Cloth Diaper Washing: Wet Pail or Dry Pail?

Diaper Pail

Before you wash your cloth diapers, where will you store them? You can use a wet pail, which means leaving the diapers to soak in water, or a dry pail, which means not adding water.

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

Wet Pail
A wet diaper pail is a hard pail filled with water. The diapers soak in the water until you wash them. You can also add stain and odor eliminators.


  • Pre-soaking diapers means fewer stains
  • Less need for pre-rinse once diapers are in the washing machine


  • Some manufacturers recommend against using a wet pail for pocket diapers or PUL covers
  • Drowning risk for young children or pets
  • Heavier to carry to the washing machine (though it shouldn’t be too heavy to carry)
  • Top-loading machine is essential if you plan to pour the diaper pail into the washer.

Dry Pail
A dry diaper pail can be either a hard pail with a liner or a hanging pail (just the wet bag or liner). A dry pail isn’t exactly dry, since you fill it with wet diapers, but “dry” refers to not adding more water. You can also add stain and odor eliminators to a dry pail, though be careful not to let oils or treatments sit directly on diapers unless you know that is safe (as in the case of enzyme spray).


  • Lighter pail
  • Easier to transfer from pail to front-loading washing machine
  • No drowning hazard


  • More likely to get stains as mess sits on fabric for a day or more
  • Need diaper pail liner (though that’s not much of a con)
  • Tougher to control odor with a hanging dry pail

I used both. I put dirty diapers in a wet pail (which I stored in the bathtub, away from curious little hands), put wet diapers in a dry pail next to the changing table, and never put covers anywhere near the pail.

Which pail type you choose depends on the needs of your family. There isn’t an obvious choice for everyone, though a lot of families choose the dry pail for simplicity. Start simple with a dry pail, and move on to wet pail if you find that you have odor that is difficult to bear or control.


  • With both types of pails, your diapers are less likely to stain and your pail will be somewhat more fresh if you dump solids in the toilet before putting the diaper in the pail.
  • Any plastic bucket will work for a dry pail, though you may want to get one with a lid to control odors.
  • For a wet pail, either choose a locking pail or store pail out of reach of small children.
  • To avoid mildew, wash more frequently. Don’t leave diapers sitting for more than two days.
  • Be careful about anything you add to your diaper pail.

Cloth Diaper Detergent Additives to Avoid, Usually

Cloth diaper detergent additives to avoid

What is in your laundry detergent? Even if you read the ingredients, you might not know what the ingredients are or what they do. Plus, if you are washing cloth diapers, you probably have in mind a list of additives to avoid because they void warranties.

In the spirit of asking WHY we should avoid every little thing rather than just giving you mysteriously vague rules to follow, we’re getting into the details of detergent additives today. We hope this will help you choose which detergent to use for cloth diapers and understand why you might even choose a separate detergent for the rest of your laundry.

The No-Nos


  • What it is: organic chemicals such as amino triazine, coumarin, and stilbene (that’s organic in the chemical sense not the agricultural sense)
  • What it does: gives the appearance of a whiter fabric. Think of these as little light reflectors that sit above the surface of the fabric fooling your eyes into thinking the real yellows of the fabric are more blue.
  • When to avoid it: always! You don’t want to use anything in your cloth diaper laundry that leaves a coating on the fabric.
  • When to use it: never an appropriate additive for use with cloth diapers and not necessary with your other laundry.


  • What it is: chemical compounds
  • What it does: a very small amount of color fools your eye into not seeing the underlying color of your laundry.
  • When to avoid it: always! Can leave a coating or, in some cases, be an allergen or irritant.
  • When to use it: never an appropriate additive for use with cloth diapers an not necessary with your other laundry.

Fabric Softener

  • What it is: chemical compounds that act as cationic surfactants
  • What it does: positive charge aligns on the surface of the fabric to create a lubricating coating, which feels soft to the touch and prevents build up of static electricity.
  • When to avoid it: always! For cloth diapers, do not use detergents with added fabric softeners. Even more than most of the other additives listed here, this will leave a repelling coating on your diapers that prevents fabrics from working as intended.
  • When to use it: Never. You can soften your cloth diapers without chemical softeners.

