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My Break Up With Cloth Diapers

When I came home from work the second thing I noticed was my daughter wearing a disposable diaper. I asked my husband why she wasn’t in a cloth diaper (in a loving, non-accusatory way) and he told me it was because they needed to be washed. Which brings us back to the first thing I noticed–The smell.

Instead of mahogany and leather bound books, my house smelled of dirty diapers.

My husband did the laundry while I nursed and reunited with our daughter. But when I went to pull a diaper out of the dryer, the smell hit me like a ton of bricks.

I sat there for a second wondering if my husband remembered you’re supposed to wash the diapers first before putting them in the dryer. But they were clean. They just didn’t smell like it.

I took my question to Google. How to wash cloth diapers. Simple enough, right? WRONG!

If you want to scare someone out of trying cloth diapers show them this site. I read that from the get go and saw I was doing it all wrong. According to that website I was supposed to wash my BRAND NEW diapers 5 to 10 times before using. Yea, that didn’t happen.

So I took my question to twitter. And you know how simple questions can go controversial, but I tried to keep it friendly. Just thanked everyone for their suggestions, or letting me know their washing routine.

Most people told me they wash first on a cold cycle then again on a hot cycle before drying. Are you kidding me?

I told my husband we should add an extra wash cycle to our diapers and he laughed at me.

“Do you know how much our water bill went up last month?” He asked me.

I shook my head.

“Twenty dollars.”

That’s not how much our water bill was total, that’s how much it went up in our month of using cloth diapers. Needless to say this was an all time high. And I’m not a math whiz but based on my quick calculations I guessed if we washed the diapers an extra time per load, it would probably go up an extra $20 and therefor cost us $40 a month just to wash cloth diapers.

Not cool.

So adding an extra wash cycle was out of the question.

I try to follow the yellow let it mellow, brown flush it down rule–you know–to conserve water. But this would cancel out my efforts.

The next common response I got was that I was using too much detergent. Wanna bet? I hardly put any in. I heard time and time again not to put the average amount in because it would cause detergent build up on the diapers. So I put about 1/4 of the recommended amount in the load to be safe.

One person told me maybe that probably wasn’t enough. I can’t win!

People kept telling me time and time again to buy some Rockin’ Green Soap. Everyone raves about no stinky diapers with this stuff. What is it? It’s a $14+ bag of detergent that is ya know–Natural, green, biodegradable, probably even edible, I dunno. But it was hard for me to bring myself to spend that much on detergent. I was ready to give in, but just to be sure, I asked one of my friends who swears by the stuff if she uses it in one wash cycle.

Nope.

*crickets*

No? You’re telling me I’d still have to wash my diapers twice, PLUS by this extra fancy soap?

Shouldn’t something that’s natural cost less, not more? And can’t I just use something around the house to make them smell better?

As a matter of fact, you can. –At least that was a crowd of twitter friends told me. Using vinegar in the wash can help take the smell of ammonia out.

And then there’s always good old fashioned sunshine. Which I already know works wonders on stains.

My husband bought me clothespins–For the diapers, not my nose–And I strung the diapers up along my clothesline outside on my porch. Yes, we looked a little um… tacky. But I was saving energy dangit, and trying to defunk my diapers!

I left them out on my porch while I went to work, and brought them in that night. They were slightly stiff, so I fluffed them in the dryer for a few minutes and took them out. Not only did they look brand new, they smelled that way too!

It was glorious. No fancy detergent needed. No extra wash cycle required, and I can save my vinegar for… Whatever I may need vinegar for in the future.

I’ve decided I’m going to do this to my diapers every few weeks, or once a month or whenever I notice they’re getting a little stinky. I think it beats using twice as much water per load.

A lady at church told me she makes her own detergent using Carlie’s soap, I believe. So I think I’m going to do that next time to save myself money on detergent, while also using something that is not going to make the diapers stink or become less absorbent. I came to this conclusion after seeing this detergent chart.

I’ve also started putting my diapers on a medium or small load instead of large to save more water. They’re still getting clean so I guess it’s ok for now. Another thing I’m doing is washing every third day instead of every other day. That’s cut down on some of the water usage too.


So the cloth diapers and I hit a rough patch. I’ll admit, we broke up for a few days. But I missed them right away. Especially after Lil’ J had her first blowout in a month. She then had blow out after blowout during her stint back in disposables. The cloth diapers and I have worked through our problems and I think we’re going to make it.

Funny thing though… There was a stack of dirty pampers diapers in the bathroom upstairs (the pail is reserved for the cloth ones.) Once we threw those out, our house no longer smelled of dirty diapers.

