Friday, December 28, 2007

Washing Systems

Which brings us to…

Washing Systems

There are as many different washing routines as there are cloth diapers. Each person will have a different wash routine that works for them. I suggest starting with a simple routine and tweaking it based on your needs. A good one to start with is a PreWash or Soak cycle with just cold water, no detergent (to get rid of all the poopies), followed by a long Heavy Duty (Sanitary, if your machine has one) cycle in hot water with extra rinse feature turned on with detergent, followed by an additional rinse with no detergent. When washing diapers, you will only want to use half the recommended amount of detergent (less if using a front-loading washing machine). Using too much detergent (as well as not rinsing diapers completely) will result in a detergent buildup on your diapers which, in addition to possibly irritating baby’s delicate skin, can cause leaking and stinking issues in your cloth diapers. When washing diapers, make sure that the rinse water after washing is free of soap suds and bubbles. You may need to make some minor adjustments to the above wash routine, depending on what kind of diapers you are using, how hard your water is, what kind of washing machine you have, which detergent you choose to use, etc. Generally, with softer water you may need to use less detergent, and more with hard water. With a front-loading high efficiency washer you will need less detergent but may need to do more rinsing because they use significantly less water.

I recommend washing every 2-3 days (you will need approximately 18-24 diapers, or more, to wash every 2-3 days, depending on the age of your baby). Washing less frequently can result in more ammonia and bacteria build-up on your diapers (resulting in stinkier diapers), more diapers to wash (which could mean diapers may not get clean enough), and possible mold and mildew issues. Washing more frequently is less problematic but you may see more wear on your diapers quicker.

If your diapers come out of the washing machine and still smell stinky, you probably need to add more detergent. If they smell fine after being laundered but then later stink (with a strong ammonia smell) at the first sign of wetness, you probably have a detergent buildup and will need to “strip” your diapers of this buildup. There are many methods of stripping diapers but what it all comes down to is just rinsing them a whole bunch of times, in very very hot water, until they rinse clean (no soap suds). You can do this by washing in your washing machine on hot with no detergent over and over until they rinse clear, or you can also do it in your dishwasher (top shelf, after diapers have been thoroughly cleaned, no soap, and make sure rinse aid dispenser is empty). This works because the dishwasher has a heating element and can therefore get much hotter than your washing machine. The heat will help release the detergent so it can be rinsed out. Another option is boiling your diapers (do not boil anything with PUL, elastic, or snaps) on the stovetop. Some people swear that a little drop of Dawn dishwashing liquid added to your wash, followed by many rinses, will do just the trick. Others use Calgon water softener. Still others use vinegar, or baking soda, or both. Some swear that Tea Tree Oil will help. You may want to strip your diapers every month or so to prevent buildup, but you can also just wait until you have issues (I went 8 months using previously “gently used” diapers, never stripping once, before developing any kind of buildup problems). If you do develop buildup problems, you can use trial and error to find a system of stripping your diapers that will work for you.

Follow washing with drying, either in the dryer or on a line. If using a clothes dryer, use medium or high heat (for diapers with elastic, medium heat is preferable). Take any diapers with PUL out when they are dry, and continue drying inserts, prefolds, etc. For line drying, hang diapers in a sunny location. Line drying will allow the sun to remove stains (called “sunning”) and sanitize your diapers. After air-drying, a quick fluff in the dryer will soften up any diaper “crunchiness.”

The kind of detergent you use when laundering your cloth diapers is a very important factor. You should stay away from anything containing enzymes, dyes, perfumes, or optical brighteners. Most widely-available detergents contain optical brighteners, so it may be best to choose a natural detergent (found in a health food store). If you do choose a more mainstream detergent (like those found at most discount or grocery stores), select one with the least amount of optical brighteners, if possible. You should also never use anything containing fabric softeners or wrinkle guards. Additionally, soaps are generally not recommended for cloth diapering (detergents are not soaps).

For more information regarding different laundry detergent choices and washing methods, this website is a goldmine of information:

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