What are the Best Detergents for Cloth Diapers

Best Detergents for Cloth Diapers

The best laundry detergent for cloth diapers! 

Choosing the best cloth diaper detergent that is safe for your baby and your cloth diapers while also providing an effective clean can be difficult with all the choices out there. The choices become more difficult when you start to read all the contradictory information on the best cloth diaper washing routine.

Narrow down your search for the best laundry detergent for cloth diapers by reviewing some of the top cloth diaper detergent recommendations. Also, consider a few key tips including your machine & waterthe dangers of using soap products, and knowing the in’s and out’s of your cloth diapers.

Choosing the best detergent for cloth diapers

In choosing the best detergent for cloth diapers, look for detergent with high concentrations of surfactants.

What Are Surfactants? Surfactants are the core stain removers that we look for in detergents. Surfactants help break up stains and disperse dirt that otherwise wouldn’t dissolve in water, which is why they are important in a detergent for cloth diaper laundry.

Like surfactants, enzymes also help break down stains and boost cleaning power – just be cautious with synthetic enzymes if your baby has sensitive skin. Avoid excess fragrances, dyes, bleaches and other harsh chemicals. Make sure your detergent does not contain fabric softener as this will cause repelling issues and build up on your diapers over time.   


The best mainstream commercial detergents for cloth diapers 

There are countless commercial detergents out there and plenty of online forums where moms compare and rate laundry detergent for cloth diapers. Commercial detergents are high performers - almost any commercial detergent that does not contain fabric softeners is effective on cloth diapers. Some work better than others depending on your washing machine, water hardness, and cloth diaper material. Commercial detergents also generally contain additives to help soften water – so a commercial detergent might be the best detergent for cloth diapers in hard water.  

Tide for cloth diapers comes to the top of many lists.  One of the most highly rated is Tide Original. Tide carries a number of detergents in powder, liquid and HE formulations that are highly recommended for their cleaning and stain fighting power. 

To OxiClean cloth diapers is suggested as a great bleach free option that, when combined with regular detergent, tackles tough stains and odor. OxiClean is also recommended for spot treatments and overnight soaks. Regular OxiClean Versatile Stain Remover is readily available and the brand also carries a Baby Stain Remover which is dye and chlorine free, colour safe with no perfumes and dyes. 

Gain Ultra Powder Laundry Detergent and Gain Liquid Original Laundry Detergent are recommended as low-sudsing formulas that provide a great clean. Gain has been recommended as one of the best detergents for cloth diapers in soft water and is a budget friendly choice.

The best all free and clear cloth diaper detergents 

Thinking about options for sensitive skin? There are a variety of all free and clear commercial detergents that are effectively used on cloth diapers. With hard water, add a softening agent and increase the amount of free and clear detergent for more effective cleaning power. 

Tide Free and Gentle for cloth diapers is a good option that comes in a powder formula and HE formula, with high concentrations of surfactants to contribute to its cleaning power. 

Purex Free and Clear is another brand that has been recommended by some moms as being effective on cloth diapers. It’s also a great budget friendly option. 

Many other commercial brands are making their detergents in a free and gentle formula, so the choices are growing. 

The best natural detergent for cloth diapers 

If considering a natural detergent for cloth diapers, there are a number of options that can be used successfully. Choosing the best natural detergent for cloth diapers is like choosing any detergent – you need to understand the ingredients and how they will work with your washing machine, your water and your cloth diaper material. Natural detergents are often free of synthetic materials, dyes and harsh chemicals and contain plant-based surfactants. Some plant-based surfactants can cause build-up over time, so ensure to rinse away all traces of detergent thoroughly.  If choosing a natural detergent for cloth diapers, increase the amount of detergent being used, wash in warm or hot water, and add a softening agent if you have hard water. 

Seventh Generation is a plant-based option that is gentle on your baby’s skin and the environment, but also strong enough to clean your cloth diapers. Seventh Generation comes in a Free and Clear formula while the Seventh Generation Ultra Power Plus contains triple enzymes to boost its cleaning power, yet it remains gentle enough for your baby’s skin. 

