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Choosing a Cloth Diaper Detergent

Posted by Bryana on 12/19/2013 to Cloth Diaper How-To
cloth diaper washing tips

What Cloth Diaper Detergent Should I Use?

Washing cloth diapers is not difficult and truly does NOT require special laundry detergents or equipment. That said, the type of cloth diaper detergent you choose, as well as the method you choose to wash your baby's cloth diapers, could have an affect on diaper performance, lifespan, as well as potentially voiding your diaper warranty.

Although there are a variety of laundry detergents on the market that can clean your diapers effectively, we recommend the following detergents as we (and many of our customers) have positive results with them.

  • Tide: Original, Ultra, or Free
  • Purex: Regular or Free & Clear
  • Gain

Please be sure to refer your diaper manufacturer's guidelines on detergent usage in order to preserve you warranty.

The Top 10 Basics of Caring for and Washing Cloth Diapers

1. Detergents Consider what detergent you want to use and be attentive regarding how much of it you use. Read the manufacturer's recommendations for usage; as a rule, commercial detergents tend to exaggerate how much is needed per wash, so we recommend that you fill the provided powder scoop or liquid cap to the #1 mark for a one load size of diapers.

The biggest culprit for washing cloth diapers is fabric softener. Fabric softeners, over time, create an impenetrable layer atop the fabric fibers, rendering your baby's cloth diapers incapable of absorbing any moisture. If you choose to use a commercial cloth diaper detergent, just make sure there are no fabric softeners in it.

2. Wet Pail or Dry Pail? You do not need a wet pail. Modern day washers do well enough that soaking diapers is not needed. Also, a wet pail poses more risks with young toddlers in the home than it is worth. We recommend using a dry diaper pail, with a diaper pail liner, and washing every other day.

3. Solid Waste. Before placing your cloth diapers or diaper covers in a diaper pail, be sure to remove as much solid waste as possible. There are different diapering accessories to help reduce the amount of solid waste on your baby's cloth diapers - like stay dry diaper liners, flushable diaper liners, and even a diaper sprayer you can attach near the toilet for hands-free cleansing.

4. Wash Diapers Regularly. We recommend that you wash diapers every other day. This not only provides the perfect one load of laundry size, it also helps keep stains and odors at bay. Also by washing every other day, you will not need to purchase as large a supply of cloth diapers and diaper covers.

5. Cold Wash. Always begin your cloth diaper laundry with a cold wash; the cold water will lift and rinse away waste from the diaper and reduces the opportunity for stains to set in.

6. Hot Wash. After the cold wash, put the cloth diapers through a HOT wash (120F/60C) to thoroughly cleanse. For water setting, you will want enough water so that diapers aren't squished in machine without the ability for them to agitate on one another. However, you do not want too much water so that the diapers are just swimming around.

7. Optional Rinse. When your baby's cloth diapers have completed the hot wash cycle, you may find the need for or want an additional rinse; we find this to be more true with commercial detergents that tend to be high-sudsing and high-residue.

8. Drying. Whether you tumble dry or hang dry your cloth diapers and diaper covers is a personal preference, however, research has shown that hang drying cloth diapers tend to have less wear and tear and a longer lifespan. If you want or need to dry in the dryer, we recommend drying on a low heat and only for as long as they need to dry. Avoid over drying.

Prefold diapers are the exception to this as they like to be "fluffed" - Prefold diapers are durable enough where you may dry on a high heat in order to get the fluffy results without much consequence.

9. Oxygen Bleach and other Additives With a good wash routine, additives such as baking soda or vinegar are not necessary in your cloth diaper wash.

10. Refer your diaper manufacturer's guidelines on detergent and/or additive usage in order to preserve you warranty

Preparing Cloth Diapers

Before your baby's cloth diapers ever wrap his/her bottom, they need to be prepared. A few wash/dry cycles alleviates any dirt or residue that could be left from the manufacturing and/or shipping process. This also ensures the fabric fibers are "prepped" and "fluffed" to ensure their absorbency.

Hemp or Cotton
Wash Cotton 3-5 Times and Hemp or Organic Cotton 5-7 times in HOT water (120F/60C) using manuf. recommendations for appropriate amt. of detergent. These cycles are necessary to ensure your baby's cloth diapers absorb properly.

The cloth diapers DO need to be dried in the dryer between each wash cycle to fluff fibers for absorbency, and ensure appropriate shrinkage occurs.
Wool should be hand washed in lukewarm water with wool shampoo or Woolwash.