Stain Guard

  • What it is: chemical compounds vary
  • What it does: coats the fabric surface to repel stains during wear. Works in a similar way to fabric softener.
  • When to avoid it: always! Avoid anything designed to leave a coating because it will cause leaking and repelling.
  • When to use it: Never. The key to avoiding or removing stains from diapers is in how you treat the diapers after a diaper change. Use enzymes, warm pre-rinse, or sunning for natural stain removal.


  • What it is: artificial fragrances are chemical compounds that mimic natural scents; natural fragrances are usually extracted oils
  • What it does: smells nice, sometimes masking an underlying unpleasant scent in laundry that isn’t quite clean
  • When to avoid it: avoid artificial fragrances always. Avoid them not just in your laundry but throughout your home. Many of these chemical compounds are known allergens, irritants, and toxins.
  • When to use it: if you want a nice smell in addition to clean, use essential oils, BUT even these oils can coat the fibers of your cloth diapers and cause residue build up. Essential oils can be removed (washed out) of fibers easily, but you might want to avoid them for laundry.

The Naturals

Natural Oils

  • What it is: might be listed as “natural extract” on a detergent ingredient list. Fats or oils in natural soap can come from many different plant and animal sources, such as olive oil, milk, or soy. Saponification, the process of making natural soap, is a chemical reaction between lye (caustic) and fats or oils. Most laundry detergents are derived from petro-chemicals (oil and gas, primarily), but there are natural laundry soaps. Notice the difference in the use of the words “detergent” and “soap.”
  • What it does: could be a component of natural soap, an added scent, a natural fabric softener, or natural stain guard. Usually a natural replacement for one of the other additives listed here.
  • When to avoid it: in most cases, the oils in natural soaps will cause residue build up over time. I prefer to avoid petro-chemical products, but you need to understand the consequences of using natural products.
  • When to use it: some parents find no problem with natural soaps or soap nuts. If you want to go all natural and you have no problems, that’s perfect. If you do have build up but you don’t mind busting the build up with an occasion wash with RLR Laundry Treatment, that works. Ultimately, though, we’re trying to help you create a wash routine that works without leaving any kind of build up on your cloth diapers.

Free and Clear

  • What it is: microbiocidal or microbiostatic agents. Quaternary ammonium chloride and alcohol are two examples often used in detergents
  • What it does: kill (microbiocidal) or inhibit (microstatic) the growth of bacteria, fungi, and viruses, which could cause odor, staining, or allergies.
  • When to avoid it: if your fleece or PUL pocket diapers are leaking or repelling, this could be the culprit. These agents might be reacting with your water.
  • When to use it: many parents find no problem with free and clear detergents, but use with caution. Look for signs of leaking, and discontinue if it happens.


  • What it is: living enzyme cultures, most often in laundry detergent you will find protease (breaks down proteins) and amylase (breaks down carbohydrates)
  • What it does: breaks down (eats, digests, processes) organic materials that cause stains and odors
  • When to avoid it: when the warranty on your cloth diapers prohibits use of enzymes (maybe) or your child experiences redness or sensitivity (if you trace it back to enzymes). Most children will not have problems with diapers when enzymes are used in the cleaning. Studies suggest that it is not even possible for enzymes to cause rash and redness, since they do not attack living cells. It is common among cloth diaper people to recommend against the use of enzymes, but we find them a very useful, low-environmental impact addition to washing heavily soiled laundry such as cloth diapers, socks, and T-shirts.
  • When to use it: pre-soak or low-temperature wash. See our detailed post about enzymes in cloth diaper laundry from earlier this week.

The Basic Cleaners


  • What it is: sodium borate, mined from evaporated lakes or produced synthetically
  • What it does: softens water; converts water to hydrogen peroxide. Works better in hotter water.
  • When to avoid it: because borax is caustic, it could cause some breakdown in soft plastics and latex. You might want to avoid it on covers that have soft plastics (PUL) or elastic and on diapers with elastic. If you have trouble rinsing your laundry completely because of an HE washer or a detergent that leaves a residue, don’t use borax. It can be a skin irritant if left in residue. In general, though, borax used properly and rinsed completely is just one of the basic ingredients of laundry detergent. Keep it away from children and pets; don’t breathe it in; don’t use it around food.
  • When to use it: use freely with prefolds. Many homemade laundry detergents use borax as an ingredient. Unless you have trouble rinsing out detergent, it is safe.

