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Cloth Diaper Washing, Are you using enough detergent?

Posted by Bryana on 12/18/2013 to Washing Cloth Diapers

Are you using enough detergent?

A dozen or so times a week we encounter desperate moms who are at their wits end dealing with stinky diapers. Whether it is via email, phone calls, or face to face we run down a troubleshooting list with them to figure what's going on. In almost every case, the answer is because they are not using enough detergent to wash their diapers.

detergents As former cloth diapering mom ( my LO is now 11) and a cloth diaper retailer I am fully aware of the confusion to be found on the internet when it comes to washing cloth diapers. For this particular post I'm just going to focus on using enough detergent.

Twelve years ago, when I began cloth diapering the information I received from my retailer as well as what I read around the internet told me to use 1/2 of the manufacturer's recommended amount of detergent. Keep in mind, 12 years ago cloth diaper detergents didn't exist, HE machines were just becoming popular, and using microfiber in cloth diapers had JUST come out.

At this time the majority of cloth diaper users were using a cotton type diaper and a conventional washing machine. There were way fewer variables that we see today and the general guideline of 1/2 the amount worked for the majority of us. However, Even with these basic instructions and a more even playing field, washing questions were rampant. Such questions included, "I have a high capacity machine. Do I still use half the amount?" "I have enough diapers that I only have to wash every 4 days. Do I still only use half the amount?" "What exactly is half the amount? Is it half way up to the #1 line or is it half way up to the #3 line?". I believe that the phrase "if you can still smell the fragrance of the detergent in your diapers after they are washed, then you're using too much" became a quick blanket answer to help determine if you were using too much. Have you heard this before?

Ever heard of the telephone game? Well with the internet being as it is, information whether good or bad or right or wrong has it's way of spreading and twisting. What you think would have been a quick, easy, general rule of thumb has turned diaper washing into something more confusing and complicated. This has made for a lot of assumptions such as fragrance is bad for your diapers or you only want to use just a little bit of detergent.

I believe that over the years, this information has scared cloth diapering parents into using too little detergent in fear of ruining or effecting the performance of their diapers. Let's compile this with the introduction of cloth diapering detergents such as Rockin' Green and Eco Sprout. These detergents are made with commercial washing ingredients in commercial washing proportions. They have little to no fillers added to them that are generally found in home use detergents. Because of this you are able to use a very small quantity in the amount of 1 to 4 tablespoons depending on load size and machine type. However, this is not the case when it comes to home formulated detergents such as Tide, Purex, and the like. Mainstream detergent and cloth diaper detergents are not formulated the same. Using 1 to 4 tablespoons of these detergents will not effectively clean your diapers.

How much detergent should I use?

I wish that I had one absolute answer so that I could cure the world of cloth diaper washing confusion. No one has the same washer, water, diaper fabrics, diaper quantities, and/or detergent. All of these play a factor in how to wash diapers. However, I can provide you some general guidelines to follow.

1. Choose your detergent. The members of the Diaper Junction team uses or has used Tide, Tide Free & Gentle, Gain, and Purex Free & Clear with great success and feel confident in recommending these. We also use/used all of the cloth diaper detergents we sell with great success and do recommend these when a parent wants to wash their diapers with a more natural detergent or for those who have issues with mainstream detergents.

2. Determine your load size. Now this is important. If you have a large load and you do not use enough detergent you will battle the stinkies. However, this does not mean you have to go overboard with it. The majority of us cloth diaper to save money right? No need to let money (literally) go down the drain. First, let's determine a load size. This isn't an exact science but I have come up with a little bit of a formula to use as a guideline.

Small load = 10 - 12 complete diapers, a wet bag and/or a pail liner, and cloth wipes.
This should fill your machine about 1/3 full.

Medium load = 12 - 15 complete diapers, 2 wet bags and/or pail liner, and cloth wipes.
This should fill your machine 1/2 to 2/3 full.

Large load = 15 - 18 complete diapers, 3 wet bags and/or pail liner, and cloth wipes.
This should fill your machine 2/3 to 3/4 full.

Below is a table that I have put together to help you determine how much detergent to use. Use the examples above to determine your load size, and the number in the column tells you what line to fill your detergent to on the scoop or measuring cap.

