How To Choose A Cloth Diaper Detergent

How to Choose a Cloth Diaper Detergent

This post contains affiliate links. 

There are a lot of detergent options out there. A LOT. It can be downright overwhelming choosing one for your clothing let alone choosing one for your cloth diapers. But guess what? It doesn’t have to be overwhelming. In fact, finding a detergent that is safe to use on your cloth diapers could be as easy as grabbing whatever’s in your laundry room already. Really. Just ten years ago people washed cloth diapers the way they’d wash any of the dirtiest laundry produced in the house. Then suddenly the rules changed. “Cloth diaper safe” became the name of the game and everyone was scrambling to pick a detergent without any fragrance, brighteners, enzymes, or dyes. While those dedicated “cloth diaper safe” detergents can work, it takes a very specific set of circumstances for them to be truly effective on cloth diapers. You need the right washing machine, the right water softness, the right amount of detergent, and sometimes even the right kind of pee (weird, I know). Remember that with cloth diapers you are washing away biological waste. That’s urine and feces, folks. It’s absolutely the most heavily soiled laundry you will ever need to wash, so why don’t you treat it as such? The good news is that the tides are turning in the cloth diaper industry. More and more diaper companies are recommending that their customers wash with the detergent that works best for their family. Here are some things to avoid and some things to consider to help you choose the right detergent for your diapers. 

I’ve already outlined the fundamentals of washing cloth diapers, but now it’s time to talk about choosing a detergent for cloth diapers. Before I get into what you want in a detergent, let me tell you what you don’t want in a detergent. The first thing I want to warn you about are incomplete detergents. This is when a detergent contains sodium metasilicate but does not contain an acid to balance the ph. When left unbuffered, sodium metasilicate can result in chemical burns to the child’s skin. These burns can be severe and leave scarring. Detergents that contain unbuffered sodium metasilicate include Charlie’s Soap, Claudia’s Choice, Norwex Ultra Power Plus, and Shaklee. Another ingredient you want to avoid in a cloth diaper detergent is sodium cocoate. Sodium cocoate is a coconut oil based surfactant and it can build up on your diapers leading to stink problems and may lead to repelling. Detergents containing sodium cocoate include Nellie’s Washing Soda, all variations of All liquid, Ecos, Ecos Free & Clear, Honest Company, and a handful of others. Always check the ingredients label if you’re not sure.

Detergent “pods” are a relatively new option in the realm of laundry detergent. They can be more convenient and less messy than regular liquid or powder detergents, but I would not recommend using them on your cloth diapers. The issue is that they become incredibly expensive to use on diapers. If the pods are a regular full strength mainstream option (like Tide Pods or Gain Flings), you’d use one in the first wash cycle and three in the second wash cycle. If the pods are a “free” version, then you’d use two in the first wash cycle and five to six in the second wash cycle. That’s just incredibly cost prohibitive, so I don’t recommend using “pod” style detergent for your diapers.

How To Choose a Cloth Diaper Detergent

What detergents do work well for cloth diapers? Pretty well any mainstream detergent without built in fabric softener. I’ll let that sink in a bit. Fragrance, enzymes, brighteners, and dyes are all okay. Really. The odds are pretty good that whatever detergent you’re already using for your own clothing is perfectly safe to use on your diapers. Something to consider when choosing a detergent is what actually matters to you and your family. Do you just want a mainstream full strength detergent that’s easy to find and isn’t going to break the bank? Does your family have skin sensitivities or prefer fragrance free detergent? Would you prefer to go with a more natural plant based detergent? The good news is that there are detergents that fit all of those criteria (and more)!

In the realm of mainstream and easy to find detergents, Tide Original powder is king. It works exceptionally well, even in hard water, and it’s really easy to find. Most grocery stores carry it and it’s even available at Costco. A big benefit to Tide is that unless your water tests over 180ppm for total hardness, you can skip the water softener. Although Tide does tend to be a bit on the pricey side, the savings from not spending money on Calgon or Borax offset that cost. Of course no one detergent works for every family, so if Tide is just not your thing, that’s totally fine! Gain is a great option, especially in soft water. If you have an HE washing machine, you’ll need to stick to liquid Gain, but it’s a very effective detergent. If you’re needing something mainstream but more budget conscious, Sunlight is a great choice and Arm & Hammer with Oxi works well!

