Cloth Diaper Laundry: Do You Use Baking Soda and Vinegar?

Using baking soda and vinegar to wash cloth diapers

Understanding basic laundry science helps you get your cloth diaper washing right from the start. Understanding the basics of all of your household cleaning lets you use the simplest cleaners that do the job. We broke down household cleaning into five ingredients you probably already have in your kitchen.

When we apply that same idea of getting down to basic ingredients to cloth diapers, though, we don’t always end up with a solution that works for the diapers we have. When pushing the pH of baby diapers back to neutral (newborn skin and water pH 7), it is tempting to use baking soda (pH 9) or vinegar (pH 2) because we have them right there.

To clean grease from kitchen tiles or mold from walls, vinegar is a big help. Vinegar can help you break down mineral build up in your washing machine. But, if your problem is detergent build up in the washing machine, you should use baking soda. If you don’t know the difference and you use the wrong cleaner, it won’t help. They aren’t interchangeable.

You probably won’t hurt your tiles or walls by using the wrong cleaner, but your cloth diapers are different. They are made of material that is easier to damage. Use caution when you add baking soda or vinegar to your cloth diaper wash because they can have negative effects on some materials commonly used in cloth diapers. When they are safe to use, make sure you are using the right natural cleaning ingredient for the right job.

Sometimes I think manufacturers might be extra cautious with warranties that forbid specific additives because they want to simplify things for you, which is understandable. I wouldn’t want to encourage you to use additives restricted in warranties because I might not have all of the facts. What if I said, “Yes, of course baking soda is fine with your diapers,” then you use it on your bamboo rayon diapers and find that they start to disintegrate. Always look for the wash recommendations from the manufacturer of your cloth diapers. Listen to the manufacturer first. They know the cloth diapers, and they want you to succeed in using them.

Baking Soda

  • What it is: sodium bicarbonate (NaHCO3), mined from evaporated mineral springs. pH 9 (alkaline)
  • What it does: react with acids; absorbs odor as the microscopically porous molecules trap particles causing the odor. You may notice bubbling in hot water, as it releases carbon dioxide (CO2), leaving sodium carbonate (Na2CO3, washing soda) and water.
  • 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: 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.

Vinegar

  • What it is: solution of acetic acid (CH3CO2H). pH 2 (acidic)
  • What it does: dissolves mineral deposits (such as those left by hard water). Can be used as a natural antimicrobial (if you need to re-wash musty diapers left wet in the washer overnight)
  • When to avoid it: with PUL diapers and covers. Use sparingly with any product that has elastic.
  • When to use it: in wash to counter mineral build up in diapers and in final rinse as a natural fabric softener. Vinegar has many uses in laundry.

Asking Our Customers
As we go through week after week of cloth diaper laundry advice, we are answering questions that we hear in the store and online daily at bynature.ca. One of our goals is to figure out where are customers are starting from. We don’t want to tell you what you already know. You may have noticed more cloth diaper laundry surveys than usual on our Facebook page. This is what we learned from you about baking soda and vinegar.

What Our Customers Say about Using Baking Soda on Cloth Diapers

I’m pleased to see that many of you are reading the wash instructions from manufacturers, and you know when baking soda is not recommended for your diapers.

Many of you use baking soda to deal with diaper pail stink or in the first rinse for general diaper stink. For some, baking soda was the solution to desperate stink situations.

Customers mentioned hard water in answer to both our baking soda and vinegar questions. Hard water causes some build up issues. How do you know if your have detergent build up or mineral build up in your diapers? Baking soda can help with the detergent build up (then, once the build up is gone, add more water and rinsing to your regular routine to prevent it happening again); it isn’t going to help with mineral build up, though, and it isn’t going to soften your hard water.

What Our Customers Say about using Vinegar on Cloth Diapers

It really surprised me to see so many people say they avoid vinegar because of hard water. I think we’ve run into one of those rumors about cloth diapers that isn’t actually based on the science.

Vinegar is not counterproductive in hard water. On the contrary, vinegar breaks down minerals. Vinegar will soften your water. Vinegar is commonly used as a natural fabric softener because it breaks down minerals.

If you have mineral build up in your diapers, bust that residue first. Then, go ahead and use vinegar. If you have a regular issue with this, you need to work on adjusting the basics of your wash routine because vinegar is not causing the problem of stink.

It’s true that some manufacturers recommend against vinegar—probably for the sake of simplicity, though likely because a lot of undiluted vinegar could break down soft plastics like PUL and elastic. Follow their advice IF you are using those materials. If you are washing all cotton prefolds or wool soakers, vinegar is your friend. Always remember when you are washing—or even before that when you are planning which cloth diapers to use—that not all cloth diapers are the same. Simpler materials require simpler cleaning.