Roll or line dry. Do NOT place in dryer.
Wash any Polyester products once. If possible, avoid pre-washing synthetic polyester products with natural fibers.

Dry in a single warm dryer load.

PLEASE NOTE: Once your baby's cloth diapers have been prepped, and are ready to be used, future diaper washes can include both synthetic and natural fibers together, excluding wool; wool will always be washed separately.

When Your Cloth Diapers Aren't Getting Clean Enough…

If you notice your cloth diapers are not getting as clean as you'd like, experiment with a different brand of detergent. Sometimes the simple act of switching from one brand to another can make a difference in the overall cleanliness of the diapers.

You should also always be on the look-out for any diaper rash that might be caused by a particular kind of detergent, detergent residue, or any extra ingredients you may not have noticed your detergent contains. If this happens, the quickest remedy is switch to another brand.

Very hard and very soft water makes a difference in how well your baby's cloth diapers are cleaned. Families living in "hard water" areas might not notice the need to install a water softener until they begin washing their baby's cloth diapers.

Always be sure to read the instructions from the manufacturers for your individual cloth diapers; some detergent ingredients may void product warranties from the manufacturer. Some manufacturers will discourage the use of bleach in all forms or have special conditions for detergent, such as using less than would normally be required. In general, however, when washing cloth diapers just follow the above basic guidelines and everything should work beautifully.



rosy moreno
Date: 7/12/2014
I have only been cloth diapering for about 2 weeks, I have been using bumgenius, but find it to be a tad expensive.. found a list online of cloth diaper safe detergents-- oddly enough, I found that the publix branded free & clear is on their "green-most recommended" detergents. Not only is it cheaper, but can buy locally! Just biught one, lets see how it goes.
Mia W
Date: 7/24/2014
I have been using Biokleen and am happy but wish they were getting a tad whiter.
Date: 10/16/2014
As a soon to be first time mom and first time user of CD, this is the part that has been giving me anxiety!! This breaks it down nicely and makes me realize I am over thinking it way too much. It CAN be simple . Thanks so much!! I got Nellie's laundry soap after a cloth diaper blog page recommend it. Once that's out I will try the other ones and see what works best for me! Thanks so much!!
Date: 10/16/2014
I've used both charlies and sals suds with great results.
Megan W
Date: 10/17/2014
Laundry is a big part of what intimidated me about starting to use cloth diapers but this blog easily explained everything and I don't feel as anxious as before.
Peta-Gaye Daniel
Date: 12/7/2014
This is a very informative blog post that I will likely read again as I get closer to giving birth. I'm planning to use Arm and Hammer Sensitive Skin detergent.
Date: 12/8/2014
Thank you for posting this. I have been back and forth, researching about detergents, because I am about to start cloth diapering. This is very helpful, especially the mention of the Tide free and gentle. A friend just recommended it and I was a little apprehensive. This puts my mind more at ease about trying it. :)
Alicia C.
Date: 12/13/2014
May I also add that when all else fails and the diapers begin to smell with the smallest pee, wash the diapers with laundry treatment. I uses the RLR laundry treatment from diaper junction and it works wonders! Diapers smell better, whites whiter, microfiber inserts fluffier. It's like my diapers have a new life!
Date: 12/15/2014
Thank you for the helpful info! Great resource for a cloth beginner like me!
Sara L
Date: 12/23/2014
We currently use Timy Bubbles but may give Tide a try, as a cheaper alternative.
katie m
Date: 2/26/2015
Thanks for all this helpful information. There's so many resources it's hard to narrow down one set of directions for washing cloth diapers and what to use.
Date: 3/21/2015
I just started cloth diapering my 4 month old; on the advice of my sister(who cloth diapered both of her daughters), she recommended Tide(just the regular powdered stuff). I was surprised bc I thought i ABSOLUTELY needed a special type of detergent. The Tide has been working out GREAT. I know some of you disagree on using commercial detergents, but it's working for me.
Sarah Elyce
Date: 3/29/2015
Does the Tide have to be powder or can it be the liquid version?
Date: 12/9/2016
I use Osocozy prefolds. On their website, they recommend against using "free and clear" or "for baby" detergents, or any detergents containing oil surfactants any idea why they say that? I've been having problems with my diapers stinking and leaking. I don't know if it's my covers, my detergent, or not using enough detergent, or something else. I've read your article about using enough detergent, and my loads are generally small, so I use up to #1 of Tide Free and Clear.

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