Ironic.


Anonymous says:

I also use cloth diapers and I have found that if you put 1 cup of baking powder in your wash, it takes the smell out. I was almost gonna give up but I read that online and it really works! 🙂

Mrs. Stam says:

the stinky diaper happen here too once in a while LOL So are you back on cloth or disposable? I had a hard time to figure it out from this post!

I love sun and outdoor fresh air for my cloth, I use normal soap, and medium small load for water and we are just fine 🙂

Becca says:

Out of curiosity, isn’t using cloth diapers, even with the increased water bill, saving you money on disposables? I’ve been following this saga and totally trying out cloth diapers when we have kids. And it seems like the costs would “offset” one another.

melifaif says:

LOL….see? This is why I never tried cloth diapers!!!! But, the full pail totally could have had something to do with the smell….heheheh. Happy Turkey Day to you and yours…

Nicholle says:

I know you get tons of opinions and what works for one person might not work for another, but what helped us with our stink was to get rid of microfiber and go with natural fibers like cotton and bamboo. I was having to strip diaper every 2 weeks, I have only stripped once in the last 16 months (but they are due for another stripping).

Jenn says:

Jenn! Rockin Green Soap is Amazing! Email me your address and I’ll send you some samples to check out, no review necassary, for your own test!
The $15 dollar bag washes 90 loads in a front loader, and we only wash ours on one cycle.

This has got to be the trickiest part about cloth diapers- getting them clean.
Trial and error is the best way to find what works for you! Try some Rockin Green on us!

Jenn @ Abby Sprouts Inc.

I commend you for trying cloth diapers — and sticking with it. The youngest of my five kids is now 2 years old and in PullUps. Huggies has gotten me through the last decade of diapering LOL I just don’t have the patience (or will) for cloth diapering. Parenting is already too complicated… changing poop shouldn’t require science — or Google LOL 🙂 I’m kidding with you… keep doing what you feel is best for your baby, and your family 🙂

Mama Bennie says:

I actually just bought the cheapest free and clear detergent on the planet (after reading the ingredients of course) and have been using that on my diapers. So far it works really great, but I can also do the pre-rinse option on my washing machine because my water is cheap. I do diapers every day and my bill is only about 7 dollars more.

sassypackrat says:

My mom used cloth diapers and washed them herself for my younger brother and I don’t remember her having any problems with smells. She had a container that she soaked the diapers in before washing with either vinegar or bleach mix and hot water. She was a real pro at it out of economic necessity.
When I had my kids I didn’t want the hassle of washing the cloth diapers myself so I had a diaper service. Yes it was a little expensive but oh so worth it. I do commend you for washing yourself and making the commitment of cloth diapers. It’s not always easy or convenient to do. Best of luck!

Mommy Bee says:

I have discovered that ‘the stank’ of cloth diapers varies a lot depending on what the diapers are made of. When I use natural fibers (hemp, bamboo, cotton) they stay fresh-smelling for longer than the synthetics (microfiber). Although, I also hear that zorb (which is synthetic) does not get the stank. So I’m thinking of trying it out at some point.

When diapers get stinky, they pretty much just need to be stripped. That involves putting them through about 10 cycles (wash once with dawn dishsoap to get out the buildup, then wash a lot of times with no soaps to get out the dawn…). Alternately, you can boil them on the stove with salt, a few diapers at a time (however many fit in the pot). Boiling uses less water than the washer, and it’s what I have to do because I have a front-loader. However it does take several hours, and I can only do 3 diapers at a time in my big pot, and you have to keep an eye on them so that they don’t scorch… But it does work really really well.
I never had stank issues when I always hung my diapers out to dry. No matter how tacky you may think it looks, it really is the best way to keep diapers looking and smelling fresh (and UV rays will kill bacteria too, fyi). My mom used to hang her diapers out even in rain or snow–just for a while–and then bring them back in to the dryer. It’s worth it for the freshness. Even here in Alaska I hang them out anytime I can. And think about this–10 min of ‘fluff’ in the dryer is saving you money over a full dry cycle, so maybe that will partly make up for the water bill of washing the diapers. 🙂

Marcy says:

I know you’re probably sick of hearing everyone’s cloth diaper washing routines, as everyone seems to have a different way of doing things… but here’s what we do (and we’ve been using gDiapers, with their microfiber & hemp inserts, since June or so).