Load Size
Detergent Name Machine Type* Small Medium Large
(reg formula, any scent, liquid or powder)
Any up to #1 up to #3 up to #5
Tide Simply Clean & Fresh
Any up to #1 up to #3 up to #3 + up to #2
Arm & Hammer
(any scent, liquid)
Any up to #1 up to #3 up to #6
(any scent, liquid or powder)
Any up to #1 up to #3 up to #5
Any up to #1 up to #3 up to #6

*If you are using an HE machine, it is important you use detergent labeled specifically for HE machines; you may also see brands that say "for both," and that detergent is safe, too.

As I previously mentioned this isn't an exact science. You may need to adjust detergent up or down a little depending on hard or soft water areas. If using a conventional machine, set your water level to the matching load size. Do not hesitate to contact us with any washing issues you may have. We're here to help!

Disclaimer - Although we recommend the use of detergents such as Tide, Purex, and Gain these products contain optical brightners as well as enzymes. The use of the additives could void the warranty of your diaper(s). Please check the manufacturer warranty guidelines before using these products.

Help us spread the word about this important topic by sharing this post with your friends and family. Simply click share on the embedded post below!



Nicole Portillo
Date: 12/19/2013
I have been feeling guilty using a whole scoop of country save when it says 1/2 scoop for he loads. Glad to see this chart. :)
fulufhelo gladness khorommbi
Date: 12/19/2013
Thank you for this report, i never actually followed the manufacture's recommended dose, as long as my diapers are clean when i smell them
Date: 12/19/2013
Thanks for this! I've been using 1/2 a scoop of country save in my conventional machine and wondered why I had so many stink issues!
Date: 12/19/2013
This is great information, thank you so much!!
Date: 12/19/2013
I need to print off this blog post and store it with my diapers until the next kiddo comes along. We didn't have stink problems until the very end of CDing and now I think I wasn't using enough soap. Thank you for the awesome info!
Date: 12/19/2013
Great post! Though my mom has had her top load he with no agitator for at least 12 years! :) I have had mine for 9! I love it though I wish was add water button! :) I have always used detergent per load amount! I usually wash around 28 diapers 2 pail liners a load! I love our cloth diapers and the little bit I pay in detergent is no where near the amount I would spend on sposies especially with 2 in diapers! :)
christine k
Date: 12/19/2013
I've been using 1 scoop of tiny bubbles for my prewash, and 2 scoops during my wash. Looks like I was doing the right thing now! :)
Date: 12/19/2013
Thanks for the information Melissa. I just did a little research and found out that the first top loading HE machine came out in 2001. I will update my post. :)
Kate Coppin
Date: 12/19/2013
This is hugely helpful! I have long struggled with the stinkies and was using an ammonia bouncer with almost every load. I switched from Rockin Green to Tide Ultra HE powder (I have a front loading high capacity Samsung washer) and use the amount you recommend (up to line 1) and add an extra rinse and spin. I also do a cold rinse and hold with the Mio laundry powder before starting the wash. Occasionally, if we've had a lot of poppies (I have a BFing 6 month old and a 2 year old in diapers), I add a dribble of Clorox Gentle bleach. I wind up with soft, stain free prefolds and microfiber inserts with just the slightest hint of detergent fragdance. It only took 2 years!
Date: 12/19/2013
This is SO helpful!! Thank you!! I do have a quick question though--is there a difference if you use liquid vs powder mainstream detergent? Is one better than the other? Thanks again!
Kim H
Date: 12/19/2013
Thank you! We have been fighting stink issues for quite awhile & experimenting with a regular free & clear detergent vs. Rockin Green. I might have to go back and retry some loads with the correct amount of detergent!
Regan Shea
Date: 12/19/2013
I am so glad that a diaper shop has come out with a post like this. I have had great success with Tide to the 2 line in my HE toploader with about 15 +/- diapers. We have very hard water so I have to use more than recommended when I use a CD detergent. I am testing one now and it says to use 3 scoops for hard water but I have to use 4 or my son gets a rash from what I have to assume is the diapers not being clean enough since we've had this same problem any time we use the "recommended amount" of a CD detergent because of our hard water.
Date: 12/19/2013
Jenni- Your question is actually another blog post I'm working on. Without going in to the whys (saving for blog post) the answer is that is depends on your water. Liquid tends to work better than powder in hard water. Powder tends to work better than liquid in soft water. If you have good, regular water then you can use either. HTH!
Jennifer C
Date: 12/20/2013
