or 15-24 baby size diapering items in a top loading washing machine is a good rule. Some people with front loaders find there diapers wash better if they limit their loads to 12-15 diapers; but this is a phenomena that varies by front-loading machine. Of course there is the exception of the humongous washing machines where 24 diapers may only fill half the drum, the amount of detergent used is dependent mostly by the amount of water used so use sound judgment, but always measure with standard measures. We also advise that you always wash at least a half a load for your washer size.
If there are bubbles in your final rinse water, consider adding an additional rinse and decreasing your detergent use the next time your are washing diapers. Bubbles won't necessarily be present in a front-loader to let you know if you are using too much detergent. In fact, many detergent manufacturer's are removing the foaming agents that produce bubbles and so the ability to feel the final rinse water should give you a better indication. Your rinse water should feel clean and not filmy. Of course chemically softened water tends to always feel slimy.
From Water Retention -Recently it has been recognized that Nylon wet bags sometimes retain wash water and lead to detergent build-up on your diapers. Consider washing your tote bags by hand, with other laundry, or only sporadically with your diapers. I know the Bummis totes recommend washing in warm, and this is better accomplished when washing baby's clothing laundry.
From Detergents with Problematic Ingredients - Detergent buildup could also be the result of all the extras in the detergent you are using. Perfumes and Optical Brighteners leave chemicals behind on your diapers to make them "look" cleaner. These chemicals over time can lead to detergent build-up. To avoid this simply choose a detergent that doesn't have such additives.
From Poor Detergent Reaction with Hard Water - Detergent build-up could also be the result of hard water or the result of hard water and the use of a Natural Detergent that uses surfactants derived from corn. These natural detergents tend to perform more like a soap than like a detergent and can leave build-up on diapers. BioKleen, Meleluca, Earth Friendly, and Ecos each seem to cause detergent build-up in hard water areas of the US and would not be recommended for laundering pocket diapers.
Dyer balls seem to be a little far out, I know. I wanted to try them out because of the hype but wasn't sure I wanted to spend money on a product that seemed so, um, ya weird. Anyway, the kind people at Nellie's, makers of Nellie's Laundry Powder, sent me some sample dryer balls: blue, oblong, pointed critters. And you know the ultimate test? I totally did not sort my laundry by color let alone sort by fabric type; I washed and then dried using my new dryer balls. When a fleece shirt and and cotton socks come out of the dryer as three individual entities instead of plastered together with the attraction of teenagers in love, you can be nothing but amazed.If you feel you must use a fabric softener on your clothing or it will come out as a charged event, I challenge you to try sorting your clothing by fabric types first: natural fibers with natural, and synthetics with synthetics then add the dryer balls for good measure. Take care not to over-dry your load. And viola, you will see you have conquered the Static Cling Monster. Another product on the market that could also solve the static cling issue is the Static Eliminator Sheets. Also, during the winter months many homes need moisture to avoid static in general. If your baby's fine hair looks like he has been playing in the light socket, then research ways to add more moisture into your home. Your nasal passages will appreciate it too.
For an added boost to encourage you not to use standard dryer sheets in your dryer please check out this link.
Enzymes are now added to many mainstream detergents. Enzymes are used to fight lint, fight stains, and create fabric finishes.
When it comes to washing diapers you need to exercise caution before using enzymes. Specifically the group of enzymes called protease seem to irritate baby's skin.
Enzymes have been known to severely hurt babies' skin. Some babies' skin doesn't seem to be adversely affected by the enzymes but use caution. Notice that I use the word seem. The reaction to the enzymes isn't like a reaction to milk or peanuts. The concept here is if any enzymes are left in the fabric they will be activated when wet, the child pees or sweats, and will activate any enzymes left in the fabric and they will begin to attack proteins including skin. The amount of damage can vary depending on the amount of enzymes left in the fabric and the amount of time the wet diaper is on a baby. If your babies skin is smooth and bright pink or red in the wet zone of the diaper, consider that it may be a result of enzymes. These enzymes are also present in your baby's stools and thus the reason we try to change poopy diapers as quickly as possible.
If you use a detergent with enzymes it is extremely important to make sure that absolutely no detergent is left in the diapers. If the detergent doesn't wash out completely, enzymes will be left on the fabric. When baby pees these enzymes will be activated and begin breaking down proteins. Baby's skin is made of proteins and may be attacked.
