Before your baby wears his or her new diapers, they should be washed at least once, following the manufacturer's instructions as printed on the diaper label. Below are some further helpful hints for "breaking in" new diapers, particularly those made of natural fabrics.
General Diapering Information
- Under normal circumstances, diapers should be changed as soon as they become soiled or wet. It is not recommended that a child be left in a diaper (cloth or disposable) more than 2-3 hours. Some exceptions apply such as naptime and overnight.
- Cloth diapers are very absorbent, however, each child has an individual wetting pattern. Children who wet heavily may require more frequent diaper changes and/or additional absorbent inserts or doublers, particularly for naptime and overnight. This applies particularly to older babies and toddlers.
Preparing your New Diapers for Use
Unbleached Cotton, Hemp, Hemp/Cotton, Bamboo:
- Natural oils on unbleached fabric have not been removed by processing. Wash 4-5 times with hot water and a small amount of detergent, drying between each wash cycle. This will remove the oils and new fabric starches and help make your diapers fully absorbent. Hemp may take up to 8 washes to reach maximum absorbency.
- If you have purchased products containing hemp or bamboo, please launder these separately from your other diapers for the first wash. The oil removed from the fabric may settle on other fabrics in the wash if they are laundered together, causing your diapers to become water repellent
Polyester (Polyurethane Laminate, pocket diapers, some brands of all-in-one diapers):
- Wash your diapers once in warm or hot water and a small amount of detergent prior to first use. Drying diapers containing polyurethane laminate in the dryer periodically helps maintain the water barrier in the cover.
Bummis has released a comprehensive cloth diapering care guide with very specific recommendations for washing, including a detergent recommendation chart. This information is relevant to all brands, particularly Bummis products, and types of cloth diapers and will help ensure your success with cloth diapering - we highly recommend you read it carefully! Please Note: detergent formulations are always changing, and diaper designs are constantly improving. Results will vary and are dependent on a variety of factors including type of washing machine, water quality, brand of diaper, water temperature, etc. You may have to experiment with the quantity and type of detergent you use.
Note that many detergents sold in health food stores are NOT suitable for use with diapers and diaper covers if they use citrus oils as a surfactant (the ingredients that clean your laundry). Citrus oils will cause repelling because oil and water do not mix. Read ingredient lists carefully!
As a rule of thumb, the fewer the ingredients in a detergent, the less likely it is to cause repelling or detergent residue. Detergent additives will include ingredients that may cause absorbency problems with your diapers over time. This also applies to “baby” detergents including Ivory Snow.
We strive to provide ongoing customer service with regard to detergent issues, residues, and repelling, however, Nurtured Products for Parenting Inc. will not be held responsible for performance issues related to detergent.
General Care For All Diapers:
- Follow manufacturer’s instructions as printed on the label. The manufacturer’s website will also offer detailed maintenance and care instructions.
- Use only a small amount of detergent: for top-loading washing machines, use one-quarter the amount you would normally use. For front-loading (HE) washing machines, use one-sixth the amount of detergent you would normally use.
- Remove inserts from pocket diapers before rinsing in the toilet and before placing in a diaper pail.
- Pre-rinse heavily soiled diapers on warm or cold and a small amount of detergent.
- Under normal conditions, wash your diapers in warm or hot water with a small amount of gentle, residue-free detergent. This helps reduce the incidence of residue build-up, which can reduce the absorbency of your diapers over time.
- Hang to dry or dry on medium heat. Remember that UV rays from the sun act as a natural antibacterial and bleach for your diapers!
- You may add a few drops of Tea Tree Oil to your diaper pail and/or your washing machine to help keep your diapers disinfected naturally. This also helps to reduce diaper pail odours and is particularly useful if your baby has recently had a virus or yeast based rash.
Extra tips for families with High Efficiency Washing Machines:
- Often laundry problems with HE machines are caused by too low of a diaper to water ratio. If you can, manually adjust the water level to "high" so that you have a higher volume of water per load. If you can't, your machine probably bases the amount of water per load on the weight of the load. To add more water to your load of laundry, save a number of detergent containers as you empty them. Fill them with water and store them near your washing machine. When you are washing diapers, add the detergent in the detergent tray followed by the water from your saved detergent containers. It may take a bit of practice to gauge how much extra water is required. Alternatively, to make the load appear heavier, you can either physically wet your diapers in water before you put them in the washer, or add a couple of heavy, wet towels to the load.
