One of the questions asked most often about cloth diapering is “how do we wash them?”. While the diapers themselves are easy to launder, there are some key points to remember about washers in general.
As we have switched more and more often to High Efficiency (HE) machines, it seems that for many of us, our soaping habits have not. If, like me, you’ve had the washer repairman out to visit (because your baby socks infiltrate the gasket of the machine if you don’t put them in a lingerie bag to wash. Hint: use a lingerie bag.), you learn a lot about how to care for your HE machine from the horse’s mouth.
The most important advice? Less detergent. We are advised to never use more than a tablespoon of detergent in your HE machine in any situation, with your regular laundry. Also, because so many of the detergents advertise as “cold water”, this means that if you’re using a little too much, it can reside in the drum, and if you’re washing your diapers in hot water, the hot water dissolves the detergent then dumps it onto your diapers, which can create stink and other issues. Because we come from a culture of “lather, rinse, repeat”, where more is better, it can be hard to break our detergent habit.
Paul Flynn of Savage used to see the effects of too much soap every day when he was an appliance repairman. He’d get calls from customers who had foul smelling front-loading washing machines. The build-up of mold and mildew inside the tub is created when too much liquid detergent is used, creating a food source for bacteria. “The whole reason this problem exists is the fault of detergent manufacturers,” Flynn said. “They tell us to use too much detergent.”
The soap residue coats your machine, the excess suds wreck the spin bearing, and pretty soon you’ve got a $400 repair bill.
However, because HE detergents work differently from regular laundry detergent, it’s important to realize the HE detergents have active enzymes to work throughout the wash cycle, and are designed to work with much less water. Normal detergents really serve to break the bond of dirt to clothing, while the water and agitation do the actual work in a wash cycle.
Another important thing to remember is that the ‘sanitize’ cycle is not recommended for diapers- it can delaminate the PUL and cause deterioration of the fabric. Realistically, the sanitize cycle can work if you’re using a washer cleaner, if your washer gets smelly.
A washing machine cleaner should be used with no clothes in the tub on the hottest or preset “clean” cycle, about twice a month. You can using baking soda, vinegar, or a commercial HE washer cleaning product to eliminate and prevent mildew, fungus, and odor from your washing machine. After each use, make sure to leave the door and the detergent loading tray open to allow air to circulate, and wipe the gasket to ensure there is no debris or pooled water.
If you are washing diapers, make sure that your regular detergent isn’t interfering with your diapers by using products that do not contain oils, as many natural products have citrus or palm oil based surfactants. This can be an issue when the oil encounters cold water and coagulates in the drum, only to be dissolved by the hot water and redistrubuted on the diapers. A way to make sure this is less likely to happen is to do a load of laundry in hot (say, whites or towels) before your load of diapers if possible, or change detergents for all your laundry (I switched to using Allen’s for everything, and the bottle still lasted me over a year). My towels were definitely more absorbent using this method too. Allen’s Naturally was invented to give people who have multiple chemical sensitivities a gentle detergent, so it does a great job on regular laundry as well.
So when it comes to high efficiency machines, a little TLC goes a long way. Make sure you read the manual for your washer, read detergent labels carefully, and remember that when you’re dealing with detergent, less really is more.
Special thanks to Karen, aka Queen Sherpa, for her guest blog! The team at Nurtured is always offering tricks of the trade with every product inquiry. Several weeks ago Karen presented me with several links for the blog she thought every HE owner needed to read. Those links and the daily discussions in store have led to this helpful write up by Karen herself. Best of luck and certainly keep stopping in, calling or opening an online ticket for the discussions and problem solving. -Thanks for all the inspiration!