By Jennifer Brock
I think that most of us reading this did plenty of research surrounding everything baby, before our bundles were born. What’s the best type of cloth diaper, where can you get the best deals, and how in the world am I going to care for these dirty things? Some of us come in guns blazing and ready with all the knowledge in the world, some of us tip toe in, testing the waters and taking our time. I was one of those people that came in guns blazing. I did countless hours of research, I was pretty sure I had this cloth diaper thing in the bag. Until one day it hit me in the face like a stack of bricks. Cloth diapers are nothing like people make them out to be. They aren’t these fragile pieces of fabric that are going to come apart if your baby sneezes too hard; and they certainly are heavily soiled, which requires LOTS of cleaning power. They shouldn’t be treated like they are something that will fall apart with the slightest of breeze. So I want to share our top cloth myths that need to be laid to rest.
- “You can’t use mainstream detergent.”
Over and over again I see it. You must use this fancy 20$ detergent, that you must order online, or else your diapers will be ruined! (what do they even mean by that? Will they explode or something?) This has got to be one of the most detrimental myths surrounding the cloth diapering world. You DO NOT need any fancy detergent. Use what you use already! Tide? Okay! Gain? Okay! Arm and hammer? Purex? Biokleen? Sun? Method? Foca? Seventh Generation? OKAY!!! They are all okay! Use anything that you can buy at the grocery store. As long as it doesn’t have fabric softener in it (which *can* build up in multi layers of fabric) you can use! Which brings me to number two….
- “Use 1-2 tablespoons of detergent?”
You want me to clean fecal matter and urine with ONE tablespoon of detergent in a 20-gallon vessel of water… What now? Detergent was designed to work a specific way. It has a dirt loving head, and a water loving tail. The dirt loving races in and attaches itself to the particles in the water, then the water loving end pulls back, preventing reattachment, and rinses clean. (For a deeper understanding of detergent, check out our page on the myth of detergent buildup!)
Using less detergent doesn’t really work in the sense that you’re “leaving less behind” because the whole science of detergent is just that, to rinse clean. The amounts on the detergent bottle are there for a reason, sometimes you need more, but you should never be using less than what is recommended per load size. Now some things DO stay behind, such as fragrance and brighteners, both of which are completely a personal choice as to if you want them in your detergent. Some people don’t like them, some people do. I for one, say bring on the Gain Apple Mango Tango!!! And bring on the full cap!!
- “Cloth diapers require more water to get clean…?”
Again, my response is; What? You mean to me that my diapers are so special they defy the inner workings and basics of a washing machine? No. I hate to be that dream crusher, but they don’t. Washing machines are designed to work with 3 very important variables: Water, Fabric, and Detergent. Water to fabric ratio is JUST as important as using the correct amount of a good strong detergent. Washing machines use motion to swish and rub the fabric around. This motion causes friction between the pieces of fabric that are touching. We, in the cloth diaper world, like to refer to this ratio as “Stew” (APPLIES TO STANDARD WASHING MACHINES. NOT INCLUDING HE’s). You want enough water so the fabrics can touch but not too much water (soupy) so they are floating around, or too much fabric (chili) so they just move in one big clump. Just like washing your hands. You get your hands wet, you put the soap on, and you rub. Bubbles galore! This is what is going on in your machine. They NEED to rub against each other to activate that detergent, to get it deep into the fabric, and again to ensure that all the detergent is out. Without proper friction you leave room for ammonia being left behind, for detergent being left behind, not to mention the waste of water.
- Speaking of wasting water… The dreaded “Rinse, Rinse, Rinse!”
No, no, no… While rinsing may seem like something you would want to do its really unnecessary, it causes faster wearing on all diapers, and honestly, quite wasteful of our natural water resources. Water isn’t just H2O, it’s full of minerals, dirt, bacteria, and more. MOST of that stuff gets filtered and purified out through water treatments and filters. However, a pretty large percentage of the United States still has some sort of hard water. Hard water carries with it a lot of minerals; typically: calcium, magnesium, and occasionally iron. These minerals can be easily combated with a bit of water softener (i.e. Borax or Calgon in every wash), however, if you’re not using a water softener every rinse, it is depositing more and more minerals that can very easily get stuck in the fabric. Mineral build is one of the top 5 problems people have. It leads to that “barnyard” smell, which is basically bacteria getting stuck on the minerals that are stuck in the fabric. This can also lead to repelling. So while you think rinsing may help, its really not… Hard water build up can take time, but why chance it? Unless your diapers FEEL soapy, there is no need to use more water and more rinses. Keep it simple and save some water for the fishies!
