Wednesday, February 16, 2011

What's What Wednesday: Cloth Diaper Laundry

One of the main things that holds people back from using cloth diapers is the matter of cleaning them. There’s always the option of using a diaper service to take care of the dirty work, but washing diapers at home doesn’t have to mean much extra work once you figure out the laundry routine that works best for your situation.

The most burning question is usually "What do you do with the poop?!" Well, it depends. Delilah was exclusively breastfed until she was 6 months old. Breast milk poop is water soluble, so her dirty diapers just went straight into the laundry with no preparation or poop removal. I'm not sure whether or not formula poop is water soluble, so if any of my readers have experience with that, please let me know! When babies start eating solid food, their poop goes through some pretty nasty and weird changes. Fortunately, Delilah is at the point that most of her solid waste is in fact solid, and can just be shaken right off of the diaper and into the toilet. During the few months of transition from breast milk poop to solid poop, we used a diaper sprayer like this one to spray it off into the toilet. Some people scrape it into the toilet using a spatula, others use toilet paper to wipe it off. Enough about poop, yes?

As for staining, given the nature and intended purpose, there's going to be stains! I do an Oxi-clean soak every few months and it always gets the stains out. When weather permits, hanging them out on a sunny day also bleaches the stains right out!

The most important thing to know about washing diapers is that there is no one-size-fits-all laundry routine. You might have to play around a bit until you find the right routine for you, so don't be discouraged if you run into some problems in the beginning. The main variables are the level of hardness in your water and the type of washing machine you have. I have pretty hard water, and a basic top-loading washing machine. I have heard that the newer HE washing machines are a bit tricky, but I have no experience with them so can't offer any helpful tips on them.

That said, there are some diaper laundry tips that are pretty universal.

1. The type of detergent matters. Ingredients like dyes, perfumes, enzymes, and brighteners can cause problems. They can cause your diapers to retain stink or worse, to repel moisture instead of absorb it. Pinstripes and Polkadots has an awesome chart of the best detergent options. In our home, we use Planet Liquid Detergent for all of our laundry with great results. (More on Planet in this week's Featured Item Friday post!) Never use fabric softeners in the wash or fabric softener sheets in the dryer. They cause build up. I recommend dryer balls as a greener alternative that won't ruin your diapers.

2. The amount of detergent matters. You might think more soap would be better. You would be wrong. I use a quarter capful of liquid detergent per load, and even that is sometimes too much. If there is any soap residue left on your diapers, even if it's cloth diaper-friendly soap, you'll run into problems. It's imperative that you use as little soap possible and make sure the water is rinsing clean (no suds what-so-ever!) before you dry your diapers.

3. Pre-soaking matters. Pre-soaking your diapers will help loosen any stuck-on yucky stuff and ensure they end up clean.

4. Simplicity matters. The simpler your wash routine, the better. The more products and steps you add, the more complicated it becomes to troubleshoot if a problem arises. My suggested starting routine is this: cold pre-soak, hot wash with 1/4 of the normal amount of cloth diaper friendly detergent, extra rinse (Repeat as necessary until you don't see any suds. If you're having to do more than 2 extra rinses, you're definitely using too much soap.), machine or line dry (follow drying instructions for your diapers).

All that said, here is what our diaper laundry routine has evolved to:

1. Cold presoak. I like to let them soak for at least a few hours, then cold rinse and spin.
2. Hot wash with 1/4 cap of Planet and 1 cap of Calgon Water Softener (this is due to the hardness of our water, please note this is water softener, NOT fabric softener! Our hard water made it tough to ensure all of the soap residue was rinsing away; Calgon has helped rectify that problem.)
3. Rinse until water is clear. Usually 2 extra rinses.
4. Machine dry on low.

Once every few months, I also "strip" my diapers. "Stripping" refers to removing all residue, lingering smells, etc. from the diapers. It is only done occasionally because it is too harsh to do on a regular basis. Lots of people love stripping with a tiny squirt of blue (yes, it has to be the original blue, don't ask me why) Dawn dish detergent. I'm not one of them. The product that I've fallen in love with for stripping diapers is RLR. When I strip my diapers, I start out with clean diapers and do a hot wash load with just RLR. Then I do a million rinses, marveling at the amount of suds that are coming out. (Thanks hard water!) I know it's time to strip when the diapers start smelling more strongly after they're peed in, and RLR always solves it!

Washing cloth diapers really isn't scary or gross. It sometimes takes a bit of trial and error and troubleshooting to determine the best routine for your unique combination of diapers, water, and machines, but in the end I've found that washing cloth diapers is no big whoop. Now if I could just get my clean pocket diapers to stuff themselves, I'd be all set!

--This is the fourth in a series of cloth-diapering related 'What's What Wednesday' posts. Next week, the fifth and final post in this series will address traveling with cloth diapers.

If you like this blog, and haven't done so lately, please vote for 'Dear Delilah, Fine and Fair' on Babble's Top 50 Mom Blogs. I'm currently at # 44. Thanks for your support!


  1. Note: I had horrible stink issues and switched to Tide (with enzymes!) and it solved everything. A lot of people suggested things like Bac Out (an enzyme cleaner!) and I thought, if I can use an enzyme cleaner, why not just a detergent with enzymes in it? Anyway, I know some people don't have that kind of success with it, but it was a huge relief for me to find something that worked.

  2. If we go through that again I will have to try the RLR. I never really thought it was a big problem but the diapers do get so they smell when they get wet. In some ways it is nice to be able to tell they are wet - but it is kind of annoying when you leave them in the gym nursery and get called over the loud speaker because they think they have a messy diaper.


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