1. Cold RINSE (not a full wash– just a 15 minute rinse cycle. No soap).
2. Full hot wash.
3. Extra 1-2 hot rinse cycles.

During the summer I’d put my inserts ion the dryer for 10-20 minutes and then line dry them outside (I found those 10-20mins in the dryer kept them from getting stiff). Now I’ve been drying them all the way in the dryer, but sometimes I’ll still let them air-dry inside.

If I notice them start to stink a little, I might add a few extra rinses after a wash, or also sometimes I’ll add a squirt of Dawn ( the dish soap, apparently it has to be the name brand, too) in with my regular detergent which apparently helps break up the grease that can accumulate from detergent build-up. We’ve had very few issues with stinkies in the past several months since I’ve been using this routine.

BTW the pre-washes (washing diapers 5-10 times before using) is mainly to increase absorbency, they just won’t absorb as much urine until they;ve gone through that many cycles. But it doesn’t do anything “bad” to the diapers to skip that process.

It can be frustrating figuring out your routine… it took a few months of tweaking for me. Hopefully you’re just about there, and can relax into it and not have further problems! =)

@mightymarce

With cloth diapers everyone has the system that works best for them. We even use oxiclean, GASP! I know everyone is going to get all excited and tell me it’s going to ruin my diapers, but I made them all myself, and they’ve been working perfectly for over a year. Every once in a while I throw them outside and whoop they are fantastic again. But really, no matter what everyone else says, do what works best for you, because, really, it’s about you and your family, I don’t have to do your laundry so I really don’t care how you wash them. People that tell you what to do and get angry over washing diapers need a life.

@MommyBee, I actually do use a mix of hemp/cotton inserts with micro/cotton. I do think the natural ones stink less!

Everyone else… I appreciate reading your washing routines! These new ideas do help so thanks! 🙂

Chantel says:

I do a hot water soak every 3 weeks or so, then I just add soap and let them run through. I haven’t noticed any stink after a wash though. I’ve always wondered about the Rockin’ Green myself. Is it really worth it? I’ve never heard read or heard from anyone who’s tried it.

Desiree says:

Dang chick, this post must have been done on the fly – I’ve never seen so many spelling errors from you! No lie, I was kind of worried! 😉

Anyway, I’ve been following your cloth diaper saga since I’m having my first in April and this is really interesting. I too have been reading everything I can get my hands on about cloth diapers and they all say Rockin Green or Charlie’s Soap is the gold standard, but as usual I appreciate you providing links to those detergent alternatives!

Mary Pool says:

Please research Charlie’s soap causing chemical burns on babies in cloth diapers. It’s a very dangerous thing on certain fabrics for babies. I’ve had clients use this and the burns on their babies are horrendous!

Anonymous says:

We had the microfiber stinkies. Just a squirt or two of dawn dish soap every time they start to stink works wonders for us.

@Desiree haha, yes, worry please!! I took the post down for a little while so I could edit it. I meant to draft it earlier and instead published it and thought “what the heck” bad idea!

Lil’ Jay was seriously getting on my nerves when I was writing on this post. Please, pray for my sanity!!

Vivian says:

Love the post! We have been through our own trial and error with cloth diapers. Usually my sagas involve inlaws trying to wash them for me and not using the right detergent. I have like 5 different detergents in the laundry room for various uses.

Love the cloth during the day but havent found ones that will hold all the pee at night.

Jennifer says:

I didn’t read the comments, but you should try baking soda. I have a front loader and sometimes if I forget and leave a load of clothes in they get really, really stinky. I rewash them with baking soda and the odor is completely gone. Plus it is super cheap and it doesn’t take a lot of it. You can use the vinegar as a fabric softner if you want.

Alex says:

I love reading your post.. Keep them coming. I never used cloth diapers .. I was too scared of the smell…( where was this most 3 yrs ago) lol. My son is using the potty now.

Thanks for sharing!

Ana Lee says:

haha glad you’re figuring it out. I’m still not sure I could tough it out.

Alex says:

And all that extra hassle is exactly why I’ll stick to my disposable Pampers.

Quiana says:

we just started cloth diapering our 3 month old this past week and the title of your post made me nervous at first! i did lots of research before and followed all the pre-wash directions and so far no problems. we use the cheapest free and clear like @Mama Bennie and so far the stains come out fine on our bum genius 4.0. we follow the same washing directions as @Marcy and have an HE front loader that i put on the kids cycle (extra hot) with the rinse plus option selected after i do one cold cycle. we only pay electric and since it’s an HE we’ll have to wait and see how our electric bill is affected.

UAN says:

Good ol’ sunshine is good for getting funky smells out. I’ve used sunshine for my son’s shoes when nothing else worked. I’m happy it worked. Might I ask what type of cloth diapers you use?