Another Top pick is Foca Laundry Detergent. Foca is a top pick by Fluff Love University's Detergent Index as a eco-friendly, easy to use and phosphate-free detergent option. This biodegradable detergent comes in liquid, and power form and thoughourly cleans soiled diapers, leaving them smelling fresh and clean. It's also packed with biodegradable surfactants and enzymes for an effective wash that softens clothes, making it a great option for both soft, and hard water. 

Allen’s Naturally is another detergent that cleans thoroughly yet is gentle on fabrics and sensitive skin. Allen’s Naturally comes in a high powered powder and liquid formula, and also comes in a Stink Out formula.  Allen's Naturally is best used as a booster, and we recommend using it in combination with regular detergent for your cloth diaper washing routine. Allen's is also not recommended for HE machines. 

Other popular brands such as Rockin Green, and Molly's Suds are also detergents that are best used as boosters as some formula's do not contain the surfactants, and enzymes to properly clean soiled diapers. Check the ingredients, and use these detergents along with a regular detergent  to help ensure your soiled diapers are getting the best clean! 

Homemade laundry detergent for cloth diapers

DIY cleaning products are becoming increasingly popular for those that want to save money and be more environmentally conscious. Recipes for a DIY cloth diaper detergent are no different than any other type of DIY detergent, with three key ingredients: 

  1. Washing Soda (sodium carbonate). Removes stains and can help soften water. Washing soda is even found in many commercial detergents to treat hard water. 
  2. Borax (sodium tetraborate or sodium borate). A naturally occurring substance used for many cleaning purposes. Borax is known to soften water, eliminate odors, disinfect, whiten clothes, enhance the power of bleach, and boost the cleaning power of laundry detergents.  
  3. Washing Soap. Utilizing some form of liquid or finely grated bar of soap.  

Since soap is not recommended for cloth diapers, consider a soap-free homemade cloth diaper detergent. Some recipes just use washing soda and borax, while others substitute soap with OxiClean. Check out some soap free recipes at Oh The Things We’ll Make - DIY Liquid Laundry Detergent Recipe  and Peggy O’Mara’s DIY Laundry Detergent.

Some additional factors to keep in mind!  

Front Loading vs Top Loading - Know your washing machine

It’s not just your detergent that cleans and freshens your cloth diapers. Understanding how your laundry machine works is critical to selecting the right laundry detergent for cloth diapers in your home. 

Generally, top loading machines have an agitator. The agitator is the post sticking up from the middle of the tub or the short impellers found at the bottom of some HE (high efficiency) top loaders. 

Traditional top loaders use mechanical action and a lot of water during the cleaning process. This combination of agitation and water gets good cleaning results but can be tough on fabrics over the long term.  

Front loading machines and some HE top loading machines typically allow for clothes to tumble through smaller pools of water. They use significantly less water and energy than traditional top loaders. The lack of agitation is also gentler on clothes while still providing a quality clean.  

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Whether you have a front loading or top loading machine, to effectively clean your cloth diapers make sure to achieve proper agitation, use enough water and the right amount of detergent. 

Hard or Soft? Know your water

Water is either hard or soft depending on the mineral content. The harder the water, the higher the mineral content. This mineral content will affect the performance of your cloth diaper detergent. In hard water, your detergent becomes attached to the minerals in the water rather than cleaning your clothes. Hard water also leaves minerals behind on fabric, which can leave your cloth diapers dull and dingy over time and prevent them from coming out fresh.

Soft water is generally better for cleaning and requires less detergent. But soft water is not the norm and most households have varying levels of hard water. 

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For more information, continue reading with Nora’s Nursery’s ‘How-To’ article on Hard Water and Cloth Diapers

How to select the best detergent for cloth diapers in hard water

To combat hard water, choose a detergent with the cleaning power of surfactants. Surfactants are a key component of laundry detergent – they break up stains and suspend dirt in water, allowing it to wash away rather than redepositing. 

Commercial detergents have high concentrations of surfactants and often contain softening agents – making commercial detergents a great choice for washing your cloth diapers in hard water. Also consider using powder detergents, as they often have higher concentrations of water softeners than the liquid detergent formulas. For better cleaning results, consider increasing the amount of detergent you use and wash in warm or hot water. Adding a water softener can also really boost the power of your detergent and help you combat hard water problems. 

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Softening your water and choosing a water softener 

Boost the power of your cloth diaper detergent by adding a softening agent to your regular wash cycle. The water softener will hold on to the minerals in hard water, allowing the laundry detergent to focus on cleaning your diapers rather than attacking the hard water minerals. 

