Cloth Diaper Laundry Hub

Dad holding baby in laundry basket

Once you understand the basics of pH, water quality, your machine, and your materials, you will be able to choose the best laundry routine to get your diapers clean. Once you really get those basics, washing cloth diapers is easy.

Seeing through a mystery and mastering your own choices is invigorating. That’s how understanding laundry science feels for me. I’m not a scientist, but I have plenty of scientists who have willingly answered my questions over the past couple of months as I’ve been writing about cloth diaper washing, and now I GET the science of cloth diaper laundry.

If you want the easiest possible solution for washing your cloth diapers, use Allen’s Naturally laundry liquid (the cleanest rinsing laundry detergent we have found, but not the only detergent we recommend) and follow Real Diaper Association’s simple 5-step guidelines.

  1. DUMP solids into the toilet
  2. RINSE on warm, because soils come out better at the temperature they went in (body temperature)
  3. WASH with detergent in hot water
  4. RINSE twice in warm water
  5. DRY

For most people, that’s all you need to know.

If it doesn’t work every time, that doesn’t mean cloth diapers don’t work. It means that you need to adjust your laundry routine for your situation. If it seems too difficult to understand your situation, remember that you could just dump your diapers in the garbage after every change. If you are here, you probably don’t want to do that. So, just invest a little time to learn laundry science, so you will no longer have to rely on advice that isn’t grounded in evidence. Back away from secret, proprietary formulas and mystery fixes to take charge of your own wash.

Laundry science knowledge will set you free.

Just wash the diapers and focus on the rest of your life!

 

The Basics

Get Cloth Diaper Washing Right from the Start

Mother with Stinky Baby

Our customers come to us for troubleshooting when cloth diapers are stinky or leaky. We can help, but we also know that you will save time, money, and grief if you understand your situation before you get into a laundry routine that will leave you with a stinky mess. Look at water quality, your washing machine, the materials used to make your diapers, then start simple.

Your Washing Machine and Cloth Diapers

Cloth diaper washing machine

When you are washing cloth diapers every few days, your washing machine is one of the important variables in the laundry routine. Whether you use top-loading or front-loading, HE or an old clunker, you can get your diapers clean with some adjustments. Keep in mind, though: your washing machine is far less important than your washing process. Read that twice if you need to because I’m telling you that you can get your cloth diapers clean in any washing machine.

Baby Diaper pH: An Intro

Stiny baby diaper

pH is measure of whether a solution is acidic or alkaline. Did you know that newborn skin is more alkaline than yours? A little background in science will help you keep your baby healthy and your diapers clean.

Wet Pail or Dry Pail?

Diaper Pail

Which will work better for your diapers? We will walk you through the pros and cons of your diaper pail choices. The short answer: there isn’t a lot of difference in choosing wet or dry pail. Starting with a dry pail is simple, and many families don’t find the need to try a wet pail.

 

Common Issues

Residue in Cloth Diapers

Residue on Cloth Diapers

Are your diapers repelling and your covers leaking? Do clean diapers smell like a barnyard and wet diapers burn your nose? You may have residues in your diapers. Before you contemplate throwing it all away, learn the fix.

Hard Water and Cloth Diaper Washing

Cloth Diaper Washing Water Hardness and pH

Hardness refers to mineral content in the water (usually calcium and magnesium). Most of us have hard water, and some of us have very hard water. Hard water doesn’t react as much with soap. Why? That’s a science lesson. And, once again, basic science has saved your cloth diapers.

How to Ruin Your Cloth Diapers

Don't ruin your cloth diapers

You can avoid laundry crazy by understanding laundry reality. We walk you through the Goldilocks Laundry Solutions—not too much; not too little; just right. With detergent, water, bleach, heat, sun, enzymes, or essential oil, it does sometimes matter whether you use too much or too little.

 

Detergent & Additives

Cloth Diaper Detergent Choices

Cloth Diaper Detergents

Understand hard water, pH, washing machine, and residue before deciding on your cloth diaper detergent because these factors all matter. Unless you just want a very simple detergent that does the job. We’ve got that.

Artificial Fragrances in Your Home

Fresh outdoors smell

Artificial fragrances lurk unmarked in many of your household cleaning products. These fragrances can be bothersome as they leave residues, irritating when they are allergens and harmful when they pose known health risks.

