No topic is more discussed among cloth diapering user groups than Washing your Cloth Diapers. This is partly due to washing being the biggest hurdle that families face when choosing to cloth diaper, but also because there is so much controversy over the best way to get it done. Every situation is different and depends on your machine, water hardness and detergent. I recently learned first hand what it meant to deal with “Stinky diapers.” And let me tell you, I now understand why some moms give up on cloth diapers. If you are/planning on washing your cloth diapers at home with your washer and dryer, this article is for you.
Cloth Diapers should NOT stink
Last month, I bought some powdered Sunlight detergent on sale for $7.00, thinking it would do the trick as well as my Tide Original powder. It did not, and I suffered through 2 weeks of stinky diapers before I couldn’t stand it anymore. I threw out the Sunlight and bought a box of Tide. Sunlight just didn’t work in my machine and with my water hardness level. But it works well for other families so I understand it can be frustrating finding the magic recipe for your wash routine.
Your diapers should NOT stink. Even when baby pees or poops, they should only mildly smell. Obviously they aren’t going to smell like roses sitting in your pail or wetbag, but it shouldn’t be overwhelming stench. If diapers stink out of the dryer, or burn your nose after they are peed in, you have a problem in your wash routine. For three solid years my diapers were clean and blissful using my proper wash routine. I admit I didn’t really understand why moms would quit cloth over the smell but now I know. The smell was HORRIBLE. I’m getting cold sweats just thinking about it. If stink is the reason you are struggling with cloth, I’m here to tell you that it’s not normal and it can be fixed!
I fixed my stinky problem by stripping in a tub full of hot water and 3 pods of GroVia Mighty Bubbles. I could have also fixed it by washing with Tide Powder in my proper wash routine 2 or 3 times, but I felt the bathtub strip would use less water. This removed all the buildup from my crappy detergent. My name is Candace, and it has been 3 weeks since my last stink issue.
Check your Water Hardness
Did you know you can test your water with test strips to find out how many parts per million (ppm) your water hardness is? Over 80ppm is considered hard, and if you have water over 250ppm (like me) it requires a water softener. Adding water softener like Calgon or Borax to your wash routine will improve things immensely. Stink and holes are often caused by washing your diapers in untreated hard water. You will notice it in your other laundry too: whites look greyish and tshirts may have small holes in the fabric. Your bathtub might have a ring around it, and your faucets may have calcium build up.
Switching to a powdered detergent helped me a lot, because it had built in water softeners. But due to my water hardness, just the powdered Tide wasn’t enough. I have to add 1/2 cup borax to each diaper cycle, or I will get mineral build up and stink.
Detergent Does Matter
I don’t personally agree with the adage “use whatever detergent you use with your family clothes.” Some families use soaps instead of detergent, some use whatever is on sale, and some have never tested their water hardness. So I always ask what they use and if they have any issues with their regular laundry before I say “use your favourite detergent.”
many diaper manufacturers are updating their washing instructions because the “cloth safe” detergents are far too weak to keep diapers clean
I do agree that you don’t need “Cloth Safe” detergent. In fact, many diaper manufacturers are updating their washing instructions because the “cloth safe” detergents are far too weak to keep diapers clean. We are talking about human waste- you need to use proper detergent. Thankfully there is a quick and easy way to find a detergent that meets all your needs: check out the Fluff Love University Detergent Index. It’s not the be-all-end-all no-exceptions detergent bible, or anything like that, but it is a great starting point.
You don’t have to use Tide Powder like me, but you do have to use something that is strong enough to combat feces. There are several options available, green ones too, and the index is a great resource to find something that meets your family’s individual needs.
Remember the Basics
The basics of a good wash routine are simple. First, remove all solids as they happen. Never put actual clumps of poop in your machine. The only exception to this is if your baby is exclusively breastfed, with no food or formula, because their poop is water soluble. Other poop is not! If you aren’t sure how to deal with the poop, read this article.
Second, run your machine’s shortest cycle on cold or warm, with a “small load’s” worth of detergent (usually Line 1) and a water softener (if needed, try Borax or Calgon). This quick cycle acts as a sort of pre-wash to get the majority of the urine out.
Third, run your machine’s “heavy duty cycle” on HOT with enough detergent for a heavily soiled load (usually line 4) and added water softener if you have really hard water. This is your main washing cycle and it’s incredibly important. You don’t need an extra rinse if you use hot water and the right amount of detergent.
Lastly, you can choose to hang your diapers to dry, or toss them all in the dryer on medium or low heat. Some people choose to hang dry covers and machine dry their absorbency (inserts, etc.) I machine dry it all. I have never had an issue, as my dryer’s medium heat setting is perfect. If you notice the PUL or snaps on your diapers are excessively hot right out of the dryer, perhaps a Low heat setting is more appropriate for your machine.
If you use an HE machine, your washer depends on the laundry itself to agitate and clean. This means ensuring that the washer is 2/3-3/4 full for your main wash (aka Heavy Duty cycle) so that the diapers are being cleaned properly.
If you use a top loading machine with an agitator, this can cause stress and wear on your elastics. Try snapping the waistband closed and washing the cover inside out to support your leg elastics during the agitation. I do this on all my diapers: covers, pockets and all in ones.
Clean your washing machine regularly. Most have a special cycle for cleaning, and you can toss in some vinegar too. Check your manual to be sure you are following all the recommendations for proper maintenance.
Write it all down! You don’t want any inconsistency if you have even remotely hard water like me. Use our handy Printable Wash Routine Sheet to record your routine and post it on the wall of your laundry room.