OK, I want to open this post by saying one very important thing about detergents for cloth diapers.
As much as I try to give the best recommendations for every situation, sometimes that recommendation may not work for you.
So many factors – the kind of washing machine you use, how hard or soft your water is (or if you thought it was hard but isn’t, or vice versa), the style of diapers you use, and even the pH of your babys’… output, shall we say, can affect how you’re going to need to tweak your diaper washing technique.
Sometimes you’ll have it completely figured out, and then something will change – your baby will start eating new foods, your old machine will need to be replaced and you’ll need to figure out the new one, you might get a water conditioning system (or the system might break).
And you’ll have to change your detergent, the amount of detergent you use, and possibly the number of rinses you do.
With all that, there are recommendations I can give! Just bear in mind that if something stops working, don’t feel like you have to stick with the same kind of detergent, because that was the recommended kind for your machine and type of water. Try something new, and see if it works!
Top Recommended Detergent For Cloth Diapers In General – CHARLIE’S SOAP
Charlie’s Soap was developed as an industrial cleaner that had to be clean rinsing, and they figured out it made a great detergent – it seriously delivers.
It comes in one scent – unscented.
In fact, the label says “If you want to smell flowers, go pick some”!
But diapers come out of this wash smelling like… water.
They’re completely clean, without residues.
The instructions say to only use a tablespoon or two per wash load, but to use more if you have hard water.
It does the job. Your diapers and clothes will be clean, scent-free, and allergy safe, since there will be no dirt or detergent residue left in the fabric.
I’ve washed what appeared to be perfectly clean towels in Charlie’s and watched the water turn a horrible shade of gray – this stuff doesn’t fool around!
When you use Charlie’s Soap, you have to COMMIT to using nothing but Charlie’s Soap in that washing machine.
Why? It’s so effective a cleaner that it will remove old detergent residues from your machine, which can then re-deposit on whatever you’re washing.
Obviously, that means you’re going to be using Charlie’s for everything, which further means you’re going to go through more of it than you would a specific cloth diaper detergent.
Granted, you can get a 100 load jar for $15.19 on Amazon, which is cheaper than Tide, but still an expense to consider.
Most Commonly Used By Cloth Diapering Moms (And The Industry’s Dirty Little Secret) – TIDE
Yep, scented, buy it with coupons Tide.
But it’s very effective, and a big brand favorite among cloth diapering moms.
A big bonus is that it’s available nearly everywhere, which means no waiting around for a shipment to arrive before you can do the laundry.
And it’s available in scent/dye free versions, so you can use whichever your baby is OK with.
I prefer scent-free for everything, but some people really prefer having a scent in their wash – that’s fine, as long as your baby doesn’t have any allergies.
It’s not the most natural option, and you have to be sure you don’t accidentally buy the Tide with Downy, since the fabric softener will leave a chemical coating on all your diapers and render them water resistant.
Tide can also lead to build up in your diapers, though this can be avoided with proper rinsing and using the right amount of detergent per load.
Even so, when you wash with Tide, you’ll probably have to strip them every few months.
Best All-Natural Option (Besides Charlie’s Soap) – ALLEN’S NATURALLY
This is a highly concentrated liquid detergent, and many people report that only a ¼ pump of the pump bottle is enough to get their diapers super clean!
Highly concentrated – some reviewers reported that a gallon jug lasted them over a year, using it on ALL their laundry!
All natural and clean rinsing, and a big favorite among people with sensitive skin.
This stuff isn’t cheap – $65 for a gallon jug.
If it actually lasts your family over a year, that COULD turn out to be a bargain… or you might find that it doesn’t work for you, and be stuck with a huge volume of expensive, unusable detergent.
Best Stain Remover – OXICLEAN
The late Billy Mays would be thrilled – the oxygen based bleach is often regarded as the best way to blast stains out of diapers, without the damage caused by chlorine bleach.
Available everywhere, very gentle on fabric, and will really get a lot of stains and funk out of your diapers.
Some versions are scented, making them possible irritants for those with sensitive skin.
