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Before you start using cloth diapers, you have to know that some things are incompatible with cloth diapers.
I’ve listed the cloth diaper-unfriendly ingredients below to help you keep your cloth diapers in the best possible condition by avoiding these.
1. Homemade Detergent (Soap)
To be even more environmentally friendly than you already are by choosing cloth diapers, you’ve probably considered using a homemade detergent instead of the commercially available detergents.
Let’s look at why this can work fine once or twice but isn’t a good idea in the long run.
Homemade detergents’ main ingredient is soap with added water softeners, such as borax and washing soda. Water softeners aren’t cleaning the diapers; they only soften hard water.
Soap isn’t powerful enough to be used on the dirtiest laundry you’ll probably ever wash.
Additionally, since it needs a lot of water to be washed away, it isn’t recommended to be used in washing machines, especially in high-efficiency (HE) and front-loading washing machines designed to use less water.
With time the soap will start leaving a film on (and in) the diapers, making them harder and harder to wash in the depths properly, so you’ll be left with dirty diapers. Because of this film, they will start repelling water, and you’ll start experiencing more and more leaks. (Source.)
2. Fabric Softener
Fabric softeners are designed to coat the fibers of a clean cloth and lift them up so they feel softer to the touch.
After the clothes are washed clean, the fabric softener gets its turn. It usually works by coating each fiber with a thin oily residue, which is a big problem with cloth diapers, as you can imagine.
Adding oils to clean cloth diapers will decrease the absorbency of cloth diapers, and you’ll end up with more and more leaks if you use a fabric softener (frequently).
Additionally, they are generally quite scented, which can cause unwanted irritation of your baby’s sensitive skin.
Some fabric softeners on the market advertise as being safe for cloth diapers. Still, if possible, I would remain cautious and avoid any unnecessary chemicals (source).
I recommend you try other softening methods for your cloth diapers, such as using a dryer ball, twisting the diapers manually, adding vinegar to the final rinse, etc.
If you’ve been using a fabric softener on your cloth diapers, you should probably consider stripping them to eliminate the oily residue causing leaks.
Read this ultimate guide to stripping cloth diapers to help you choose the best stripping method for your situation.
3. Soap Nuts
Soap nuts are actually berries (not nuts as suggested by the name) from a tree called Sapindus mukorossi.
Once heated to a certain temperature (they work their best above 90 degrees Celsius), they release saponins which are mild cleaning agents. As you know, most cloth diaper manufacturers do not recommend washing cloth diapers at such high temperatures, so it seems that cloth diapers and soap nuts just aren’t a good match.
According to a study Choice performed in 2020, soap nuts are less effective than plain water when it comes to cleaning laundry!
Since you need more than just water for washing the dirtiest laundry you’ll ever wash, I advise against soap nuts.
4. Petroleum Jelly (Vaseline)
Vaseline® Protecting Jelly Original is the product that is usually referred to as simply Vaseline. It is made of pure 100% petroleum jelly.
Petroleum jelly (also called petrolatum) is a mixture of mineral oils and waxes, which form a semisolid jelly-like substance (source). It is made of paraffin (a type of mineral oil), also known as soft white paraffin.
Its primary purpose is to form a water-protective barrier on your skin to keep it moisturized.
With all this information, you can probably understand why using a water-protective barrier ingredient on your baby’s skin isn’t the best idea when using cloth diapers.
When used regularly, it can form a film on your cloth diapers. According to this source, synthetic materials (pocket shells, synthetic inserts) are more at risk for this film, and cotton diapers aren’t so sensitive to it.
Therefore, if you need petroleum jelly to prevent your baby’s skin from getting irritated by urine, use it on cotton diapers or use fleece liners (affiliate link to Amazon) that will cover most of the diaper surface.
5. Cod Liver Oil
Cod liver oil is obviously a fish oil and is often recommended to treat diaper rash.
While this is good advice, you should be careful when using oils with cloth diapers.
Oils will form a film on cloth diapers, making them susceptible to repelling liquids and, therefore, leaks.
If you’re adamant that you want to use cod liver oil for your baby’s diaper rash, make sure you use a fleece liner above the cloth diaper so you protect it properly. Don’t use disposable liners because they are too thin and leak through.
Calamine lotion is a pink lotion that is a combination of zinc oxide (ZnO) and 0.5% ferric oxide (Fe2O3), according to Wikipedia.
It is used to treat many skin conditions, including diaper rash.
The zinc oxide acts as an astringent, which helps protect the skin by drying and hardening it (source).
