Nothing seems to polarize fluff-loving Mamas more than cloth diaper washing and stripping routines. I admit that when I first began cloth diapering, I was very concerned about choosing a “safe” detergent, and using very little of it. I constantly see Mamas posting in forums asking if a given detergent is safe to use, debating exactly how much detergent should be administered and panicking because their diapers are “ruined” because of a given variation in their routine (hubby used the “wrong” detergent, mother-in-law threw in a Bounce sheet, etc.) As Suzi at Cloth Diaper Addicts reminds us, your diapers aren’t ruined! So what’s the deal with cloth diaper “safe” detergents? Well, honestly, I wish I could tell you the absolute truth. I think the truth lies somewhere between science and personal preference. If every single cloth diaper manufacturer, across the board, shared a set of recommendations, I might be inclined to wholeheartedly subscribe to them. Warnings against fabric softeners aside, all manufacturers offer different recommendations, despite all cloth diapers being made up of a combination of the exact same materials. Here’s what I mean:
Enzymes: Yay or nay?
(Find out everything you wanted to know about enzymes and cloth diaper laundry here.)
This post at My Cloth Diaper Stash, while not so hot on Tide, suggests getting enzymes into your laundry through another source, such as Bac-Out. Rumparooz is all about the enzymes, “We recommend using a detergent that contains enzymes. Enzymes are biodegradable and are used to dissolve protein stains. They also break down the fats and oils in your diaper left behind from your baby using the diaper,” but says no to Bac-Out. AppleCheeks says no to enzymes, saying they can cause rashes. (So can diapers that aren’t getting cleaned properly…)
Maman Loup’s opinion: My diapers were not getting clean using brands without enzymes, so I say, bring on the enzymes!
Bleach: Once a month or not even if your life depends on it?
BumGenius tells us “Once per month, use up to 1/4 cup bleach in the hot wash cycle (step 3) to sanitize diapers and fight odors.” AppleCheeks and AMP tell us that using bleach will void our warranty. Rumparooz begs us not to bleach. Grovia gives what I would consider to be the most level-headed approach to bleach and cloth diapers: “We don’t generally recommend bleach! True, however if this is the only way to get your diapers back on track so you can use them we would still recommend it. Bleaching with a small amount very occasionally (once every 3-6 months) is not gong to harm it or void a warranty.”
Maman Loup’s opinion: I don’t think bleach is necessary on a regular basis, but I think it is necessary and effective in certain cases. I go with GroVia on this point!
Tide (and other mainstream detergents): The best choice or the devil incarnate?
Padded Tush Stats (love them!) tells us to save ourselves the stress and just use Tide. This guest post at My Cloth Diaper Stash (also love!) is decidedly less in favour of Tide. Bummis is down with Tide Free & Gentle, but not the regular powder. Tide Free & Gentle is also recommended by AppleCheeks. Rumparooz has Tide Ultra Powder as its number one choice (followed by Gain!) and AMP lists Tide (and Gain and Sunlight!) as great choices.
Maman Loup’s opinion: Check out my Quest for the Best Wash Routine as I ponder this further.
Oxygen Bleach: A safe bleach alternative or another cloth diaper enemy?
Bio-Vert Oxygen Bleach is a go on Bummis’ detergent list. AppleCheeks says “detergent should not contain sodium percarbonate (the active ingredient in many oxygenated bleaches).” (And yes, it’s the main ingredient in the aforementioned Bio-Vert.) Rumparooz says no to Oxiclean, GroVia yells: “OXYCLEAN IS NOT GOING TO “KILL” ANY DIAPER. JUST RINSE WELL SO IT DOESN’T EAT FABRICS.” Here’s a great article on oxygen bleach from Bummis.
Maman Loup’s opinion: It is my go-to stain remover for clothing, though I prefer the sun for cloth diaper stains. I have definitely used oxygen bleach on my stash, and I’ve had no issues at all!
Detergent Quantity: Miniscule or Mighty?
