Monday, June 13, 2011

Adventures in Diaper Washing

Since I finally “completed” my cloth diaper stash, I’ve been working on prepping the diapers for the past few days. In order for the diapers and inserts to have maximum absorbency, they have to be washed several times before using them for the first time. 

The vast majority of my inserts of made of microfiber or microchamois, which only need to be washed once or twice to get them ready to wear. Some brands offer inserts made of hemp, which are generally more absorbent that microfiber (though they are heavier and don’t absorb as quickly), and many moms suggest using these overnight – with or without your regular microfiber insert – if you have a heavy wetter. I’ve already bought a couple of hemp inserts for the best bottoms, and plan to get a few for my other diapers as well, but since I won’t need them right away (newborns are not “heavy wetters”), they aren’t super high on my priority list. Hemp requires special preparation and can’t be washed with my regular inserts until after they have been fully “prepped” – so I just set these to the side for now to deal with later. My weekend mission was to conquer prepping the diapers and microfiber/chamois inserts.

The Laundry Routine
Ask a dozen cloth diapering moms (or rather, visit their blogs), and you’ll get a dozen diaper washing routines. Check the manufacturers websites and you’ll also find conflicting information on how to wash and what detergent to use. Frustrating? Absolutely.

It seems that every cloth diaper manufacturer and cloth diapering mommy has a slightly different recommendation on what type of detergent is best, what temperature the water needs to be, should you add any other stuff to the wash, and can your diapers be dried in the dryer without the world coming to an end…and no, none of them overlap. Apparently what works for one mom may not work for another and the success (or failure) of any laundering routine depends on the type of detergent used, the amount, the composition of your water (hard, soft, in-between), your washing machine, your baby’s particular Ph (exactly how acidic IS junior’s pee?)…and way you hold your tongue while pressing the “start” button.

So, I did a little research and found that many mom’s had great success using free and clear detergents for their diaper laundry – such as ALL free and clear or Tide free. But, others found that their diapers continued to leak. Leakage in cloth diapers is usually due to one of three things: a) you didn’t “prep” your diapers before using them; b) you have inadequate absorbency in the diaper – i.e., your kid pees A LOT and you need a hemp insert but you’re using microfiber; or c) you  have build-up –either from using too much soap and/or not rinsing adequately OR, your detergent is leaving additives and residues behind (and yes, even “free” and “clear” detergents can have additives). If you know your problem is not A or B, then your best bet is to “strip” your diapers – there are a variety of ways to do this and it’s fairly simple from what I’ve heard – and start “fresh.” (I’ll try to make a future post on how to strip your diapers).

Using a standard free and clear detergent appealed to me for two reasons: a) it is less expensive than most of the “specialty” cloth diaper detergents on the market, and b) I can buy these detergents at the store without needing to order online and pay/wait for shipping. But, I was worried that we might fall on the “unlucky” side of the coin and end up soaking wet (literally) because our diapers didn’t have proper absorbency once the baby arrives in September. I thought that perhaps finding a relatively inexpensive specialty detergent might be worthwhile if it meant that our diapers would work 100% of the time without having to spend time stripping them and trouble-shooting our laundry routine.

Enter: Rockin’ Green Detergent.

The thing that appealed to me about Rockin’ Green (besides all of the rave reviews) was that it comes in a variety of formulations depending on the type of water you have (no other detergent does this), so I was able to get a soft water formula (to match the water type where we live).

So, my wash routine (which looks like so many others), goes something like this:
  1. Place diaper laundry in the wash. Since I was “prepping” the diapers, I just shoved all the inserts in one load and all the diapers in a second load…when you are actually washing “used” diapers, you’ll want to limit the number of diapers in the machine to 12-15 (diapers and inserts) at one time.
  2. Do a cold water rinse – this helps to reduce staining in “used” diapers and gets everything good and wet so that, particularly in front loading machines, the load is heavier and more water will be used. My front load machine doesn’t allow me to choose my water level, and it doesn’t have just a “rinse” option – rather it has “rinse and spin.” With washing cloth diapers, water is your friend (more is better), so I made sure the spin setting was as low as possible (so the diapers/inserts would remain wetter and therefore weigh more for the next step) – another way to “trick” the machine into using more water in step 3 is to chunk in a large towel with your diapers.
  3. Do a hot water wash with 1 Tbsp of detergent (this is half the recommended amount because I am using a front load machine), followed by a cold water rinse. My machine has a hot/cold option – so I used this, and added on a second rinse for good measure (to make sure all of the detergent is rinsed out). For this wash, I keep the spin at the highest setting so that the diapers/inserts are as dry as possible coming out of the wash. NOTE: do NOT use liquid fabric softener when washing your diapers – it will leave residue on them and affect their absorbency. (Same goes for dryer sheets – they are a “no-no”)
  4. Dry. You can tumble dry on low, or tumble for 10-15 minutes and then air dry, or just line dry your diaper laundry. Diapers and inserts will last longest when line dried – but many moms find that tumbling for a few minutes then line drying the rest of the way is a good balance as far as the amount of time it takes to dry everything.  I had planned on doing this, but when I felt the diapers after the wash was over, they were already mostly dry – so I just put them straight on the drying rack and they were completely dry within a couple of hours!!

Granted. I won't know if this routine actually works until I get a little munchkin to test-drive these diapers. But, it's definitely a solid starting point.

Diapers and inserts drying after round 3 of "prepping"

For the purposes of “prepping” the diapers, I washed them only once, but I washed the inserts twice (without drying in-between). Once they were all dry, I "tested" their absorbency. Initially, I opted for pouring water directly onto the insert - and then I immediately panicked with the water beaded up and poured right off!! I just knew that somehow I had "ruined" by inserts and that I would have to strip them and figure out what I did wrong. No, seriously. I frantically shoved all my inserts back in the wash (not that it would help them if I actually did need to strip them), and while they washed a third time, I did a bit more reading. Actually, I did a lot of asking...twitter and facebook can be amazing resources...and I follow a lot of cloth diaper blogs on both sites, so I sent my concern out into cyber-space. And, the response I got was that my "test" was faulty. Apparently you can do that type of experiment with hemp or cotton inserts, but it won't work with microfiber. Interesting. It was recommended to me that I try a different test that involved filling a bowl with 1/2 cup or so of water and dropping the insert in to see if it soaked up the water and how quickly. So, once my inserts were dry again, I tried it with one fuzzibunz and one of my best bottoms liners...and lo and behold, success! The water disappeared almost instantly! Apparently that is exactly what you want to happen.

So, I set those inserts out to dry and set about "stuffing" the dry microfiber liners into my pocket diapers and stashing them away for some day in the (seemingly distant) future when we have a beautiful baby girl to use them on!

Neatly folded and ready to go :-)


  1. Interesting!! The colors look so pretty on the drying rack and in the drawer. Love the skull ones of course :D
    Thanks for the washing information--I'm going to be trying mama cloth (as opposed to baby cloth), and I think some of it applies equally. You won't have to worry about that for a good while hopefully!

  2. I love the skull one as well - it glows in the dark!! I haven't been able to get a good picture of it glowing though :-(

    I think the same washing information applies to mama cloth as well. Definitely no fabric softeners for maximum absorbency. I'll have to see how CDing goes for a while before considering branching out into any other cloth venues!