Despite the bad advice about vinegar and hard water, I see that many people have had success with vinegar. Some use vinegar in every wash as a fabric softener, and some use it a couple of times a month.

As with all of the additives you can use when washing cloth diapers, it helps to know your diapers, your water, and your machine and choose your routine and ingredients based on your specific situation.

Image © Frannyanne | Dreamstime.com

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.

“Fragrance affects us all. For some, it can enhance a moment, invoke a memory, or even improve a mood. As consumers, we seek it out in all kinds of products we use in our everyday lives. And for many of us, there’s a positive sensory experience associated with fragrance. But unfortunately, this may not be without consequence. In addition to the potential health consequences of certain fragrance ingredients linked to cancer, interference with hormones, and reproductive harm, a significant portion of the population suffers from fragrance-related allergies.” Women’s Voices for Earth, “Secret Scents: How Hidden Fragrance Allergens Harm Public Health,” February 2013.


Bothersome, Irritating, and Harmful

Fragrances are just bothersome when they leave a residue. I’ve been writing about residues and the consequences for your cloth diapers, so you probably have an idea that residues of oil, minerals, or any other substances can hold on to nasty stink. It’s just strange to me that we allow ourselves to be convinced that we need to spray fragrance around our homes or plug oil burners into our outlets. Both of these leave a film on the walls, the fabric of furniture, and everywhere else in our houses. That is the least of what artificial fragrances in household products do.

Worse, artificial fragrances are often allergens. Even some cleaning products formulated to be allergy-safe have unlisted ingredients that are known to cause problems for those with sensitivities or allergies. There is a lot of work being done right now to expose then remove allergens from household products.

Worst of all, though, are the toxic chemicals in household cleaning and freshening products that expose us to a long list of harmful effects. We don’t even know all of the effects because these chemicals are not tested and approved for use.

Naturemom works hard to help you remove toxins from your home by choosing carefully which products to sell at bynature.ca and by educating customers about the problems with conventional products. She told me that if she could convince parents to do just two thing to keep toxins away from their children, those would be: 1) ditch artificial fabric softeners, and 2) don’t use fragrances that are sprayed around the house. Those artificial fragranced plugins are her worst nightmare.

So, you avoid the problem ingredients, right? Not quite so easy. You can’t avoid them because toxic fragrance ingredients aren’t on labels. Now what?


Disclosure of Ingredients

Have you ever noticed “fragrance” as an ingredient on shampoo, cleaners, or laundry detergent? What is “fragrance”? Can I get a Material Safety Data Sheet on that? No, of course not. Manufacturers are not required to list individual ingredients. They argue that proprietary blends must be kept secret.

Sure it’s a problem that manufacturers include toxic ingredients in their products marketed to clean our houses, but it’s an even bigger problem that they aren’t required to disclose ingredients. How can I stay away from allergens, irritants, and even neurotoxins or carcinogens if I don’t know what is in these products? I can’t—unless I read studies that have independently tested these products for the offending ingredients.

Some manufacturers argue that their websites (or side project websites, away from consumer traffic) are the best place to list ingredients. That just makes the information more difficult to find when we make our buying decisions. Deep on those websites where they are difficult to find and even more difficult to download to your phone while you are shopping, a couple of manufacturers have provided master ingredient lists. These lists don’t help me know which products to avoid because of specific allergens, though. They are not helpful in the way that we as consumers need help.

Listing ingredients on products should be the standard. Some companies (Clean Well and Seventh Generation) use peel-back labels to list all of their ingredients. The methods are available. Not listing ingredients is a choice that large manufacturers are making because it masks their inclusion of toxic chemicals.


Simple Actions You Can Take

  • Go through your house, pull up the Environmental Working Group database, and check every household cleaning, freshening, laundry, kitchen, bathroom, floor, furniture, and other product. Ditch the toxic cleaning products.
  • Use simple ingredients like boiling water, vinegar, and lemon to give your house a cleaner clean.
  • If you want to add fragrance to your homemade cleaning products, use natural smells, such as orange peels in vinegar for cleaning, or add essential oils, that contain no undisclosed chemicals. When you control what you smell, you can avoid anything that causes allergies or sensitivities for your family members.
  • Learn about chemicals of concern and the chemical body burden. The research and campaigns below will give you a lot of information to share with your friends and family.


Consequences of Artificial Smells

One of the consequences of all of the conditioning to artificial smells is that you begin to believe the underlying message: your smell is wrong. If you or your house are stinky, there is a remedy for that. Find the source and clean it up. Doesn’t that sound simple?


Research

A 2007 study by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) found pthalates in air fresheners, even those labelled “all natural.”