Fabric Softeners

Cloth Diaper Fabric Softeners

We all love truth in advertising. “Hydrophobic chemicals in fabric softeners reduce absorbency of your cloth diapers but feel smooth against your baby’s skin.” Making your cloth diapers soft has to be a good thing, right? Of course, but don’t be fooled into using chemical fabric softeners to do it or you will be in for a leaky, repelling surprise. First rule of fabric softener for cloth diapers: don’t use it. There are natural ways to soften cloth diapers.

Enzymes

When to use enzymes with cloth diapers

Enzymes are naturally occurring, biodegradable, and they help break down the organic matter in dirty diapers. What’s not to love? Enzymes too often end up on the list of bad additives, and that place just isn’t justified. Learn what enzymes do to clean cloth diapers, when they work, when they don’t, and how to use enzymes. Don’t be the person who says, “Enzymes don’t make sense to me, so I don’t use them.”

Cloth Diaper Detergent Additives to Avoid, Usually

Cloth diaper detergent additives to avoid

The no-nos, the naturals, and the basic cleaners. There are some firm rules, but a lot of additives matter only depending on your specific situation. Once you understand the additives, you can choose a detergent that works well for your diapers, your water, and your machine. Stop believing that some additives are just bad for cloth diapers.

Do You Use Baking Soda and Vinegar?

Using baking soda and vinegar to wash cloth diapers

You will find a lot of advice about using both baking soda and vinegar on cloth diapers. Do you know which situation calls for which solution? If you don’t know the difference and you use the wrong cleaner, it won’t help. We explain for each: what it is, what it does, when to avoid it, and when to use it on your cloth diapers.

 

Materials Matter

Animal, Vegetable, or Mineral?

Woman outside with laundry

Different materials need different treatment to keep them functioning well for diapering. Animal (wool diaper covers), vegetable (cotton, hemp, bamboo rayon), and mineral (polyester, laminate, microfibre) are easy ways to understand diaper fibres and what they need to get clean.

Hemp vs Bamboo Rayon for Cloth Diapers

bamboo plants

We get a lot of questions from customers in the bynature.ca store asking why they would want to choose bamboo vs. hemp for cloth diapers. Short answer: choose hemp for environment or absorbency, and choose bamboo rayon for softness.

Cotton Diapers: Do You Choose Organic or Not?

Organic cotton prefold cloth diapers

We were surprised when we asked customers about organic cotton diapers because their reasons for choosing organic don’t always match what we know about the benefits of organic. We recommend organic over non-organic, but our reasons might not be what you expect.

Cheapie Leakies

Unhappy baby

Why we don’t carry cloth diapers that come without support or warranty. In our eight years of experience, the bottom line is: you get what you pay for. When you buy your diapers from us, you’re also investing in our experience helping thousands of clients along the way to getting off to a great start, with product support, laundry advice, and troubleshooting.

We Can Help!

If you have laundry issues, come by the bynature.ca store in Orillia.  We want you to succeed in using cloth diapers, and a very big part of your success is getting the care of your diapers right. We can help you find solutions that work for your cloth diaper laundry.

Image © Monkey Business Images | Dreamstime.com

How to Ruin Your Cloth Diapers

Don't ruin your cloth diapers

What’s the craziest way you’ve ever heard of to ruin your cloth diapers? How about putting them in the dishwasher or adding fish tank ammonia remover. You don’t need crazy solutions to get your cloth diapers clean.

We joke in the store with customers, asking them to please avoid reading online forums and following random advice they find for helping with odour issues. A so-called solution that we’ve had customers tell us about more than once is putting their diapers in the dishwasher. Before you resort to the dishwasher, please come and talk to us instead.

Avoid Laundry Crazy by Understanding Laundry Reality

One of the crazy town solutions that makes the rounds of cloth diapering forums at least every year or so is fish tank ammonia remover. This is a good example of tossing mysterious solutions at mysterious problems—until you decide to look at the evidence.

Let’s just back up here to the basic messages we have been focusing on for the past two months in our cloth diaper laundry posts.

  • We want you to get cloth diaper washing right, or as close as possible to right, from the start so you don’t get the problems that cause chronic laundry issues.
  • By understanding basic laundry science, we hope you won’t be tempted by wildly inappropriate solutions that don’t really address your issues. When you have issues, basic science helps you find solutions. Once you solve the problem, you adjust your wash routine to avoid the problem.