Just for anyone who uses the same setup as I do, this is what works for me: I have fairly hard city water, a 2 years old set of front loader LG machines, I use Costco brand free& clear, and have a combo of pocket diapers and covers/flats. Detergent to the #1 line for~15 diapers + wet bag. Cold water button pressed, 1 pre-wash, 2 extra rinses. I'll change things up if I've left the diapers in the bag more than 3 days, or had some seriously stinky poo poos. This always works for me and I've had no issues. I also line dry when possible to help with stains. Happy CDing!
Date: 12/20/2013
Thank you! I have soft water and have been using 1 scoop of Country Save in my top loader for a "3 load". I was afraid I was using too much sounds like I'm not!
Ashley E
Date: 12/20/2013
I was just beginning to do some research regarding the amount of detergent needed for a hand washed load when I happened upon this gem of a post. 6-10 flats, 3-5 covers (I wipe out my wetbag daily with a melaleuca/ water solution and hand or machine wash every other week). I use a 5 gal. paint bucket & RnG detergent. Any suggestions would be extremely appreciated.
amanda colo
Date: 12/20/2013
this is super helpful!!! I have not used enough soap
Date: 12/20/2013
I love my Tide. I use at least up to the 2 line for almost every load. I have hard water and always wash a full load.
Meagan Boroughs
Date: 12/20/2013
Love this. now I haven't lost all hope in my abilities to do this right. no more stink for us!
judith martinez
Date: 12/20/2013
Thank you! I pinned this to refer to!
Date: 12/21/2013
This is an excellent article! It is nice to have a formula to follow for washing. Thank you!
Britni W
Date: 12/26/2013
This is so helpful! Thanks!
Date: 12/27/2013
Amazing! In all my CD research over the past 3 years I've seen a chart like this. I quit CDing my then 14 month old about 5 months ago because no matter what I tried i just couldn't kick the stink :( you've given me hope!! Especially because of your comment at the end about how willing you are to help out and answer questions. Thank you!!
Naomi Haskins
Date: 12/27/2013
Great information!!! I use country save and it worked great at my old house... Looking to try something new with our hard water- this will help me figure out how much soap to use!
Christina L
Date: 12/28/2013
I still struggle after 6 months with my front loading HE machine and soft water. It has helped taking out all synthetics, but I do miss stay dry material!
Cory Henderson
Date: 2/11/2014
Thanks for the great info! New to CDing (our baby is due to arrive in 5 weeks!) Looking forward to trying out our Diaper Junction stash.
Date: 2/17/2014
Oh wow this is the most helpful post I have found in the past month. What water level do you recommend in a top loader for the different size loads? Like should it be so many inches above the diapers? That would really help me if you could clear that up for me too. Thanks again!
Diaper Junction
Date: 2/17/2014
Vanessa - Match the water level to your load size. If you are doing "1 load" of diapers then use the small/low water level. If you are doing "2 loads" of diapers then use the medium/regular water level. If you are doing "3 loads" of diapers then use the high/full water level. Hope this helps! ~Bryana
Desiree Trogdon
Date: 3/21/2014
This really helps! I think my husband uses way to much!
Philip Glassley
Date: 3/29/2014
This is very helpful. Thank you.
Emily Johnson
Date: 5/10/2014
this is extremely helpful!!!!
Lindsey Campbell
Date: 5/19/2014
I have not even been using enough soap. I have been too scared to use more than I was, but now I know! Thank you!
Cassandra deNevers
Date: 6/2/2014
Thank you for clearing that up! We use Purex Free and Clear and I haven't been using enough. I thought you were only supposed to use a little bit.
Kate Fish
Date: 6/19/2014
Thank you! I didn't even think about this yet. I'm expecting twins around September. I love how you break down the amount of diapers equals load amount. With twins I'm sure I'm going to be loading up the washer a lot :)
Krystal G
Date: 7/2/2014
We have super super soft well water with an old school top loader. Any idea how much to cut back on detergent? I use country save and have tried varying amounts. Usually have a 2 load and have used anywhere from a quarter to a whole scoop. They smell clean out of the washer but once peed in they have a stink (not ammonia). I haven't tried two scoopes for fear of never being able to get them properly rinsed.
Victoria Srawley
Date: 7/2/2014
I use rockin green classic rock right now. Our area has hard water. I've used 1 tbsp for a small load but if I use 2tbsp then the water is still slightly soapy after my extra rinse. I'd rather not have to do an extra extra rinse! I've never had stink except for my most recent load which was only a few diapers and wipes that I didn't want sitting too long before washing. I think the issue for that load was not enough diapers to get a good scrubbing action. It seemed like the poop barely got washed out of the insert! So stink could also be the result of a water/diaper ratio issue as well.
Chelsea Rutledge
Date: 7/2/2014
How do you know if you have hard water or soft water?
Jessica M
Date: 11/24/2014