A new wave of detergents is in the making that will use a variety of enzymes for other purposes including sanitizing. Not all enzymes are problematic, unfortunately some manufacturer's are reticent to releasing what groups of enzymes are in use in their formulations.
As a general rule do not use fabric softeners in your washing machine, or a detergent that includes fabric softeners, or dryer sheets with fabric softener. Cotton and Cotton/Hemp diapers will lose absorbency. Diapers with a stay-dry liner such as pocket diapers will repel moisture. Covers made of PUL (polyurethane laminate) will break down quickly. Do not use Fabric Softener or Dryer Sheets on fleece pocket diapers.
Fabric softeners will not harm fleece diaper covers and actually will add chemicals to the covers to make them more waterproof. For more information on the chemical exposure from these products visit this link.
I often refer to Natural Detergents as hybrid detergents. They are a hybrid between natural plant oils and petroleum products to produce a detergent. Plant oils without this treatment would form a soap. Some natural detergents tend to react poorly in hard water conditions. Others seem fine to use.
Look over the list of detergent choices for a better review of detergents.
Oxygen Bleaches are the "in" stain remover on the supermarket shelf today. And yes, they should have no trouble removing stains. However, caution should be used when deciding on any laundry additive. People choosing to use standard Oxygen Bleaches on the market can actually cause more problems than a little stain. Oxygen bleaches are often heavy in percentage with fillers that do not react well in hard water. This poor reaction can leave a scum on pocket diapers causing them to repel moisture.
Oxygen Bleach is not equal to chlorine bleach and is undocumented as a sanitizer in the US. More information on using Oxygen Bleaches for disinfecting your diapers can be found here.
For a chemical free solution to stains, hang diapers out in the sunshine. The UV rays of the sun will natrally bleach and sanitize your diapers from bacteria, viruses and mold. For tough stains, leave your diapers hang all day. Last spring I sun-bleached all my infant prefolds complete in their abundant glory of newborn poop stains. I hung them on the line and then forgot about them until the next day. When I went out to inspect them, they looked pristine, as good as new. The power of the sun is amazing. Throughout the winter the clothesline can also be used with good results. However, on days like today with a windchill of -30 degrees you may prefer to lay your diapers in a large sun exposed window or in the dashboard of your car. Simply place the diaper with stains up and let the UV rays do their work. This method generally takes a bit longer than using the outdoor clothesline.
Oxygen bleaches or any whitening agents are not recommended for diaper covers according to some manufacturer's so check your care guides by manufacturer.
Myth Buster: After talking with a chemist today in the field of laundry detergents, I learned that no greater harm would come by using hydrogen peroxide bleaching agents on cloth diapers that previously were chlorine bleached. Of course, any damage done by the chlorine bleach would not be reversed, but the change to a Oxyclean type of hydrogen bleach would not be harmful. When choosing an Oxygen bleaching product get your money's worth and find the product with the largest percentage of Sodium Percarbonate. Last I checked, Oxyboost had the highest percentage. Others brands tend to add large amounts of Sodium Carbonate. Avoid oxygen bleaching products that have fragrance or enzymes added to them for the same reason you would avoid them in detergents. Another good one you could probably find easily is made by Seventh Generation.
Pocket diapers and All-in-One diapers are some of the most innovative diapers of today. These diapers generally have a stay-dry polyester interior lining that keeps baby's skin dry. This interior lining is like a microscopic colander. Moisture passes between the fibers of the polyester into the absorbent insert. Moisture is not absorbed by the polyester--this is why the fabric can "stay-dry".
When washing these modern stay-dry diapers, care needs to be taken to avoid anything that could clog the microscopic holes in the fabric. Detergent build-up, diaper rash remedies, fabric softeners, and mineral build-up are common culprits.
Detergent build-up will easily clog the pores/holes between the polyester fibers. Even the thinnest layer of build-up will cover these holes and will result in moisture beading up and rolling right off the fleece/suedecloth rather than move through the fabric into the absorbent insert.