So, now let’s say that despite your best efforts you have cloth diapers that smell painfully and nose-burningly of ammonia. You know that you will need to adjust your laundry routine, but you have to get rid of the ammonia first. You need to start clean.

To breakdown the residue that holds on to the ammonia smell, use washing soda in addition to your regular detergent. If plain washing soda (sodium carbonate) doesn’t do the job, use RLR Laundry Treatment. The main ingredient is still washing soda, but this is a stronger formula than the washing soda you can buy in the grocery store.

Washing soda softens your water. The calcium and magnesium that have deposited in the fibers of your diapers and that are in your hard water waiting to deposit more are countered by the washing soda as it bonds with the minerals. Washing soda can also remove oily or greasy stains. If the problem is residue from oil-based detergents, washing soda can help you remove the oily residue.

Should you add RLR or extra washing soda regularly? No. You shouldn’t need to strip your diapers regularly. If you do, you have problems that you aren’t addressing with your regular laundry routine.

Will the washing soda hurt your diapers? That depends on your diapers. If you use bamboo rayon diapers, you might want to avoid sodium carbonate (washing soda) and sodium bicarbonate (baking soda). Most manufacturers will tell you to avoid ingredients that will damage the specific materials of your diapers, so do pay attention to recommendations. Alkaline ingredients in detergent can be caustic, causing damage over time. The ammonia you smell after concentrated urine reacts with oxygen can also cause damage. So, let’s get it out! You don’t want to use extra washing soda for every load, but you do need enough to break down the residue that is holding on to smell in your diapers. And, you need to make sure it is all rinsed out. If not enough water or rinsing could be the reason for your build up in the first place, make sure that you rinse well so you will have no trace left of the detergent and washing soda. Don’t make the problem worse.

Why not just use the fish tank ammonia remover? What we hear is, “Seems like it must be gentle if it’s OK for fish.” Fish tank ammonia remover is sodium methanal sulfoxylate (or sodium hydroxymethane sulfinate or sodium formaldehyde bisulfate), not formulated for laundry. That is definitely not on the list of recommended laundry additives given by cloth diaper manufacturers. It isn’t gentle just because it’s used in fish tanks. You already have the right additives that are formulated for your laundry. Don’t resort to mystery ingredients that you don’t understand.

Stop cloth diaper washing gimmicks before they start. Investigate the science of what is happening in your diapers, what you want to happen in your diapers, and how to bridge the gap between the two.

Goldilocks Laundry Solutions

So, if a little washing soda is good, a lot is better. Right? Not so fast. You know that isn’t true. Some washing soda in detergents is good. That does the job of cleaning. Extra washing soda for occasional stripping is a symptom of an unbalanced wash routine, but it still won’t hurt most diapers. It does not follow that all diapers should be washed with extra washing soda for every wash.

Not too much. Not too little. Just right.

Detergent. I hope you would be surprised how often we hear that a family has stinky diapers, and we find out that they are using only a Tablespoon of detergent for a whole load of diapers. If you add too little detergent, you will get a build up of organic materials in your diapers. That’s still residue, but it’s a residue of urine and feces. Nice, huh? If you add too much detergent, you will get a build up of detergent in your diapers. That residue holds smells. So, taking into account your washing machine, especially if it is a high-efficiency (HE) machine that needs less detergent, and your water quality, since hard water needs more detergent to clean well, you find the balance. Water quality, machine type, and diaper material are all important considerations when you decide how much detergent to use. Need help navigating through it all, come see us. If you don’t live nearby Orillia, write to us. We know cloth diapers very well, and we want you to succeed.

Water. Another issue we see, especially with HE machines, is not enough water to wash or rinse adequately. Too little water, your diapers can’t move around and the water doesn’t move through them, so you get residue. Too much water, your diapers don’t get enough agitation to help remove soil. Again, residue. Watch the wash cycle in your washing machine. Can you tell whether you have enough water? Can you adjust your water? Even with an HE machine, you can often choose a different setting to get more water to your diapers. Not too much. Not too little. You know the rest.

Heat. If you dry without heat, your diapers will dry eventually—probably. If you don’t live in extreme humidity. There isn’t much danger with too little drying heat. If you use too much heat in the dryer, though, you may find the thin layer of soft plastic that provides waterproofing to your diapers separates completely. It looks cool to see a clear balloon of plastic blow up off your diapers. Not so cool when you realize your diapers don’t work anymore. So, go ahead and try very little heat, but don’t try too much heat.

