How to Wash Cloth Diapers with Hard Water

Hard water and cloth diapers

“Hard water cloth diapers” - words that can scare just about anyone who knows what hard water can do to your fabrics! But did you know that a majority of households have hard water? Varying degrees of water hardness is normal – and some cloth diapering families may not even realize they have hard water. Hard water can certainly have an impact on your cloth diaper washing routine if left unchecked. Regardless of the degree of hard water that you have it is important to address it to help preserve your cloth diapers. 

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So, how do you keep things clean and fresh when washing cloth diapers in hard water? Keep reading to learn more about hard water and how you can adjust your cloth diaper washing routine to respond. Also, see our tips on choosing a water softener for cloth diapers and selecting the best detergent for cloth diapers in hard water.  


Water hardness refers to the mineral content in your water. Hard water is high in dissolved minerals – primarily calcium and magnesium. With higher concentrations of calcium and magnesium comes water with a higher degree of hardness. This high mineral content results in high PH (or alkalinity). 

While a high mineral content in water is no cause for health concern, hard water can be a nuisance as it leaves mineral deposits on your faucets and fixtures. Hard water can also affect the performance of your laundry detergents, and therefore can affect your laundry routine. Why is this? To put it simply, in hard water your detergent tries to fight the minerals in your water rather than the dirt on your clothes. Hard water also leaves minerals behind on your fabrics, and can leave clothes looking dull and dingy over time. 


Most households have varying levels of water hardness unless equipped with a water softening system. It may be obvious to you if you have hard water. Look for telltale signs of extreme water hardness, such as mineral deposits on your sinks, toilets, dinnerware or glasses. Also, consider if it takes a lot of effort to get your soaps to lather, or if your whites turn dull and gray over time. 

The level of hardness in your water may not be obvious, but finding out if you have hard water isn’t difficult. Check online for maps and other resources for general information on water hardness in your area. The United States Geological Survey provides a great Map of Water Hardness across the country, as displayed below, and some great Hardness of Water Resources. Similar maps are available in other parts of the world, including the map shown below for water hardness across Canada. 

Map United States

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 Map Canada

Image Source 


You can find out the exact hardness measure of your water by having it tested.  It is always a good idea to test your water, especially when you start cloth diapering. This lets you know what you are working with and how to adjust your washing routine. Having your water tested is not tedious or complicated – many pet stores will even test your water for free! Another simple way is to purchase water testing strips. Test strips can be found online, and at many local pet stores and hardware stores. In some cases, you can contact your local government or water quality control organization to find out details about your water and its mineral content.  

Before testing, make sure you are using a water source close to your washing machine, or ideally the water directly from your washing machine. This will help ensure you are getting accurate results. Some homes are equipped with water softeners or filters in fridges, kitchen sinks, bathrooms, etc. Knowing your water hardness right at the source will help guide your laundry routine. 


Hard water and cloth diapers doesn’t automatically mean you will be struggling. But first, know how hard water affects the way your laundry detergent works. 

In hard water, detergents may focus on attacking the minerals in hard water rather than attacking dirt and stains on your diapers. This can result in poor cleaning performance. If left unchecked, minerals may also become left behind and trapped in fabrics, causing repelling, ammonia build-up and leaks. Therefore, when washing cloth diapers in hard water, consider adding a water softener to your machine and selecting the best detergent for cloth diapers in hard water.  Keep reading for more details and helpful tips. 


If you have hard water, some minor changes to your laundry routine can help get your cloth diapers clean and stink free! A good water softener will remove calcium, magnesium and other metals or minerals in hard water. Using a water softener for cloth diapers is a great way to enhance the performance of your detergent and get a really good clean. 

You can consider installing 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! But installing a mechanical water softener is not always a realistic or feasible option. 

One of the easiest ways to soften your water is to add a water softening agent directly into your washing machine. Wondering what’s the best water softener? When choosing a water softener for cloth diapers, understand how they work to make a better selection. 

