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Cloth diapers and your washing machine!

Posted by Becca on 8/22/2011 to Troubleshooting

An expert's advice on washing machines.

Our clothes were starting to get this funky smell—our clean clothes, that is. A weird smell that only surfaced when we started to sweat or got caught in the rain.  It was awful and I wasn’t sure what to do about it since they were already clean.   I started adding water to my regular laundry the way I do to my cloth diaper loads, but that didn’t seem to help, and it was an AWFUL lot of extra work that I didn’t need in my full schedule. So, since our HE machine is still under warranty we decided to call the repairman. He came and checked it over and found that nothing was wrong. There weren’t any nursing pads or baby wipes clogging the machine and the water was free to flow as necessary. What he did find, however was a little bit of mildew buildup in the boot (the rubber that encircles the door) and on the door. This, in his opinion was the cause of the weird smell. He suggested a trip to Lowe’s to buy Affresh, a tablet that you throw in your washing machine to wash your washing machine. It helps remove all buildup and mildew so your clothes can come out of the machine fresh and clean. And since my washing machine is almost constantly in use, that was a life saver.

While he was there, we discovered a lot of other helpful things about the washing machine that I really want to share with you. Most of them were good things that resulted from using cloth diapers! Some of them were just helpful tips for making sure we’re prolonging the life of our machine. Some of them were things unique to my washer that may not be true for all washing machines.

So, without further ado, here’s a list of helpful washing machine tips gleaned from my amazing, and informative, washing machine repair man:

  1. The boot of the washing machine collects mildew buildup and many detergents make it worse. However, additive free detergents, like the ones used for cloth diapers, help keep this problem down considerably. He said that the mildew in our washer wasn’t nearly as bad as some.
  2. Two other places where build up from regular detergents and fabric softeners can cause problems are the pump and the holes where water is dispensed. Either of these may become clogged if the buildup is not cleaned on a regular basis. Fabric softeners will often clog the holes where the water comes out, eventually deterring the necessary flow of water from making it to your clothing. Skipping the fabric softener, like we do with cloth diapers, keeps that problem from happening at all.
  3. Using something such as “Affresh” or even just a good old fashioned scrub with an all purpose cleaner once a month will help destroy buildup from detergents, mildew, and fabric softeners.
  4. If you keep your washing machine door open between loads, this will also help keep mildew problems at bay.
  5. It’s okay to add water to your wash! I’ve been doing this for MONTHS and it’s made a huge difference in how clean my diapers get, but I didn’t know if it was going to harm the washing machine. The repairman didn’t seem to think this would be a problem for our machine.
  6. A top loader cleans by pushing the clothes through the water and by agitating them against each other. An HE works by pushing water and soap through clothes. There is no need for them to rub against each other to get clean. This is why less water is needed. However, HE machines fall short in cases such as washing cloth diapers when a good, saturated soak is needed. Most HE machines can’t give you a nice long soak.
  7. The repairman informed us that after this year, top loading machines will no longer be made. With this in mind, he felt it might not be a bad idea to buy an old one from a yard sale and keep it on hand for washing our cloth diapers.
  8. For best results, my machine should only be filled halfway. This may not be the case for all machines. To learn how your machine best performs, ask your repairman.
  9. I also learned that my particular machine does not weigh the clothes and add water accordingly. If you’re finding that adding a soaking wet towel to your diapers isn’t helping them to come out fresh and clean (many CDing moms swear by this) then your machine may work like mine. This is another reason to add water instead.
  10. Small things like nursing pads and cloth wipes can work their way between the boot of the washing machine and the drum and clog the machine. This has actually happened to us before, rendering our machine useless in the middle of a blizzard that snowed us in for a couple of days! To avoid this problem, put small things into a sealable mesh bag and throw them in the washer. Because of the way that HE machines push the water and soap through the clothes, they will get cleaned just fine this way, and you’ll be certain to avoid losing them and/or clogging your machine.

I was so thankful to have called my washing machine repairman because I not only discovered a way to eliminate the foul odor coming from my “clean” clothes, but I discovered a lot of good information that will not only help me clean my clothes and my diapers better, but will make sure I get my money’s worth out of our washing machine. I would highly recommend taking the time to talk to someone who’s knowledgeable about your washing machine too. Granted, many of the things I learned will be helpful for you as well, but each machine is different and you may not only discover what you shouldn’t do with your machine, but you may find that it’s more capable than you thought!

Guest Blogger:

Becca G is a guest blogger for the Cloth Diaper Blog. Becca is a part time Spanish Teacher, a part time stay-at-home-mom, and the wife of the best husband imaginable. Becca’s absolute favorite thing to do is to spend time with her little family. She also enjoys doing anything crafty – from making jewelry, to writing, to sewing, to photography. Support a fellow cloth diapering mom! Becca’s etsy shop: Cloth Diaper Mommy or you can visit her blog, Makin' It.