Ask anyone what their cloth diaper washing routine is and you will get 20 different answers from 20 different women. There are just so many factors at work in washing cloth diapers and that is why it is the toughest part of cloth diapering for most parents.
I hate to break it to you but your wash routine might be obsolete. Due to the variables in water hardness and mineral content what worked for you in Point A might not work for you in Point B. This might not be evident right away but there are signs that you need to change your routine and finding out sooner is better than later- trust me! For an idea about the variations in types of water across the country Rockin’ Green has a chart, although you will want to double check once you get settled in. I also highly suggest using Bummis as a resource for washing cloth diapers in general.
Things to look for:
An increasingly strong stink-
Your diapers shouldn’t stink after being washed and dried. They also shouldn’t stink after being washed and still wet. Typically your diapers should have no odor at all. Take a moment to sniff test your diapers before hanging them to dry or putting them in your dryer. There are different kinds of smells but the most common one you can detect while they are wet is called “barnyard stink” and this is a sign that your diapers are not getting clean enough. Due to changes in water from moving this could mean using more detergent than you used previously (especially if you have harder water) or adding a water softener like Calgon in with your wash. It might also mean that you should change detergents if other fixes don’t solve the issue because frankly- some detergents don’t work well with certain water types.
A “nose stinging” odor-
Whew! Your diaper pail seems to be a toxic waste factory each time you open the lid and you have started closing your eyes and nose each time you have to open it. That my friends is a sign of ammonia build up in your diapers. Ammonia is one of those dreaded words in cloth diaper land because it can be a BYOTCH to get rid of. It is important to take action at the earliest signs of ammonia build up because not only will it be harder to get rid of as more takes up residence in your diapers but it can cause serious rashes for your baby. To get rid of ammonia you will need to strip your diapers (a process of removing build up through continuous washes with either plain hot water or Dawn dish soap among other products-find what will work best for you situation) and bleach them. There I said it. Bleach is a necessary evil in my opinion and is recommended by many manufacturers, including Cotton Babies, for diaper washing on a monthly basis. You will want to check your warranties on your diapers before bleaching however as some do not cover them after that. Once you have tackled the ammonia and your diapers smell odorless after your child has peed in them you will need to re-evaluate your routine to avoid another round. It is normal to smell ammonia faintly on diapers after they have been sitting in your wet bag or pail for long periods but it shouldn’t knock you over so keep that in mind as you go on.
Any time there is a rash you will want to isolate the cause. Rashes can be caused by so many things, not just diaper laundry. Common rash causes include too much detergent build up (and your baby is sensitive to your detergent), ammonia in the diapers (usually these are flat and bright red rashes), yeast (which is another problem, related to diapering but not to moving), a reaction to new foods, sensitivity to wet diapers if not changed soon after wetting, etc. If you rule out the rashes caused by other environmentals like food allergies then it is time to step back and look at your diapers for the cause. Ammonia and build-up are both issues that could be caused from a new location and a bad fit from your old wash routine. Treating the rash with a cloth diaper safe cream and revamping your routine should cure that rash and keep it at bay.
Repelling is another ugly word in our land. With repelling your diapers have built up a barrier of detergent (or have rash cream build up or even softeners on the lining) from not being rinsed thoroughly enough or using to much detergent. This is an easy fix when you notice your diapers are repelling or suspect that small leaks could mean the absorbancy rate is decreasing. It can happen slowly or in one wash too. If it happens slowly you will notice small leaks from the legs or back, usually because the urine escapes before soaking in all the way. Leaks will happen more often and will get increasingly worse over time if you don’t fix what is leaing residue. If you just happen to drop in a bottle of softener then you will have immediate repelling and no urine will soak in leaving you with a potentially soaked crib sheet or jeans with a baby on your lap. First you need to strip the diapers of the residue, sometimes RLR is the best for removing detergent build up. I uaully buy mine from Mom’s Milk Boutique because they offer free shipping on it! After a good soak and strip look to detergents formulated for hard water if you have it now, or use less of your current detergent because you may have moved from a harder to softer water system.
Catching your problem early is the best way to tackle it before it becomes a beast! I personally fought this battle after moving from NY to FL and had to change detergents and start using Calgon in my wash and this has killed the barnyard stink that my diapers were experiencing. After moving I wouldn’t change your routine off the bat unless you for sure know what the differences are in the water and feel comfortable making that change.
Even vacations can have take a toll on your diapers. I have taken mine with me many times to various parts of the country and experienced near immediate repelling due to a water change that didn’t agree with my wash routine. This is hard to know until you try but consider asking others in that area about the water type and look up how that differs from your own, then make a small adjustment for that time.
My biggest tip is to join a local cloth diapering group after you move and ask about how others wash their diapers! Asking on a worldwide forum is going to leave you with more questions than answers, but usually there is a theme within a community in the amount used, the detergent used, and any additives. Try local boards on cloth diaper forums or even Facebook!