Best For Treating Diapers That Have Been Washed In Hard Water, And Need To Be Stripped – RLR
RLR is a laundry additive that breaks down and removes mineral deposits, like calcium and lime, from your wash.
It’s best used when it’s time to strip your diapers, since that’s when you want to get EVERYTHING out of the diapers.
This product has been around for a long time, and for good reason – it works.
In fact, it may be a good idea to do a marathon RLR session for all your clothes about once or twice a year, to get all the build up out and make your clothes look bright and fresh again.
It’s darned affordable, too – a 5 pack of these once-in-a-while treatments only runs $10.20 on Amazon – that would be costly as a detergent, but as a diaper stripper or semi-annual laundry refresher, that’s pretty good!
Very few – obviously it wouldn’t be of use to someone dealing with soft water, and the packaging could really use some updating (I think the photo was taken in the late ‘80’s). But in general, there are no cons to speak of here – go for it!
Best Ammonia Buster – ROCKIN GREEN FUNK ROCK
Now, ammonia builds up differently in different kinds of diapers.
In plain cotton diapers it can be pretty easy to get rid of – add more detergent, and rinse more times.
But when you deal with microfiber, that stuff can hold onto stink like that’s its primary function. The fact that the fibers are so tiny (MICROfiber, remember) allows stuff to stick in between the fibers, from urine to detergent. Gross!
So, sometimes you need a little extra help to get those microfiber inserts back to a useable condition, and Funk Rock is great for that.
I’ve personally used it to strip secondhand diapers that didn’t smell so fresh, and I was very impressed with the results.
Rockin Green products are all natural and either scent free or have a super yummy scent that goes away after the diapers have been washed.
(If you haven’t noticed, I’m not a fan of perfumes in detergent – it can mask diaper odor and lead to build up because you haven’t noticed that the diapers stink!)
Funk Rock isn’t one of their main detergents, but it’s a great additive when your diapers are making your eyes water.
Rockin Green still takes a back seat to Charlie’s Soap in solubility and rinse-ability, but Funk Rock can hold it’s own.
Best Product For Stripping Diapers – (COMBO) ORIGINAL BLUE DAWN DISH SOAP AND RLR
How will you know that it’s time to strip your diapers?
A few factors – they stink either right out of the dryer or instantly when they’re peed on, your baby starts getting rashes, and/or they’ve become less absorbent.
The Dawn works on all the oils (from babys’ skin, rash creams, etc) and releases all that trapped gunk, and the RLR removes the mineral deposits.
Effective, available, and cheap.
You can get Dawn at most grocery stores, and if you can’t wait on Amazon to deliver RLR, you may be able to find it at your local mom-and-pop type hardware store.
I have a friend who suffers from severe eczema, and the slightest change in her laundry can have her battling rashes for months.
She started using a tiny bit of blue Dawn instead of regular detergent, and not only is her skin doing well, but her laundry is beautifully clean.
(And she has 8 kids, 7 of whom are boys. She knows dirt.) Dawn is good stuff!
Unfortunately, Dawn is NOT made to be a laundry product.
If you have a front-loading washer, you may have to do the Dawn/RLR treatment in a tub or bucket, rinse, THEN put everything in the machine.
Otherwise you may have trouble with over-sudsing, and your laundry room will look like one of those ‘60’s sitcoms where the dad tries to do laundry and adds a half a box of detergent to the machine.
I’ve had good luck in using Dawn in my old top loader, but I also had the water level at “small” or “medium” load settings so the bubbles never came too close to the lid.
Diaper Washing Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
So, with all that great information, now it’s time for question-and-answers! This is where I clear up a few concerns from friends and readers about diaper washing.
- “I like Arm and Hammer detergent – can I use it on my diapers?”
- “How much detergent should I use on my cloth diapers? I saw some people saying I should use a tiny amount so the detergent doesn’t build up in the diapers.”
- “Should I use liquid or powdered detergent?”
- “What’s the big difference between how front loading machines and top loading machines wash diapers?”
