November 15, 2011

Cleaning Cloth Diapers

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So, besides poop (my husband's top concern), the next natural concern with cloth diapering is laundry.

You may ask: how should I wash my diapers? I will preface my response with this is what work for us. Keep in mind that each diaper brand has their own recommended washing instructions and not following these instructions may void any warranties those companies offer. Also keep in mind that every brand we use has different washing instructions, and I personally do not find it feasible to wash them in separate loads. So, this is what works for us:

Type of Soap: We use whatever dye/perfume-free detergent we use on the rest of our clothes and our baby's clothes (which is usually the cheapest and can change from month to month - this month, I think we are using All Free and Clear). Some folks swear by Charlie's Soap or Rockin' Green and even BumGenius (the maker of my favorite diaper) makes their own soap. I have tried samples of all three (free with my online diaper purchases!), but could never bring myself to spend the money on a full size product of them. I could just see this being one more thing to explain to my husband (how much to use per load, "remember, this is just for the diapers"...). And not to throw him under the bus, but I still have to remind him to adjust load size and temperature on our regular laundry loads. I do, however, squirrel away these samples to take with us when we travel, since you never know what kind of detergent will be available. You will want to avoid anything "oxy" or with anything extra included, since the former can break down the diaper materials and the latter can build up on the diapers, reducing their absorbency.

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The load: You will use about a quarter of the detergent you would use for the same size load of laundry. Lots of brands recommend a cold rinse, then a hot wash, then an extra cold rinse. Again, I can't bring myself to do use that much water, or wait around to add the detergent, etc. I wash my diapers on warm, with an extra rinse. I generally round up the load size, too, just to make sure everything gets rinsed clean. You'll want to make sure the laundry tabs are secured. On aplix (Velcro) closure diapers, there is a place to stick the diaper tabs onto themselves, so you don't end up with one long chain of diapers all stuck to each other after a wash (this can make the tabs less sticky). Also, for pocket diapers, you'll want to make sure you have removed the insert before washing. Some diapers will claim that the inserts will agitate out during the wash. I haven't found this to be the case.

Extras: A couple of times a month I add a generous splash (</= 1/4 cup) of bleach to the water in my load of laundry to help with the smell when my nose starts to detect a wet diaper. I haven't seen any damage or fading. Also I have heard (and plan to employ this soon) that a couple drops of dish soap in the wash is one method for 'stripping' diapers. Generally, diapers become more absorbent the more you wash them, but depending on your water and what you are washing them in you may need to 'strip' the diapers of any build up (much like when you can tell you need to switch shampoos for a while...).

This is pretty much exactly what our laundry room
 looks like on diaper day.
via clothdiaperblogdotcom

Drying: Most of my diaper components can go in the dryer. The four Rump-a-Rooz pocket diaper outers (that I use for overnight) don't. Those I lay right on the drying rack. The inners do go in the dryer with all the other diapers. This is one rule I play according to the manufacturers' suggestions, since I don't want any precious pieces to melt (and, honestly, because it doesn't require any extra work to move some of the pieces to the drying rack versus the dryer as I unload the washer). I will say, that though the BumGenius Elementals are my favorite diapers to use, they do take the longest to dry (I think the FreeTime diapers coming out this December may be better on this point, but I'll elaborate on pros/cons of diaper types in another post). Depending on how much time I have I may run a second dryer cycle, or I may just hang up the diapers to air dry the rest of the way. If the weather is nice you may choose to do this outside in the sunshine, which will speed things up and take care of any pesky stains, too.

Frequency: We currently wash twice a week (usually Sunday and Wednesday). We washed 3-4 times per week before M was one, and going through many more diapers per day.

Trash can with a loose-fitting lid
via PlanetWisedotcom
Other equipment: To manage your laundry you are going to need a diaper pail with liner, and a wet bag. For a pail we use a 'dry' system which consists of a liner (like this one from Planet Wise) in an open top trash can (the alternative is a 'wet' system where you soak diapers until your next load. I can't think of a reason why this is actually necessary?). If I were starting from scratch I probably would get a trash can with a loose-fitting lid, but we sometimes put a drop of tea tree oil on a burp cloth and lay it over the top. You'll need the wet bag (like this) for when you are out and about (if you leave a wet diaper in a plastic bag for very long, it is likely to mildew). Perhaps you will want an extra of either of these, but we make do with one each.

Warning to any expecting moms out there: babies require a LOT of laundry, whether you are using cloth diapers or not. The first few weeks we had our little guy home we must have done a load of laundry every day as we all changed outfits often (which is probably the next best thing to the showers we didn't have time for). And its true that cloth diaper laundry is additional to do a couple times a week. I would say that we really have it in our routine at this point, and don't notice it at all. Occasionally, we forget to do it, so we use our back-up disposables with only minor guilt.

Wow: looking back on the length of this post, you might think that caring for cloth diapers is difficult, but really it isn't. Spending a few minutes on mini-research for how to care for your diapers up front is worth it... as it similarly would be for any new garment you purchase. They'll last longer and perform better. And once you know, you won't spend a second more on this load than you would any other load of laundry.

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