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Hard water and Buildup in Cloth Diapers

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Darcy Osheim

on 20 September 2014

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Transcript of Hard water and Buildup in Cloth Diapers

Hard water & Buildup in Cloth Diapers
Do you have hard water?
Most areas of the United States and Canada have some degree of hard water. These maps are by no means conclusive, so to see if you have hard water you'll need to test it with a testing kit*.
Those mineral deposits that build up around your water sources also build up in the fabric of the diapers and trap bacteria.
The Detergent Build-up Myth
One of the most prolific cloth diapering myths is that of detergent buildup. Unfortunately, the fear of this supposed buildup, and the subsequent use of too little detergent as a way of avoiding it, are what often lead to stink and rash issues in the first place. Minerals buildup, not detergent.
Hard Water
You may also see deposits left around your faucets or on glassware that indicate hard water.
Hard water affects laundry
Imagine minerals this like building up in your baby's cloth diapers
Debunking the Myth
It’s important to make the distinction between residue and buildup. Think of it like a snowball rolling downhill in a cartoon.

Optical Brighteners
These are used to make fabrics look whiter by reflecting back more blue light thus reducing the yellow appearance. A very small amount is put into the detergent to begin with, and while it does have a cumulative effect over time it doesn't cause repelling or scummy buildup. Essentially, it'll make your diaper inners shine under a blacklight but it won't stop them absorbing liquid.While for users with very sensitive skin optical brighteners can be an irritant, for most, there is no concern during use.

The amount of builders varies depending on your detergent. A builder is much like a booster (oxyclean, borax, calgon) as its job is to soften the water and remove minerals that harden the water. They allow the Surfactants to bind to fecal matter and urine instead of to the minerals, and wash away with water. They are safe for both your diapers and your baby.
Enzymes are not necessary for detergent, but they do improve performance. Enzymes are specifically chosen to attach and lift off protein stains. In the case of cloth diapers, the enzyme helps to break down the fecal matter and urine. Enzymes are shown to not build up on cloth.
Fillers, Fragrances & Colorants
If the snowball were detergent buildup, the snowball would simply continue growing larger and larger as it went until something major happened to break it up. If the snowball were residue, on the other hand, it would be kept in check by the warmth of the sun, so even though new snow would be added, some snow would also be melted away before more new snow was added.
Common Detergent Components and Why They Don’t Build Up
Surfactants are molecules that are made up of a head that is hydrophilic (water loving) and a tail that is hydropobic (loves grease and dirt). In the wash, the fecal matter and urine attach to the hydrophobic section of the surfactant and are lifted away with the water by the hydrophilic section. That’s how we know that the detergent is rinsing out of the fabric - it isn’t interested in staying in the fabric, it is chemically structured to cling to the water!
What we see here is one shirt washed without optical brighteners (left) and one wash with optical brighteners (right).
dilute detergent, so they're not helping it build up. In liquid detergent the filler is typically water. In powdered detergent it’s often sodium sulfate.

* Fragrances
There are so many different scents used in detergents, it's pretty much impossible to figure out who's using what to make the fabric smell like it does, but there's no indication that the scents themselves are causing any kind of buildup. They obviously stick around, but they don't cause repelling. Those with extremely sensitive skin should avoid fragrances. Some mainstream companies such as P&G use only biodegradable perfumes/fragrances.
* Colorants
These are considered safe in detergent, and are usually designed to match the fragrance with color. Luckily we know they wash out because our clothes do not change color!
How to prevent hard water build-up
Water Softener
Add one of these to the main wash cycle with the detergent
Good Wash Routine
The basic wash routine should follow these steps.
The solution is the proper amount of detergent, and added water softeners. Hard water is not your friend, and you need good wash routines to deter its impact. Using too little detergent on a heavily soiled load can be dangerous. When it comes to getting your diapers clean, more detergent is better.
I cap full
1/2 cup
Step 1:
Step 2:
Pre-wash/rinse diapers to get off urine and fecal matter
Main wash on a heavy duty cycle with the recommended amount of
detergent for a heavily soiled load. No need for extra rinses unless the diapers feel slimy.
* note: If you are using a Free and Clear detergent or plant based detergent, use 1.5-2x the recommended amount for a heavily soiled load.
Step 3:
While eliminating rashes and getting a healthy baby is our number one priority, another problem hard water can cause is stink.

The smell of ammonia or barnyard* in a diaper is caused by the same buildup that causes rashes. Even if a baby is not exhibiting signs of a rash, diaper stink signals that a rash is not far behind.
The problems that hard water causes
Hard water is not just annoying, it also can cause problems that harm the baby.
Hard water causes rashes by trapping urine and fecal matter in the fabric. As baby sit in the diaper and gets the diaper wet, those particles start to irritate the skin.

The longer the build-up is left in the fabric, the worse the rash will get.

These rashes are often mistaken for detergent sensitivity.
*As with all rashes, please see a medical professional for a diagnosis.
* The term barnyard can also apply for smells such as fishy, wet dog, or even skunk
Join the discussion at https://www.facebook.com/groups/FluffLoveCDScience/
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*testing kits usually available through local home improvement stores, aquarium stores or amazon.com
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