- Using very little detergent is important. If there is too much foaming, reduce your amount of detergent, if the diapers are not getting clean enough, increase your detergent. It may take some practice to find a happy medium.
- If necessary, run a second rinse to ensure diapers are fully rinsed of detergent.
- Rinse soiled diapers in the toilet to help reduce staining or rinse off with diaper sprayer.
- An exclusively breastfed baby's stools are water soluble; these diapers can go straight into a pail until laundry day.
- Remove inserts from pocket diapers prior to rinsing in the toilet and/or storing diapers in a diaper pail.
- Keep your wet and soiled diapers in a covered diaper pail.
- We recommend you use a dry diaper pail. Soaking diapers for long periods will break down the fibres over time. Wet diapers are also more prone to developing offensive odours.
Important Care Notes
- Do not use fabric softener or dryer sheets. It will coat the diapers making them water repellent. Be aware that if you use dryer sheets in your dryer for other laundry this can coat your dryer and transfer to your diapers.
- Do not use bleach. This will cause the fibre and elastic in the diapers to break down and is very harsh against your baby’s skin.
- Do not use diaper creams. If you must use diaper creams, place a fleece liner or other liner/doubler on top of your diaper. Diaper creams will “plug” the fabric, making water resistant patches in your diaper and may result in leaks. Diaper creams are not easily removed by laundering.
- If the diapers have Velcro-type closures, be sure to use the fold-back tabs to secure the fasteners and prevent build-up during laundering and drying.
Pre-rinse soiled diapers in the toilet before placing them in the diaper pail. Run cool or cold cycle before washing or a cool or cold soak cycle. If you wash right away on hot, you may, effectively, bake the stains into the fabric. This is not a diaper performance issue but rather an aesthetic one, and it bothers some families to have stains. Some staining is normal. Hanging the diapers and the inserts in the sun on a nice day will help the stains to fade as a result of UV light. This is the most effective way to brighten your diapers, and seems to work particularly well for pocket diapers.
If your diapers smell very strongly of ammonia after your baby wets, or smell of urine after laundering, the culprit is likely detergent build-up. Washing your diapers a few times on warm or hot with NO detergent should clear the problem. If you notice foaming in the water when you have not added detergent, you can be relatively certain the problem is detergent build-up. This procedure may have to be repeated every few weeks.
Diaper Creams on Diapers:
If you do have diaper creams on the fabric of your diaper, or if your diaper is otherwise not performing, try the following “stripping” method:
- Hand wash your diaper with regular dish soap to remove any oils.
- Put a small amount of dish soap on the fleece layer.
- Rub vigorously or use a medium bristle scrubbing brush to scrub the fleece.
- Turn the diaper inside out and repeat.
- Rinse thoroughly until the water runs clear.
- Place the diaper in the laundry and run a regular cycle.
Where should I put the dirty diapers?
Keep your wet and dirty diapers in a covered diaper pail. We recommend you use a dry diaper pail (no water). This helps extend the life of your diapers as soaking for long periods will break down the fibres of your diapers over time. Wet diapers are also more prone to developing hard-to-remove offensive odours. Using a waterproof bag as a diaper pail liner is an excellent option to help seal in odours between washings and make emptying the diaper pail more convenient.
If the diaper pail gets smelly, you can add some baking soda or a few drops of Tea Tree Oil (a natural antiseptic and disinfectant) to your diaper pail. Don't forget that if you don't use a liner or waterproof bag, you may have to wash out the diaper pail from time to time with soap and water to keep it smelling fresh.
How do I wash my diaper covers (Polyurethane Laminate)?
Hand or machine wash in warm water using a small amount of detergent. Hang to dry or dry on medium heat. If the covers have Velcro-type closures, be sure to use the fold-back tabs to secure the fasteners and prevent build-up during laundering and drying.
How do I care for my wool diaper covers?
Wool covers do require some special care to perform optimally, but because wool is naturally self-cleaning, the cover can be air dried between uses and will require laundering approximately every two weeks unless soiled. To wash a wool cover, simply soak in wool wash such as Eucalan and dry flat. Every 10-12 washes, add about 1/8 teaspoon of lanolin (Lansinoh, for example) to the wash to help maintain water resistance.
