Ah, the front loading high-efficiency washing machine… nothing marked me as a MOM quite like this purchase. I had spent the first 10 years of marriage with a handed down washer with two settings: regular and delicate. While the new steam washing machine has many benefits over my old one, getting cloth diapers clean proved to be a challenge. After a lot of trial and error, I’ve come up with the solution that works for us.
The modified wet pail method: Most cloth diaper manufacturers advise against a wet pail (soaking dirty diapers in water until wash day). The wet pail wears down the waterproof fabric more quickly than tossing the dirty duds in a pail or laundry basket. However, high efficiency (HE) washers use very little water and over a short amount of time you’ll notice the distinct smell of ammonia lingering in the diapers. I never had this problem in the old top-load machine that sloshed the clothes around in gallons of water. I’ve tried using a soak cycle first, then running the hot wash/cold rinse cycle with limited results. I’ve also used the steam cycle, which works wonders on removing stains, but the smells are still noticeable. The best solution I’ve found is to simply rinse and wring the diapers out in the sink or tub either when you change them or at the end of the day, then toss them in a wet bag until you’re ready to wash. It’s a faster method than running an extra soak cycle, reduces any odor coming from the diaper pail and easily eliminates the ammonia smell.
Steam cycle or sanitize setting: I’m lucky enough to have the steam washer model and use this option frequently. Like I mentioned, it eliminates stains quite well, but still uses very little water and does not thoroughly rinse out the thick cloth diapers. And the sanitize setting is amazing at cleaning soiled sheets, sanitizing plush toys and prefolds or doublers with solids (okay, poop). The problem is that the heat setting is so high that it will break down the fabric on diaper covers and all-in-one or hybrid diapers. (Like BumGenius, Rumparooz or Bumkins.) So, if you’re spending the money on premium all-in-one diapers or diaper covers, skip the sanitize setting to preserve your investment.
Using the right detergent: This is still an ongoing experiment for us. My third daughter is sensitive to Tide and I recently realized most cloth diaper makers advise against Oxi-Clean and any free and clear detergents. I was using a vegetable-based detergent from Whole Foods that worked well, but with hard water it turns white clothes a light gray over time. So, I’m back to traditional grocery store detergents formulated for an HE machine. I’ve found one that does not irritate my daughter’s skin, but am not happy that it’s not as eco-friendly. Oh, and a word about vinegar. I use vinegar for practically everything (from killing weeds to cleaning counter tops to making cucumber salad) so I have used it often in the wash. Unfortunately, it really breaks down the fibers in your clothes and you will begin to notice that vinegar makes your washed items scratchy and worn out.
All in all, I still believe that cloth diapers are the easiest diapering solution and without a doubt the most economical. I’ve used them on three children and washing them in an HE machine goes one step further in reducing our eco footprint. What methods have you developed to make cloth diaper care work best for you? Did you find an HE machine to be better or worse (than a top-loader) for this task?