man of the cloth, pt. 2
This is the second part of my cloth diaper download (ha ha). Figuring out how to clean the dirty diapers was definitely the hardest part of this learning process. Part of the reason we use cloth is to save money, so you also want to watch the hot water and dryer usage so you don’t lose all your savings through your power and/or water bill.
1. Choosing a Detergent
This is the most crucial step, in my experience. Start with a list that rates detergents on how effective they are on diapers. You actually want one with no brighteners, enzymes, scents, and some other ingredients that are normally attractive in a laundry detergent. If you want to know why, click on the list above for explanations, but basically they can cause rashes or mess up your diaper absorbency.
It looks like you have a lot of choices, right? But when you get down to it, none of the ones with the most stars were at my local grocery store, and I didn’t want to pay to ship a ton of fancy detergent to do something that was supposed to save me money.
At this point I should say, you need to assess your laundry situation.
- top-loading or front-loading/he machine?
- hard or soft water?
- what size loads will you be washing?
I have a top-loading machine with soft water (we have a water softener unit on the house) and do loads of 7-10 diapers at a time. (Also, so far just breastmilk poops from my boy!) I started with the cheapest option with the most stars that was at my local Publix: Purex Free & Clear. I didn’t have good results from it. Following what most diaper sites say, which is to use 1/4 the recommended amount, I promptly messed up my diapers, a fact that I wrote about earlier. Too much detergent buildup left a residue that trapped the smells. Bleach made it worse, sunning didn’t take the smell away; I ended up having to do TONS of super hot water rinses and wasted a lot of water. If you google Purex F&C with cloth diapers, you will find that some people swear by it and others swear at it. So go figure, but it didn’t work for me.
Fortunately one of my lovely readers recommended the site I linked to earlier with the laundry list, and this particular list actually includes a rating for Publix Free & Clear, the detergent I normally use on everything, even Valor’s baby clothes. It rated the same number of stars as the Purex. So I started using that, 1 TEAspoon per load, and things got better.
Here’s how you figure how much detergent to use:
- Add a measured amount, maybe 1 tablespoon, to your hot cycle. (I use 1 teaspoon with my medium-small loads and soft water.)
- Take a look under the hood when it starts agitating. There should be a couple suds, but mostly clear water. (No suds? Use more detergent.)
- Crack the lid again when the second rinse is agitating. There should be NO suds, just clear water. (Suds? Use less detergent.)
Most people “strip” their diapers (a process of using hot water to remove detergent buildup, and/or Dawn dish soap to remove rash creams and fabric softeners) once a month or every few months to keep them maximally absorbent. By this point I had stripped my dipes six times in a month and a half using a variety of methods posted on the web (and there are some truly crazy ones out there involving toothbrushes and boiling pots of water on the stove), and they still seemed to repel some if I squirted water on them (i.e., not absorb perfectly). I figured that I must just be expecting too much, and tried to relax.
Then I discovered Rockin’ Green, a diaper laundry soap made by a work at home mom (wahm). Although I was avoiding buying a special diaper detergent, I was convinced to try her product after I watched a video which showed how a simple (simple!) cleaning process called “rock the soak” restored absorbency to a repelling (and no doubt repellant) diaper. That plus the amazing scents she adds, like “Monkey Snacks” and Cherry Almond, won me over. I agonized for while over having Valor’s diapers smell like food, and then realized that the smell would disappear once they were clean so it was just for a scented laundry room experience. With that cleared up, I asked for some for Christmas in Classic Rock/Peppermint Cocoa (there is also a Soft Rock for sensitive skin, and Hard Rock is coming soon for hard water).
I “rocked the soak” on my poor semi-absorbent small Fuzzi Bunz, and lo, they became fresh and absorbent again. That was so easy! Now with my mediums I alternate using 1 tsp. per small load of either Rockin’ Green or Publix F&C, and I have not needed to strip them since I started. Since the bag I got is supposed to last 45 loads using 1T per cycle, and I use less, I will probably use it for 6 months before I run out. I think that’s a great deal for $15, considering the time, effort, and hot water it has saved me! Here is a survey that I’ve posted before that rates RG a runaway #1 among diaper detergents. And no, I didn’t get paid to say any of this.
Here is my diaper washing routine in a nutshell. Remember I have a top loader, soft water, breastmilk poops, and just a few dipes at a time. [Hard water or more dipes would need more detergent. I have no experience with he/front loaders, but here is Rockin’ Green’s instructions for he/front loaders and a recommended detergent list for them.] Also, you need to wash cloth diapers at least every other day. I think the stains set if you wait longer than that.
- Dump the separated pockets and inserts into the machine and flip the wet bag/pail liner poopy-side-out and put it in (I also use cloth wipes, so those go in too).
- Do a pre-wash or a soak on COLD. No detergent. This step gets all the poop out. For 7-9 dipes I use a water amount between small and med. size. For 10-13 dipes I use medium water amount and double detergent.
- Do a HOT/COLD cycle, with detergent, followed by a COLD SECOND RINSE to get all the detergent out. I alternate Publix Free & Clear (liquid) and Rockin’ Green Classic Rock (powder). I only use 1 teaspoon for this size load! That is it! Keep popping up the hood as I described above to see what detergent amount to use.
On most days, I dry my diapers on a clothes rack in the sun. This saves energy costs and gets the remaining poop stains out amazingly well. Actually they stain less since I started RG soap, or else Valor just poops a lot less, or both. Here is a shot of some clean but still stained inserts, before and after 1 hour of sun (sorry if that is TMI but we are talking about diapers!).
Sweet! Thank you, sunshine!
It does take most of the day to dry, though, so I start the wash first thing in the morning. Also, use plastic clothes pins if you hang them up. Wooden ones leave stains on the dipes. Sometimes on a cloudy day I finish them up in the dryer, on LOW (no fabric softener sheet, it will reduce their absorbency). Or I do it for 5 minutes to fluff them if they seem stiff. If it’s a rainy day or I’m in a hurry, I do it all (on LOW, no fabric softener!!) in the dryer. The pockets and wipes are done pretty quickly, and I just do the inserts a little longer.
Note on the wet bags: It’s normal for the wet bags to get a pocket of water trapped in them in the wash (hey, they are waterproofed, right?). After the wash, I heap up all my dipes and inserts to one side of the washer, then upend my wet bag into the empty side to get the water out without re-wetting all the spun-dry dipes. To dry it, turn the wet bag back out (shiny side out) and dry it with your dipes. I also use my wet bag as a “laundry basket” to carry my dipes out to the back porch. I spread it out flat, pile everything onto it, and pick it up by the corners.
Hope that helps. Like I said, I have limited experience but there is a lot out there in terms of advice if you have questions. In the next cloth diapering installment, I will evaluate the benefits and drawbacks of traveling with cloth diapers, and share a little sewing project I did to modify old-style Fuzzi Bunz.