- “I want my diapers to be super soft. Can I use Downy? What about dryer sheets?”
- “What does a good diaper laundry routine look like?”
Q1. “I like Arm and Hammer detergent – can I use it on my diapers?”
Sure, but it may not be powerful enough or clean rinsing enough for your pocket diapers.
Most natural fiber diapers like prefolds or flats are pretty forgiving, but anything with synthetic fabrics might have trouble with A&H detergent.
Some people have better luck with the powder than the liquid in getting all the diaper yuck out.
Better to steer clear and use something with a better track record.
Q2. “How much detergent should I use on my cloth diapers? I saw some people saying I should use a tiny amount so the detergent doesn’t build up in the diapers.”
Well, the question depends on what kind of detergent you’re using.
If you’re using Charlie’s Soap, Rockin Green, or Allens Naturally, you want to use one to two tbsp per load, because that’s the recommended amount.
If you’re using Tide, use the appropriate amount based on the size of the load – fill the cap to the first or second line.
People a few years ago were often told that they shouldn’t use standard detergents on diapers, but if they did, use half the usual amount so they wouldn’t need to have the detergent residue stripped out.
As it happens, diaper mess is pretty gross stuff, and it needs a fair amount of detergent to get it loosened up and out of the fabric.
The best thing you can do is give at least a double rinse every wash cycle, and you’ll reduce your need for stripping diapers of detergent and leftover diaper funk.
Q3. “Should I use liquid or powdered detergent?”
Personally, I prefer liquid detergent in MOST cases, because I know it mixes with the wash water the way it should.
However, in the case of Charlie’s Soap and Rockin Green, I prefer powders, because I know the formula isn’t diluted.
That’s important when you’re only using a tablespoon worth of detergent!
And, as I said above, some people do better with A&H powder than they do liquid, so there are no hard and fast rules on this.
Choose whichever you like better.
Q4. “What’s the big difference between how front loading machines and top loading machines wash diapers?”
Well, top loaders (at least the older style) allow the diapers to actually sit in the water and soak.
That’s very important when you’re trying to get the kind of mess out that diapers usually carry.
Front loading machines are very water efficient, but that can often mean that the diapers don’t get enough water to get clean properly.
Thankfully, there are a few hacks you can use to make sure your fancy front loader gets your diapers clean.
Front loaders base the amount of water used on the weight in the machine – dump a soaking wet towel in the load, and it tricks the machine into using more water.
Another idea is to presoak the diapers in a pail before adding them to the machine. A little more icky, but also effective.
Q5. “I want my diapers to be super soft. Can I use Downy? What about dryer sheets?”
NOOOOOOO!!!!! (Pant, pant… let me catch my breath…)
Never, EVER use fabric softener on anything you want to be absorbent.
Diapers especially, but don’t use it on your towels either – the chemicals that make them super bouncy and soft also coat the fibers, making the fabric WATERPROOF.
If you want your diapers to be soft and fluffy, toss them in the dryer with some dryer balls – wool ones are nice, but there are good plastic ones too.
I use clean old tennis balls, and they work beautifully to fluff the laundry.
As a bonus, they move the laundry around more effectively in the machine, so they even help the wash dry faster.
Q6. “What does a good diaper laundry routine look like?”
I’m glad you asked!
Step 1) Take the diapers from the dry pail or bag, add to the washer, and begin a warm presoak cycle (with added towel, if it’s a front loader).
Step 2) When the presoak has drained, add your chosen detergent, and wash on hot/cold rinse for the longest possible cycle.
Step 3) When the rinse is over, set the diapers to rinse again.
Step 4) Remove the diapers and dry – either in the dryer or by hanging to dry, depending on preference. To keep your covers and pocket diapers nice for the longest possible time, you should at least hang those.
Step 5) Everything is dry now, so fold and/or stuff your diapers and put them in your diaper spot – they’re ready to be used again!
Hopefully this answers most of your questions about cloth diapers, detergents, and washing routines! And as always, happy diapering!