BY MANIDIPA MANDAL
Welcome to The Nestery's series of blogs on cloth diapering.
To see the other parts of The Nestery's ongoing series on cloth diapering, go here - https://thenestery.in/blogs/journal/tagged/cloth-diapering
In this part of our cloth diapering series, we take a look at troubleshooting your cloth diaper laundry issues and also tackle stripping - the catch word that you keep hearing but may not know how to do well.
TROUBLESHOOTING SOME COMMON LAUNDRY ISSUES WHILE CLOTH DIAPERING
Now, most cloth diapers just want a good hard swish in the machine—and that’s why we recommend that extra rinse cycle, for both the extra agitation and to ensure you don’t have any soap left over on the fabric (ultra absorbent materials, remember?).
However, those of us with a hard water supply will have an, ahem, harder time every now and then as the minerals combine with detergent and actually build up in the diapers:
- Step 1: Switch up your detergent and do a trial run with a different type of detergent. If you have been using more naturally derived detergents, try a regular mainstream one and see—many are formulated to handle hard water, being a common problem.
- Step 2: Try switching to soapnuts or at least a soapnut-based detergent; they often act as a water softener and precipitate less (bonus: a softer stash of fluff!)
- If you have soft water (not normal, but actually soft), on the other hand, you may find the typically recommended amount of detergent actually causes build-up! So try reducing detergent by half and then adjust from there.
- Dry diapers thoroughly, and for inserts, flats and prefolds, consider ironing them to make sure of getting residual moisture out; store in a well-ventilated place to prevent mildew, especially in the monsoon.
- Natural fibres, especially cotton, get stiff after drying in the sun. This is easy to fix by simply whacking the inserts, prefolds or flats on a sofa or bed — recruit the child for this. (If you use a dryer, you can get the same effect by tossing the diapers in with a tennis ball or two, or dryer balls.)
What is stripping and how often should I strip my stash?
Stripping is basically using heavy-duty cleaners (compared to your usual detergent) and techniques when you have longstanding stink issues or diapers are not absorbing as well as they should. Good candidates for a strip are:
- Diapers you bought preloved: in this case, my first suggestion is just adding bleach in the load to disinfect — about 1/2 cup bleach for a medium-sized load)
- Diapers washed in hard water regularly: this may need more laborious methods, depending on the material (more on this below).
- Diapers that are persistently causing a rash, when they weren’t before.
- Conversely, diapers that you have used a rash cream (diaper cream) with, because zinc oxide will make a barrier on the diaper as well as your baby’s bum (coconut oil is a safer bet for cloth diapering) — but first, try to just gently scrub with an old baby toothbrush.
So how do you go about it?
First, sort out the materials:
- leave covers and shells of hybrids out
- also hold back the pocket part of a pocket diaper and try stripping only the inserts first
- finally, separate the natural fibres from the synthetics (note that most bamboo, unless stated otherwise, is really bamboo rayon and should be treated as a synthetic)
- Second, for the natural materials, first give them a good boil (warning: hemp does not hold up as well as cotton if you do this) for about 5-10 minutes.
- Third, try a half cup of vinegar in the rinse cycle—only if you don’t have hard water, or this will actually backfire!
- Fourth, If you think your diapers have reduced absorbency from using creams, lotions, oil on the baby’s bum, try this in a bucket: use one drop of Pril and wash very, very well—yes, you need to handwash; do NOT put this in the machine.
Fifth and five-star stripping method, for the synthetics and any natural materials still not improved, fill a bucket with hot water and add:
- 2 tbsp Calgon (or other water softener powder/liquid/tablets for washing machines—several manufacturers make own-brand versions) or Blueoxy
- 2 tbsp washing soda crystals
- 2 tbsp borax
- PLUS a detergent with enzymes (sometimes will say “bio” on the label), enough for one half washload
Soak your diapers in this mix for 4-6 hours (up to 8 hours); wear gloves on your hands while doing this or only drop in diapers with a wooden stick and stir with that! After the soak, run a water-only normal wash cycle.
- Last resort, use bleach—but just do a 30-minute soak and then wash several times (2-3) in normal wash cycles that you use to remove any residue. (This one, many diaper manufacturers will wish you didn’t try. Especially avoid doing this to pocket diaper shells unless you are sure they are repelling.)
As with most things, though, prevention is better than cure. So make sure you are using enough hot water and detergent to prevent these issues in the first place, and if you have hard water, consider adding a softener filter to your washing machine’s water inlet (it will save wear and tear, and maintenance costs, on the machine too).
What not to do
This is a pretty short list, but in general:
- Don’t reach for a scrubbing brush; if you feel the need to rub, just scrub the cloth against itself—and remember what we said about the sun and stains.
- Don’t regularly use additives like bleach, vinegar, borax and the like unless you have already tried the prior options for troubleshooting stains and absorbency. Treat these as last resorts, especially for waterproof materials that contain TPU or PUL.
- If you’re stripping, leave covers and shells of hybrids out; also hold back the pocket part of pocket diapers and try stripping only the inserts first.
- Do not use germicides like Dettol, Savlon or so-called anti-bacterial laundry detergent (with Triclosan or similar) like Pigeon etc. to disinfect diapers. Not only will you be promoting the growth of resistant strains of supergerms, you might damage the PUL or TPU in your diaper.
- Don’t assume every stain is poor hygiene; even grass and turmeric stain and your baby will ingest them, ergo… Does not mean there’s poop bacteria in the diaper after washing!
- Don’t forget to clean your washing machine itself regularly!
For a wide selection of diapers from multiple Indian brands, head here to The Nestery's Diapering store - https://thenestery.in/collections/diapering
Manidipa Mandal is a seven-year-old parent still learning about parenting. She also likes to read and write about ecology, biology (especially gender), food and travel.