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.
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 bynature.ca 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.
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.