Yeah, more cloth diaper talk, woo!
So to recap, my last post was about cloth diaper laundry and how it shouldn’t be any different than any other laundry. I mean, think about it for a second, cloth diapers aren’t made of some kind of crazy magical fabrics, they’re made of stuff that we already know how to clean. Things like cotton, PUL, microfiber, fleece. These materials being cut into diaper shapes and used on a butt doesn’t change how they come clean in a washing machine. So we should wash them normally.
I did also briefly mention that everyone’s normal cloth diaper routine would still be different from the next person’s, just as their clothing laundry should be different, and that’s because how you wash your clothes depends, primarily, on the total hardness and the acidity/basicity of your water, and then on the type of machine you have and the detergent you choose.
Up until now I took it for granted that we had hard water because the landlord told us that we did. Nevermind that in the two years we’ve lived here the water softener in the garage has always beeped at us because it’s been empty the entire time, and nothing as terrible has happened to our clothes as what used to happen to me when I lived in a different part of town. In this other place my whites would turn rusty orange. Maddening! Here, that wasn’t happening.
But was has been happening is that the beast ammonia has been creeping back into my life, and I’m not interested in doing business with ammonia. I struggled with ammonia when the Toddlersaurus was a wee baby, a result of believing the cloth diaper washing myths, and it was horrible. The Toddlersaurus ended up with truly horrible burns on her bum and the smell of her diapers would singe nose hairs. Through a series of shots in the dark I managed to get the diapers to a reasonable condition for continued use with her and with Roly-Poly, but they’ve never been quite right.
When I stumbled across Fluff Love & CD Science is when it all changed for me. Science, oh, science! You are always there to make sense of things. It was a bit embarrassing to admit that I’d not turned to a factual, science-based approach to cleaning my diapers when I like to play by the science-y rules in almost every other realm, but I didn’t want to dwell on what I’d done wrong for so long. It was time to make a change. And the first step was to order a water test so I could know without a doubt what kind of water we’re working with here.
WaterBoss offers free test strips and they don’t drag their feet about getting them to you either! I got mine in under a week. Bonus, they included three test strips for hardness and two for pH. The fact that I could test more than once from the same free kit made me way too happy to be decent. At any rate, this was our result:
(Forgive the blurriness, I was using my terrible phone camera at night.)
So, hey, check it out, our water isn’t actually as hard as I had originally thought! That explained why our whites weren’t turning dingy or orange and why we weren’t seeing mineral deposits in our tub and sink basins. However, the water is still moderately hard, so it still does deposit minerals into the fabric of our clothing and diapers, which means that we need to be using some kind of softener in our laundry, particularly during rinses. I also checked to see if our water is iron-hard by adding some bleach to water. If it were iron-hard it would turn some shade of yellow or orange, but it stayed clear so I don’t have to worry about iron. (Folks with iron-hard water should NOT be using bleach. A bleach alternative will have to do.)
This seems like a good place to digress (again) and mention that, contrary to the popular belief that detergent builds up in diapers and causes ammonia, what actually causes buildup is minerals like those in hard water. If you don’t use enough detergent and don’t use any kind of softener you’re going to get mineral buildup, especially if you’re rinsing your diapers multiple times each laundry day, which will then create an ammonia problem in your diapers. Using plenty of detergent is actually part of the solution to the problem! Using a softener, even during rinses, is essential as well.
Now back to my diapers. Roly-Poly hasn’t suffered from ammonia burn yet, but he has developed a yeast rash. While little girls can get easily end up with yeast overgrowth in their ladybits, what happens a lot of the time with boys is that the yeast in the gut will flourish out of control and then make its way into diapers in the stool, then take hold in the folds of the boy parts and cause a rash. Now, imagine that there’s a buildup in a little boy’s cloth diapers of minerals and other yuckies (including lingering deposits from poo) from years of not being washed properly. Imagine that all that gunk has been stubbornly stuck deep in the fibers of the diapers because the detergent can’t remove the minerals and soil as fast as the hard water is adding to it.
Basically, my son has a very itchy, burn-y, unfun rash because I took too long learning all this stuff. Cue the mom guilt.
But this isn’t the end! This mom has learned how to strip her diapers! And strip them I did over the weekend.
Proper cloth diaper stripping starts with diapers that have already been washed. It involves, first, a soak in hot water infused with something such as RLR laundry treatment, or some combination of borax, Calgon, and washing soda. I will provide FL&CDS’s infographic with the details. The diapers are left to soak until the water cools, then they are promptly cold-soaked in water infused with bleach. Bleach is pretty much the only thing that can get rid of ammonia buildup once it’s there. Bleach also kills yeast.
I followed this stripping routine, then rinsed my diapers in hot water (hot water neutralizes and rinses out bleach) and then washed with detergent, making sure to add my softener during the final rinse so no minerals would re-deposit.
Here’s the thing that made me really happy when I took my diapers out of the dryer – they did not smell. At all! AT. ALL. I had given up all hope that diapers could ever smell like fresh, clean fabric once they’d been used for the first time. My diapers have NEVER smelled like clean fabric. They’ve always had a funk to them right out of the dryer. The worst part about that is that funkiness, even a little bit, means the diapers are still dirty, it means there is still gunk deep in the fibers. So Roly-Poly didn’t stand a chance once he’d had his first yeast-rich movement because that yeast never came out once it was in.
Now his diapers are as fresh and clean as the day they arrived in my mailbox. I did use a few of his diapers on him after I stripped them just to see how they fared after he went in them (no ammonia stink, yay!) so I’ll need to bleach again to kill the yeast in those diapers. I’ll also most likely to a second strip as well because I only had borax this time. I want to do a good, thorough strip with RLR or with a solid mixture of borax AND washing soda and Calgon.
And, moving forward, I know exactly what I need to do in my personal cloth diaper laundry routine to keep the minerals from building up in my diapers. It doesn’t involve a million rinses, it doesn’t involve a tiny amount of expensive and ineffective “cloth diaper safe” detergent. It involves a rinse with softener, a wash with softener and enough detergent, and a rinse with softener. The end.