Non-precipitating water softeners bind to hard water minerals forming a solution that easily washes away. Calgon Water Softener is a readily available and popular brand. Cadies RLR Laundry Treatment is a popular eco-friendly choice which can also be used for occasional spot treatments and for stripping your cloth diapers. 

Precipitating water softeners, such as Borax or Washing Soda, bind to hard water minerals forming solid particles. Borax, like the 20 Mule Team Borax Laundry Booster is a strong water softener, so ensure to follow the manufacturer recommended amounts. Washing Soda can be less effective than Borax so increase the amount you add to your wash. Arm & Hammer Washing Soda is a highly recommended brand.

You can always consider adding a mechanical water softening system into your home. While this can be costly, the water softener will remove excess minerals and extend the life of your plumbing, appliances, and cloth diapers! 

Consider stripping your cloth diapers of built up detergent and residue before adding a water softener. If not, expect to need a few extra rinses to get rid of all the suds. 

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Cloth Diaper Detergent vs Cloth Diaper Soap 

Most soaps are primarily made up of natural plant oils or animal fats – these can leave behind a film or residue that can leave your cloth diapers gray and dingy. 

That’s why you should stay away from laundry soap for cloth diapers, especially if you have hard water. Choose a commercial or natural cloth diaper safe detergent instead. 

For further reading, check out Nora’s Nursery’s detailed article on  Soaps and Why We Don’t Use Them 

Understanding your cloth diaper material

Choosing the best detergent for cloth diapers depends on the type of cloth diapers you are using. Cloth diapers are either made of synthetic (man-made) materials or natural (plant-based) materials. Some cloth diapers use a combination of synthetic and natural materials. Synthetic diapers, such as those made of microfleece or microfiber, are polyester based.  They are affordable, easy to prep, absorb quickly and are durable. Cloth diapers made from natural, plant-based fibers such as hemp, cotton and bamboo tend to be highly absorbent and gentle against sensitive skin, however generally cost more. 

With either synthetic or natural materials, pre-treat as necessary, ensure proper water levels, ensure proper agitation, add a softening agent if you have hard water, and ensure that all traces of detergent are washed away. Whatever cloth diaper material you choose, understand how that material needs to be treated during washing. Commercial detergents generally work best on synthetics. Adding pre-rinses or pre-washes followed by regular washes with hot water can help get the best clean. Natural materials can handle a variety of detergents but generally require extra prep before using and may need extra washes to get clean. 

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Tips to maximize your cloth diaper washing routine

  • Pre-treat heavily soiled loads. 
  • With top loaders, fully submerse diapers in water, but don’t use too much water to ensure proper agitation.
  • With front loaders and HE machines, increase the amount of water used if your machine has a setting for it. You can also add more water directly through the detergent dispenser or trick your machine into adding more water by weighing down your load with a wet towel.
  • Use high agitation settings if your machine allows for it. 
  • With top loaders, don’t overdo it with the detergent – follow the manufacturer recommended amounts. 
  • With HE machines, use specially formulated low-sudsing detergent made for HE machines. Many manufacturers offer their best brands in an HE version, which are also safe for standard washers.  
  • Consider increasing the amount of recommended detergent if using a free and clear or natural plant-based detergent. 
  • Incorporate pre washes and extra rinses as necessary to remove all traces of detergent. 
  • Don’t overdo it with extremely high heat and sanitize cycles to protect the lifespan of your diapers. 
  • If you have hard water, add a softening agent to reduce added water deposits and residues left behind. 
  • With extremely hard water, be cautious with extra rinses that might just cause minerals to resettle on your cloth diapers.
  • Follow your cloth diaper manufacturer instructions to avoid damaging your cloth diapers. 

Wrapping Up

There is no one top cloth diaper detergent – what works best for you will depend on your personal choice, your washing machine, your water, and the material your cloth diapers are made from! 

When looking for the best detergent for cloth diapers, if you find one that doesn’t meet your needs, you can always strip your diapers and start over, and always stick to what works for you! 

About Nora's

Here at Nora's we pride ourselves on providing you and your little ones with sustainable Cloth Diapering and Nursery products that are made with the highest quality materials and up-to-date on stylish designs and functionality.

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