Cloth Diapers – Washing Saga Finale

This is the third in our series on common cloth diaper washing myths. I will be reviewing Cruncy Clean, Rockin Green, Tiny Bubbles, Thirsties NEW cloth diaper prewash and detergent, and some other cloth diaper detergents in coming weeks. For now, back to mythbusting:

* “PUL should never be put in the dryer” According to Linda Byerline, of Happy Heiny’s (who oughta know something about PUL since she has been selling pocket diapers longer than all but a handful of people on the planet), PUL is designed to go in the dryer. It is a medical grade fabric designed to be sterilized in high heat conditions. Most PUL used in the US is made by Fabrite. Their PUL has been tested and tested and tested in the dryer. From time to time someone reports a bad batch, but according to Fabrite, putting PUL in the dryer at least occasionally actually makes it work better.

Now, that said, some cloth diaper manufacturers recommend against putting PUL in the dryer. Some elastic does not do well in the dryer. Cotton PUL prints tend to wear out faster in the dryer. Some companies use PUL from other factories. Most of the time it is fine, a few have had major problems with the laminate coming off the fabric.

If the manufacturer says not to put them in the dryer, pay attention. But, if they say it is ok to dry (most say to use medium heat) feel free to dry them. Line drying will likely extend the life of your diapers and save you money. So if you have the space to line dry and the extra diapers to wait a bit longer while they dry it can’t hurt.

If you use pocket diapers – never stuff them while they are hot from the dryer. Stretching hot elastic is sure recipe for ruining them!

Ok, I hope this has helped clear up some things about cloth diaper washing for you. If you have more questions, feel free to comment below and I’ll do my best to find you an answer.

Cloth Diapers – Washing Myths Part Two

* “You need to strip or boil your diapers every month.” If your diapers develop odors every month, I would respectfully submit the possibility that something is not right with your wash routine. Clean diapers do not smell bad. Clean diapers freshly peed on will not put everyone around the baby into a coma. If the diapers smell bad either fresh out of the washer, fresh out of the dryer, or when freshly peed on, they are not fully clean. Detergent residue or insufficient cleaning are the usual culprits. You may need more detergent, you probably need less detergent, or you might need a different detergent. In many cases the solution is to simply rinse twice.

* “You need bleach to kill germs.” For this one, I first need to ask if cloth diapers are really so full of germs that need killing. I have only seen one study that actually looked at whether cloth diapers have germs on them after proper washing and drying and they looked ONLY at Gerber plastic pants that can’t be washed and dried. I would hazard a guess that cloth diapers are actually pretty clean since I have not actually ever heard of a baby getting sick from something proven to come off a clean, dry cloth diaper. For one thing, most germs do not live very long without a host. If your diapers are clean, dry and odor-free, most germs are simply going to die of loneliness. Also, if you are using synthetic diapers, germs don’t live well on those. Again, not an area where much science has been put forth. The one study I found on laundry and germs was sponsored by Clorox. No potential for conflict of interest there!

As a rule, germs are not fond of changes in pH (such as from adding detergent, vinegar, etc, to a wash). They don’t like agitation. They also really don’t like ultraviolet light (also a natural bleach alternative!). Sunlight is awesome for making your diapers smell and look cleaner. And they don’t like heat, so you can boil your clean prefolds if you want to get rid of yeast or something. Many people swear by using a few drops of tea tree oil or grapefruit seed extract in the wash (would love to see a study on this!). 

While the idea that we want sterile diapers to put on our babies is appealing, it is not very realistic. Disposables are not sterile. Your baby’s clothes are not sterile. Heaven only knows what your kid is eating off the floor right now. (If you are looking shocked, it is likely because your baby is not yet crawling.)

Bleach residue leads to some really bad rashes. It also pollutes our environment and waterways with nasty byproducts. More directly, it will wear out your diapers prematurely and break down elastic and PUL.

That said, if your doctor insists you need to bleach your diapers to get rid of a staph infection or something, you do what you gotta do. Just be aware that using bleach will void the warranty for most diaper manufacturers (BumGenius and Mother Ease have their own rules about bleach and they do allow it sparingly.) If you MUST bleach your diapers, keep it to once a month and 1/4 cup of bleach.

But, wait! There’s more tomorrow!

Cloth Diapers: Common Cloth Diaper Washing Myths

I am going to go out on a limb here and put to rest some common myths about washing cloth diapers. If you are using any of these methods and they make you happy and your diapers clean, keep doing exactly what works for you. I can only tell you what 4 years of research and experience, both mine and many, many others, have taught me.

* “Any old detergent will do, “they” just want to sell you something expensive.” I wish I was making a killing off of selling cloth diaper detergent, but honestly I carry it for customer convenience – it is simply not a profitable product. My favorite detergent comes out to about 10 cents per load, less if you buy it in bulk. If you do diapers 3 times per week, that comes out to a whopping $31.20 over two years. Thank you for buying from me and putting my kid through college. Oh, wait, of that $31.20, after paying shipping from them to me and then to you, and paying for the actual detergent, I make…. Well, she is pretty, she doesn’t need college, right?

* “You can make your own detergent with bar soap and….”  I make handmade soap. It would be great to sell more by telling people it is good for diapers. I prefer not to have mobs of angry, Snappi wielding moms at my door, thank you!

Soap leaves a residue. Good handmade soap leaves lovely moisturizing oils on your skin. You don’t want those on your diapers. If you don’t believe me, try watching the old Zest commercials. Don’t even get me started on Fels Naptha. Read the safety information on that stuff before you decide to grind it into a powder where your family can breathe it. Google it.

* “A chemical-free detergent is best.”  Chemicals are naturally occurring and that is just dandy, since they allow life to exist. Some chemicals are really, really bad for you and the environment – like phosphates. Some chemicals are really, really good for you – like citric acid (vitamin C). Calling something natural does not mean it is chemical free – and calling something a chemical does not make it bad for you – even if it helps you sell more of whatever it is you are selling.

* “Natural detergents are best.” Detergents such as  Seventh Generation are made with plant oils. They leave behind a residue. Residues are generally something you want to avoid on cloth diapers. There are many naturally occuring chemicals that are used in cloth diaper detergents. Washing soda (sodium carbonate) is one very common ingredient that seems to make diapers nice and clean without leaving a residue.

Stay tuned for part 2!