In a 2011 study, Women’s Voices for the Earth looked at toxic chemicals in popular household products, including not just air fresheners but laundry detergents, all-purpose cleaners, disinfectant sprays, and more.

Women’s Voices for the Earth created the report card The Dirt on Cleaning Product Companies to show what major manufacturers are doing about toxic chemicals in their products.

Campaigns & Organizations
NRDC Take out Toxics campaign points out that 80,000 chemicals permitted in products in the U.S. have never been tested for health effects.

Safer Chemicals / Healthy Families is a coalition of professionals, businesses, advocacy groups, and others. This is an active organization you can follow on social media for alerts about toxics and efforts to remove them from household products. Safer Chemicals / Healthy Families lists the major chemicals of concern and their consequences.

Women’s Voices for Earth Secret Scents campaign focuses primarily on the issue of allergens used as fragrance ingredients in common products.

Women’s Voices for Earth What’s That Smell? campaign focuses on chemicals of concern used as fragrance in cleaning products.

Image © Erik Reis | Dreamstime.com

DIY Envy – Yes, You Can Make Soap!

Homemade DIY soap

Have you seen soft, milky homemade soap and thought, “I wish I could do that”? You can! The simplest of homemade soap is very easy to make because all you do is melt the base soap, add the fragrance or color you want, and pour the soap into molds. That is why this is called melt and pour soap, and this is the simplest of introductions to this simplest soapmaking.

Some will tell you this isn’t really making soap, and they’re right. You aren’t making soap from scratch, but ignore them anyway. You’re just dipping in to see if you might want to learn more. This is just the beginning.


Why Make Soap?

If all you are doing is melting soap that is already made, why would you want to make your own soap?

Savings. You can save a lot of money. Depending on the ingredients you choose and how fancy you make it, it will probably cost you $.50-$1.00 per bar of soap. If you are trying to save money, this is one more little way to squeeze a few dollars from your monthly budget. It is only a few dollars, though, so saving money isn’t usually the first reason one thinks of to make soap.

Health is an even better reason to make your own homemade soap. Replace mystery ingredients and chemicals with whole, natural ingredients like olive oil and goat’s milk. Especially if you have sensitivities or allergies to chemicals commonly included in cosmetics, making your own soap can be a way to soothe your skin.

Taste and style are easy to match when you add your own color, scent, and texture.

The best reason to make your own soap is just the pure DIY (do-it-yourself) joy of it. It feels great to make something useful, healthy, and beautiful for yourself and your family.


The Process

Basic melt and pour soap couldn’t be easier. You buy a base, melt it, add a little fragrance or color, add texture (like oatmeal for soft skin or salt to exfoliate), pour into a mold, let it cool, then cut.

You will need base soap, fragrance and color (optional), a double boiler, a stirrer (a wooden spoon will work), and a mold. A glass thermometer will also help, and you may already have that for candy making. You may also want to wear gloves. Some molds require lining. You can use parchment or butcher paper to line a square mold, so there is no plastic required.

Look for a base soap that you like. If you can buy it in person, that’s even better because you can touch and smell it to get a better idea of what is available. Olive oil and hemp seed oil soaps will moisturize. Aloe vera and honey are soothing and healing. You will have plenty of choices for natural soap bases.

When you are ready, bring the water in your double boiler to a boil then turn it to low. Cut your soap base into small cubes and add to the top pan. Stir occasionally, and be patient. It takes a while to melt.

Once the base soap is melted, add fragrance oil or essential oil. You can add food coloring, including natural, powdered food coloring like turmeric for a bit of yellow, beet powder for rich red, spirulina powder for green, or cocoa for a light brown. These won’t add scent to the soap, so you are adding it more for the mild color or decorative effect.

It is fun to make clear soap for kids by adding bright colors and little toys. Notice: I wrote “for kids” not “with kids.” More on that below.

When your soap is melted and your fragrance and color is added, pour into a mold. A juice box coated with a light layer of oil makes a great size for a small bar of soap. You can tear your mold off the soap and send it on to the recycling bin after you are done. If you don’t get juice or milk in cartons, you can buy silicon molds fairly inexpensively, and you can make your own beautiful wooden mold quite easily. Try soap making before you jump in and make your own mold, but this is a great way to bring the spirit of DIY to your future soap making obsession.

Let your soap fully dry. If you were making soap from scratch, you would need to wait weeks for your soap to cure, but simple melt and pour soap just needs to cool and dry.

Caution: whenever you melt soap, it is very hot and can be dangerous. Only use with children when you know they won’t grab for it or distract you. That probably means only making soap with much older children. Especially for your first batch, make soap when your children are not around.


