Bright white prefolds after washing with Iron Out* & prefolds browned by rust deposits
*NOTE: Before following this or any wash routine, please remember to check with the manufacturer of your diapers to determine if the product you are using has been approved and will not VOID your warranty. Here are the generally accepted washing procedures and detergents.*
About a year ago, before I had even tried it out, I almost gave up cloth diapering. While prepping our stash of cloth diapers, something went wrong. I had followed all the instructions I’d been given by manufacturers and other mamas I’d met on “green” message boards – wash with no soap, dry, wash with a bit of soap, repeat, repeat, repeat – and was so excited to join the legions of others who were bringing cloth diapering back to mainstream America. Imagine my horror when I flung the washer lid open and saw that chocolate milk looking mess. Two dozen brand new infant prefolds had gone from bright white to a dingy brown. I was heartbroken, confused, and steaming mad. What had I done wrong?
It turns out I hadn’t done anything wrong – but my hard water had.
Hard water is defined by Princeton as water containing mineral salts such as calcium and magnesium ions that limit the formation of lather with soap. It can be a cloth diapering nightmare. You might recognize your hard water by its metallic or earthy taste; having to use lots of soap to get a lather; or white or brownish deposits in your sinks and bathtubs.
Thanks to the varying quality of water coming from wells and even cisterns, cloth diapering mamas and dads who pull their home’s water from these sources need to do some additional homework before the first load of fluffy laundry is done.
You should have your water tested. It’s not a bad idea to do this periodically anyhow, since it’s free! and especially before bringing home a new baby. Our local water treatment company does this for free, and I’ve seen similar test kits, also free, at our local Home Depot. You just collect some water in a little vial and mail it in. The “Culligan Man” or someone from your local water company will call and go over the results with you. It’s valuable to find out whether your water has any contaminants in it, is extra-hard, or is A-OK for the whole family to drink or bathe in. We just did this recently, and found our water is extra-hard and has high concentrations of iron. Knowing this lets us choose detergents that are best for our water, and reminds us to watch our laundry carefully. Even if your water isn’t as bad as ours, your hard water can lead to mineral deposits on your diapers, which can result in repelling or smells horrible enough to peel paint off walls. Trust me on this.
If your water turns out to be hard, don’t despair – there are tips and tricks to get around this.
1. Use care with bleach or any oxygen-based cleaning additives!
If your water test shows you have high concentrations of iron, like mine, never never use bleach or oxygen-based cleaning additives. This goes for all your household laundry, not just diapers. Dig back to your high school chemistry days – when metal (or metal ions in water) oxidize, what do you get? RUST! Adding OxyClean or bleach to high-iron water will cause the rust to precipitate from the water and settle on whatever you are washing. The day my diapers turned brown, I had used a tablespoon of OxyClean to get the manufacturer’s oily residue out of my prefolds. Lesson learned!
2. Know your detergent & how much to use.
Before you choose a detergent, check with your manufacturer and make sure it isn’t going to void your warranty. Then, a good rule of thumb is to use half to one-quarter of the recommended amount on the label. Sometimes this is only a couple teaspoons. Start with a small amount of detergent and build until you feel your diapers are clean. Hard water does call for more detergent than soft water, so experiment.
There are several detergents out there formulated as clean-rinsing specifically for cloth diapers – they’re developed for a reason, so use them! Some I have heard of or used myself include CrunchyClean, Rockin’ Green, Charlie’s, Planet, and ones made specifically by diaper makers like BumGenius or Thirsties.
Of the “non-diaper” detergents, I have heard some mamas have success with very small amounts of Purex Free and Clear (F&C) and Tide Free powder. We’re currently using Tide Free powder in our laundry with great success.
3. CALGON, take me away!
Use Calgon water softener additive in your laundry. You can buy this in the detergent aisle at your grocery or big-box retailer. Follow label directions. This product helps suspend any minerals in your water instead of letting them settle onto your diapers or clothes, and lets them rinse away.
If you get mineral buildup on your diapers – they hold onto ammonia smells or even start repelling, and sometimes you can even see or feel that the diapers aren’t the same as they used to be – strip them. You can strip with several products including Rockin’ Green, RLR, OxyClean(see above before use!), or Tiny Bubbles.
To strip with Tiny Bubbles or RLR, follow the label directions and use the hottest water you’ve got. Turn up your hot water heater about an hour before filling the washer, or add a pot of boiling water to the wash tub for best results.
To get rid of funk with Rockin’ Green, or OxyClean, fill the wash tub with hot water and add about ¼ to ½ cup of Oxy or a few Tablespoons of Rockin’ Green to the water. Agitate slightly, then add the diapers and let soak. This works best if you can soak overnight. Then rinse, re-wash and double rinse.
We have also found that a product call Iron Out works wonders for us to make our diapers bright white again. However, I do not know if this voids any diaper warranties with manufacturers, and would encourage you to research that before using the product. I do not wash covers or pockets in it, as I don’t know how Iron Out can affect PUL long-term
5. Keep a close eye on your diapers. If you notice a problem, fix it sooner rather than later.
Hard water can be a real headache for cloth diapering families, but it doesn’t have to. Experiment to find the detergent and washing routine that works best for you – and keeps your fluff clean and hardworking!
For more information on hard water, check out:
By Andrea Zippay, guest contributor
@andreazippay on Twitter
GIVEAWAY!! We are giving away a BAG OF HARD Rockin’ Green. Please comment below to enter by telling us about your laundry concerns and solutions!! Entries close at midnight on 3/31/10. Contest open to North American residents only.
GIVEAWAY winner – “Becky” who commented on March 31, 2010 at 3:14 pm