If a fragrance free or sensitive detergent is preferred, there are lots of effective options to choose from. Remember that with “free” detergents, you’ll need to use 1.5-2x the recommended amount for a heavily soiled load and you’ll need to add a water softener if your water is at all hard (over 60ppm). Tide Free & Gentle is a good choice, as is Kirkland Ultra Free & Clear, Purex Free & Clear, and Sunlight Sensitive Skin.

If you’re looking for a more natural plant based option, there are some that can work on cloth diapers. The key here is to use enough and to always run the second wash cycle with hot water. You’ll also want to add a water softener if your water tests above 60ppm for total hardness. My favourite plant based options are from Seventh Generation. The Natural 4x Concentrated (Geranium/Vanilla), Ultra Power Plus (Fresh Scent), and the regular Seventh Generation (Eucalyptus/Lavender, sometimes labeled as 2x) are all excellent plant based options. If you want to go plant based and must also be completely unscented, Seventh Generation Natural 4x Concentrated free & clear or Planet 2x Ultra are both good choices.

The detergents I’ve included are just my top picks, but there are many other detergents that can and do work well to thoroughly clean cloth diapers without additional wear and tear. It is important to note that not every cloth diaper company has embraced the move towards mainstream detergents. There was a time when using anything other than traditionally “cloth diaper safe” options would void your warranty, but thankfully that’s not always the case anymore. Using the detergent that works best for your family will not void your warranty with Funky Fluff, Cotton Babies  (BumGenius/Flips/Econobums), or Grovia. If the warranty is something that really matters to you*, check with your cloth diaper manufacturer to see what their recommendations are.

What’s your favourite cloth diaper detergent?

I happen to believe that the health of my baby's skin is far more important than a $25 warranty, but if you are concerned with warranties you should discuss detergents with your diaper manufacturer.


38 Comments on “How To Choose A Cloth Diaper Detergent

  1. Kirkland Ultra Clean Free & Clear and Arm & Hammer Oxi, both used with some Calgon work awesome here. I tried for a more eco-friendly option without much success, so I wash all our own clothes in something milder. I figure, we’re only in cloth for a few years, and I think the amount of toxins and trash we spare the landfill is worth it, even without an eco-detergent. This post is so important for those new to cloth who feel overwhelmed choosing a detergent!

  2. We have gone back and forth between Honest and Seventh Generation. I need to learn more about the chemical in the Honest detergent. I know nothing about chemicals, I get so overwhelmed in doing the research so I often rely on other moms who know what they are talking about for advice. This has been very informative, thank you.

  3. I have been using Country Save for 2 years. I find it fairly cheap. It doesn’t have all the brighteners. And it seems to work well in my hard water. I like to think I get my diapers clean using it. They don’t smell anyways.

  4. We use ECOs in our family so this is good to know if we have a third. We considered cloth when I was pregnant with my first and second, but we didn’t have in suite laundry. The logistics were nightmarish. You are SUCH a good resource for this sort of stuff.

  5. I’m totally new to cloth. I have won done diapers, but haven’t prepped them yet. I’m so overwhelmed work what detergent is ok to use. I have a he top loader. I currently use ecos free and clear. Is that ok for cloth diapers?

    • Ecos contains built in fabric softener, so it’s a no go for diapers. Seventh Generation is a great plant based option (I listed the ones that work in the post). You just want to use enough. So that’s 1 full cap in the first cycle (cold) and 1.5-2 full caps in the second cycle (hot). If your water is at all hard, you’ll need to add a water softener too.

      • Ecos Free and Clear purchased in the US does not have built in Fabric Softener. I used Ecos Free and Clear on my son’s cloth diapers for the first year. I still use it occasionally for our clothing.I didn’t have any issues until he was over one year old and eating solids, then diapers got the stinkies.

  6. Pingback: Seven Things You Need To Start Cloth Diapering - TheMonarchMommy

  7. Your articles are so informative. I’m leaning so much! My Mother has always used Tide Original Powder in all her laundry and her whites are always white and her colours stay bright. I’ve always wondered her secret but I think I’m starting to figure it out.

  8. i have heard info about tide not being good for you, chemicals in it causing cancer and such. they came out with plant based this year but not sure how it works cloth wise, or if it works as well.. or just not natural as the claims. 7th generation a good one?

