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When it comes to diapering your baby, cloth diapers are the best way to save money and better for the environment, but they can be intimidating to clean. Finding the best cloth diaper detergent is important for diapering success.
While you do need to use a detergent that’s safe for your cloth diapers, you don’t necessarily have to use cloth diaper-specific detergents. The right detergent will vary based on your personal needs and your specific washing conditions, so there are a few things you need to think about before shopping for a detergent.
Many avid cloth diaper users swear by Tide Original Powder, and while it is an excellent choice that most cloth diapering parents swear by, it may not be the best choice for everyone.
Not to worry, we will have detergent suggestions for everyone’s individual needs that will get your dirty diapers nice and clean. If you need a budget option, a sensitive skin option, or a non-HE option, we will help you find the best cloth diaper detergent for your family.
Detergent options for your cloth diaper laundry
Best overall detergent
Persil ProClean – Persil is an overall fantastic laundry detergent that eliminates odors and stains without any added boosters. Persil does also come in a powder version that you can find in a jug instead of the usual box.
Best powder detergent for sensitive skin
Tide Free & Gentle powder – This is a great free and clear detergent option that is safe for cloth diapers and dermatologist-recommended. It’s particularly popular among parents of children with allergies or sensitive skin. Tide Free & Gentle is also available in liquid. *Note: not all boxes are formulated for HE machines. Check the box before purchasing.
Best budget-conscious detergent
Purex – Purex is available in Free & Clear, Baby, and Natural Elements options, so you still have cheap alternatives if your baby has sensitive skin or if you want a more environmentally-conscious option. All of these detergents can be used to wash your baby’s cloth diapers.
Best non-HE formula
Foca powder – Foca powder is inexpensive, cleans well, and is readily available in a non-HE formula. This is a very sudsy detergent so keep an eye on it if you have soft to neutral water. You may need to run two extra rinses or use a little less than recommended.
Best green powder detergent
Biokleen – Biokleen is a plant-based detergent that is highly recommended for those looking for environmentally friendly products or those with sensitive skin. Biokleen comes in Free & Clear and lightly scented varieties as well as a liquid detergent.
Best green liquid detergent
Seventh Generation – Seventh Generation is a plant-based detergent that comes in lightly scented and also free and clear for babies with sensitive skin.
What you need to know about washing cloth diapers
One important thing to consider before washing diapers is how much detergent you need. Use the suggested amount on the back of the bottle for the size and dirtiness of your load of cloth diaper laundry. It’s important that you are using enough detergent to get your clothes clean.
Type of washing machine
Before using any of the above detergents, it is important to consider the type of washing machine that you have. If you have a high-efficiency front-loader or top-loader, use a detergent that is formulated for high-efficiency (HE) machines.
If you have a standard top-loader, then you will want to make sure that your detergent is formulated for regular (non-HE) washing machines.
HE detergents are not recommended for standard washers because they leave behind too much residue and can damage the machine over time, causing it to break down faster.
Hard or soft water
If you have hard water, you may need to consider adding a booster like Calgon or Borax if the detergent isn’t doing enough for your diapers. You can also use vinegar at the beginning of a cycle to help remove mineral buildup from your diapers before adding your detergent.
If you have soft water, you might need to use a little less detergent than the instructions call for.
If you don’t know if you have hard or soft water, you can buy some water hardness test strips to test your water. Good indicators of hard water are spots on your dishes and white spots and buildup on faucets.
How much you want to spend
If you want to save money then go with Foca, All, or Purex. They all work well and are budget-friendly detergents.
Plant-based or synthetic
If you want a more environmentally-friendly option, there are plant-based detergents that work well for cloth diapers, such as Seventh Generation and Biokleen.
You want to choose a detergent that has surfactants on the ingredients list. Surfactants are an important part of getting diapers clean. Many “cloth diaper detergents” do not contain surfactants and are basically just washing soda, baking soda, and Oxi Clean.
It is important to choose a cloth diaper detergent with enzymes. Enzymes help to break down proteins and oils. This is important because excrement is full of protein, and stains are primarily caused by organic matter sticking to the fibers of your diaper.