Sun. Beautiful, natural sun. Can’t have too much, right? Wrong! The extreme heat of direct sun is fine for your cotton prefolds, but you should take them out of the sun once they are dry. There is just no reason to break down the fibers in the heat once you have taken full advantage for drying. Polyester diapers with layers of laminate and elastic and snaps would be better off out of the sun. Dry them flat or on the line. Dry them inside or outside, but you don’t need that direct sun—unless you are really curious to see what cracked laminate looks like.

Bleach. If a little bit of oxygen bleach is good, is does not follow that a lot is better. Much as in the case of washing soda, you shouldn’t need it every time, and you don’t need a lot. If you use chlorine bleach (which we do not recommend), you can dissolve your wool or bamboo diapers. You can even break down the fibers of cotton if you leave it in bleach long enough. Just avoid chlorine bleach and go with oxygen bleach, but only when you need it.

Essential oil. A little essential oil smells nice, so a lot will smell nicer, right? Well, it might smell nicer until the oil builds up a residue on the diapers—leaving you with the stink magnet that you are trying to avoid. Clean diapers keep coming back to residue and stink. There is no particular reason to add smells, even nice smells, to your diapers just for the sake of fragrance.

Enzymes. Avoid them because of a rumor that they are no good very bad, or use more than could ever actually do any good? I choose neither. Enzymes break down organic materials. Different enzymes work on different materials. Using enzymes to start the work of cleaning your diapers is very helpful. So, add more to clean them even better? No. The same enzymes will keep eating through the waste on your diapers until there is no more waste to break down. Adding more doesn’t help. It just gives you more enzymes to rinse out. A little squirt or spray on the diaper before it goes in the dry pail is enough.

Does some of the advice in this post seem familiar? I hope so. I’ve tried to review the guidelines we’ve given you. I want you to hear the basics of laundry science until you no longer feel tempted by half-truths and all-out misunderstandings about diaper laundry. Once you understand the basics of pH, water quality, your machine, and your materials, you will be able to choose the detergent, the water temperature, the wash cycle, and the rinses to get your diapers clean. Once you really get those basics, it’s not so difficult. Good for you choosing cloth diapers. It really is worth it.

Next week I will wrap up our laundry series with a recap of each of the articles, all gathered up in one handy place so you can remember where to start when you need help.

Image © Luis Viegas | Dreamstime.com

Cloth Diaper Washing: Animal, Vegetable, or Mineral?

Woman outside with laundry

Let’s play a game. Is your cloth diaper animal, vegetable, or mineral? Did you know that each requires a different approach to cloth diaper laundry?

Have you ever heard of the old parlor game, Animal Vegetable Mineral? It was actually based on the taxonomy of the natural world created by 18th-century Swedish scientist Carl Linnaeus. These three natural kingdoms give us a useful way to think about how to get different cloth diapering materials clean.

Different materials need different treatment to keep them functioning well for diapering.

Animal?

Wool! Wool, the hair of sheep, is commonly used for diaper covers. Occasionally, the hair of other animals is used. Cashmere, the hair of Cashmere goats, makes a beautifully soft and silky diaper cover for a lucky baby.

Wool is used as the outer layer in diapering, the diaper cover or soaker. Wool works by absorbing moisture into its core, but tightly knit, woven, or felted wool fibers also make a whole fabric that will repel moisture. The structure of each hair itself, with overlapping scales, keeps the outside of the fiber from feeling wet, so wool is an ideal fiber for diaper covers.

Wool is sheared from the animal, giving the animal a haircut. The fibers are combed, spun into yarn, then woven or knit. With wool, you can also skip the yarn and fabric making by felting the fibers together. During the felting process, the scales on one fiber open then close onto other fibers, creating one strong fabric of connected fibers. Felted after a fabric is knit or woven is called fulling. The longer, smoother, and thinner the hair, the softer the fabric you can make from it. Merino wool is well known as a fine, silky wool.

Washing wool takes a bit more time than washing other cloth diapering materials. Most wool covers need to be washed by hand to prevent them from shrinking and felting. Some wool covers can be washed on gentle in the washer, though always check with the manufacturer to be sure. With a small basin full of room-temperature water and a small amount of wool wash, leave your wool covers to soak then swish around gently. Wool wash is usually comparable to a gentle shampoo with added lanolin (the grease from sheep’s hair) to keep the fibers soft. Gently squeeze the wool in the water to release any dirt. Unlike laundry detergents, though, you don’t need to rinse out wool wash. You also don’t need to add extra lanolin if you use a basic wool wash like Eucalan (Made in Canada!). Just gently squeeze out the water—never twist or wring—and lay the wool out flat.

