Wednesday, January 4, 2012

The No Stink, No Complications, Diaper Laundry Solution

This post was written by, and is used with permission of Sarah Beth at

Let's face it. If you've been cloth diapering for a while, you've probably, somewhere along the road, run into the dreaded "stink."

If you've considered cloth diapering in the past, but talked yourself out of it, it was probably because of what you've heard about the dreaded stink.

I've been there. I've done the research. I've tried it all.

And I've heard it all:
  • Your diapers stink because they have build up and you need to strip them.
  • Your diapers stink because you used too much detergent.
  • Your diapers stink because you used the wrong kind of detergent.
  • Your diapers stink because you were using vinegar in your wash.
  • Your diapers stink because you were not using vinegar in your wash.
  • You need to bleach your diapers to get rid of the stink.
  • Never bleach your diapers to get rid of the stink, you'll ruin them!
...It goes on and on. It's enough to make your head spin.

When did diaper laundry become so complicated?!

When I first started cloth diapering, I used mostly microfiber inserts, one of the toughest fibers to get clean and stink-free. I was told by the experts to wash my diapers using no more than 1/4 the amount of laundry detergent I would normally use on a load of laundry. Not only that, but I needed to use a special kind of detergent that is considered safe for cloth diapers, if I wanted to prevent problems and build up, whatever that was.

I was new and completely clueless about cloth diapering, so I took the advice, purchased some special detergent, and went my merry way. Fast forward to a few weeks of following this standard cloth diaper laundry protocol, and my microfiber inserts were disgusting. They stunk every time I got them out of the wash. They never seemed to get clean. I made it my mission to figure out why the things could possibly stink so badly after following all of the advice I was given to the letter.

I learned that "build up" is the fear of all cloth diaperers. We are so afraid of it, that we will do everything we can to prevent it, to the point of using as little detergent as possible, or even NO detergent in our wash routine. (Yes, I've had people tell me to just use hot water and maybe some baking soda in the wash.) The worry is, if you use too much detergent, or detergents that are not considered cloth diaper "safe," you could end up with so much residue built up in your diapers that they won't be able to absorb anything else, and they'll leak the next time you use them on your baby.

So I thought, well, maybe I have build up. So I "stripped" my diapers and my washing machine and washed my diapers.

It didn't work. They still stunk.

So I tried switching to a different detergent. I tried many "cloth safe" detergents, both store-bought and home-made. I tried soaking them in the detergents overnight. I tried changing my wash routine. I tried hotter water, more water, less water, more rinses, less rinses. I tried boiling my inserts. I tried vinegar. I tried it all. Sometimes, boiling or vinegar would seem to work at first, but then my diaper inserts would come back with a stinky vengeance a few days later.

Then, one day, an old cloth diapering pro told me to try more detergent. They told me to go to the store and buy some Tide, use the amount recommended on the bottle for my load size, and never look back.

I was worried about everything I had heard about "ruining" my diapers. But I was desperate. So I tried it.

I scrapped all the fancy wash routines and complicated laundry solutions I had heard about and washed my diapers in a hot wash with a whole cap full of Tide.

My diapers came out of the wash smelling like sweet nothing for the first time ever!

And I never looked back.

So, what is the "No Stink, No Complications, Diaper Laundry Solution?"


Our babies are pooping on these things. We should be using more detergent on our diaper laundry, not less. It's counter-intuitive to use 1/4 the normal amount of detergent on your dirtiest laundry.

Diaper stink means diapers are not getting clean. Plain and simple. If a diaper comes out of the laundry and still stinks, it needs to go back into the laundry with more detergent, more hot water, and maybe even a little bleach.

Don't be afraid of "ruining" your diapers. I know how much we all love our cutest diapers, but never forget that they are just diapers. They're not made of lace. They can handle it. If you're worried about something made with elastic or delicate materials getting "ruined" in a normal wash cycle with plenty of detergent and the occasional bleach, by all means, take that item out before washing. But remember that these are just diapers. Eventually they will wear out and need to be replaced. We can't prevent that and prevent stink at the same time. They need to be washed.

If your baby pooped on your favorite shirt, what would you do? I'll bet you'd make sure you got that sucker good and clean. Why do we treat our diapers any differently?

It's not about which detergent you use. That's a personal family decision. Lots of factors may affect your choice of detergent: your concern about the environment, the type of water you have, your desire to buy from small businesses instead of big businesses or visa versa, your desire to buy at a certain grocery store, price, allergies, sensitivities, etc. But, in my opinion, which detergent you use is not as important as how much detergent you use.

Don’t spend too much time researching the “best” way to care for cloth diapers. Remember that:
They are cloth, just like everything else. They are washable. They don’t need special treatment unless they're made from delicate or special materials, like wool, or elastic. Even then, be aware that diapers will wear out eventually, just like everything else.

Deal with build up as it occurs, not the other way around. Some cloth diaperers have been using Tide, bleach, and the like for years and have never had build up. Others have dealt with it several times. Either way, it's not something to fear. It won't break your diapers. It's easily remedied with stripping and lots of rinsing. I'd rather have build up once in a great while than stinky dirty diapers every day.

Having problems with ammonia? This is a very informative and helpful article.

Look, I realize that this is a bit of a controversial topic, and that I'm in quite the minority with this kind of advice. (Although, from those that I've talked to, it seems that there are lots of closet Tide, bleach, and more-than-recommended detergent users out there!) I certainly don't mean to imply that I know everything, or that all of the other cloth diaper laundry advice out there is wrong. There are lots of unique situations that account for the large variety of washing advice circulating around out there. I know nothing about allergies and sensitivities, for example, and I'm aware that rashes and allergies and sensitivities can add a whole new level to the laundry debate. But, I do believe that "more detergent" is the answer for many cloth diaperers who are dealing with stink and confused about what to do.

Bottom Line:
If your diapers stink, they aren't getting clean enough. Try using a stronger detergent and plenty of it, before trying the more complicated remedies out there.