Baking Soda

  • What it is: sodium bicarbonate, mined from evaporated mineral springs
  • What it does: in baking, it acts as leavening agent by reacting with acidic ingredients to release carbon dioxide; in laundry, it is used as a softener and odor absorber.
  • When to avoid it: when washing bamboo rayon, since it breaks down the fibers. It doesn’t just cause minor damage, it tries to return these extruded fibers to their pre-fiber goo state. IMPORTANT: DO NO USE WITH BAMBOO RAYON.
  • When to use it: sprinkle in your dry pail as an odor absorbing pre-treatment. Not generally a problem as an ingredient in detergent, unless you are using rayon diapers.

Oxygen Bleach

  • What it is: sodium percarbonate (or hydrogen peroxide, when liquid)
  • What it does: breaks the chemical bonds of color, such as stains that you are trying to remove from diapers.
  • When to avoid it: low temperatures, since it only works at higher temperatures. In general, you don’t need to avoid oxygen bleach or hydrogen peroxide. This is a safe alternative to chlorine bleach. If you notice excessive breakdown of fibers or if you are washing primarily PUL, you might want to use it only sparingly.
  • When to use it: generally safe for health and environment as an additive in laundry detergent or as an additional treatment for laundry.

Which laundry detergent additives you avoid often depends on your water, your washing machine, and the type of fabrics you are washing. We hope that understanding detergent ingredients will help you pick a detergent that will work for you from the start.

Image © Glo5 |

Cloth Diaper Laundry Additives: Enzymes

When to use enzymes with cloth diapers

You’ve heard that enzymes are bad for cloth diaper washing, yet parents use them safely. Why? We will tell you what enzymes do, and when are they useful.

Conflicting Information

There is a lot of conflicting information about enzymes and cloth diapers, and parents find it confusing. Manufacturers know their products, so we look to them for laundering advice. Some say, “absolutely use enzymes,” while others say, “absolutely not.” You will even find that using a detergent with enzymes invalidates one manufacturer’s warranty when that same manufacturer sells an enzyme (microbe) spray for pre-wash treatment to be used on every diaper, cover, and insert. No wonder we are confused.

What Enzymes Do

Enzymes are proteins that catalyze chemical processes, processes like metabolism, which breaks down foods in our digestive system to produce energy. In laundry, enzymes break down soils and bacteria that cause stains and odors. Break down, digest, munch, or catalyze—all of those words give you the right idea. We don’t have to understand the science on the micro level to understand that enzymes help remove soils from laundry.

There are many thousands of named enzymes and many thousands more waiting to be named. Only a few of them are used in laundry. Among those I found listed in detergents are:

  • amylase (breaks down carbohydrates, like starch)
  • cellulase (breaks down cellulose, like bamboo, cotton, mud, or grass stains; used to prevent pilling)
  • lipase (breaks down fats, like grease stains)
  • mannanase (breaks down simple sugars)
  • pectinase (breaks down pectin from plants)
  • protease (breaks down proteins, like wool, silk, blood, or poop stains)

Some detergents and laundry additives will list ingredients for you, so you can figure out which enzymes they are using for which specific purposes.

For dirty socks, sweaty t-shirts, or dirty diapers, it is particularly important to break down the organic matter that causes stains and odors. For most of your wash, breaking down soils really doesn’t matter that much because the mechanical and chemical processes of laundry release soils on their own.

The Claims & Rumors about Enzymes

The general consensus is that using enzymes on cloth diapers is bad for diapers, bad for babies, and bad for the environment. All wrong, though I think I understand how the absolutes of this consensus got started.

Bad for diapers. A sliver of truth. The claim is that enzymes break down fibers on a diaper, but that is only true for some fibers. Cellulase is added to anti-pilling detergent formulas, and it does break down the tiny fibers that are raised above cotton fabrics. That is one enzyme. Avoid it. Different enzymes break down different materials. They don’t all mysteriously attack all diapers.

Bad for babies. No. This is the controversy, since no one wants to do anything that causes harm to babies, so manufacturers and diaper washing parents avoid anything that might cause harm. Enzymes are blamed for harm that they aren’t capable of causing, though. More on this below.