  9. Do you have to use arm and hammer with oxi or can you use regular arm and hammer? My girls have some sort of allergy to oxy clean

    • You can use regular arm & hammer, but it’s not one of my favourites. The one with oxy clean is more effective. There are other detergents without oxy clean that would be more effective.

  10. I’m so happy using Tide powder! After 9 mos. our diapers still look & smell brand new and it’s extremely rare that we have any stains! Best of all LO has never had a diaper rash either! Totally unlike some of the diapers that I’ve bought from B/S/T that are gray and dingy with lots of stains…yuck! Fortunately stripping, bleach soaking, & sunning usually brought them back to looking brand new.

  11. Thanks for helping these moms out! So many people don’t understand detergent and they don’t realize that you need detergent and not soap, hence why homemade “detergents” won’t clean your diapers or stuff like Rockin’ Green. I’m a fan of All F&C powder because it doesn’t contain sodium cocoate. And it’s recommended by Fluff Love. You pretty much repeat fluff love’s standards, way to go mama!

  12. Love reading all your posts about cloth diapering! I currently had to strip and I will be doing your bleach cycle next to help with the stink. I use Tide Free and Clear, only because my son has sensitive skin. To understand you correctly, with a free and clear I will need to use almost 2X the regular amount on a regular wash cycle? Thanks!

  13. I use tide original powder in my hard water top loader. My babe gets a rash every time i use my cloth! I am thinking of switching to norwex powder detergent, but I’m nervous about chemical burns and also how much to use! Help!

  14. Hi monarch mommy, thanks for this very informative article! We used rockin green in our he front loader when we lived in a condo but now we’ve moved to a house with a top loader, not he. We’ve finished the last of our rockin green and considering changing to country save. How much would you use?

  15. I see that many people are writing that Seventh Generation is a great non toxic detergent. The first ingredient that is in their soaps and detergents is SLS which is a very well known carcinogen. I just think People should be aware of this.

  16. Would Young Living laundry detergent be something to stay away from? I’ve listed the ingredients below and I’m asking because a few of the ingredients sound similar to the ingredients you said to avoid, but are not the exact same.

    Water, Decyl glucoside, Sodium oleate, Glycerin, Caprylyl glucoside, Lauryl glucoside, Sodium chloride, Sodium gluconate, Carboxymethyl cellulose, Alpha-amylase, Protease, Lipase, Citrus Limon† (Jade lemon) peel oil, Citrus aurantium bergamia† (Bergamot) peel oil (Furocoumarin-free), Syzygium aromaticum† (Clove) bud oil, Citrus limon† (Lemon) peel oil, Cinnamomum zeylanicum† (Cinnamon) bark oil, Eucalyptus radiata† oil, Rosmarinus officinalis† (Rosemary) leaf oil

    †100% pure, therapeutic-grade essential oil

    • The glycerin alone would be a no go for me. It’s a very weak detergent and the amount you’d need to get an effective clean would make it extremely expensive (plus that amount with the glycerin would likely build up and cause repelling).

  17. Hi, I’ve been cloth diapering my third child for three months now. I cloth diapered my second for only a few months because I couldn’t stay on top of the wash routine. This time I have been able to stay ahead of it. However, my diapers are now getting an ammonia smell. They smell after I wash them. I’m planning on stripping and bleaching them. I’ve been using Nellie’s to wash them, which was recommended on another cloth diaper blog I read. Your post says that it contains sodium cocoate. Mine does not have that listed in the ingredients. It does have sodium metasilicate though, which is bad if unbuffered. How do I know if it’s buffered?

    The ingredients are as follows: soda ash, linear alcohol ethoxylate, sodium chloride, sodium metasilicate, and sodium carbonate.

    If it is buffered, then is it ok to use? And should I be using more of it then? Or how should I fix my wash routine to prevent the ammonia from coming back? Thank you!

    • Hi Jenna,

      Nellie’s is the detergent that lead to a major ammonia problem with The Heir way back in the day. I cannot in good conscience recommend it to anyone. I would suggest you try a different detergent that would be more effective on your diapers. If you have a lot of Nellie’s to use up, feel free to use it on clothing or towels, but I’d use something stronger for diapers. If you need any further assistance, you can always send me an email through the contact me page. 🙂

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *