Laundry troubleshooting: Your other laundry matters, too

Posted by Lilli Cannon on 10/6/2011

Often we see customers who do everything right when washing their diapers, yet still have leaking, stink or buildup on their diapers. Usually by the time they get to us, they've tried a million different things to fix their diapers, and they're frustrated. What we've come to realize is that how you do your non-diaper laundry matters, too. Buildup from other detergents, bacteria and grease will transfer from your washer to your diapers and causes rashes, leaking and buildup, no matter how carefully you wash your diapers.

1. Start with a clean washing machine, and clean it regularly.

The combination of dirt, grease, bacteria and detergent forms a biofilm residue around the drum of your washing machine (and inside the seal if it is a front-loader). This is similar to what grows inside a dirty toilet or in your mouth if you don't brush your teeth, and it is just as important to clean your washer as your toilet and your teeth. Most front-loading machines have a self-clean cycle that you are supposed to run once a month; check your manual for instructions. If it doesn't have this cycle, or if you have a top-loader, you can make a self-clean cycle by using the longest, hottest, highest water setting with two rinses. You need to use a special washing machine cleaner to break up the biofilm. I recommend Clorox Washing Machine Cleaner. It only costs about $1 per use, and it works amazingly well. Before using your cloth diapers (or now if you have already started CDing), I suggest running three cleaning cycles with the cleaner to really get your washer sparking clean. For maintenance, do the self-clean at least once a month. Also, if you have a front-loader, leave the door open when you are not using it so that mold doesn't grow.

2. Use a good powder detergent on the rest of your laundry.

All detergents used to be powdered detergents, but then the manufacturers began to sell us on the idea that liquid detergents are better. The problems with liquid are that the ingredients that keep them in liquid form can be hard to rinse thoroughly, and it is very easy to use too much liquid. Detergent manufacturers make the lines on the inside of the cap very hard to see because they want you to use too much product and thus need to buy it more often. If you are just filling the cap all the way and dumping it in, you are likely using way too much detergent. Contrary to popular belief, there are plenty of powder HE detergents, and powders tend to clean better than liquids anyway. You can use your cloth diaper detergent for all your laundry (we like Rockin' Green, Lulu's in the Fluff and bumGenius Diaper Detergent), or you can use a different powder detergent for your clothes. Make sure you are not using too much - read the box to see the amount they recommend, and do use a measuring scoop like the one made by Rockin' Green so that you are not wasting detergent.

3. If you're going to use a liquid detergent, don't use too much, and clean your washer more often.

Liquids build up quicker and cause more problems than powders, especially in front-loaders.

4. Don't use fabric softener or dryer sheets on any of your laundry.

Fabric softeners and dryer sheets "work" by coating your clothes in a layer of grease to make them seem softer. This grease will add to the residue in your washer and also coat the inside of your dryer, and it will transfer onto your diapers and make them leaky. I can always tell when a customer has fabric softener residue because their diapers will feel waxy, creamy or even greasy. Pee cannot soak through a diaper that has this residue and the diaper will leak. It will also causes rashes and stink, as the grease provides a matrix in which bacteria can grow. To lift, fluff, de-static and decrease drying time, try natural wool dryer balls. These can be scented if you like a scent on your laundry. They work even better than fabric softener or dryer sheets, and they won't hurt your diapers. You need to clean your dryer out before putting cloth diapers in it. To do this, soak a rag or sponge in white vinegar and a drop of dish soap and thoroughly wipe out the inside of your dryer, then rinse with more vinegar. Then run a load of towels in cloth-diaper safe detergent and run them through the dryer to "scrub" it thoroughly.

5. If your diapers have already been affected by residue in your washing machine and dryer, you need to rehab them.

You will need to do a thorough deep-cleaning, soak, and stripping to get them clean if they are really waxy or greasy. Start by washing them all on a super-long and hot cycle with twice your normal amount of cloth diaper detergent. Then soak them overnight in more cloth diaper detergent, or Funk Rock if you have been having trouble with ammonia. Then wash them on hot with no more detergent for two to three cycles until no bubbles form in the wash water.

6. If you have shared laundry machines and cannot control what detergents others use, consider only using natural fibers and handwashing any polyester parts such as covers.

In shared laundry situations, you may not be able to stop other people from using a ton of greasy liquid detergents and softeners.