Thank you so much! My bumgenius 3.0 stink is almost gone! I'm using 3 scoops of charlie's soap now, not the 1-2 recommended. I may go up a smidgen more if needed. But my routine just got so much better. I thought the issue was that the HE front loader didn't use enough water, but it was the lack of detergent! I am on city water that can be medium to hard, depending on the source at any given time. I do a pre-wash with 1 scoop, a hot wash with 2 scoops, and an extra rinse at the end. I wash 10-15 diapers (bumgenius, plus some prefolds and covers), with liners and cloth wipes. I may switch to using 3 scoops in the main wash to see if that is any different. Or I may add oxybleach. I do the bleach occasionally too, as recommended. My diapers were having the poopy or barn smell before, only on the bumgenius covers! I was about to switch to all prefolds (but those pocket diapers are so darn convenient!)
Date: 12/12/2014
I have hard water so I use Rockin Green. Initially I was using 2tbsp per load and adding wet towels to the load to increase the water level on my front loader. I ended up with fishy smelling diapers. So I increased to 4tbsp and the stink went away. Is it okay that I use that much detergent?
Date: 12/12/2014
Meredith - Absolutely!
Date: 12/13/2014
I use BG detergent. The instructions say to only use 1 for small/med loads and 2 for large loads...why would they not recommend the correct amount on their own product?
Date: 12/15/2014
Holly - We find that the amount suggested by BG just isn't enough in most cases. Therefore we recommend using a bit more. If you have no issues with the amount you use, then stick with it. Do not hesitate to contact us if you require any help. :)
Date: 12/16/2014
Thank you so much for this! I had definitely been using too little detergent, and wondering why my diapers weren't getting as clean as I wanted. I've tried a few different brands and have found they generally recommend much less on the package than your recommendations, but I think yours make much more sense!
Date: 1/18/2015
I love Rockin' Green Soap! I use 2 tablespoons per load when I'm washing the regular laundry, and more when things are a little funky. You definitely need to take into account exactly what you're putting in the washing machine because sometimes you can get away with using a little less soap, but other times just a little extra means everything comes out fresh and clean the first time without having to do any pretreating or anything else.
Date: 6/4/2015
With so much conflicting information out there, I'm not sure if this post help me out with that or just befuddles my pregnant brain even more.... :)
Carissa F
Date: 6/11/2015
Finally! I'm new to cloth and, although I've had very few stink issues so far, it's nice to have a guideline on how much soap to use. And that I can use Gain if I want to... (I've been sneeking in a few drops to my "CD safe" detergent!)
Erin Hernandez
Date: 11/2/2015
I had bad stink issues with my first kid. I finally settled on ALL free and clear but Purex worked well for me too. With the second I started to add baking soda to the wash and vinegar to the second rinse. Third kid...still use the soda and vinegar, wash every day or two, and rinse every diaper before I put it in the pail. Rinsing also keeps stains away. And no stink. It's a lot of work, but my newborn burns through disposables and the expense is killer.
Megan K
Date: 1/2/2016
Thank you thank you thank you for this! I was seriously about to give up on cloth forever until I found it! My tried and true stopped working after our water table changed and I had stinky funk that I could not shake! I've been using country save with the recommended amounts listed with amazing results for months now.
michaela ayewew
Date: 2/11/2016
How much detergent do you recommend adding for hard water? We use tide 2 load in an HE machine. I've been using to line 1 for prewash and line 5 for the full wash. It seems like I may be using too much detergent.
Caroline Galustian
Date: 7/30/2018
It's ok to use Arm & Hammer???
Date: 10/11/2018
My Purex F&C lid doesn't have lines 3 and 6, it only has lines 0, 1, 2, and A, B, C, D, E. Please advise!
Date: 1/6/2019
Thank you for being so thorough! I've just recently started using cloth diapers on my 3 month old. I'm using the Alva pockets and I started having some stink issues. I got the Calgon suggested by other sites as I know I have hard water and that seemed to help a little but I didn't even know where to start as far as adjusting detergent amount. I've been using Tide powder since day 1 and the box is not helpful as it's not clear about how big a "medium" load is nor about which type of washer you're using. I have an ancient front loader, so definitely not typical. I am going to cut down my detergent a little since I'm washing every 36 hrs or so (yay for first floor laundry!) and see how it goes!
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Date: 7/25/2019
When they say complete diaper for the size load is 1 shell and 2 OS inserts. Right?
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