Bad for the environment. Also, untrue. Enzymes are naturally occurring and biodegradable. When I see someone say, “I don’t want to use those harsh chemicals or nasty cleaning agents” about enzymes, I don’t know where to start. Actually, adding enzymes to detergents lowers the overall environmental impact of the detergent and allows you to get the same cleaning power without using as much heat. Remember the WATCH formula of Water, Agitation, Time, Chemicals, and Heat? When you adjust one factor, you can reduce the others. Enzymes catalyze the reaction with soils so you can reduce heat as a factor, so you lower the environmental impact of your washing even more.

I also see certain statements repeated and passed from person to person.

“React differently in different situations on different babies.” That says nothing while implying that enzymes are unpredictable. They aren’t. Once you know how they work, you can predict them. All this says is that the function of enzymes is a mystery to some who give cloth diaper laundry advice.

“Activated by water.” I think I can see where the idea of “activated by water” came from. Enzymes in powdered detergents are coated with inorganic salts and sugars, then cellulose fibers, then waxy materials. (Waxy materials! I see residue.) The resulting granules prevent damage in the box of laundry detergent. The enzymes aren’t free to begin breaking down soils until the heat and water break down their coating. They aren’t so much activated by water as released when the water breaks down their coating.

“Activated by water” was then turned into “OMG! If enzymes are left in my cloth diapers after the wash, they will become activated when my baby pees and eat my baby’s skin.” I’ve seen many websites, both those of manufacturers and those offering independent cloth diaper advice, assure parents that baby pee activates enzymes. Some go on to say that these activated enzymes will attack the healthy, delicate skin of babies. “OMG! OMG! Horrible, terrible, very bad blistering bleeding rashes.”  The problem with that logic, though, is that the protein digesting enzyme, protease, doesn’t break down living cells. Protease is one of the enzymes created by the human pancreas to break down proteins into amino acids during digestion. It doesn’t break down your whole digestive system—it just breaks down the food you eat.

So, let’s back up. First, if your wash routine is leaving any kind of residue, you need to change your wash routine.Try another rinse. Second, this enzyme doesn’t eat (digest, attack, or harm) our living tissue. In a beautifully myth-busting article, Mona of Soap Nuts points out that such enzymes are used in spa treatments to get rid of dead skin cells.

There are three misunderstandings here: 1) it’s usual that enzymes are left in residue on diapers (wrong! residue is the result of a wash routine that needs adjustment), 2) that a baby peeing on enzyme residue left in a cloth diaper will activate the enzymes (wrong! the granules from detergent wouldn’t make it through the wash), and 3) that those enzymes will eat away at the skin of the baby (wrong! they don’t break down living cells). These are slips of logic that we should not perpetuate.

Sometimes—I would venture to say, usually—cloth diaper expertise passed from parent to parent is a good thing. Other times, rumors snowball out of control and become absolute truth despite the lack of evidence.

Our goal with this diaper laundry series on EcoBabySteps is to dispel rumors and mysteries by looking at the evidence and the reasons behind all of the (sometimes conflicting) information you have heard about your cloth diaper laundry.

When Enzymes Work

Enzymes in liquid pre-wash spray work without any other help. They begin to break down organic materials that leave stain and odor. Enzymes in liquid detergent begin their work as soon as they meet soil in your wash. Enzymes in powdered detergent begin their work as soon as their protective coating is dissolved. Because you’ve already begun to break down the poop, stains, stink, and nastiness that you are trying to wash out, you can lower the other WATCH formula factors to get the same results with your laundry. If you are using enzymes with cloth diapers, you probably need the extra boost of cleaning power, though, so you might not want to lower the other factors.

A little is all you need. Enzymes continue to work after a chemical reaction is complete until there are no more reactions available. Just understand that more isn’t better.

When Enzymes Don’t Work

Enzymes won’t work in high pH. In cloth diaper wash, that means you waste the enzymes if you use baking soda or bleach. Enzymes also won’t work in high heat, which is usually fine, since you don’t need super hot water to get the same cleaning power. (I’m curious about this, since one source of enzymes is micro-organisms that live in hot springs.)

What About Sensitivities

It is possible some people are sensitive to detergents with enzymes; it is possible they are sensitive to some other ingredient in those detergents. Studies have looked at whether diapers washed with enzymes cause more skin rash. One study of 360 babies showed that those who wore diapers washed with biological detergent containing enzymes were no more likely than the test group to get rashes. (Granted, the neutrality of that study was disputed because authors have ties to manufacturers of products that use enzymes.)