Tips: Use wool wash with lanolin. Because wool is hair, it needs a little conditioning to stay soft and pliable. Wool can stretch when wet and shrink when heated. To avoid shrinking and stiffening, air dry, and to avoid stretching out your wool soaker or wool cover on the line, dry flat.

It takes only 5 minutes to wash a wool cover. It’s a little extra work, but the luxury of a soft, absorbent wool diaper cover is worth it when you are looking for natural, renewable fibers for your baby.

Vegetable?

Vegetable fibers don’t mean carrots and peas but cotton, hemp, and bamboo—even rayon made from wood pulp—since all fibers from plants would be classified as coming from the vegetable kingdom.

Cotton grows in the field, in a protective pod that opens up, showing its fluffy mass of long fibers. Cotton is already a staple fiber that can be spun into yarn then knit or woven.

Cotton absorbs moisture, but still feels wet to the touch. Parents find that helpful when potty training, since the child is more aware of the wetness.

Because cotton is hydrophilic (loves water), it holds on to rinse water in the wash as well. You need to rinse cotton well to keep it from holding on to the detergent chemicals. Because cotton is resistant to alkali exposure, and detergents are usually alkaline, cotton diapers are a great choice for the heavy, industrial washing diapers get at a diaper service. Cotton even resists damage from that ammonia smell you get in the morning, so cotton is a great nighttime diaper. Cotton cleans very well and easily.

Tips: Excessive heat, microorganisms and mildew, and acids can weaken or damage cotton fibers. No diaper should be left wet for long periods of time, and a dry pail will keep your cotton diapers stronger longer. Whether you dry the diapers in the sun or in the dryer, remove when dry to prevent damage.

Cotton is the most common cloth diaper material because it works so well and is so easy to care for.

Curious about what organic cotton is and why you might want to choose it for diapers?

Hemp is also a popular cloth diaper material—usually mixed with cotton to give it softness. Hemp grows easily in the field. Fibers for clothing are made from the fibrous material around the stem of the plant. After softening, the fibers are spun into yarn then knit or woven into fabric.

Though hemp is less soft than cotton or bamboo rayon, the toughness of hemp makes it a long-lasting diaper—if you can get it clean every time. If you don’t clean the fibers well, they can become weak and damaged—and stinky.

Hemp has a diapering reputation for being super absorbent. While the diaper is on the baby, we love this. Once it’s time to wash the diaper, though, this super absorbency (hydrophilia) makes hemp more difficult to clean and rinse thoroughly. Hemp can be a culprit in the annoying barnyard or ammonia smells diapers can get when they aren’t cleaned thoroughly.

Tips: To get your hemp diapers clean then to rinse all detergent completely, you will need more water. Remember the WATCH laundry formula of Water Action Time Action and Heat? You may also find that you need to add more action, time, agitation, or heat to get hemp diapers clean and smelling fresh every time.

Bamboo grows as a stalk in the field. The softer inner material of the stalk is used to make textiles. The cellulose is broken down, dried, then used to create a long fiber. Because the fiber is smooth and round, it feels very soft to the touch. Softness is the main reason parents and babies love the feel of bamboo rayon for cloth diapers.

Tips: Like cotton and hemp, bamboo is an absorbent, hydrophilic fiber. The key to getting bamboo rayon to work well for your diapers long term is thorough cleaning and rinsing. Avoid caustic chemicals like baking soda when using bamboo rayon diapers. Some suggest you avoid washing soda as well, but this is the major ingredient in most laundry detergents. Lower pH works better to clean bamboo rayon. Always check with the manufacturer for recommendations of safe detergents for your bamboo diapers.

More information about hemp and bamboo rayon for cloth diapers.

Mineral?

Yes, mineral materials are used in cloth diapers. From polyester to microfiber, from the laminate on PUL to plastic snaps and elastic, you will find a lot of materials in cloth diapers made from mineral sources. All polymers are made from petroleum and natural gas.

Tips: The fibers and materials made from oil and gas love oils (oliophilic), including the oils in human waste. So, you need to be sure that you use enough detergent (also made from petroleum) to part the fiber from the waste then water to rinse the waste away. Sometimes parents use less detergent so it is easier to rinse or because they have HE machines, but you need to use the recommended amount of detergent to get your diapers clean.