Here are some tips:
-Run an empty load with washing machine cleaner first, or if this is not feasible, wash a load of towels or clothes in the machine first to remove some of the residue.
-Consider using only natural fiber diapers such as prefolds, as cotton tends to be less fussy about buildup. Microfleece is the most fussy about buildup.
-If using prefolds and covers, consider hand-washing the covers in your sink. PUL covers are sensitive to residue and will often stink of urine and leak when they have residue build-up.

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45 Comments

Melissa Kittle
Date: 10/6/2011 4:02:02 PM
What about the cloth diaper safe fabric softeners--ecover, seventh generation, mrs meyers, and method? Will they still cause problems?
Hana Haatainen Caye
Date: 10/6/2011 4:02:32 PM
We all need to keep getting this "No Fabric Softeners!" message out!! Thanks, Lilli
Jennifer Laurin
Date: 10/6/2011 4:04:50 PM
Great post!
Sara Powell
Date: 10/6/2011 4:06:46 PM
Thanks for the info.
Jessica Klanderud
Date: 10/6/2011 4:08:10 PM
I didn't know about cleaning your washing machine regularly. Thanks.
Typhany Sellers
Date: 10/6/2011 4:10:27 PM
Thanks for the info. I still use liquid detergent for regular laundry because I can't find a solid powder that won't cause my husband and baby to break out! Stripping our diapers is some of the best advice we've ever gotten. :)
Cindy Beard
Date: 10/6/2011 4:11:57 PM
very interesting!!
Mollie Bandy
Date: 10/6/2011 4:15:53 PM
Ew to fabric softeners. I've also started using RnG on all of our laundry. We have an HE machine and it lasts forever!
Stacy Hancock
Date: 10/6/2011 4:18:21 PM
I love using wool dryer balls- they take the static out and cut dry time down!! hancoci_s at msn dot com
Celeste Kamenar
Date: 10/6/2011 4:19:40 PM
Great info!
Ashley Siegle
Date: 10/6/2011 4:21:55 PM
I use homemade laundry soap for our regular clothes(smells SO yummy) and a mix of ecosprout for diapers and occasionally funk rock for amonia but I am still having issues with amonia stink in our cloth - going to try it your way with the funkrock and see if it works thanks! :)
Shelley Grochowski
Date: 10/6/2011 4:25:30 PM
I so needed this info! Thanks!
Lindsay Moore
Date: 10/6/2011 4:31:30 PM
Good timing on this- I am stripping diapers right now!
Alexis Bertch
Date: 10/6/2011 4:31:34 PM
Hi! Thanks for the info!
Robin Karasinski
Date: 10/6/2011 4:33:52 PM
Thanks for the AWESOME post Lilli, tons of good information and instruction =) Ever since I heard Adam say "people can wash their diapers correctly and still have problems because they are using the goopiest detergent on the rest of their laundry" I have only washed in RnG for EVERYTHING! Thanks for the tip about the Clorox Machine Cleaner, I didn't know there was anything that was specifically designed to clean them, I just always wiped it out and ran it empty on a Hot, Super Load ... I will de
Robin Karasinski
Date: 10/6/2011 4:39:53 PM
I got cut off! POST CONT: I will definitely be picking some up next trip to the store. Oh, and I LOVE my dryer balls, in fact I'd like to get a few more =)
Kevin Karasinski
Date: 10/6/2011 4:45:14 PM
Robin doesn't like when I try to be helpful and do the diaper laundry. She always says that I am going to mess something up, so I just let it be.
Tracie W
Date: 10/6/2011 4:45:17 PM
I guess I need some dryer balls!
D. Robinson
Date: 10/6/2011 4:47:00 PM
Thanks so much for the great info!!!
Alisha Duncan
Date: 10/6/2011 4:50:11 PM
AWESOME post! Thank you so much for this!!
Michelle E
Date: 10/6/2011 4:58:48 PM
This post really dishes the dirt on the laundry situation! I would never have thought to clean my machine. Thanks!
Koree Sharma
Date: 10/6/2011 5:02:42 PM
Great article - really helpful information! Can't wait for our new arrival.
Koree Sharma
Date: 10/6/2011 5:03:08 PM
Great article - really helpful information! Can't wait for our new arrival.
Alexis Abell
Date: 10/6/2011 5:12:00 PM
We read recently that our washing machine could be cleaned with simple household cleaners as opposed to the expensive Affresh. So check your manuals! Mommas should be given more credit for laundry: it is definitely a science!
Alexis Abell
Date: 10/6/2011 5:12:26 PM
