Monday, April 9, 2012

The Ongoing Battles of Cloth Diapering Part 2: Washing

How we wash our cloth diapers is probably the biggest factor in how well we cloth diaper our babies. A good wash routine will keep you and your baby's bum happy. It is the biggest question most people ask about, and most problems can be solved by making adjustments. 

So what's the best routine? There are many variables, but ever cloth diaper wash routine begins with a pre-wash or rinse. 

The best start is with a warm rinse. Until recently, I always thought that pre-rinsing with cold water was the best. Turns out I was wrong. Body fluids are most soluble at body temperature, warm. The more waste you rinse out, the less is floating around in your wash water. This means cleaner diapers, and less stains. Stains may not be that big of a deal, but it sure is nice to see a stainless diaper. 

Ok, so the Pre-wash rinse is done. Now what? Now we want a hot wash with cloth friendly detergent. Here is where things can get tricky. What detergent? How much do I use? Well this is when we have to take a step back and look at each situation. First, front loader or top loader? Some detergents don't work as well with a HE washer. You can still use a powdered detergent with a HE washer, just dissolve it in warm water first.
Next, how hard is your water? Most people don't know if they have hard water. These maps can give you an idea, but your water might be different. 
Canada Water Hardness Map
Here are some more hints that you might have hard water:

• Your clothes tend to look dingy and feel harsh even when freshly laundered
• Laundry smells ‘sour’ after washing
• Even after rinsing well, glasses and dishes have spots
• White deposits on filters and edges of taps
• You are constantly fighting a ring in your toilet despite all your elbow grease

So, what do you do if you suspect hard water? To be sure you can call your water suppliers (town, municipality etc.) or get your water tested.
Using a water softener like Calgon is an option, however be aware that it contains fragrances, and is not recommended for all washing machines. The best option is to install a water softening tank. This is an expensive addition, but it will benefit every thing in your home. If you are looking for a more cost effective option, many clothdiaper detergents have a formula for hard water. These have water softeners added to it, so it will clean your diapers more effectively
Rockin' Green has a popular hard water formula, however some people find it doesn't work for them. The best thing to do is experiment with a little more detergent, just don't increase too much too fast. Play around until you find what works for you. If you have hard water, you will likely have to strip your diapers more often. 
Third, what detergent should I use? There are so many options for cloth friendly detergents. My favourite is Country Save. I can buy it locally (I live near the AMP store front) and it works great for a low price. Diaper Jungle has a great detergent chart HERE. The best way to choose is to check your diaper manufactures web site. Most cloth diapers have detergent preferences, and some will void your warranty if you use the wrong ones.

Ok, now we do a hot wash with 1/2 - 1/4 the amount of detergent you would normally use. Don't be afraid of using detergent. Detergent is necessary to keep diapers clean. If you are washing a bigger load of diapers, 1/4 of the normal amount might not clean the diapers enough. Sometimes stinky diapers can be a sign the diapers are not clean. You have to keep a balance of detergent, water and agitation for your washer to work effectively

What about add ins? Here is my take on some popular add ins:

I was always told to add vinegar to my diaper loads. Most of the diaper companies out there DO NOT recommend  adding vinegar to your diapers, and it can void your warranty. It can break down elastic, and PUL, and in hard water, it can mix with the minerals in the water making your diapers stinky. I stay away from it.
Baking Soda
This is similar to vinegar in it's effects, so I don't recommend it.

Tea Tree Oil & Grapefruit Seed Extract
Any oils can cause build up on fibres, which will make them repel, so I don't risk it, however both are effective in dealing with bacteria and yeast. Don't use more than 2-3 drops in your washer.

Some companies recommend using bleach once a month. Bleach is effective in killing yeast and other bacteria, as well as brightening, but is hard on fabric. Don't use more than 1/4 cup.

Once the washer is done, we move to the next step.

Extra Rinse. This step is crucial, even if you are using a detergent made for cloth diapers. Any detergent left in your diapers will cause rashes, and stinky diapers. Who wants to risk that? Keep in mind, diapers are designed to adsorb and hold liquid. This includes soapy water. Detergent will rinse out easier in warm water, so when ever possible, try to get a warm rinse in. You want to keep rinsing until there are no suds when the washer agitates. This can be accomplished in 1-2 rinses depending one the water softness, and amount of detergent used. 

Last step is drying. If at all possible, sun those diapers! It removes stains, kills bacteria and yeast, and leaves them smelling fresh. If this is not an option, follow your diaper manufacturer's recommendation on drying temperature and heat. 

Most problems with stinky diapers can easily be solved with adjustments to your wash routine. Experimentation is the only way to know what kind of routine will work for you. So tell me, what works for you?

Next week we tackle: Leaks