Each of these cloth diaper materials has characteristics that some parents love, but all of them need a little bit of attention to get the cleaning right from the start and avoid the troubles and stink caused by residues.

Wool covers? Avoid detergent and use wool wash with lanolin to keep the fibers conditioned.
Super moisture-loving diapers? Use plenty of water and probably two rinses.
Bamboo rayon diapers? Avoid high alkaline detergents to get as close as you can to a pH neutral wash.
Microfiber inserts? Use enough detergent to get them clean then enough water to rinse them well. Don’t skimp!

Image © Bidouze Stéphane | Dreamstime.com

Cheapie Leakies

Unhappy baby

Why I don’t buy cloth diapers that come without support or warranty.

We’re often asked about some of the less expensive cloth diapers on the market, and why we don’t offer them at bynature.ca. When compared to economical options such as Bummis wraps and prefolds or an amazing DUO system such as AMP Diapers, the quality, absorbency and effectiveness does not compare. These high quality systems offer super value, while limiting the frustration parents will have with leaking, poor fit, or fabrics that fall apart over time—all of which will cost more in the long run.

Cloth Diapers are our specialty! We get so much feedback from parents time and time again about other products on the market, products that send them running to us for replacements that will not cause frustration. We aren’t going to sell something that is continuously causing problems for our customers.

Cloth diapers in general have SO much value compared to single-use products. And, many cloth diapers that seem higher priced actually reflect the value of products made ethically and sustainably, not cheaply and without care for workers or the environment. These high value products are also safety tested to the highest standards, so you can be assured you’re buying something that is safe for your little one. We can offer many tips in our store to help get you set up with cloth diapers for as little as $200. That buys you a system that will work well, fit well, absorb well, and where we know workers haven’t been exploited to diaper your baby (that is, someone else has actually paid the price).

In our eight years of experience, the bottom line is: you get what you pay for. When you buy your diapers from us, you’re also investing in our experience helping thousands of clients along the way to getting off to a great start, with product support, laundry advice, and troubleshooting. We can’t do what we do without your support and we thank you from the bottom of our hearts. Getting more babies into cloth diapers has been our mission from day one!

What Our Customers Say

A couple of months ago, we posted the statement above. Our customers shared their experiences as well.

Learned That Lesson the Hard Way

“I found some very inexpensive pockets with my first. The extra laundry caused by all the leaks let me know very quickly that cheap cloth diapers are false economy. I’m expecting kid #2 and am glad I saw the value in better diapers because now I have a stash waiting to go for another child.” J.W.

“Absolutely! We received some inexpensive cloth diapers as gifts and ended up hating them! They were available at large baby registry retailers (you know who I mean) and I so much prefer my diapering and service experience with a (somewhat) local company! Thank you for being there!” V.F.

“Totally agree! I’m a self-proclaimed bargain hunter who loves a good find. After buying a few cheaper diapers from a big box store (thinking I was getting a good deal) and not being happy with the results (poor fit, bulky, leaked, etc), I was very hesitant to try more expensive ones. I was SOOO glad I tried ‘just a few’ from my local ‘natural parenting store’ after seeing how different they were from the big-box ones. Even my husband was impressed and actually used them! I’ve had to buy a new stash of diapers for surprise baby #3 after giving all mine from baby #2 away, but am so excited for baby to be born to put the new diapers on him.” K.O.

Research Pays Off

“I bought my first cloth diapers from you almost 5 years ago and have since filled out my stash of mostly Fuzzi Bunz from you as well. I am now CDing my third child and the diapers and accessories I first purchased are still going strong after 3 kids! In fact, many of them still look almost new! After tons of research (including the “cloth diapering 101″ on your website), I am so glad I went with a quality system so I didn’t have to keep replacing diapers after each child!” M.H.

Great Cloth Diapers Last!

“Some of my Motherease have been going strong for over 11 years now!! And they still work as well as the day I originally bought them! I bought the bulk of mine in UK, imported from Canada, and then I topped up here from you. I love them, they fit my children very well. We are now done with diapers and I am about to pass these on.” T.W.

Quality Cloth Diapers Can Come on a Budget

“I think it depends on what you mean by cheap. We use flats with covers, and they were very inexpensive, but work fabulously! There are good quality cloth diapers for every budget and need, and if one cannot afford or do not want to buy a $500 system, one can spend $100 and easily cloth diaper from birth to potty.” K.J.W.