We read recently that our washing machine could be cleaned with simple household cleaners as opposed to the expensive Affresh. So check your manuals! Mommas should be given more credit for laundry: it is definitely a science!
Melissa Brooks
Date: 10/6/2011 5:13:14 PM
Great info! Thanks!
Sondra Petri
Date: 10/6/2011 5:36:28 PM
Guess I know whats going on the chore chart tomorrow! Seriously, thank you for being a wonderful resource and retailer wrapped in one.
Carrie Warner
Date: 10/6/2011 6:48:21 PM
Looking forward to reading more of this later! Thanks so much for your insight!
Cyndi Richter
Date: 10/6/2011 7:38:23 PM
Great info, especially regarding front loaders. I'm going to look for some washer cleaner ASAP!
JenniferGray
Date: 10/6/2011 7:52:58 PM
I still laugh when I think about how I did laundry before cloth diapers were part of my routine. Seems so simple now! You really dont need all that junk. Great Post...
Lauren Burns
Date: 10/6/2011 8:42:04 PM
The best thing we ever did was start using our CD detergent on EVERYTHING (first Charlie's Soap, then RNG and occasionally BG). Oh and...washing all family clothes together. To think we did our daughter's laundry separate from our's when she was a baby...live and learn!
Kristen Hubbell
Date: 10/6/2011 8:53:07 PM
Thanks so much for the info! My daughter is only 3 months old and I am still trying to figure out how to get the stink out. I will for sure will try the above info.
Kathleen
Date: 10/6/2011 9:43:40 PM
Thanks for the info!
Christine Chilcott
Date: 10/6/2011 10:34:55 PM
Great post! Thanks for the info. We knew not to use fabric softener, but I didn't know that dryer sheets on our normal laundry could be an issue. We have had great luck with natural fibers, but our daughter gets a rash when we use any microfleece. It looks like we'll have to clean our washer and change how we do our regular wash to fix this.
Bethany Schad
Date: 10/7/2011 9:34:43 AM
This is a great reminder that I need to clean my washer! Thanks!!
Carrie Chisholm
Date: 10/7/2011 11:03:15 AM
Washing all of our clothes and diapers in Charlie's Soap is the best laundry decision I've ever made! I can't believe how much money I was wasting on liquid detergent to wash our clothes before we began CDing. Who knew a scoop of Charlies, a scoop of oxi-cleaner, vinegar and wool dryer balls could be so effective for everything! Speaking of vinegar, we use it in the pre-rinse for CDs, but I add it to the final rinse for regular clothes - works great as a fabric softner!
Lavanna Hazel
Date: 10/7/2011 9:59:15 PM
Thanks for the info! :)
Laura Damiano
Date: 10/7/2011 10:27:34 PM
Good info!
Sarah Jane
Date: 10/8/2011 12:33:59 AM
You cannot emphasize enough that you DO NOT TO USE FABRIC SOFTENERS on cloth diapers. My mom put fabric softener in a load thinking she was helping me out. Thankfully, I realized what she had done, and immediately stripped the diapers and rinsed, rinsed, rinsed. I did not have any problems with repelling, but it could have been worse.
Lauren Brodt
Date: 10/8/2011 9:13:30 AM
We have an old dryer, so I plan to buy some dryer balls today!
Evelyn Pemrick
Date: 10/8/2011 7:10:50 PM
Always great information! We are always trying to find the right detergent/wash combination for our VERY hard water!
Pamela Wilson
Date: 10/8/2011 10:45:15 PM
THANKS for TRYING to help w diaper stains. . . I finally seem to have figured out a best combo w using this new Front Loader/HE washer - - a RINSE Only cycle 1st, then the setting w the Largest amouont of water - Delicate/Handwash. . . & we use ONLY diaper "safe" detergent. . . I was so worried @ that residue stuff I started using only diaper safe products 2 mopnths Before the baby & cd was started! :-) No Problem w any clothes, even w hubby grimmy, oily work clothes! :-) YEA!!
Heike Fonzi
Date: 1/28/2012 1:22:46 PM
I have a new he top loader without the agitator...we have no rinse cycle and I cannot control water levels...how would I go about washing..I do know some cycles use,more water...
Amanda Gold
Date: 12/25/2013
Do the laundry detergents have a measurement for HE washers??
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Date: 4/11/2017
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