Does that mean your baby won’t get a rash? No. Should you stop using enzymes if you think they are causing a problem? Yes. Does that necessarily mean enzymes are the culprit? No, but stopping doesn’t hurt.

Why the Conflicting Information

Whenever I hear a rumor run rampant about cloth diapers or some other aspect of parenting (if I even recognize it as a rumor), I wonder where it came from. I think there is too much to figure out. It’s difficult to dig down to the evidence in every case, so we tend to believe what we hear often enough. Plus, even if we dig, it’s tough to understand the science.

Rather than figuring out what each laundry additive does or explaining the situations when it might be helpful, it’s easier to protect a product warranty by recommending against. In the case of enzymes, I think it has been easier to lump them together with residue-causing laundry additives and dismiss them

Will Enzymes Damage the Diapers?

Wool and silk, probably, since they are proteins. Bamboo rayon, don’t know, but rayon is a more fragile fiber than most, so I wouldn’t want to find out. You can reduce your rayon diapers to mush through your chemical experiments if you aren’t careful. PUL, don’t know. Polyester, highly unlikely. Polyester is chemically inert. There is nothing for the enzymes to catalyze. Cotton, unlikely, though some detergents with enzymes that promise to keep fabrics looking new (anti-pilling formulas) do so by munching away at the little fibers that work their way loose from the main threads. Do all enzymes do that, no, cellulase does that.

My final answer about damage to diapers: I don’t know. I think that’s a great question to answer with research, though.

So, to Use Enzymes or Not to Use Enzymes

I’ve heard many times, “Enzymes don’t make sense to me, so I don’t use them.” I hope they make more sense now. I hope you see the situations in which it would make sense to use enzymes when you are washing cloth diapers.

I used Biokleen Bac Out Stain and Odor Eliminator on my babies’ diapers. I had no trouble. I even found out the hard way that it would not cause harm when ingested (when my toddler took a gulp of Bac Out, and I called the company in a panic to find out the ingredients).

If you don’t have stains or odor, don’t bother. If you do have stains or odor, use enzyme spray directly on the soiled area of the diaper and let sit for at least 10 minutes before you wash. I just sprayed on the diaper before putting it in the pail. I didn’t add Bac Out to the wash.

If you still have stains and odor after pre-treating, you might want to try a detergent with enzymes, keeping in mind that this will invalidate the warranty on some (PUL) diapers. It won’t harm the diapers, but as long as the manufacturers think it will and you want to keep the diapers under warranty, you may want to avoid enzymes. If you are willing to use a detergent with enzymes, you might be surprised to hear that many parents who have trouble with other detergents on cloth diapers use regular, original Tide, which does have enzymes (among the many dozens of Tide products, you will find different enzymes). Tide Original also has brighteners, which are a cloth diaper no-no because they leave a residue by design. You could try Tide Free without brighteners to get a similar effect. You experiment and use what works.

If your child is very sensitive or SOMETHING is causing a rash, cut out all of the extras and use Allen’s Naturally laundry liquid. Add extra rinses. Change your wash routine.

But, the answer is not that cloth diapers are bad or cause rashes or that enzymes are bad or cause rashes. The answer might not even be as simple as direct cause and effect, so just choose the simplest options that work for you.

Using enzymes as an additive is one more tool in your cloth diaper laundry toolkit. Use enzyme products when you have stains and stink.

Image © Wavebreakmedia Ltd |

Cloth Diaper Laundry Additives: Fabric Softeners

Cloth Diaper Fabric Softeners

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.

As we think through the reasons behind basic cloth diaper washing techniques, we want you to have the information you need to make decisions about your laundry. Sometimes additives sneak in under your radar based on the claimed results (“Whiter! Brighter! Softer! Self-folding!”). If you saw on the box a description of what products actually do—that is, how they work—you might not be so quick to add to your laundry.

I often think of the 1990 film Crazy People, in which an advertising exec leads a group of patients in a mental institution in writing honest advertisements. Volvo, for example, was “boxy but good.” For fabric softeners, we could say:

“Fabric softeners coat your clothes with chemical lubricants that conduct electricity so you don’t notice a build up of static cling!”