Berta says:

I am so lol. I figure cloth diaper ISN’T supposed to be easier. Ladies didn’t take pictures smiling at their wash tub basins 🙂 but you have a belief in doing than that’s great but yes girl there are choices. an informed choice is always a good one.

Chanel says:

I’m really glad that you let me know about these challenges. I plan on using cloth diaper when I have my next child. I would have been really frustrated to come home to a house that smalls of poop. I am glad that you and the cloth diapers are back on speaking terms now.

Bobbi Janay says:

I love my cloth but please I know numerous women including my self that have had problems with RG.

Anonymous says:

Good for you for sticking with the program. Be aware there are several versions of the Rockin’ Green detergent. You need to buy the right one for your water hardness: Hard Rock if you have hard water, Soft Rock for soft water, etc. You can get unscented, why would anyone want to add scent chemicals to their laundry? I just went to the website and she (yes, it’s a woman-owned company) now has a “Funk Rock Ammonia Bouncer,” which sounds like something you could use. I have no connection whatsoever with Rockin’ Green, I’ve just read many many recommendations for the products.

Nina says:

With the exception of disposables at night and a brief hiatus during a rash, I have been using cloth for almost 6 months. So far I haven’t had an issues with stinky diapers (but I have also been doing the cold rinse/hot wash thing).

I too was a little put off at the thought of having to buy expensive detergent (saving money is part of the appeal of cloth right?)…so I researched TONS of cloth diaper detergent ingredients (rockin green included) and homemade detergent recipes and came up with a homemade cloth diaper safe detergent recipe:

http://freelovebaby.typepad.com/oldblog/adventures-in-cloth-diapering/

I have been using it for both diapers and my family’s regular laundry and it been working great! I would give it a try before investing in the more costly options.

Good Luck!

P.S. Don’t mine the mess (and lack of pictures) in the post. I have recently erased my old blog and started a new one and this is just where i parked all my old stuff so I wouldn’t lose it all 🙂

Tori says:

I know RnG is expensive, but they make a Funk Rock formula now that is exclusively a treatment for ammonia stinkies. Even though it’s pricey, it lasts you FOREVER. Same goes for their regular detergent too. And if you think about it, a bottle of Tide is like, eight bucks, but lasts you a month, while a bag of RnG is 15 but lasts you at least 3 months. Up front it’s a lot, but so were the cloth diapers. 🙂 Keep it up, it’s worth it!

YUMMama says:

Yea, something about line drying always helps to defunk clothes.

Jenny says:

Hahaha well i’m glad you’ve got it sorted and are back on good terms with the cloth. It’s good to know about all the challanges associated with cloth diapering I’ll be rethinking whether or not it will be worth cloth diapering my next baby. (We went with biodegradable disposables for our girl).
Love following your blog! 🙂

Jay says:

Your husband is starting to sound a bit like mine! I can usually sell him on just about any idea if I tell him how much money it would save us. I can only imagine what he’d say after I’d convinced him to try cloth based on savings, only to turn around and find out that we’re saving less money than we thought! I’ll be keeping this post in mind for the future — I’m excited to use cloth diapers on our future kiddos, but if our husbands are anything alike in the money saving department, I know I’m going to have to be armed to the teeth with facts about how much we’ll save by using them 😉

Mammatalk says:

So glad you figured that one out. Good job hanging in there!

Sharon says:

Okay, so I’ll admit I’m older. I washed my diapers in ivory snow. I even used baby bleach on them. There was never a smell. However, I know that diapers have changed. What a bummer you had to go through so many changes. But, cloth diapers are a good thing. And when you start to potty train, LiL Miss J will definitely notice the difference between being wet and being dry. I’m happy that you stuck it out, however, in the scheme of life, this is such a minor thing.
Enjoy.

What saved me (from various cloth-diapering ills) – I use liners. You can buy them, but there are two cheaper alternatives:

Viva paper towels
Kleenex paper single-use “hand” towels

They don’t sell viva in canada, so I’m using the “hand” towels (I’d never use them as hand towels though- not very eco-friendly). They’re soft, strong, and even hold up through an accidental washing (no fear of them breaking up like tissue and getting stuck on anything). Poop barely gets through them, and can be just dropped into the trash with the little sheet. Pee goes right through, and baby shortcake hasn’t had any diaper rashes either. I HATED dealing with baby’s super peanut-buttery poops (wouldn’t come off, even with toilet dunking beforehand), and now my diapers are so much easier to launder! I presoak/prewash (there’s a function on my washer) with baking soda and vinegar (gets out the ammonia and stink), then wash with HOT water once. I use to do so many rinses, not anymore!

katha says:

Ecowise here in Austin sells Charlie’s soap for 12.95! We’ve been using it on our diapers for the past 2 months and it works great! I do a quick cold water soap-free rinse cycle first (then throw anything else that needs washing in if it’s not a full load) and wash on a normal cycle with Charlie’s. Every now and then I put a little white vinegar in the fabric softener cup for good measure.