Surfactants + enzymes = good dipes!
If your baby has sensitive skin
If your baby has sensitive skin or allergies, then consider a free and clear detergent. They work just as well as conventional detergents and are just missing the perfumes and dyes that can be a skin irritant.
Should you use powder or liquid detergent to wash cloth diapers?
Many people prefer to use powdered detergent for cloth diapers. However, as long as you are using the recommended amount for your load and the proper formulation for your washer, either powder or liquid is fine to use.
What if I don’t get any suds?
Some detergents, especially HE detergent, may not make many suds and that’s okay. You just want to make sure that they are getting clean.
If your diapers aren’t getting clean, then you might need to add a little extra detergent than you would normally use for that load size or try adding a half cup of white vinegar in the rinse cycle.
What to avoid when washing cloth diapers
Fabric softener – Conventional fabric softener is not recommended for cloth diapers and can cause them to repel. However, there are plant-based fabric softeners you can use such as Ecover and Mrs. Meyer’s that will soften your cloth diapers without causing any issues with repelling. A fabric softener is not necessary, but it’s your personal preference. Sometimes hard water can make cloth diapers feel a little stiff.
Detergent pods – While great for regular laundry, detergent pods are pre-measured and often contain other ingredients than just detergent. It’s best to just keep it simple and stick to regular detergent where you can control the amount used and any laundry additives you want to use.
Soap – A lot of people will suggest homemade detergent that contains grated laundry soap like Fels Naptha and Zote. Soap can leave a residue behind that could potentially lead to repelling.
Dish soap – In some cases, such as removing diaper cream, you might end up having to use a small dab of Dawn on your diapers. If so, rinse your diapers as thoroughly as possible in the sink before washing them in the machine, and never add Dawn dish soap directly in your washing machine.
Bleach alternatives – Do not choose a detergent with bleach or bleach alternatives. There may be occasions where you will need to bleach your diapers, though not very often, it is not recommended to use bleach with every wash. It’s not necessary and could slowly break down the fabric in your diapers.
Homemade cloth diaper detergents – While you will see recipes and testimonials for this all over the internet, homemade cloth diaper detergents are not recommended. In fact, it isn’t detergent at all. They are typically made of soap, water softeners (like Borax), and boosters (like washing soda and Oxi-Clean).
Soap can build up in your diapers over time and will cause your diapers to smell because they aren’t being cleaned thoroughly.
Laundry soaps like Fels Naptha and Zote are meant to be used for handwashing, not to be used in the washing machine. Using soap instead of detergent could also void the warranty and build up over time causing damage to your machine.
A few additional notes
- Most detergents are generally safe for use on cloth diapers, but if you notice that your diapers aren’t getting clean enough then it is time to switch soaps or use more.
- There are also times when a soap may not be okay to use with certain types of fabrics or covers (for example, wool or fleece).
- You also want to stay away from detergents with added softeners or bleach as they can potentially damage your diapers or break down fabrics over time.
- As long as you are following the guidelines above, there shouldn’t be a reason to worry about damage to any of your diapers or covers such as pilling or loss of absorbency in your baby’s cloth diapers.
Cloth diaper washing instructions
Cloth diaper laundry really isn’t that hard. People tend to overthink it and make it more complicated than it needs to be which often only results in wasting time and water. Follow the simple guidelines below for clean cloth diapers every time.
- Cold pre-rinse (or light wash without detergent if you don’t have a rinse only setting).
- Hot wash on a heavily soiled setting using the amount of detergent listed on your detergent for heavily soiled laundry and the size of the load you are washing. Toddlers may need a little more detergent than infants since a) you aren’t using as many diapers so they sit longer, and b) their messes are bigger and messier.
- Add an extra rinse at the end of the wash cycle.
- If your diapers have stubborn stains but are otherwise clean, you can add a scoop of Oxi Clean to your load of cloth diaper laundry or pre-treat stains with a plant-based, cloth diaper safe pre-treater like Bac-Out from Biokleen.
Now that you know the how and why of choosing the best cloth diaper detergent for your family, we hope that you have nothing but success in your cloth diapering journey.