If you have purchased a dark coloured wool diaper cover, the dye will bleed. For bleeding wool, mix 3 cups white vinegar with 3 tablespoons salt. Wet wool in lukewarm water, add to vinegar/salt mixture. Microwave for two 3-minute sessions. Allow to COMPLETELY cool, rinse in lukewarm water, wash as directed above and re-lanolize. If you rinse before allowing the water to completely cool, you may unintentionally felt your wool diaper cover.
Always follow manufacturer's recommendations!
Drying your diapers in the sun not only provides natural bleaching thanks to UV rays, but is easier on the fibres, helping your diapers last longer.
Pocket diapers and PUL covers should be dried periodically in the dryer, this helps to "seal" the laminate and maintain the waterproof qualities of the fabric. However, with all diapers and covers, do not use fabric softener sheets, as these will leave a waxy build-up on your diapers and covers, cutting down the absorbency or cause repelling. This can also happen if you use fabric softener sheets for non-diaper laundry as the waxy build-up coats the inside of your dryer as well. Try using dryer balls or Natura Cloths (available at Home Hardware stores in Canada) instead to cut down on static. Remember to close the tabs on your hook and loop closure diapers and covers before laundering or the hook side of the tabs will collect lint and cause your diapers to create a giant tangled diaper mess in your dryer!
A money saving tip: run an extra spin cycle on your washing machine before putting your diapers on the line to dry or in the dryer, you will cut drying time by up to 25%.
After my baby pees, the diapers smell strongly of ammonia, what should I do?
The most likely culprit is detergent residue, which can also cause repelling (diapers not absorbing like they did when they were new). Luckily, the problem is usually reversible, read on to find out how to "strip" your diapers and/or covers.
What is Detergent Residue?
Bummis has issued information regarding detergent residue and how to prevent and/or remove it from your diapers and covers. The following is reprinted with permission from Bummis.
Detergent residue is a film left on fabric by detergent. Detergent residue builds up on all items that are laundered - clothes, bedding, etc. But usually you will notice it only when dealing with a fabric that is supposed to be either waterproof or absorbent. Bummis has been making diaper covers for almost 20 years now, but the problem of detergent residue is a new one. Over the past year, it seems that more and more detergent manufacturers are adding extra ingredients to their formulas in order to differentiate their products and brands. This has led to a surge in the number of calls we receive from those who use our products, about wicking and leaking that ultimately end up being the result of detergent residue. This is a widespread issue throughout the cloth diapering industry.
So how do you pick a detergent? If you are lucky enough to have packaging that lists the ingredients - the shorter the list, the less chance that the detergent contains problematic additives. Price is not an issue, as some cheap detergents work better than their more expensive counterparts. The focus is to find a detergent that does not leave a residue. We recommend detergents that have been shown to leave no residue including Charlie's Soap, Sensi-clean and Countrysave. These detergents contain virtually no additives and will not leave a residue even when you use the amount they recommend or more!
Knowing which detergents are not good is a bigger problem. Manufacturers are changing their formulas all the time. Differences in water quality and washing machines can affect the performance of diaper covers and make it difficult to isolate the culprit. For example, some additive ridden detergents will prove problematic for one family, but seem to pose no issues for the next. The amount of detergent used may be different, as may the ratio of detergent to water they may have used and the water quality. There are so many factors that can influence whether a detergent leaves residue or not and to what degree. Cautionary words that can warn you of additives include "brighter" and "whiter". But if you choose a detergent with no residue, you know you are safe!
What additives should I look out for?
Because there are so many additives (both natural and synthetic) that can cause problems with fabrics, it is impossible to list them all here. However, here are some to look out for:
- Fabric softeners - These are relatively easy to avoid as added fabric softeners are normally clearly marked on packaging. These will cause wicking and repelling on most waterproof fabrics- actually on all fabrics, including cotton diapers!
- Brighteners - Sometimes the only indications that these have been added are words like "brighter", "whiter", or "cleaner". These are normally optical brighteners. Optical brighteners, also called optical bleaches or fluorescent whitening agents, are fluorescent white dyes (sometimes referred to as crystals) that absorb ultraviolet light and emit back visible blue light. This gives the impression that clothes are brighter and cleaner. In actual fact these can cause leaking and wicking as well as skin irritations. MANY detergents contain this nasty additive, which has also been identified as being toxic to fish and other aquatic life. Some are also capable of causing mutations in bacteria. They are also very slow to biodegrade into their less harmful component parts and can cause eye and skin reactions in humans. Research is being conducted to determine the extent of optical brighteners in the environment and their subsequent damage to animal health.