Quiana says:

we just started cloth diapering our 3 month old this past week and the title of your post made me nervous at first! i did lots of research before and followed all the pre-wash directions and so far no problems. we use the cheapest free and clear like @Mama Bennie and so far the stains come out fine on our bum genius 4.0. we follow the same washing directions as @Marcy and have an HE front loader that i put on the kids cycle (extra hot) with the rinse plus option selected after i do one cold cycle. we only pay electric and since it’s an HE we’ll have to wait and see how our electric bill is affected.

Mary Pool says:

Please research Charlie’s soap causing chemical burns on babies in cloth diapers. It’s a very dangerous thing on certain fabrics for babies. I’ve had clients use this and the burns on their babies are horrendous!

sassypackrat says:

My mom used cloth diapers and washed them herself for my younger brother and I don’t remember her having any problems with smells. She had a container that she soaked the diapers in before washing with either vinegar or bleach mix and hot water. She was a real pro at it out of economic necessity.
When I had my kids I didn’t want the hassle of washing the cloth diapers myself so I had a diaper service. Yes it was a little expensive but oh so worth it. I do commend you for washing yourself and making the commitment of cloth diapers. It’s not always easy or convenient to do. Best of luck!

Marcy says:

I know you’re probably sick of hearing everyone’s cloth diaper washing routines, as everyone seems to have a different way of doing things… but here’s what we do (and we’ve been using gDiapers, with their microfiber & hemp inserts, since June or so).

1. Cold RINSE (not a full wash– just a 15 minute rinse cycle. No soap).
2. Full hot wash.
3. Extra 1-2 hot rinse cycles.

During the summer I’d put my inserts ion the dryer for 10-20 minutes and then line dry them outside (I found those 10-20mins in the dryer kept them from getting stiff). Now I’ve been drying them all the way in the dryer, but sometimes I’ll still let them air-dry inside.

If I notice them start to stink a little, I might add a few extra rinses after a wash, or also sometimes I’ll add a squirt of Dawn ( the dish soap, apparently it has to be the name brand, too) in with my regular detergent which apparently helps break up the grease that can accumulate from detergent build-up. We’ve had very few issues with stinkies in the past several months since I’ve been using this routine.

BTW the pre-washes (washing diapers 5-10 times before using) is mainly to increase absorbency, they just won’t absorb as much urine until they;ve gone through that many cycles. But it doesn’t do anything “bad” to the diapers to skip that process.

It can be frustrating figuring out your routine… it took a few months of tweaking for me. Hopefully you’re just about there, and can relax into it and not have further problems! =)

@mightymarce

Mommy Bee says:

I have discovered that ‘the stank’ of cloth diapers varies a lot depending on what the diapers are made of. When I use natural fibers (hemp, bamboo, cotton) they stay fresh-smelling for longer than the synthetics (microfiber). Although, I also hear that zorb (which is synthetic) does not get the stank. So I’m thinking of trying it out at some point.

When diapers get stinky, they pretty much just need to be stripped. That involves putting them through about 10 cycles (wash once with dawn dishsoap to get out the buildup, then wash a lot of times with no soaps to get out the dawn…). Alternately, you can boil them on the stove with salt, a few diapers at a time (however many fit in the pot). Boiling uses less water than the washer, and it’s what I have to do because I have a front-loader. However it does take several hours, and I can only do 3 diapers at a time in my big pot, and you have to keep an eye on them so that they don’t scorch… But it does work really really well.
I never had stank issues when I always hung my diapers out to dry. No matter how tacky you may think it looks, it really is the best way to keep diapers looking and smelling fresh (and UV rays will kill bacteria too, fyi). My mom used to hang her diapers out even in rain or snow–just for a while–and then bring them back in to the dryer. It’s worth it for the freshness. Even here in Alaska I hang them out anytime I can. And think about this–10 min of ‘fluff’ in the dryer is saving you money over a full dry cycle, so maybe that will partly make up for the water bill of washing the diapers. 🙂

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Hi! I’m Jennifer Borget

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I'm a former journalist, and lifelong creator striving to make the world a better place. This is the space where I share my journey in making the most of every day by cherishing our individuality and celebrating our differences.



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