AMP, while loving the mainstream detergents, only wants us to use “1/6-1/4 of the recommended amount of detergent for your washing machine type.” Bummis tell us to “stick to the lower end of the amount recommended on the package” (which would still be significantly more than what AMP is suggesting, and, just in case you were wondering, Boutique Bummis here in Montreal carries AMPs!) AppleCheeks says to use the manufacturer’s recommended quantity. GroVia, bless their hearts, reminds us to “use enough detergent.”
Maman Loup’s opinion: Diapers are butts down the dirtiest things I launder, so I use the full amount of recommended detergent according to how large a load I’m doing. I haven’t hesitated to use up to line 3 with Tide for large loads, and when I do my extra rinse, there are no extra suds.
So, what’s a Fluffy Mama to do?
Whatever works best for YOU! I wish someone could come up with a magic formula for impeccable maintenance of everyone’s cloth diapers. Aside from agreeing that fabric softeners are a no-go (though there are some more natural formulas that seem to be fine), the big cloth diaper brands don’t agree, so, of course Mamas across cloth diapering forums won’t see eye to eye either! If you wanted to follow each brand’s instructions and recommendations to the letter, you’d have to do a whole lot of separate loads (assuming you have a variety of brands in your stash.) The important thing is to try out different methods if your current one isn’t working (meaning you have stink issues or rash issues or leak issues, or all of the above). But of course, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!
It can definitely help to ask other Moms what they do, but even something that works for your next door neighbour might not work for you (even if you have the exact same washer: unless your children are genetic clones eating the exact same diet…). I think statements that start as “You should NEVER EVER do X to your diapers” (unless X is something like “light them on fire”) lead to unnecessary panic and/or conflict. Perspective is important. They are just diapers. I’ve never seen people so up in arms about how they wash their regular laundry: I put “dry clean only” stuff in the washing machine sometimes, I wash items on cold that are supposed to be washed in hot… and I don’t lose sleep over it. Sometimes I read threads in Facebook groups that seem to liken a given cloth diaper laundry technique to neglectful parenting. Unless you’re pouring turpentine in your baby’s diapers, I just don’t think the way you choose to wash your fluff is any reflection on your parenting skills.
Let me give the last word to GroVia, the company that seems to offer the wisest cloth care instructions I’ve seen so far:
There seems to be no ONE detergent that works for everyone. Different water types, machines and diaper stashes means that you will get a variety of recommendations for detergents. […] You can also go to just about any store and buy their store brand of detergent, Tide, Purex, and Gain to name a few. ALL will clean your diapers well. Just stay away from detergents with lots of plant oils, fabric softeners or bleach.
There is a ridiculous amount of laundry information out there but here are my top diaper laundering tips. No, these tips are not on our care labels, but these are just good common sense rules of laundry:
1) KEEP IT SIMPLE
2) USE ENOUGH DETERGENT
3) WARM OR REG. HOT WASH + ONE EXTRA RINSE IS ENOUGH
4) IF YOU HAVE STINKY DIAPERS, THEY GENERALLY AREN’T GETTING CLEAN.
5) “STRIPPING” SHOULD BE NEEDED RARELY IF AT ALL. TWEAK YOUR DETERGENT (SWITCH BRANDS OR INCREASE AMOUNTS) BEFORE THINKING YOU NEED TO STRIP YOUR DIAPERS!
6) TO GET DIAPERS CLEAN YOU NEED:
-TO EXPOSE THEM TO THE PROPER CONCENTRATION OF DETERGENT FOR AT LEAST 45-50 MINUTES.
7) A VERY PERIODIC (every 4-6 weeks) BIT OF BLEACH (1/8c) or OXYCLEAN IS NOT GOING TO “KILL” ANY DIAPER. JUST RINSE WELL SO IT DOESN’T EAT FABRICS.
You have to remember, diapers are garments that get peed and pooped in and need to get clean. You shouldn’t need to baby them, but also know that they (especially cotton ones) will wear out over time.