Homemade Detergent and Cloth Diapers

Fels Naptha Bar Soap

Fels Naptha Bar Soap

One of the reasons cloth diapering is really making a resurgence is the money-saving aspect. While it seems expensive to pay $20 for one diaper, use that diaper three times a week for a whole year and you’re down to 13 cents per use. Add another six months of use and you’re down to 9 cents. The cheapest disposable diaper I could find on Amazon was 20 cents a piece.

Today’s moms are finding lots of ways to be frugal, it’s the “in” thing to find ways to save at home. Some moms have found that making their own detergent is a good cost-saving measure. The problem comes when thrifty moms mix their cloth diapers with homemade detergents. Unfortunately it’s a recipe for disaster!

There are many recipes for making detergent, most will call for washing soda and borax, and then the gratings of a bar of soap. Each of these ingredients is not recommended for cloth diapers for different reasons.

Washing Soda – Washing soda (sodium carbonate) is similar in nature to baking soda (sodium bicarbonate). Both are an alkali, meaning they help neutralize pH. Washing soda is a stronger alkali than baking soda, meaning it will neutralize odors, especially in acidic conditions, like baby’s urine. But the problem is this strength comes at a price. The stronger washing soda is harsh on fabrics, roughing up the fibers and prematurely aging elastic. While baking soda is a much less caustic form of the same chemical, we still don’t recommend it for regular use on your cloth diapers. It has the potential to change the pH in your diapers and eventually cause rashes. In excess it can also harm fabrics.

Borax – Borax is a safer but not completely non-toxic laundry additive. The main use of borax is to break up solids, remove stains and help detergent work better. Borax is also harsh on elastic and can cause it to break down.

Bar Soap – This is the most¬†problematic¬†ingredient in homemade detergents. Most recipes call for Fels-Naptha as the bar soap ingredient (pictured above). Fels-Naptha is an old product that your parents or grandparents probably remember. It was used as a stain remover, but it is also highly toxic and irritating to skin. The problem with a soap base, whether it be Fels-Naptha, Ivory or a castile soap, as some recipes recommend, is that there are strong oils in these soaps that do not wash away in the laundry. These oils will build up on your clothes, in your washing machine and on your diapers, eventually trapping stains or smells. On your diapers they will reduce the absorbency and can also cause some strong reactions in your baby’s skin as the chemicals get left behind with the oils and reactivated when wet.

Laundry Powder

Laundry Powder

There is no bar soap that is safe for using on cloth diapers. Period. Therefore most of the homemade detergent recipes are not safe for your diapers. Best-case senario you will need to strip your diapers to remove the oil buildup. Worst case your baby will break out from the exposure to these chemicals. This oily build-up will also stick around in your washing machine until you clean it out (with a non-residue detergent, plain dish soap or vinegar), we also strongly recommend against using a homemade detergent for your regular clothes during the time you are washing diapers. Even if you choose a diaper-safe detergent for just the diaper loads there can be transfer from the oils inside your washing machine.

This is a touchy subject for a retailer of cloth diaper-safe detergents. We do our best to support our customers with using things they already have instead of insisting they purchase new or even purchase from us! But detergent is one area where we feel we need to take a little bit stronger approach. We have had a handful of customers in just the last month coming to us with diaper problems which turned out to be due to homemade detergent. Some of those customers had horrible rashes on their babies, which is something we definitely want all of you to avoid! While making your own detergent is a frugal idea, the adverse affects can be costly. While many of our detergents are much less expensive per load than those you would buy at the grocery store, we do think peace of mind is worth paying extra for.

As always, we’re happy to discuss your specific situation and help you find a detergent that will work best for you! Feel free to post your comments here and we will respond so all can gain from your questions, or for more personal attention, contact us directly!

Comments (4)

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  1. Katie says:

    Not sure I agree with this. Most cloth diaper detergents sold contain borax and washing soda. I have found helpful information in this thread on diaper swappers helpful in creating my own detergent. There is some good information and lots of experience in the comments on this thread.
    But with any cloth diaper routine….what works for some does not mean it works for all :-)
    http://www.diaperswappers.com/forum/showthread.php?t=1040786

    • admin says:

      Hi Katie, You are correct that many detergents contain either borax or washing soda (well, they contain something that is similar in chemical makeup to those products, they are not exactly the same if you look at the chemical components). When making detergent at home with these ingredients, it’s easy to make a mistake with ratios or to have the wrong combination for your water type so the detergent chemicals won’t react properly in your washing machine. Commercial detergents use machinery to properly measure (and they usually measure by weight, not volume), although once in a while you will hear of detergent recalls when the machinery does not properly mix the ingredients. Both Washing Soda and Baking Soda can cause severe rashes if it is not completely rinsed out of the diaper fabric. And the most important thing to note, as it states in the blog post, is bar soap is the biggest problem. The oils in a bar soap will not always rinse free of the fabric, and with repeated build up can cause repelling in diapers. We do agree with you that what works for some does not work for all, but because we have seen some serious reactions from home made detergents, unless you understand the chemical makeup of detergents and soaps and how they will react in your water (including what minerals might be present in your water which can hinder detergent from dissolving or rinsing clean) we recommend using a trusted manufactured detergent.

  2. Rocio says:

    What about Goop Hand Cleaner to fight stains in cloth diapers?
    Thanks.

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