Today's question comes from an email from Sara. She asks "Do you recommend a specific cloth diaper soap to use in the washing machine? I've been using Arm & Hammer Super Wash soda because it seemed to not have any of the harmful chemicals mentioned by the manufacturer of our cloth diapers (bum genius)."
Since I have become a retailer, I have found the question of washing to be a rather controversial one. You can google and read so many different opinions on the subject: use vinegar, don't' use it, bleach will make your diapers melt (ok, a slight exaggeration), only use cloth diaper formulated detergents.....etc, etc. Throughout my time cloth diapering I have met so many different mamas who each use a different soap and a different routine. All of them have clean diapers and happy babies. Rarely do I hear a story of diaper issues, and if I do, detergent and washing haven't been to blame.
So my short answer is: use whatever you want!
My long answer will talk about some pros/cons and things to think about. For my particular area in Columbia, SC, we seem to have a wide variety of water types which greatly affect the performance of your laundry soap. I moved from the NE side of town to the west side of town and I had to completely revamp my routine. We also have a lot of families on wells in this area too.
First, let's take a look at what bumGenius has said and recommended. They recommend you "always use a detergent
free of perfumes, dyes, whiteners, brighteners,
softeners, enzymes, or other fabric enhancers." Honestly, I love bumGenius, but I don't 100% agree with them. Perfumes, dyes, whiteners, brighteners, and enzymes have not been proven to deteriorate diapers. There are many other manufacturers, who recommend detergents that contain these ingredients ( one being Happy Heinys) The only chemical on that list I agree with, is softeners. From a chemistry stand point, the only way to 'soften' laundry is by leaving a chemical residue on the surface of the fabric. These chemicals have a water repelling properties, which repel pee! The opposite purpose of a diaper! Which is why I call it a "no-no".
Now, back to that list of chemicals. Personally, I do not want to use a detergent with perfumes or dyes, because I do not like to use those types of chemicals. I have good friends with skin sensitivities that cannot use those chemicals for their personal health. Whether or not you want to use them, is up to you and your feelings, and it does not have any effect on the cleanliness and longevity of your diapers.
Cloth diaper formulated detergents avoid these chemicals, which makes them attractive for cloth use. They have specific recommendations for both standard and HE washing machines. Some do come scented, but they are scents that break down immediately upon exposure to water and will not get into the fabric of your diapers. We sell two different brands, Rockin' Green, the leader in cloth diaper detergents, and Eco Sprout, a newcomer to the cloth diaper detergent world, but one of my favorites because it is made by a work at home Dad!!
As for commercial detergents, I know mamas that use Tide, All, different Free and clear brands, Charlies, Country Save, Bio Kleen, Soap Nuts, Purex, and the list goes on and on. As long as your diapers are getting clean, baby isn't getting irritated by exposure, and the detergent is rinsing clean, then you are an awesome cloth diaper parent! (I will answer future questions based on some of these other issues in a problem solving post.)
Back to Sara's specific question. She mentioned Arm and Hammer washing soda. Washing soda, is sodium carbonate and is typically used as a water softener in laundering. It competes with the magnesium
and calcium ions in hard water and prevents them from bonding with the
detergent being used. Sodium carbonate can be used to remove grease, oil
and wine stains. I wouldn't have recommended using just washing soda alone for your diapers, it is great to use in conjunction with other detergents as a booster. BUT! - if your diapers are getting clean, there are no stinky smells, and baby's bottom isn't red, then by all means keep using it. Don't change what is working for your diapers.
I use washing soda in the laundry detergent that I make. I originally got the recipe from a blog called The Eco Friendly Family. I love her laundry detergent so much, you couldn't pay me to use a store bought detergent. For my cloth diapers I have switched back and forth between her cloth diaper formula and Eco Sprout. This blog link discusses making her recipe for both the standard laundry soap and the cloth diaper soap.
For the final part of Sara's question, what do I recommend, I just recommend keeping an open mind and trying detergents that fit what your family likes. If it is a cloth diaper formulated detergent, follow the directions on the label. If it is a standard laundry detergent, start off by using 1/4 of the manufacturers recommended amount, too much can be a bad thing, but also too little won't clean your diapers either.
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