To test pocket diapers that you are currently using to determine if you have detergent build-up, grab the nasal aspirator fill it with warm water and squeeze a stream of water mimicking pee onto the interior fleece or suedecloth of your stuffed pocket diaper. Does the water bead up into little droplets that sit on the top of the fabric, or run right off the diaper? Or does it immediately go through the fabric? If the water remains as little droplets or runs off, then you may need to consider stripping your diapers for better performance.
The detergent you choose for your diapers is pretty important. Learn about good detergent choices for diapers here.
Hard Water Treatments:
If you are washing in hard water, minerals from the water can over time get left behind and lodged in the fibers of your diapers. This mineral build-up can lead to repellency and stink issues. A water softening treatment can remove the mineral build-up causing repellency, stink, and loss of absorbency. The stink from mineral build-up is often first noticed in the overnight diapers. Mineral build-up if left untreated can also lead to diaper rash and open sores.
RLR is considered safe for cloth diapers and even pocket diapers containing PUL.
Calgon is my personal favorite for this task. I follow the bottle's instructions but use one-half the recommended dosage for my city water. I then follow the Calgon treatment with an extra non-detergent wash.
Generally, water softening agents are not used with every wash but rather on a bi-weekly or monthly schedule. Before depending on a water softening regimen, evaluate what your diaper stink is caused by. Make sure you are using a detergent that is free of chemicals/additives designed to be left on fabrics. Detergents for diaper washing should be free of fragrance and not loaded with optical brighteners. Secondly, make sure that you are not using too much detergent when washing. Run a hot wash without detergent and note whether or not you get any bubbles or filmy residue. Using too much detergent is a quick and easy way to get stinky diapers.
RLR and Calgon can be found in the Laundry Aisle next to other laundry aids like bleaches, stain fighters, and borax. I have had better luck finding it at a high-end grocer like Jewel or Albertson's.
Before stripping diapers you need to determine what the build-up is caused from. Turn your water heater up to hot about 30 minutes before stripping diapers. Also, if after your first stripping session your diapers are still repelling moisture, turn the diaper inside out and try again.
Identify: Detergent build-up is generally noticed because diapers smell really good coming out of the dryer and then the diapers smell really foul as soon as the child pees. (I have a sensitive nose and pee does generally smell and boys pee smells differently than girls pee, I swear. But the pee shouldn't be severely offensive just after the child pees.)
Now in the morning when the pee has been in the diaper for awhile it will be offensive. When the morning diaper becomes extremely offensive consider stripping your diapers (often what is needed in this case is a Mineral Stripping). Also realize that your diaper covers may need stripped too.
Correct: Fill washing machine with super hot water. (Add a pot of boiling water if needed of course exhibit safety.) Add diapers to the hot water solution. Complete normal washing cycle, using a hot wash, warm rinse. Check final rinse to make sure it is free from suds. Continue rinsing until bubbles no longer form or are visible in the final rinse cycle. Using a Calgon treatment during the initial wash cycle has been helpful especially if the detergent you have been using contains optical brighteners.
Diaper Rash Cream
Identify: Have you used a diaper rash remedy recently? Did you remember to protect your diaper with a liner? Did you remember to wash your liner and wipes separate from your diapers?
Correct: To strip diapers that have been exposed to a diaper rash cream turn up water heater 30 minutes prior. Fill kitchen sink with hot water. Add Tablespoon Regular Dawn (blue) dish detergent. Stir with wooden spoon. Add diapers. Let sit until water has cooled and you are able to immerse your hands into the still pretty warm water. Use a short bristled nail brush with a little Dawn and scrub the fleece/suedecloth of pocket diapers inside and outside. Drain sink and wash diapers in the washing machine on a hot wash cycle adding about a 1/2 teaspoon of Dawn if desired. Extra rinses may be needed. Rinse until no bubbles are present in the final rinse and water is not filmy. After first stripping session, your diapers should show improvement; however, you may still have to repeat the above procedures to get your diapers functioning optimally again.
Identify: This is generally easy. Mother-in-law helped with washing diapers and you find a dryer sheet amongst your clean diapers. Yikes! Also, this can be a problem if you generally use dryer sheets with your other laundry.