Ferric oxide is an antipruritic, essentially an anti-itch drug (source).
As these two ingredients might make calamine very successful when dealing with diaper rash, special attention should be advised when used in combination with cloth diapers.
Calamine is very likely to leave stains on all kinds of clothes, including cloth diapers.
If you are still adamant about using calamine for diaper rash because you know it works so well, do it with a cloth fleece liner but know that the liner might get a permanent stain.
7. Zinc Oxide
I partly covered zinc oxide under the calamine paragraph, but since not everyone knows that it is the main component of calamine, I am mentioning it again.
Zinc oxide is commonly found in many diaper rash creams for a good reason. It supports wound healing and helps prevent moisture loss from the skin (source).
When using zinc oxide creams with cloth diapers, it is essential to know the other ingredients besides it. If zinc oxide is mainly suspended in oil (e. g., Desitin), it will be tough to wash it and the oil away from cloth diapers, especially synthetic ones like pocket cloth diapers.
You already know this – if oils aren’t getting washed away properly, you get repelling diapers.
But if the zinc oxide is mainly dispersed in a cream with a high percentage of water, chances are it won’t cause any repelling. Nevertheless, be prepared for possible white staining, especially on synthetic cloth diapers, such as pocket cloth diapers and fleece liners.
To sum it up, in the end, you can use zinc oxide creams for diaper rash, but I highly recommend using a fleece liner to prevent any damage to your cloth diapers.
8. Sesame Seed Oil
Sesame seed oil is an oil that is either extracted by pressing toasted sesame seeds or by doing a cold press of raw sesame seeds.
It is very high in antioxidants and has anti-inflammatory properties (source).
Anecdotal evidence shows that it is efficient in reducing pain when applied to the skin and helps prevent moisture loss from the skin.
Still, sesame oil is an oil, and you should never use it together with cloth diapers unless you use a fleece liner that will cover all the area of the oil-covered skin.
If used with cloth diapers, you will see oily stains in diapers.
Remember, oils will penetrate the fabrics and stay there, causing the diapers to absorb less and less.
If you’ve been using oily diaper creams together with cloth diapers, I highly recommend you check out this ultimate guide to stripping your cloth diapers and making your cloth diapers free of any potential residue again.
9. Dryer Sheets
Dryer sheets are squares of synthetic fibers commonly used during the drying cycle in your dryer to help soften and scent the clothes while also reducing built-up static.
To be able to do all those things, they contain some special ingredients, such as fabric softeners, lubricants, and fragrances (source).
We have already learned that fabric softeners work by depositing oils in the very depth of your cloth diapers, which is a bad thing when using cloth diapers. The oils that penetrate so deeply in the cloth diapers are very hard to wash away, meaning your cloth diapers will start to repel water more and more.
This issue is even more noticeable with synthetic cloth diapers.
Another thing to consider is that even if you don’t use dryer sheets with your cloth diapers, some deposits will still end up in your dryer, which may affect its operating efficiency. These deposits can end up on all the clothes you dry in your dryer, even without using dryer sheets in that particular load (source).
As mentioned under the fabric softener paragraph, consider trying other softening methods for your cloth diapers, such as using a dryer ball, twisting the diapers manually, adding vinegar to the final rinse, etc.
10. Conventional Stain Removers
Regular bleach and oxygen-based bleach are the first things that come to mind when someone says stain removal.
But are they safe for cloth diapers?
While some cloth diaper manufacturers will warn you about using bleach, some will encourage it (e. g. once per month).
Whatever you decide to do, ensure you properly dilute bleach before using it.
Anyhow, it is worth it to exercise extra caution when removing stains from the covers and PUL because bleach can start eating away at the elastics and PUL.
Inserts will likely be less sensitive to the dangers of bleach but know that it can still cause holes in natural fibers, such as cotton, bamboo, and hemp, so again, always make sure to dilute it well and don’t leave it on the diapers for too long (source).
I recommend you always start with more natural stain removal methods first and make bleach your last resort.
- sunning the stains (you’ll be surprised how well this works!),
- using lemon juice or vinegar on the cloth diapers and possibly sunning them,
- cloth diaper-safe stain removers.
By reading this post, you’ve probably noticed that not all of the mentioned ingredients are absolutely prohibited, but I highly recommend you use them with caution. Some of these will even be fine (diaper rash creams) if used with fleece liners but be prepared for them not to be in excellent condition after this.
I hope this post helps you to understand how some of these ingredients can affect cloth diapers, but in the end, the decision to use them or not is entirely yours.