- “You’ll probably need to strip your diapers occasionally”
Is really just code for “most washing directions are inadequate, so we’ll suggest you do something periodically to cover up for the lack of proper cleaning agents and directions…” Now I’m not saying that all companies are like this, but if someone is telling you that you should be stripping your diapers often, they’re not doing it right. I’m sure you’ve seen our “you think you have a good routine” graphic floating around. We mean it. You should NEVER have to strip your diapers (unless you bought pre-loved, but that’s a different story). With a proper wash routine, you should never have stinks, you should never get rashes related to diapers (rashes DO happen sometimes, it differs with each child), and you should never have sad or dingy looking diapers. If your diapers aren’t coming out of the wash smelling FRESH and CLEAN and looking nice and white (or whatever color they are. Also keep in mind that some stains may happen depending on the child as well. Stains don’t equal dirty. But stains =/= dingy either.) Then you really should take a step back and reevaluate your wash routine. Plus, who wants to strip your diaper all the time? It’s a pain in the bum. I don’t know about you, but this mom doesn’t have time for all that. Prevention is the key. Prevent the problem from happening before you have to fix the problem, it’s a lot easier that way.
- “Use Dawn in your washing machine.”
Have you ever put Dawn in your dishwasher before? Well I have, and let me tell you, it’s not fun. (Well it is a little fun.. I mean who doesn’t love bubbles!! But it’s definitely NOT fun if you’re the one that has to clean it up…) Bubbles. So many bubbles. You don’t even have to put a lot in there for it to over sud and flood the kitchen floor. Dawn in the washer machine is the SAME thing. Except washing machines are a little different. Dawn is a de-greaser, its awesome for scrubbing dishes in the sink, and for getting out a pesky petroleum-based cream off your diapers, IN THE SINK. Putting it in a working machine, that has greased parts, is a disaster waiting to happen. Not only does it void your warranty, it can easily work its way into the bolts and motor in the washer. It leaves behind that lovely soap scum and can cause lots of problems in the drum and with the motor.
- “Bleach will eat away at your diapers.”
While this may be true if you are using it every day, every wash, or soaking your diapers in it often. However, the occasional (and I stress occasional) time you may need to use bleach should not cause any harm. The good news is, with a perfect wash routine setting you should never really HAVE to bleach unless: you buy used diapers, or you happen to have a yeast rash, ringworm, or some other sort of fungal or staph infection in the diaper region. It’s NEVER something that should be used all the time or something that you rely on for getting your diapers clean. Bleach is sodium hypochlorite, a simple chemical compound that breaks down to salt and water with heat. Since bleach breaks down in heat your hot rinse after a bleach soak start to break down all the bleach, followed by a wash in hot water, the detergent can ensure that all the bleach is rinsed clean. You are left with the end result of less bleach in your fabric than in drinking water, less than in a chlorinated pool, basically perfectly safe. Bleach can have the risk of fading in certain cottons. (PUL is colorfast) Depending on the dye used, fabric weave, and of course, the dilution of bleach and water. While we don’t suggest using it all the time, bleach can definitely be your best friend in some situations. (*I do want to add that there ARE alternatives to bleach, which are readily available in our documents, however; through our research we have found that bleach has the strongest and widest range of disinfecting properties.)
- I do also want to talk about this fear of having ammonia problems then using bleach to correct the issue. If you catch an ammonia issue right at the beginning the FIRST whiff of something is off with my diapers, chances are you don’t need bleach. A few washes with a slight (or major) wash routine change can turn that problem right around. However, if that doesn’t work or it’s a problem that has been going on for a while, along with a new wash routine, bleach is going to be your best answer. Now some people know what ammonia and bleach mixed together make. If you don’t know, I will leave you to your google devices to find out. For those that do I am here to tell you, that it is safe!! Even for pregnant women! Firstly, you should only be doing a bleach soak on CLEAN diapers. Now I know what you’re thinking. If I have ammonia and my diapers aren’t getting clean to begin with, what will washing them do? This is a valid question. Washing them your normal way will help way more than you’d think. The detergent and water will have a chance to deactivate the uric crystals trapped in the fabric. If you don’t smell ammonia out of the washer, then you won’t have a problem. No smell = no active ammonia. So as long as they are washed and you don’t smell ammonia out of the washer, they are safe to go into a bleach soak.
- “Vinegar is natures’ cure for everything!”
