Monday, April 9, 2012

Finding the Right Cloth Diaper Detergent

If you wash your own diapers, you probably have either found a detergent you love or are searching for that soul mate of soaps. Finding the right method for washing your cloth diapers can be just as overwhelming as starting to use cloth diapers. There are some people who swear by certain detergents and others who have trouble with the same ones. But there is one hard-and-fast rule: your detergent does matter.

Here's why.

Your soap or detergent can build up on diapers over time. This creates a barrier between the cloth and your baby's bottom, preventing the cloth from effectively absorbing urine. What you don't want in your detergent are all the additives. You're trying to clean your cloth diapers, not coat them in a bunch of chemicals and other junk. Here is some residue-causing stuff to avoid:
  • Fabric softeners - these cause liquid to repel or wick onto baby's clothes.
  • Optical brighteners - these are chemical particles that absorb UV light and reflect back a bluer light, which makes clothes look whiter. These particles can build up and cause residue, and some
  • Stain guards - stain guards prevent staining because they coat the cloth. You want your cloth to absorb the stain-causing materials. That's the whole point of a diaper.
  • Soaps - this is a little confusing, but soaps are actually different than detergents. Although they are natural, they can react with your water to create residue.
  • Natural additives - this is a biggie. A lot of detergents nowadays are marketed as being natural, eco-friendly, etc. That sounds like it would be great for cloth diapers, right? Not necessarily. Many of these contain oil-based surfectants. That means that the soapy stuff is made of oils. These oils can coat your diapers over time, creating a barrier to absorbency. Oils that you don't want to see in detergents are orange oil, citrus extract, and grape seed extract, among others.
Different water types and cloth types react differently to different detergents. If you use an eco-friendly detergent with an oil-based surfectant on microfiber, you could actually ruin your diapers. The way the oils coat the synthetic fibers makes it difficult to remove. It gets all rubbery and gunky, and you may not be able to remove the residue completely.

Using a detergent specifically formulated for cloth diapers can help solve your problems. From a totally objective standpoint, we have noticed that Rockin' Green is pretty popular with cloth diapering parents. Out of all the cloth diaper detergents that are available, this is the one we hear the fewest complaints about. In fact, I don't know if I've ever heard a complaint about Rockin' Green.

If you're still not sure, check out the cloth diaper detergent chart at The Diaper Jungle. This chart gives you ratings and pros and cons for lots of different kinds of detergents and may help you find the detergent that's right for you.

And whatever you do, use lots of water. Lots of rinses don't matter if your water level isn't high enough. Crank up the water, crank up the heat, and get washing.


  1. Interesting. I live in Ogden and have had awful stink issues with Rockin Green. I spent hours troubleshooting with them and finally gave up. I wanted it to work because it left my diapers sooo soft, but I couldn't deal with stink - ie bacteria. I have tried nearly every natural detergent out there but finally went to Tide. Did you know that many major diaper brands are actually recommending it now?

  2. I'm really interested in this ... I don't have babies and don't use diapers but it occurs to me that the problems parents face with smelly diapers is the same as some people have with sports clothing or even smelly dish towels. It's like the smelly bacteria just stays and after one use ... stinky. So I'm wondering if the detergents formulated for diapers would work on those items.

    On another topic ... just wanted to let you know that I'll be using one of your suggestions for our Change The World Wednesday challenge tomorrow. Hope you can stop by! :-)

  3. Less air ventilation and a higher risk of diaper rash. Disposable diapers feel drier than cloth, which leaves babies at risk of sitting in bacteria and irritating chemicals for longer than they should be.