Mailbox Mondays

Mailbox Mondays 1/31/11 – Washing Questions – Not Just Diapers!

Every Monday, if I’ve received a submission, I will answer reader submitted questions.  Questions don’t have to be cloth diaper related, just email maria at with “Mailbox Mondays” in the subject!

Maria says (and no, I’m not talking to myself again!):

Hi, Maria! I’m a Maria, too! And I have a couple questions for you about detergent.

First, I’d love to know if you can recommend a good diaper detergent that is NOT clean-rinsing. I live in an apartment and have to wash my diapers at the shared laundry facility, so using many popular cloth diaper detergents like Rockin’ Green or Charlie’s is not an option for me!

Second, this one’s always puzzled me. If using less than the recommended amount of detergent can get nasty poopy diapers clean, then why don’t we do the same for all the rest of our laundry? (BONUS QUESTION!– exactly how much detergent AM I supposed to use for diapers, anyway? I’ve heard different opinions on that)

Thanks for your time answering questions! We Marias gotta stick together, don’t you know! 😉


Maria D.

These are great questions! I will apologize in advance that this will get long!

For those who may be wondering, when you use shared laundry facilities, typical “cloth diaper safe” detergents can pose a problem, because they tend to lift the detergent residue from the machine.

My first rule for diaper washing is “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” so if your diapers are clean, stink-free and not repelling, leave your routine alone! That said, it’s a good idea to use the same detergent on your clothing and your diapers both, so you can avoid one detergent working against the other.

Some people have great luck with cloth diaper detergents, other people, not so much. Others just don’t have them locally available to them and/or prefer to use a less expensive, and more readily available detergent. I think we’re all aware of the charts that list the no-no detergents and ingredients, but many people successfully use standard detergents, and I’m one of them.

I use Tide Original HE powder, using about 1/4 the lowest load line for a full load of diapers. Many other cloth diaper users report successfully using Tide Original powder. Powder detergents tend to rinse out more easily, and don’t gunk up your machine as much as liquid detergents do.

Another standard detergent brand that’s been widely used with success is Arm & Hammer with Oxyclean and Arm & Hammer Essentials. I’ve tried it, but don’t care for the liquid variety, and the smell was a little much for me.  I’ve also heard of several people using Country Save.
For more eco-friendly options, I’ve heard mixed reviews of Planet, Seventh Generation, Ecos and Ecover detergents. I haven’t used any of them myself.

Though Tide is a no-no with the detergent police (and it’s not exactly the most “green” option), it seems to be the most common “standard” detergent that cloth diaper washers use with success. I’ve said before that I’m not a huge fan of the charts, I really think you need to do a little trial and error to find what works for you!

As far as your second question, I do have a water softener and an HE machine (I use HE powder of course) so I use less detergent than others, but I never use more than half of the lowest load line for my largest, most soiled loads of laundry. While most people wouldn’t be able to get anything clean with a tablespoon of detergent, I doubt even the hardest water and dirtiest clothing would need a full scoop/capful of detergent.

If you normally use the largest load line for your other laundry, try running them through a rinse cycle with no detergent and check for bubbles. I’m guessing a lot of people would be able to wash their laundry a few times without adding any, thanks to all the detergent residue!  Really, why wouldn’t companies recommend using a huge scoop of detergent for regular laundry?  It lines their pockets!

I think it’s a great idea to at least try using less detergent, and see if your clothes still get clean. I bet they will. If they do, you’ve just cut your detergent expense in half, and if they don’t, well, at least you tried!

As for your bonus question, the amount of detergent you use is also a trial and error experiment, depending on how hard your water is, what type of washer you’re using, and what detergent you choose. 

If you are using a detergent marketed for cloth diapers, use the recommended amount (a little less for soft water.)  If you’re using a standard detergent, I’d start with 1/4-1/2 the recommended amount for a typical diaper load (around 15 diapers.)  You want to get them rinsed pretty clean, and I find that if I use too much detergent, I definitely need to do extra rinses.  If you’re paying to wash your laundry, you certainly want to minimize rinses, so check your rinse cycle for bubbles, and cut back on the detergent if you’re seeing a lot. 

The great experiment really gets complicated when you have stink issues.  You have to figure out of the smell is from detergent residue (usually when they smell clean coming out of the wash, but stink when wet) or not enough detergent (usually when they still smell dirty right out of the wash.)

Bleach is another thing some people don’t like, but I find that if I start smelling some ammonia (mostly in the thicker inserts I use at night) a little bleach in with the inserts only knocks it right out!

Is anyone else breaking the detergent “rules” and using a standard detergent successfully?  If so, what do you use?

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Maria is an aspiring "fit mom" of 3 children, writing about cloth diapers, going green, and her life as a single mom. Maria works with many companies within the cloth diaper industry and beyond, providing social media management, product development, and other services.
  • May 28, 2011 at 8:23 pm

    Just stopping in for some Alexa love from PITM! 🙂

  • February 2, 2011 at 3:23 pm

    >Hi Connie, I left a comment on your blog answering your question!Maria, I'm so glad this helped!

  • February 2, 2011 at 12:17 am

    >Thank you for the informative reply! I've been using Tide free and clear, but was kind of spooked by all the THOU SHALT NOT USE TIDE I read. I've recently started having stink issues, and from your description, I'm thinking it's from too much detergent. Thanks for taking the time to answer my questions!

  • February 1, 2011 at 3:08 am

    >I am just starting out with cloth diapers, I just started a trial package, and I am using the charlies soap that I got in a sample pack. Since I am only doing the trial, I am only washing 5-7 diapers at a time, mainly pocket diapers. (haven't figured out the prefolds yet). How much detergent would you recomend putting in? I have a top loader. Also, should I be using the same detergent with my normal clothes that I use wiht my cloth diapers? I hope I haven't goofed up already! You can find my blog at if you would like to check me out 🙂 -Connie

  • February 1, 2011 at 2:03 am

    >We are using Ruby Moon Diaper Detergent. I love it! We are going to be using it on our regular laundry too. I just signed us up for their sent of the month club! You save $1 every month, which should add up quickly!

  • January 31, 2011 at 6:51 pm

    >I use Purex free and clear (which I think is actually on the Smarti Pants' "OK" list), and the occasional tiny bit of bleach on my inserts.

  • January 31, 2011 at 2:31 pm

    >Tide free and clear liquid. We were using regular liquid tide, but the smell was getting to me. go figure. I had good luck with prefolds/aios in different water with arm and hammer essentials, you can get the kind without the smell if you look, you can also call a&h and they will search for it for you. When we moved, the closest place was 2 hours away, which sucked.

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