While vinegar can definitely be useful in a laundry setting, it’s not always the answer. According to the CDC (http://www.cdc.gov/hicpac/disinfection_sterilization/3_3inactivbioagents.html) and the EPA vinegar is NOT a registered disinfectant. Which means it CANNOT disinfect your diapers. However, like I said, vinegar can be useful on occasions. When battling extremely soft water, vinegar can be used in the rinse as a fabric softener, and to combat stubborn detergent bubbles to ensure a clean rinse. It can also be used in hard water as a fabric softener, as long as the water conditions allow. Vinegar should never be used in water that is already acidic, so it’s really important that you test your water and have the pH balance known. Typically if your water is around 9 on the pH scale, vinegar is fine to use. Using vinegar in already acidic water can eat away at your elastics causing premature relaxing.
Additional reading about vinegar: http://www.ci.berkeley.ca.us/uploadedFiles/Health_Human_Services/Level_3_-_Public_Health/9.%20SanitizeSafely_9.09.pdf
- “PUL can’t be dried in the dryer!”
I’m not really all too sure where this came from.. PUL was invented for hospitals (among other uses) and was designed to be autoclaved. For those who aren’t familiar with autoclaves, it’s a machine that uses steam to sterilize objects. They function around 250F, and keep this temperature for around 15-30 minutes. While yes, PUL used on diapers probably aren’t going to be the same grade as used in hospitals. The common household dryer also doesn’t get 250F, either. Typical dryers in the United States heat to around 120F. This lower temperature compensates for the thinner layer of PUL, and makes it perfectly harmless. The only real thing you need to watch out for while using the dryer with your diapers, is to let them cool before you stretch, fold, or pull on the elastics. Pulling on warm elastics can cause them to relax prematurely.
- “Borax will ruin your diapers!”
This one always confuses me the most, since borax is included in MOST detergents and other cleaning agents, even in toothpaste! Borax, or Sodium Borate, is pretty simply a really useful mineral. It has no fumes and is perfectly safe for the environment and fabrics. The only real problem with it is that it should not be ingested or used in very large amounts (which creates herbicides/pesticides), and while my diapers may smell good enough to eat, I don’t plan on it. Borax clings to other minerals and suspends them in water, allowing for the detergent to rush in and do all it’s dirty work, then rinses away with the detergent. Borax is also useful as a buffer to keep water at an alkaline balance. Borax has a pH of 9.5. It is a cheap, safe, and effective method of softening water and getting your diapers clean! Don’t be scared to use things that work!
Borax is also a very awesome tool when it comes to sanitizing using the alternative bleach methods. Peroxide and borax work together in a lovely mixture. The peroxide acts as the disinfectant of course, while the borax amplifies it and allows the peroxide to kill more bacteria than it would on its own. (please note that this ONLY works with Hydrogen Peroxide due to the chemical compound of borax)
- Essential Oils for everything!
I love smell good things as much as the next person, but when it comes to laundry let me be the first to tell you, a few drops of your secret elixir (you know, the tea tree oil, grapefruit seed extract, lavender, lemon mix you heard so much about on the other blog sources) in your LARGE load of cloth diapers isn’t going to do anything. First of, Essential oils are just that, A OIL. I know we’ve all played with oil and water when we were kids… they don’t like each other, as much as we did. They do not blend. So basically your tiny little drops of liquid nothing, are floating around 30 gallons of water waiting to cling to something. Now I wont deny that TTO has been proven to have some disinfectant power topically in adults, but the amount of TTO and GSE that it would take for you to disinfect a SMALL load of laundry would be astronomical, around $50-200 worth… Thanks but no thanks, I’ll spend $1 on some bleach and call it a day… Not to mention the use of essential oils on children under the age of two is highly non-researched, which doesn’t come to a surprise, since EO are heavily unregulated. In fact there are EO that have been linked to reproductive issues, which is another story completely.
You can find more information in the links below:
- Why We DON’T Recommend GSE or TTO!
- “Oxygen bleach cured my diaper from yeast”
No, actually, it probably didn’t. In fact, I would be down with testing said diapers in a lab. The CDC regulates all disinfectants, like bleach and hydrogen peroxide. We’ve heard this a few times before, so we took it upon ourselves to just ask the source. We messaged Oxiclean, and they were happy to inform us that Oxiclean was in fact not a recognized disinfectant, and they could not make the claim that it did disinfect, which pretty much was enough for us. Right from the source folks, Oxiclean doesn’t disinfect.