Water softeners are either non-precipitating or precipitating. Non-precipitating water softeners bind to hard water minerals forming a solution that easily washes away. Calgon Water Softener is a popular brand for cloth diapering. Cadies RLR Laundry Treatment is another popular, eco-friendly choice which can also be used for occasional spot treatments and for stripping your cloth diapers. These brands are generally available online through Amazon and other retailers like Walmart

Precipitating water softeners, such as Borax or Washing Soda, bind to hard water minerals and form solid particles. These particles are then agitated away. Borax is a strong water softener, so ensure to follow the manufacturer instructions. Washing Soda can be less effective than Borax, so you may need to increase the amount you add to your machine. Look for popular and readily available brands such as 20 Mule Team Borax and Arm & Hammer Super Washing Soda Detergent Booster

Tip: Precipitating water softeners are useful, particularly when addressing build-up and occasionally stripping your cloth diapers. This may be a good water softener for cloth diapers if you do not have an extremely high mineral content in your water. Non-precipitating water softeners are generally more effective, and might be a better choice with extremely hard water. 

For water that is even slightly hard, a good water softener is recommended in both the rinse and main wash cycles. If you have had your water tested and know your hardness level, consider adding a softener when water hardness exceeds 180 ppm. The amount of softener you need per laundry load will depend on your level of water hardness and the type of softener you use. Always read and follow the manufacturer recommendations. Generally, a quarter cup of a softening agent per load is sufficient. With water hardness above 250 ppm, consider increasing the amount of water softener to half a cup per load. 

Using a water softener for cloth diapers may take a bit of trial and error to get it right – just be careful, as adding a water softener to already soft water can present its own set of problems, like detergent build-up.

Tip: Before using a water softener for cloth diapers, consider stripping your cloth diapers of built-up detergent and residue. 


When washing cloth diapers in hard water, choose a detergent with high concentrations of surfactants (surface active agents). Surfactants contribute to the cleaning power of your detergent by breaking up stains and suspending dirt in water. This allows dirt to wash away rather than redepositing. Surfactants also are less sensitive to water hardness.

When looking for the best detergent for cloth diapers in hard water, consider mainstream commercial detergents that have high concentrations of surfactants. Many of these detergents also contain softening agents, allowing the cleaning components of the detergent to focus on fighting dirt and stains rather than fighting hard water minerals. This makes commercial detergents a great choice for washing cloth diapers in hard water. 

Detergent brands such as Tide, Gain, and Purex make varieties that are highly recommended for cloth diapers, and include softening agents to combat hard water. Many mainstream commercial brands make a ‘free and clear’ variety to protect baby’s sensitive skin and safeguard your cloth diapers.

Natural, plant-based detergents can also be used with hard water. Brands such as Allen’s Naturally, and Seventh Generation have high concentrations of surfactants that boost their cleaning power and are known to work well on cloth diapers. Use these brands in combination with a water softener to improve performance in hard water. 

The cloth diaper detergent for hard water that you choose will depend on your level of water hardness, your preferences, and the availability and accessibility of the detergent to your family. For an in depth look at washing cloth diapers and choosing a cloth diaper detergent, keep reading Nora’s Nursery’s Washing 101 and the Best Detergent for Cloth Diapers


When washing cloth diapers in hard water, be cautious with extra rinses following your regular wash cycle. Additional rinses can cause hard water minerals to redeposit on your clean diapers. 

If you still experience challenges, check the amount of detergent you are using and ensure you maximize agitation. Achieving proper agitation means you have the proper ratio of laundry to water. Too much water or too little water will result in poor agitation. Your type of laundry machine will also affect agitation. 

More details about getting to know your washing machine and washing cloth diapers in hard water are available in Nora’s Nursery’s Best Detergent for Cloth Diapers blog.  

Don’t let hard water and cloth diapers scare you. Experiment with these recommendations to find the best cloth diaper wash routine for the level of water hardness you have in your home. 


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