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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.

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