Just Add Cloth
Jul 302013
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washing cloth diapers in hot water

*Have a question? Our readers are pretty clever and savvy!

One Mama asks:

Having leaky diaper issues . I read somewhere that to get rid of the ammonia issues I was having to wash in hot water, what are your thoughts? I do not want to ruin my dipes but want to clear up the leaking and the ammonia smell and redness on my baby. Thank you!!

None of us want to ruin our cloth diapers. Building that perfect stash takes time and money.

The short answer is NO, hot water will not ruin your diapers. The slightly less short answer is, it depends.

Most of us do not have our water heater set to boiling, so there is no way for your water to be hot enough to ruin your diapers in the short amount of time they are in a wash cycle. That is, if you are washing in a simple, non-fancy washing machine. (By the way, is your water heater turned down a bit if you have young children? They love playing with those knobs in the bathtub!)

However, if you have one of those fan-dangled fancy machines with all of the bells and whistles, then you likely have some settings called “steam” or “sanitize”. Do NOT use those settings. Higher end washers generally have their own internal water heater so that they can heat the water beyond the capacity of your home’s water heater. The machine ultra heats the water for a sanitize setting. This setting does a great job at killing germs, but it is not good for elastics.

You can use the sanitize setting all you like on prefolds, flats, and plain inserts, but please refrain from using it on all-in-ones, diaper covers, and pocket diaper shells. The high heat can wear out elastic in your leg casings very quickly, and even warp your resin snaps. When your snaps get warped they can be very hard to snap and sometimes will not longer snap together at all.

But….your regular hot wash is just fine. It will get your diapers cleaner and you might even be able to get away with less detergent. I always wash in hot. Some of my diapers are over three years old and the thousand or so hot washes have not harmed them in any way. If anything, long drying time in the dryer set to high is more harmful since it is prolonged exposure to heat. I always recommend drying on low if you use a clothes dryer.

*As for the second part:*

Leaking and Ammonia

First, make sure your diapers are not completely saturated. If they are soaking wet when you notice a leak, baby simply needs more adsorption or less time between changes. I know with my son, we hit a point where he was wetting through diapers so quickly we were back to hourly changes just like with a newborn. It was worst around 8-26 months or so. I resorted to some really ridiculously stuffed diapers.

If saturation is not the issue, it could be repelling due to some sort of residue build up. The residue build up could also be causing the ammonia.

Residue in cloth diapers is usually caused by one of three things:

  • Hard water mineral deposits
  • Detergent buildup
  • Diaper rash cream residue

For any of these issues, most cloth diaper veterans recommend stripping your cloth diapers first.

Next, try and determine which of these caused the issues.

  • The diaper rash cream is easiest to eliminate. If you were not using any, no problem. Keep in mind, even cloth diaper friendly rash creams can eventually cause some buildup if used daily without a barrier.
  • Mineral deposits? Are your clothes stiff and crunchy when you air dry them? Do you get white marks and deposits on your dishes and sinks? Then you have hard water. With hard water you may want to use a water softener like soda ash or Calgon with your detergent. Also, the chemical reaction of powdered detergent hitting H2O actually softness the water by reducing the surface tension. This reaction does not happen with liquid detergent. If you have very hard water, you are better off with a powder detergent.
  • Detergent buildup? Both hard or soft water can cause this depending on how much and what kind of detergent you use. You may simply be using too much detergent without enough rinses at the end to get the soap out. This buildup will trap ammonia in the fabric and cause a pretty strong odor. Detergent buildup can also happen when you wash and rinse in only cold water. Try adding a warm water rinse at the end to make sure your detergent is completely rinsed out. (My machine only does cold rinses so sometimes I do a short wash cycle as a rinse cycle if the items were especially gross.) If none of these changes work, you may just try switching detergents. Some people just do not have luck with some of the natural or “boutique” detergents and must resort to something stronger like Tide Powder.

-Lastly, HE machines are often the culprit with getting your diapers clean. You can use the hottest water with softeners and the best detergent, but none of it can do its job without enough water. If you have an HE machine, you might need to tinker with the settings, add extra water through the bleach trap, trick it with a wet towel, or any other tip from the other HE users.

For more General Information see the Cloth Diaper FAQs page and Cloth Diaper Reviews, Information, and Troubleshooting page.

If you have a question you think our community can help with, just ask! (Contact) I don’t know everything, not even close, but I do know lots of brilliant mamas in the know.

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  5 Responses to “A Mama Asks: Will Washing in Hot Water Ruin My Cloth Diapers?”

  1. Great post. I have seen several people ask if hot water will cause delamination so thank you for setting it straight. I wash on warm now but not because I’m worried about damage. My warm is probably most people’s hot and it seems to work fine for us but may not for others. With my old washer I always washed on hot and never had any damage.

    • high quality PUL is used in all kinds of hospital gear for bed pads, etc, and they wash it at extreme temperatures daily. any pul that is not insanely cheap quality should even be able to withstand the sanitize setting. delamination is usually cause by soaking unfortunately.

  2. Terrific post! I always use hot and many of my diapers (BGEs) are almost 6 years old. So for me, the answer is no!

  3. We keep our water heater set at 110, which is the non-scald temp. I also wash my diapers on just warm.

  4. I disagree with your article. In some HE machines, the Sanitize Extra Hot cycle is really the HOT CYCLE. You see my Samsung HE top loading machine- only gets to 170 Farenhite on the sanitize cyle for 3 minutes, most of the sanitize cycle is done in warm water not hot or extra hot, and I find the Heavy Duty Cycle sucks on Samsung HE- it gets hot for 3 minutes up to 150 farenhite and then its eco warm and cold for the rest of the wash, no sanitary to wash diapers in on. The only way I can get a hot wash in my machine is to use to the sanitize cycle. Unfortunately, not all diaper companies and diaper bloggers understand that not all washers are the same. If the temperature is only extra hot for 3 minutes, it is not going to damage the pul nor the diaper inserts/prefolds and considering for the next 2 hours of the cycle the diapers are washed in warm water. I’ll take warm over heavy duties eco-warm. Yes, when I had my standard washing machine HOT FELT HOT, extra-hot was boiling hot, not in my Samsung TOP loading HE machine and the Sanitize cycle doesn’t even make my room fill with steam, like I said water is only really hot for 3 minutes and then it gets back to warm, it is the only cycle where I can wash the dirt off the diapers and disinfect the diapers as well. If I knew the Heavy Duty would stay constantly on hot and only rinse with cold then I would use it but unfortunately my machine doesn’t work like other machines.

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