Washing in Hard Water

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by Kinsey Marie

Most regions of America have hard water to some degree.

Often, the only way we notice it is when we are scrubbing mineral deposits off our sinks, showers, or faucets. Many people don’t think about how it affects their laundry, especially if they are already using a good detergent with built-in water softeners.

When it comes to cleaning cloth diapers, hard water makes a difference. Those mineral deposits that build up around your water sources also build up in the fabric of the diapers in ways that wouldn’t concern you with normal laundry. A dingy shirt here or there is no big deal, but mineral buildup in your babies’ diapers can wreak havoc.

As mineral deposits build, they trap bacteria. That buildup leads to ammonia or barnyard stink issues, repelling or leaks, and even rashes or burns. Hard water deposits can greatly impact the absorbency of your diapers. Many people mistake hard water buildup with detergent buildup (which is a myth) because they notice suds in their water long after the detergent itself should be gone. The good news is that no amount of detergent will keep fabric from properly absorbing, but when hard water traps residue, it can hold on to detergent like it does everything else and release residual suds. What you’re actually seeing is the effect of hard water on the fabric, and if it’s holding on to detergent residue, you bet it’s holding on to bacteria as well.

The solution is the proper amount of detergent, and added water softeners. Hard water is not your friend, and you need a good wash routine to deter its impact.

Using too little detergent on a heavily soiled load can be dangerous. When it comes to getting your diapers clean, more detergent is better.

Powdered detergents contain more built-in water softeners than liquids do, and  typically rinse cleaner, especially in hE machines. Often, in hard water, even those built-in softeners won’t be enough. In heavily soiled laundry, the detergent often needs a boost to work effectively. While some homes have water softener appliances, many cloth moms find that even those aren’t able to cut it without help.

The best water softeners to add to your wash routine are Calgon or Borax. Both can be found in the laundry aisle. Add one of these to the main wash cycle with the detergent: either 1 capful of Calgon or 1/2 cup of Borax. Which ever you decide to use is up to you, some people find one works better for them than the other depending on how hard their water is and what machine type they have.

A BIG no-no when dealing with hard water is extra rinses or using too much water for your load size. While it may be a popular tactic in cloth diaper cleaning, it’s actually very detrimental to diapers in hard water, as well as a waste of resources. When you run rinses after the wash cycle is complete, you redeposit all those hard minerals that the detergent just worked so hard to keep away. It is never necessary to run an extra rinse on your diapers. IF you notice the diapers are still slimy as you go to dry them, run a quick rinse cycle, but consider adding a water softener if your water is very hard. By using too much water for your load size, you weaken the detergent and let the hard water minerals overpower everything else and then build up inside the fabric.

Use the water level appropriate for your load size (i.e. small load of diapers, small water level.) If you have a standard top-loader, you want the diapers to look like they are in a stew (please see the Proper Washing doc for reference.) They need friction to properly clean each other, and if they are floating free in too much water, they will not properly clean.

To learn how to remove hard mineral buildup, please see How to Strip Your Cloth Diapers.

Read more about hard water here:
Read about water pH here: