Top Tips For Washing Your Cloth Diapers
You know what turns a lot of new parents off the thought of cloth diapering? All the washing 'rules'. Parents are worried enough about what to do with the poo and then they start researching and everywhere they look someone has a different opinion on how you should or shouldn't wash your diapers. It's no wonder new parents get overwhelmed and give up before they even give it a try.
But that's just it. They are only people's opinions. End of discussion.
The only real washing advise you should really consider is that of the company that made the cloth diaper. They are the experts in how to wash it and they should be your first stop if you run into any washing issues. When you purchase good quality diapers, they often come with an on staff support person who can help with any washing woes. Since every family has a different washing machine, water, detergents and settings, no wash routine is going to look the same as someone else's and that's ok. Some tweaking and guessing and testing till you find the sweet spot for your washer is also ok. You may also need to adjust a working wash routine over time and that's ok too!
However, there is some across the board similarities that can apply across cloth diaper laundering in general to set you up for a successful cloth diaper wash routine.
It's just dirty laundry
Are you really going to let a load of dirty laundry scare you? I hate to say it, but there are lots more disgusting things you get to deal with as a parent than baby poop. Fortunately, cloth diapers are up to that task and they are more durable than you think. They are made to be washed and reused hundreds of times after all.
Maybe read the manual
Knowing how your machine works will be helpful. What kind of detergent does it use, what does it consider a full load for proper agitation etc. If you don't have a manual anymore, look it up by type and model online they are easy to find. After that, read the recommendations that come on the diaper packaging. Then use your common sense and give it a try. If your diapers don't come out clean, adjust and try again.
A pre-wash is important
If gets off all the big stuff and rinses away urine so the main hot heavy duty wash can handle really cleaning within the layers of fabric. Your pre-wash should be one that drains out all the water at the end so that new water is added for the main wash, otherwise it defeats the purpose. Just pick any shorter type cycle your machine offers for the pre-wash. Your settings might say something like 'speed wash', 'quick cycle', 'rinse & spin' or something similar. Use your discretion and give one a try. You can always try a different one next time.
Use real detergent, not soap
I know so many families that want to use natural or homemade solutions for their cloth diaper laundry and I get it, we're doing this cloth thing because we like more natural solutions, but here's one place where you want real detergent. Washing sodas, castile soaps, soap nuts, bar soaps and other similar ingredients often found in 'natural' or homemade recipes will not clean diapers properly long term. Why? Because detergents and soaps are different on a molecular level and soaps leave scum behind that coats the fabric and eventually builds up to cause problems like smells and rashes. Soap based detergents can also be hard on your washing machine or void your machine's warranty....so again, read that manual.
Choose a mainstream detergent that you find readily available in stores and use it for at least your diaper laundry (make sure it's HE if your machine needs that). Tide works well for many of our customers here in Canada, but there are many to choose from. I prefer unscented, but that's up to you. Just avoid fabric softener. Don't add it separately and don't use a detergent that has it included (don't worry you'll know if it's included, the packaging will advertise that clearly. Tide with Downy for example is one you'd want to avoid). Fabric softeners are meant to stay on the fabric and we don't want anything on the fabric.
Then, read the label on the detergent and use the amount it suggests for the size of your load as a starting point (using the actual measuring cup that comes with the detergent). Too easy right?
Use a long hot wash cycle
3 thing get diapers clean (besides water that is): detergent, temperature and agitation. Strike the right balance of those and you're golden. Choose a long, hot, heavy duty cycle for your main wash, but stay away from any 'sanitize' functions.
A stuffed washer can't clean properly
If you got behind and didn't wash for a few days and then you shove all the diapers in at once, you can't expect them to come out clean. An overloaded machine won't agitate and clean properly - but you already know that.
Clean diapers will smell clean, I can't be the only one smelling my cloth diapers fresh out of the laundry. If they aren't clean, you'll know, and then you adjust your routine if needed using the support of the company that made the diapers.
Also good to know
- Washing machines need to be cleaned - that's something the manual will tell you. A dirty machine will give you dirty diapers. Maintain your washer as you do your car.
- Warm or ideally hot water helps the fabric fibres relax which results in better cleaning and flushing through of water and detergent. Use a hot cycle if you have it.
- Wash every 2-3 days if you can. The longer diapers sit between washes the more urine breaks down into ammonia and ammonia = smells and rashes.
- Everyone thinks they have hard water and lots of people like to overcomplicate their wash routine by testing their water hardness and adding water softeners like Calgon or Borax. Rest assured that if you think you have hard water and you live in a city in North America the answer is you probably do. BUT detergent companies already know this and water softeners are already built into the detergent you got at the store. So resist the urge to complicate things if you don't have to and if you're adding something to your wash know WHY you're adding it.
If you live in the country on well water you'll likely know if it's extra hard or very soft and you'll adjust accordingly. Very hard water shows up as soaps that don't lather and calcium buildup on taps and bathtubs. Well water like this usually means you'll have a water softener in your home. Very soft water shows up as way too much lather and soaps that are hard to rinse away. In this case you adjust your detergent amount down so it can rinse away cleanly.
At the end of the day everyone just wants clean diapers and how you get there might be different for every family. That's ok. We're here to support you, your diaper's manufacturer is there to help you and here's your permission that it's ok to try different things and tweak your routine along the way.
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