Resources

Once you are hooked and confident with melt and pour soap, try cold processed soap making. This is real soap making. You use lye (caustic soda, sodium hydroxide) in the process of saponification, a chemical reaction in which the fats or oils react with the lye to create soap. You need to leave this soap to cure anywhere from a few weeks to a couple of months depending on the ingredients you use. You will need more soap making and more safety equipment to make even basic cold processed soap, so melt and pour is a good way to try out soap making to see if you want to invest more time and money.

Don’t have DIY envy anymore. You can make your own simple homemade soap.

Image © Alla Shcherbak | Dreamstime.com

Non-toxic Laundry Products

Soap nuts

As part of our Safe Family Promise, we set high standards for Non-toxic products, including non-toxic laundry products. We seek out the safest products to get the job done well and naturally.

To get your clothes and cloth diapers clean as naturally as possible, the most important factor to control is the detergent or soap that you use. We offer some of our favorite laundry detergents and other laundry aids.


Powdered Laundry Detergent

Rockin’ Green
Rockin Green non-toxic laundry detergent

Smart, smart, smart. The best way to clean depends on the chemistry of each cleaning situation, and that includes your water. The hardness or softness of your water, the mineral content, can make a big difference in how clean your laundry gets. Rockin’ Green Cloth Diaper Detergent comes in Soft Rock, Classic Rock, and Hard Rock formulated to match your water.

Nellie’s All-natural Laundry Soda
Nellies Natural Laundry Soad
Nellie’s is a very simple powdered cleaner. The only ingredients are Sodium Silicate and Coconut oil based surfactants. To whiten and brighten your clothes, you can also add Nellie’s All-natural Oxygen Brightener.


Liquid Laundry Detergent

Allen’s Naturally Detergent
Allen's Naturally Laundry Detergent
Over 30 years ago, Allen’s Naturally Detergent was developed for people with multiple chemical sensitivities. They avoided scents and common allergy-inducing ingredients and stuck with the basics. This detergent is very popular for washing cloth diapers.


Soap Berries

Soap Nuts
Bag of Soap Nuts
Liquid laundry soap derived from soap berries or soap nuts, the fruit of the rittha or soapberry tree. They grow in India and Nepal. The sun-dried shell of the fruit has a waxy coating, saponin, that acts as a surfactant, freeing dirt and oils from clothing naturally.

Berry Plus
Soap Berry laundry liquid
Berry Plus extracts and concentrates the saponin from soap berries and mixes it with water for a natural liquid laundry soap.


Natural Fabric Softeners

Fabric softeners are one of the most toxic inputs in conventional laundry. If you want soft clothes, you don’t need to coat the fibers with chemicals. Softening doesn’t have to be a chemical process at all. Softness is a physical attribute, and you can use physical means to soften your laundry.

Nellie’s Dryer Balls
Nellies PVC-free dryer balls
Nellie’s Dryer Balls roll around in your dryer poking, agitating, and softening clothes as they dry. If you like to add a scent to your laundry, Nellie’s Fragrance Sticks fit right inside the Dryer Balls.

Wool Dryer Balls
Wool Dryer Balls Canada
An all-natural solution for softening your clothes and cloth diapers as they dry are wool dryer balls. Do you ever add a towel to your dryer? Add these instead. They can reduce drying time up to 40%, and you can add essential oils if you want scented laudry.

Do you have favorite non-toxic laundry products? Let us know. We are always looking for new products that you love.

Party for a Change

Green Cleaning Party Kit

If you want to help those around you remove toxic substances from their lives, you don’t have to have a heavy conversation or make an inspiring speech. Lighten it up. Throw a party and make it fun for your friends to learn about green cleaning.

Women’s Voices for the Earth (WVE) is a great nonprofit that focuses on a clear mission (“eliminate toxic chemicals that impact women’s health”) and a clear theory of how women can make change. They encourage women to come together around change—actually come together in person, as in house party!


Green Cleaning Party

WVE provides resources to help you throw a green cleaning party. Invite your friends over to make their own clean cleaning supplies. Talk about why you use basic household ingredients rather than buying toxic cleaners, but most of your party is just about making the cleaners. Then, everyone goes home with their own supplies. After they get a chance to try out their new clean cleaners, you can even invite them back so everyone can talk about how to make improvements.

The WVE Green Cleaning Party kit includes:

  • Supplies list
  • Video
  • Recipe cards for cleaners
  • Labels to attach to jars
  • Suggested agenda
  • FAQs
  • Background on chemicals
  • Action instructions

Download for free or pay for a hard copy (with DVD) to be mailed to you.

If your local green cleaning movement really takes off, you can become a Women’s Voices for the Environment Actionista.