- Stain Guards - Again these are usually (but not always) easy to find, as companies often list them as an advantage. Mentions of stain "repelling", "protection" or "guards" are clear warnings that this additive is present. They too will coat fibres.
- "Natural" Additives - Natural additives are most likely in the form of oils. Like chemical additives, they do not always cause a problem- but with time, the oils can build up, leading to wicking, leaking and repelling. Examples include orange oil, citrus extract, grapeseed extract and other oils.
- "Natural" Soaps - In actuality all soaps are natural, which is what sets them apart from detergents. The problem with soap is that the minerals in water react with those in soap, creating an insoluble film. This film can leave a residue and turn clothes grayish. Dr. Bronners is an example of a natural soap that can cause a residue problem.
What problems can a detergent residue cause?
The list is long and includes the following:
- Wicking and leaking
- Repelling – beading of liquid
- Stinky diapers or covers
- Skin rashes
- Yellowing of white fabrics
This can happen quickly if the diapering products are washed with high ratio of detergent to water right from the start... even within a couple of weeks you can see a problem. More commonly, it will take a couple of months before you experience any problems.
Wicking &Amp; Leaking:
Wicking is the spreading of fluid across a fabric. How does that residue cause waterproofing to wick?
There are two ways that residue can cause wicking:
- Detergents leave a film on the cover, which works as a transport for the liquid to travel along the inside of the cover, along to the edges then across the front. It appears like the fluid went right through the cover but it actually went around!
- A cover with a laminate works by not allowing a “whole” water molecule to pass through the membrane and one possible way this is done is through water tension. The water molecules bind to each other and do not penetrate fabric. Detergents have wetting agents that break water tension, which allows the detergent to dissolve and disperse and allows clothes to get cleaner. When residue from detergent is left on the covers, the fluid loses its water tension and can saturate the fabric. This appears as a general wetness of the cover, not a specific leak like at the thighs or tummy. Unfortunately, most people will assume their covers are worn out or defective before realizing that they have a detergent residue problem – a problem that can usually be remedied!
This is an issue for diapers. If diaper fabric fibres get coated in detergent residue they will begin repelling the urine like a duck’s plumage repels water. Residue is not the only culprit here, but it is a common one that can be remedied.
There are numerous causes of stinky diapers or covers, detergent residue being among them. This is because the residue will trap or “bind” the odour to the fabric. With our diaper covers, detergent residue is the number one reason that the product may smell. Luckily, residue can be removed- in a process you might hear referred to as “stripping.”
As can be expected, if your diapers are covered with a chemical residue, they can be expected to cause skin irritation in babies with sensitive skin.
Yellowing or Graying of Whites:
Notice your whites aren’t very white any more? The most common cause is detergent residue.
So what detergent do I use... or not use?
We recommend using detergents that are additive free and leave zero residue and can be used at the recommended amount. These include detergents made up of mainly sodium carbonate or soda ash.
Many regular detergents when used in moderation will cause no problems for the majority of people who use them and the products they wash with them. The key is to use less detergent (at most ½ the recommended amount) and more water. Usually the really inexpensive detergents do not add so many additives because they increase the cost of the detergent. Thus they are less likely to leave a residue. Examples would be Sun, Clout, Windfresh and most generic no-name basic detergents.
Detergents that have shown up often in our troubleshooting efforts as possibly causing residues are:
- All “Free and Clear”. The free and clear actually refers to dust mites - and as such the detergent has a ton of additives to rid the fabric of allergens.
- Some versions of Bio-Kleen.
- 7th Generation
- Dreft and other “baby” detergents, including Ivory Snow.
- Dr. Bronner’s and other soaps with certain natural additives.
Help! I have detergent residue on my diaper covers! What do I do now?
The good news is that products that have been damaged by detergent residue can usually be saved! If the residue is not too extensive, it can often be resolved by doing a couple hot water rinses with no detergent, then throwing the covers in the dryer.
If this does not resolve the issue, a more intense “stripping” may be necessary. Repeat the following process twice:
- Run your covers and diapers through a wash with only hot water (if allowed by manufacturer’s washing instructions).
- Run a second wash using 1/2-cup baking soda and ½-cup vinegar in this second wash.
- 1/2-cup vinegar again in first rinse cycle.
- Run a second rinse cycle with plain hot water.
- Dry diapers and covers in dryer.