“[C]heap and low cost are not always the same thing. I get frustrated when people are turned off of cloth diapering because of poorly made products, but I am equally frustrated by people being turned off by the belief that one must purchase $30 diapers to effectively diaper their babies.” K.J.W.

Prefolds remain one of our best selling diapers, and they cost less than $5 each. They will also have use well beyond the diapering years, so that initial investment goes much further with the right product. I’m still using ours for rags and puppy pads eight years later, after diapering two children. Some parents are intimidated by them, but that’s where we come in.

What do we mean by “cheap”? Our definition of “cheap” is pretty extensive. Over the holidays we ran a series on the true costs of cheap products.

Image © Andrey Armyagov | Dreamstime.com

Hemp vs Bamboo Rayon for Cloth Diapers

bamboo plants

We get a lot of questions from customers in the bynature.ca store asking why they would want to choose bamboo vs. hemp for cloth diapers. Short answer: choose hemp for environment or absorbency, and choose bamboo rayon for softness.

Overall, we prefer hemp. In our completely unscientific survey of Facebook followers,
parents choose hemp 8 to 3. But, parents who love bamboo rayon diapers really love them. That’s fine, of course! Use what you love.

What’s the difference between bamboo and hemp?

Bamboo and hemp are both woody plants that grow easily without the kind of chemical inputs (pesticides, fungicides) and the heavy watering needed by cotton. On a microscope level, each little hemp fiber even looks a bit like a bamboo stalk with smooth areas between knobby spots. So far so good.

For parents who have used both fibers in diapers, you will notice the difference in feel (bamboo is very soft while hemp is more stiff) and function (bamboo is absorbent but not nearly as absorbent as super soaker hemp).

For parents looking to lower their environmental impact, the biggest differences between bamboo and hemp are in the processing of fibers used in cloth diapers. Bamboo is broken down into pulp, chemically processed and aged, then extruded as a rayon fiber. This is a long (often years long) process that involves a lot of chemicals. Bamboo rayon is a synthetic fiber from natural inputs. Hemp is mechanically processed, aided by natural enzymes and chemicals. The hemp fibers spun into yarn are the natural fibers from the plant. Most of the story of impact is in the process, and there are certainly manufacturers working to lower the impact of processing for both fibers. What you have available to you right now is a high-impact rayon that is currently very popular and marketed as eco-friendly and a lower-impact hemp that is perhaps not as popular as it has been in the past decade and not marketed as heavily.

How rayon fibers are made from bamboo

Rayon made from bamboo. To make the bamboo rayon fibers used in diapers, the soft parts of the bamboo plant are crushed into pulp. Wood pulp and pulp made from other cellulose fibers can also be used to create rayon (or viscose, as regular rayon is called). The pulp is then dissolved, dried, sent through several phases of aging and ripening, cooking and burning before being extruded into long fibers. Think of extrusion as forcing pasta dough through a spaghetti press. Chemicals are used in many of these steps to create a material that can be extruded and hold together as a fiber. A lot of the negative publicity about bamboo focuses on these chemical processes. After extrusion, the fibers are bathed in sulfuric acid, stretched, and washed. Then, you have rayon filaments that can be knit or woven into a fabric.

Bamboo can be processed in a closed loop, so the solvents are captured rather than waste. Because of the popularity of fabrics made from bamboo, there are a lot of companies working to develop more eco-friendly processes. There are also efforts to add nano-particles of charcoal to make the fiber antibacterial.

For now, any fiber made from bamboo cellulose but be labelled “rayon” or “rayon made from bamboo” in order to comply with U.S. Federal Trade Commission guidelines. (“Have You Been Bamboozled?” FTC, January 4, 2013.)

Linen made from bamboo. There is also a form of bamboo processing that is closer to that of hemp. The woody part of the plant is crushed, and an enzyme is used in the retting process, breaking down the rough outer layers to get to the softer inner layers. Those softer, inner fibers can then be spun into yarn. Unless your diapers are labelled “linen made from bamboo,” they are made from “rayon made from bamboo” (and we don’t know of any cloth diapers made from bamboo linen).