Correct: To strip diapers that have been exposed to fabric softener turn up water heater 30 minutes prior. Fill kitchen sink with hot water. Add a tablespoon of regular Dawn (blue) dish detergent. Stir with wooden spoon. Add diapers. Let sit until water has cooled and you are able to immerse your hands into the water. (Optional: add a little Dawn and rub the fleece of pocket diapers inside and out with a short bristled nail brush.) Drain sink and wash diapers in the washing machine on a hot wash cycle adding about a 1/2 teaspoon of Dawn if desired. Extra rinses may be needed. Rinse until no bubbles are present in the final rinse and water is not filmy. Exercise caution if using with an HE machine. Dish detergent is not low sudsing.
Identify: Do you wash your diapers in extremely hard water? Do you have well water? You may need to strip your diapers from minerals.
Correct: Fill washing machine with super hot water. (Add a pot of boiling water if needed (minerals dissolve more easily in hot water than in cold.) Add 1/2 of the recommended amount listed on the box/bottle for Calgon to the water. Or follow the directions on your package of RLR. Add diapers to the Hot water solution. Complete normal washing cycle, using a hot wash, warm rinse. Repeat rinse cycle.
Check out the information on Hard Water Treatments.
Washing Soda (Sodium Carbonate):
Washing soda is the precursor of modern day detergents and the fundamental ingredient in most powdered detergents even today. Washing soda is strong enough to change organic compounds so they are easily washed away. Washing soda is a naturally occurring compound also known as soda ash. If you are looking to wash your diapers in an all natural detergent that is free from enzymes dyes, and perfumes; then washing soda may be an option. Washing soda, under optimal conditions, will completely dissolve in water and will rinse clean. Hard water conditions will produce less than optimal results with washing soda alone. Hard water and washing soda alone will probably produce less then optimal results and may lead to a scum type build-up
Washing soda should always be dissolved completely in warm water prior to adding to your laundry.
You should be able to locate washing soda in your local supermarket laundry aisle near other laundry aids like Borax. Arm and Hammer Super Washing Soda is made of Sodium Carbonate a naturally occurring compound; in natural detergents it is often called Soda Ash.
If you live in an area of the country that already has soft water, feel blessed--your laundering is much easier than the other 80% of us--just make sure to use less detergent than we do.
Hard water generally means that we must use a detergent. The detergent needs to react well in hard water and we may have to periodically strip the diapers from minerals.
In some locations the water is so hard that a water softening treatment is used with each wash load.
For extremely hard water or for periodic stripping of minerals from your diapers, it may be necessary to use a marketed water softener such as Blue Dew, Calgon, Climalene, Melo, Raindrops, and White King Water Softener. Follow directions on packaging. Calgon liquid is my preference out of these products.
Note that water that is softened by a house water softener will require much less detergent use. However, you may still have to strip your diapers from other minerals in the water on a bi-monthly basis.
White Distilled Vinegar:
White distilled vinegar is ofte used in the final rinse cycle with the intent of helping the diapers rinse free of any residual detergent. This may actually work with some detergents and natural fibers like cotton or hemp. However it is more important to the rinsing process to make sure that your washing machine is in good working order and not overloaded. Plan to wash between 24-30 diapering items in one laundry load for a top-loader or 12-15 diapers in a front-loader.
White distilled vinegar is considered a natural fabric softener. It acts like a fabric softener in the sense that it will tend to "collect" the extra electrons that lead to static cling. So if you are having an issue with your diapers and static, white distilled vinegar could help this problem.
If after washing, your diapers have a ph that is strongly basic, you may consider using a little vinegar in your final rinse cycle. White distilled vinegar can help balance the ph of diapers from strongly alkaline detergents. A little does the job. More is not better when using white distilled vinegar. My suggestion, if you are set on using the vinegar, is to get a downy ball to be used exclusively for vinegar rinses. Fill the ball to the fill line close ball and add to laundry. The downy ball will release the vinegar in the final rinse. Many people do not need to use white distilled vinegar in the final rinse.
One last vinegar note: if your washing routine is getting the results you want, there is no need to add distilled vinegar. Only consider adding a small amount if you are having a problem and you feel vinegar would correct the problem. Also realize that some manufacturer's do not recommend using this additive on their products, so be sure to check on your brand before use.
Vinegar can make problems stink issues worse and grey caste diapers in extremely hard water conditions. Also, we would recommend not using if dealing with yeast in your diapers. For more about disinfecting with vinegar click here.