“Hydrophobic chemicals in fabric softeners reduce absorbency of your cloth diapers but feel smooth against your baby’s skin.”

“You may inhale toxic chemicals from this softener, leaving you with headaches and irritability, but at least the fabric won’t irritate your skin, much.”

It doesn’t sound so appealing that way.

First Rule of Fabric Softener for Cloth Diapers: Don’t Use It

Do not use chemical fabric softener with cloth diapers. Look at your detergent, and avoid a detergent with added softeners. It doesn’t matter whether these are silicone-based lubricants, polymer emulsions, clay, salt, acid, fragrance, or whatever. The point is, you don’t want to add any of this to your diapers. They will leave residues that will inhibit absorbency of cotton diapers, wool covers, and microfiber inserts; deteriorate the waterproof laminate layer on PUL covers; cause build up on your washing machine and dryer; and coat all of your cloth diapering accessories with a layer that will hold on to stink.

There are exceptions to the rule not to use fabric softeners. You can soften your diapers without the negative effects of chemical softeners. As with all of our other laundry advice, you need to know what problem you are solving before you can decide on a solution.

Vinegar can have a similar effect to chemical softeners in neutralizing the electric charge that you notice as static electricity. You will find some cloth diaper retailers who recommend baking soda in the rinse to soften cloth diapers. These might be fine with cotton and hemp, but they might not be fine with the rest of your diapers. Using either will void the warranty on some diapers. (More on vinegar and baking soda coming up.)

Wool dryer balls or hard dryer balls, like Nellie’s Dryer Balls, can soften fabrics mechanically rather than chemically—that is, by flexing the fibers as they tumble in the dryer. To the extent that they neutralize the electrical charge, they have a similar effect to chemical softeners designed to reduce static cling.

Dryer sheets without chemicals can also be cloth diaper safe. Maddocks Static Eliminator Reusable Dryer Sheets reduce static cling because of their weave. They only get a B in the Environmental Working Group database of household products, though, because they are made with polyester and nylon.

A few fabric softeners get a good grade in the Environmental Working Group database of household products. Keep in mind, though, that any gum or glycerin can coat diapers—even natural fiber fitted or flat diapers. A natural residue is still a residue. You don’t need any kind of gummy lubricants for your cloth diapers.

What Do You Customers Say?

We’ve been asking customers and Facebook followers what laundry additives they use and why. I was pleased to see that most of you already know that you shouldn’t be using fabric softeners with cloth diapers, and many of you understand why.

“I don’t use it for anything at all. Too many awful chemicals!” says Alyssa.
“I don’t even have fabric softener; seems like a waste of money,” wrote Michelle.
“Wool dryer balls all the way!” says Stephanie

Simple Guidelines to Fabric Softening


Cloth Diaper Detergent Choices

Cloth Diaper Detergents

Your choices of detergent for washing cloth diapers range from conventional, off-the-shelf detergent to special cloth diaper formulas to DIY recipes. Before you decide, though, know your own specific situation. Take the mystery out of cloth diaper detergent choices.

What most parents really want to know first about washing cloth diapers is what detergent to use. This seems like a simple question, but it isn’t. I deliberately covered hard water, pH, washing machine, and residue before coming to the question of detergent because they all matter.

You probably won’t notice much difference when you wash your clothes with any basic laundry detergent. Use what you have. Use what you like. No problem.

Make more careful choices when laundering cloth diapers, though. Diapers have a much bigger job to do than clothes, bedding, and towels. With cloth diapers, issues like residue build up over time. When a diaper is washed 2-3 times a week for a 1-3 years, you will notice stink, wear, and leaks. The detergent you choose makes a big difference, especially if you are trying to get your diaper washing routine right from the start.

Simplest Choice
Allen's Naturally Laundry Detergent

If you want to skip all of the reasons for various choices, go straight to Allen’s Naturally. This is our top choice of detergents for cloth diapers.

Allen’s is formulated for sensitivities, so it contains no dyes, fragrance, or residues that can be irritating to the skin. It is biodegradable and contains no phosphates, so it is safe for septic systems. Works with hard water—even well water. Specially formulated for HE and standard washing machines.

Does it sound like a miracle? It isn’t, really. It’s just a very simple detergent that does the job. We like that.