Source of bamboo. It’s great that bamboo can grow easily in some places where other plants can’t. The environmental and social problems happen when the demand for bamboo rayon is so high that forests are cut down to plant bamboo, people are pushed off their land for bamboo, or bamboo is grown in monoculture. What CAN be done in bamboo cultivation isn’t necessarily what IS done, so we need to look at the provenance of our fibers. Most bamboo is used in fabric production is grown by one massive company in China, which grows the fibers to Oeko-Tex 100 standards, but many manufacturers of textiles made with bamboo rayon claim to process their own fibers outside of that system. It matters where and how bamboo is processed, so ask your cloth diaper manufacturer. If they don’t know about the process used, they should be able to follow the chain to their suppliers and find out.

Antibacterial? The U.S. FTC says bamboo rayon fabric does not have antibacterial qualities as often marketed, while many manufacturers continue to claim antibacterial properties and testing that proves it. The legal battles are still underway, so it’s fair to be skeptical of both claims for now.

How hemp fibers are made

The process of making usable yarn from hemp is similar to that of making linen from bamboo. The stem of the hemp plant is wound with heavy fibers. An enzyme is used in retting, and the softer (though not necessarily soft) fibers are spun into yarn. The softness of hemp depends on the point in the season or growing process when the hemp is harvested. Those who work with hemp often can tell the difference between the softer, early season hemp and the stiffer, late season hemp.

Hemp is generally mixed with other fibers. The hemp most often used for cloth diapers is 45% hemp / 55% cotton, taking on the absorbency of hemp and the softness of cotton. To use 100% hemp in a diaper would give a stiffer feel like linen, though it is possible to made a very soft hemp linen by using only the finest fibers.

Quick Comparison of Bamboo and Hemp for Cloth Diapers

Bamboo
PRO

  • soft to the touch in the product,
  • renewable fiber,
  • lower impact than petroleum-based fibers,
  • easy to grow in the field,
  • can be made in a closed system to reduce environmental impact

CON

  • often greenwashed in deceptive or uninformed marketing,
  • chemically processed to create rayon,
  • environmental injustices in meeting the recent demand,
  • more sensitive fiber than cotton or hemp to detergent chemicals and drying heat of cloth diaper laundry,
  • many manufacturers recommend line drying to avoid dryer heat,
  • can be damaged by some basic laundry detergent ingredients (like baking soda)

Hemp
PRO

  • very absorbent in the product,
  • renewable fiber,
  • lower impact than petroleum-based fibers and other plant-based fibers (cotton and bamboo),
  • easy to grow in the field

CON

  • stiffer to the touch than bamboo rayon or cotton,
  • so absorbent that it can retain stink in diapers if not rinsed properly,
  • needs more water in laundry process,
  • can be difficult to maintain in HE (high efficiency) washer

Why Choose Bamboo vs. Hemp?

In the end, whether you choose bamboo rayon or hemp for cloth diapers depends on your priorities.

  • If you are looking for a soft diaper, choose bamboo rayon. It is super soft and silky to the touch.
  • If you are looking for lower environmental impact, choose hemp. It is easy to grow in the field. Although there is usually a chemical process to soften the fibers for spinning (though hemp can be mechanically processed), this is a much less problematic process than that of breaking down bamboo.
  • If your laundry detergent includes baking soda, choose hemp (or change detergents). Baking soda will damage bamboo diapers, beginning the process of breaking down the cellulose.
  • If you are looking for an absorbent diaper, choose hemp. Hemp is a super absorbent fiber.
  • If you are trying to give your baby a stay-dry feeling without petroleum products, choose hemp. Because of its absorbency, the surface feels more dry than other fibers holding the same amount of liquid.
  • If you have an HE washing machine, choose bamboo rayon—or cotton. Hemp is so absorbent that it requires more water in washing and rinsing to keep it soft and clean. But, be careful with bamboo rayon in an HE washing machine, because it is important that it be rinsed well.
  • If your water is very hard, skip both hemp (because it can retain mineral build up) and bamboo rayon (because it is sensitive to the chemicals you need to use to wash in very hard water and can break down in the heat of the dryer if those chemicals aren’t rinsed well), and choose cotton.

We LOVE hemp in the bynature.ca store for many reasons, but we are always answering questions for customers about bamboo rayon—and why we don’t stock more of it. From an environmental standpoint, hemp has bamboo beat. In diapers, when it comes to absorbency and the natural stay-dry feeling, hemp also excels. The soft and silky feeling of bamboo is hard to resist though!

Image © Les Cunliffe | Dreamstime.com