Wednesday, July 20, 2011
Cloth Diapering a Toddler... Part 3
In my third and final (I hope!) installment of my experience with the challenges of cloth diapering a toddler I'll share my new working wash routine!
In Part 1 you can find our leak-free nap/night time solution.
In Part 2 you can follow our battle with ammonia buildup.
During my ammonia battle I tried stripping, I tried using more detergent, I tried hopping on one foot, while pouring the detergent in over my shoulder, and singing Yankee Doodle Dandy. Nothing was working and I was FRUSTRATED. Laundry should not be this hard, people.
I also tried a few additives like Bac-Out and vinegar, my detergent already included washing soda, borax, and OxyClean, but ultimately I realized it was time to try a stronger detergent.
A note on detergents: When I first started my cloth diapering journey (waaaay back when in early 2010 ;) ) the general consensus was that you needed special cloth-friendly detergents, you needed to use as little of these gentle detergents as possible on a whole load of dirty diapers to clean them, and complicated, frustrating wash routines were the norm.
Over the course of my cloth diapering journey there has been a noticeable shift in this thinking. Now, cloth diapering moms are more likely to rebuke the boutique options and advise frustrated mamas to just wash their cloth diapers in whatever detergent they are using on their clothes!
That's quite a change, huh? Well, I don't know that I'd go so far as to recommend you use just ANYTHING, but I do agree with a few points of this new doctrine:
First, cloth diapers are merely fabric. Yes, some of them can be relatively pricey and of course we all want to protect our investment and have our diapers last as long as possible, but they're not made of diamond encrusted lettuce leaves. They're fabric, just like all the other laundry we all toss into the washer without another thought. There are some special considerations, but you don't have to handle them with kid gloves.
Second, cloth diapers are poo-catchers. They're dirty. In fact, they're the dirtiest things you're ever going to wash and because of that, they REALLY test the limits of detergent and washing machine capabilities. If you want to know how well a detergent or washing machine really cleans, ask a cloth diapering parent because they have REALLY tested its limits! Because they're so dirty they aren't the easiest things to clean.
And third, your wash routine doesn't have to be complicated. There are so many detergent options out there and they are all going to work differently for every individual depending on your needs and most importantly the quality of your water! It's going to take some trial and error, but find what works for you and don't worry about what anyone else has to say about it!
There are now plenty of mamas coming out of the woodwork saying that they've been using commercial detergents for multiple years, though multiple babies, with the same diapers with great success! There are lots of mamas who still really like the more boutique-y detergents and haven't seen any issues. All of this to say, there are a wide range of experiences and there is no single detergent in existence which everyone is going to love.
There are a few things I would advise you to consider before using just any detergent off the store shelves:
First, especially with smaller babies or babies that have had skin reactions in the past, I'd be hesitant to use commercial detergents with fragrances or enzymes because they can cause skin irritation. If you use a detergent that contains these ingredients on their clothes hopefully it won't irritate them if used on their diapers, but since they're going to be wearing these diapers pretty much 24/7 and they'll often be wet, if they're going to experience a reaction it will be with diapers! Some babies are totally fine with it though, so I wouldn't rule those things out, just exercise caution and keep an eye out for any irritation.
Second, I wouldn't use detergents which contain fabric softener. That is something that because of the nature of the product will cause your diapers to lose absorbency - not something you want with diapers!
After considering a few options I decided to try using some All Free & Clear Powder that I already had sitting in my linen closet that I had picked up on sale. I was nervous about the outcome. It was like the very first time I had washed cloth diapers all over again!
I purchased a 40 load box for $1.99 with a coupon combined with a sale. At that price, it costs about $.05/load, however, I don't use a full scoop so it actually costs between $.03 and $.04/load. Pretty darn good if I can keep finding it at that price!
The most important thing is that it works! It works!!! ::happy dance:: If you've ever struggled with getting your diapers clean you'll understand how exciting this is!
It gets everything clean and it comes out smelling like nothing, just like it should! No ammonia, no stinkies! I'm a happy cloth diapering mama again!
I've experimented a bit and found that I need to use 3 tablespoons for best results (Note: I have an old-school top loader, which I love, by the way, despite the fact that it's probably as old, or older than I am!). 2 tablespoons wasn't quite enough and the diapers don't come out smelling totally clean. 3 tablespoons is just right, things get nice and clean but I'm not using too much and ending up with buildup or tons of bubbles that I have to employ multiple extra rinses to wash out!
In addition to switching detergents, I've changed my wash routine slightly in that I'm now washing 3 times per week vs. 2. I had always washed on Mondays and Thursdays, but again with the more concentrated, stronger, toddler pee, it doesn't help the situation for used diapers to sit around for a long time so now I'm washing 3 times a week - Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. We'll see how this schedule works and tweak it if need be. The diaper laundry really isn't that big of a deal and I'm stuffing the same number of diapers regardless.
Also, I used to only do a cold pre-rinse and then a hot wash. Now I'm doing a cold pre-rinse and a hot wash, followed by an extra cold rinse. Another thing I've changed is when doing my rinses I've been setting the load size to medium (vs. large) because my load size is a little smaller when washing 3 times a week. You still want to set it to the largest load size during the actual wash cycle as it will help the diapers get cleaner, but for rinsing purposes, there's no need to use more water than necessary!
I'm doing the extra rinse post-wash now because with my old detergent I didn't need to worry about it rinsing clean. Now that I'm using a harsher commercial detergent, I want to make sure that I'm getting all the soap out so we don't end up with any buildup issues or skin irritation. And as always, I line-dry whenever possible to not only save money and energy, but also to take advantage of the power of the sun for helping keep things fresh and stain free!
So, in summary, my new wash routine is this:
Cold rinse, no detergent, set to medium load
Hot wash, 3T detergent, set to large load
Cold rinse, no detergent, set to medium load
Line-dry when possible, or toss in the dryer on medium heat
Something to note about All Free & Clear Powder - most cloth diapering parents have seen some sort of detergent chart which lists out detergents and rates them based on their compatibility with cloth diapers. Most commercial detergents don't rate very high for one reason or another (usually enzymes, optical brighteners, fabric softeners, scents, and/or dyes) so they should be used with caution.
All Free & Clear Powder rates 3 stars (average; not the best for cloth diapers) on the Pinstripes and Polka Dots chart due to optical brighteners. Optical brighteners are a concern because they can buildup in diapers (optical brighteners are designed to buildup in fabrics to give the illusion of brightness/whiteness) which can lead to repelling (the diapers not absorbing properly) and of course it's an additive that can potentially cause irritation with baby's skin.
I've been using it for 4 weeks with great results, but since everyone's needs and experiences are different it may not work as well for you.
This experience has taught me that the very hardest part of cloth diapering is finding a working wash routine. It's hard because it's frustrating and really there's no way to figure out what works without some trial and error. Everyone's needs, situation, and experiences are different. What works for one person won't necessarily work for the next for a variety of reasons. Most often, the type of water you have will largely affect your wash routine and detergent choice.
Because everyone is different it's difficult for anyone else to really help you find the perfect wash routine, but my advice if you are struggling is to keep trying new things. You WILL find a routine that works for you. You WILL find the right detergent or additive that will allow you to pull clean diapers from the washer every time, but it may take a little while to get there.
I was lucky in that we found a routine that worked for us very early on in our cloth diapering journey, but our situation changed and our needs changed and I found myself struggling. It's frustrating, but it's okay. Just keep trying new things until you find what's right!
Epilogue: What a novel, eh? Imagine living it! :D