If you are willing to look at your situation to choose the best formula, these are a few of the issues you can consider.

Hard Water: Consider Formula

Most of us have hard water, water rich in minerals. These minerals can keep your detergent from working as well. Hard water can leave mineral build up in your diapers and in your washing machine, keeping either or both from working as they should.

Avoiding laundry additives can help not to aggravate stink issues when you have mineral build up. (More on that next week.) Choosing a hard-water formula can help to break the residue cycle. You can use stink busting laundry treatment, but you are better off choosing a detergent that works for your situation in the first place.

Choice: Rockin’ Green Hard Rock

Washing Machine: Consider Amount

The most important detergent choice relating to your washing machine is how much to use. If you have a high-efficiency (HE) machine, you need less detergent. The general rule is to use about half of the amount that you would use in a conventional washing machine. You get less heat and less water with an HE machine, so more detergent would not rinse out well. The problem, when washing cloth diapers, is that this might not be enough to get your diapers clean. You have options to tweak your routine to make an HE machine work well for cloth diapers.

Hearing that they need less detergent, some parents go to extremes and don’t use enough detergent to lift the soil from their cloth diapers. This can lead to the dreaded barnyard scented diapers, not from mineral or detergent residues but organic residues. Especially with polyester, microfiber, PUL, and other petroleum-based fabrics, you need to be sure to use enough detergent.

If you are having trouble rinsing detergent completely from your diapers, you might consider a liquid laundry detergent.

Choice: HE formula or half the amount of a non-HE formula. Liquid detergent.

Diaper Style: Consider Formula

If you use only cotton diapers, especially flats or prefolds, you can get away with a lot wider range of detergent choices. These diapers have fewer layers, so it is easier for water to carry detergent through every part of the diapers to clean them thoroughly.

If you use hemp or bamboo rayon diapers, you still have a lot of choices, but you need to avoid detergents that could leave residues because these fabrics are so absorbent that they are more difficult to rinse.

If you use polyester or PUL diapers, you need to be more careful use a detergent that will not cause leaking or build up. Many detergents formulated for cloth diapers will work well with pocket diapers, all-in-one diapers, and polyester covers.

Choice: Low-residue or no-residue formula. Most detergents formulated for cloth diapers will work.

Sensitivities: Consider Formula

If your baby has sensitive skin prone to rash, you should avoid laundry additives and laundry treatments. That can be a problem if you need to use washing soda to break up residues, so work to avoid residues in the first place. That brings us back to Allen’s Naturally, developed in 1979 by individuals suffering from multiple chemical sensitivities to be free of dyes, perfumes, and chemicals.

Choice: Allen’s Naturally

Cloth Diaper Detergent Lists

Most manufacturers will give you a list of laundry detergents they recommend. Some have worked with detergent manufacturers to create their own formula. If you use only one brand of diapers, go with their recommendations. They have a lot of experience in getting their diapers clean, and they want you to have a worry free experience.

If you use a variety of brands and styles, you may need to shift to detergent that is generally understood to work well with cloth diapers.

Bummis provides a comprehensive list of laundry detergents, along the reasons each is or is not appropriate for cloth diapers. Bummis is always my most trusted resource because one of the owners of Bummis was a biochemist before she was a cloth diaper manufacturer, and she is very careful about her recommendations.

Many customers are surprised to find Tide Free (Tide Nature) on the Bummis recommended list. If a customer is using Tide, and it’s working for them, at we won’t try to convince them to switch to a “cloth diaper safe” detergent, but we do tell them it may void some warranties. If you are comfortable with this, then, by all means, continue using what works for you. Tide Original Powder also works for many cloth diapering parents despite the additives.

DIY Detergent

You will find some manufacturers who tell you not to use homemade detergent on your diapers. Specifically, they want you to avoid common ingredients in homemade laundry detergent—natural soaps that will build up in your diapers. So, avoid those ingredients. That’s easy. If you are determined to make your own laundry detergent, follow this cloth diaper detergent recipe from Eco-friendly Family. No soaps, no residue, just basic clean without additives.

Next week I’ll talk about detergent additives. You will find lovers and haters for every cloth diaper laundry additive. We’ll give you the scoop so you can keep your choice evidence based.

Image © Norman Pogson |