Last time, I talked about various types of cloth diapers. This installment, we’re looking at —
Best Practices for Laundering and Care
What Detergent do You Use?
You can’t just use any old laundry soap for washing cloth diapers. You need one free of fabric softeners, fragrances, dyes, optical whiteners, and enzymes. Washing in the wrong detergent will result in fabric which repels instead of absorbs liquid, leaving you with leaky diapers. It will also allow ammonia to build up in the fabric’s fibers, causing an awful smell and leading to diaper rash. Basically, improper laundering is the root cause for most of the problems that give cloth diapering a bad rap. The right detergent, on the other hand, will transform cloth diapers from yucky to honestly enjoyable.
So how do you know which detergent to choose? Thankfully, there’s a fantastic cloth diaper detergent chart over at Diaper Jungle. This convenient resource ranks dozens of detergents on a scale of 1 to 4, letting you know which ones to avoid at all costs and which ones are ideal for diaper laundering. (Tide? Don’t even think about!)
Personally, I use Rockin’ Green*, a wonderful powdered detergent naturally scented with essential oils. Rockin’ Green comes in different formulations, depending on whether you have hard or soft water. I first tried Rockin’ Green by using a small sample, and I’ve never looked back.
Another note about detergents. It seems counterintuitive, but less is actually more. A lot of times a lingering smell is actually caused by using too much soap. If you’re switching to using a cloth-diaper safe detergent after using a less-than-ideal one, you’ll probably encounter stink as well. This FAQ has a lot of pointers on stripping/soaking to eliminate build-up.
How do You Wash Cloth Diapers?
The basic procedure for laundering cloth diapers is three-fold: an initial rinse in as much water as your washer will hold, a soapy wash in hot water, and a final rinse. (If your baby hasn’t started solids yet, you just put the diapers in the wash as-is.)
How this plays out in reality really depends on your individual water type and what kind of washer you have. Through trial and error, I’ve discovered that for my washing machine, the initial and final rinses need to be actual full wash cycles san soap, not just quick rinse cycles. Because I have hard water, I often soak the diapers in the soapy hot water — for an hour or so, or even overnight — as well.
Another note about the initial rinse: use warm water. Most guidelines tell you to use cold water, which I was doing faithfully until I realized that most of the diapers had gotten stained. Since I live in an second-story apartment with no balcony (and thus no yard), hanging the diapers in the sun wasn’t an option for stain removal. I contacted Rockin’ Green and asked them for advice. They told me to try an initial warm rinse instead of cold, and wouldn’t you know it? No more stains.
Still want to read more? I recommend this PDF from Rockin’ Green, which explains five different variables impacting the laundering process.
Do You Use a Diaper Pail?
No. In lieu of a pail, I use a water-proof laundry bag called a wet bag. Made of laminated polyester (PUL), the beauty of a wet bag is that no separate cleaning process is needed! On laundry day, you just toss it right in the washer along with the cloth diapers.
I keep a large bag near the changing table, and a smaller one in my diaper bag for use when we’re out and about. Most wetbags have either a zipper or drawstring closure. Obviously, a zipper closure is preferable for use away from home.
How Often do You do Laundry?
I wash cloth diapers every other day. My stash is big enough that I could probably get away with waiting a longer period of time between loads, but this schedule works out perfectly for me.
Also on Frequently Asked Questions about Cloth Diapers,
A Review of Pocket Diapers and Diaper Covers
Cloth Diapering on a Budget / Reasons to Buy Used Cloth Diapers
Have a question you’d like to see addressed in this series? Leave me a comment!
*I was not asked to include this link or to mention Rockin’ Green, and I was not compensated or rewarded in any way for doing so. They are not a blog sponsor; but I’ve included them because they’re a really company that I love!