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Choosing a Detergent for your Cloth Nappies

If you are a hire customer, you need not read any further! You can access our personalised wash routine service here. 

At Nappy Mojo our first priority when is comes to laundry suggestions is clean nappies! Nappies are the dirtiest washing you'll ever have to wash, ammonia and dirty nappies are very irritating to skin. Washing well from day one will ensure you don't run into issues later on. Nappies should come out of the wash with very minimal staining and smelling of nothing but detergent, or nothing if you prefer fragrance free. 

Whats in detergents?

You can read all about what's in detergents here. Our favourite ingredients are:

Surfactants- They are your main cleaning power! They have a water loving end and a dirt loving end, they attach to the dirt and disappear with the water during the drain and spin, taking the dirt with them! If you don't have enough surfactant, some dirt will remain after each wash. Surfactants will not build up, as they are attracted to water not fabric. Surfactants are formulated in a lab and are expensive to produce, many boutique detergents contain little or no surfactants, all homemade detergents contain no surfactants and are not appropriate for cloth nappies. 

They consume dirt, and are the reason that 'high performance' and standard detergents do much better in testing in both the New Zealand Consumer testing and the Austrailian Choice testing. One of the enzymes used consumes protein stains, so detergents containing enzymes may degrade protein based materials such as wool and silk. The only nappies that are protein based are nappies that have wool in them (Wool covers). The 'bamboo' used in cloth nappies is actually deemed 'Rayon' whch is highly processed and not protein based. Cotton, hemp, microfibre, and PUL are not protein-based and will not degrade with enzyme use.

All detergents sold in New Zealand are free of phosphate or very low on phosphates which makes them safe for grey water and our waterways. Nappy wash water is actually consider 'black water' since it contains human waste, so it shouldn't be used as grey water. The rinse water may be used though. 

Powder or Liquid?

Powders clean better than liquids in both Consumer NZ and Choice Australia detergent testing and they generally work out cheaper , but if liquids are your preference there are plenty of good ones!

Plant Based Detergents (Eco)

Many people who are environmentally conscious prefer to use a plant based detergent. Plant based detergents contain plant based surfactants which have a shorter tail end and so have more difficulty holding onto dirt than synthetic surfactants. This means that for washing heavily soiled items like nappies, you need to use hot water and a bit more detergent to get a great wash. There are more amazing plant based detergents available now than there were even 5 years ago. Our favourites are the ones that contain enzymes such as B Clean Co Detergents, Ecostore Supaclean Powder and Living Green Liquid. If you prefer fragrance free- Ecostore Sensitive Powder can also be used. 

There is no evidence that plant based detergents are any friendlier to skin than regular detergents. 

Mainstream Detergents 

These are stronger and will enable you to clean your cloth nappies with the least effort, least cost and at a cooler temperatures if you prefer. Our favourites are- Persil Ultimate and standard, Dynamo Professional, Surf and Cold Power. Fab and Reflect can also be used but they only contain one surfactant so are a bit weaker and need hot water to be effective. 

Sensitive Detergents 

Babies do not need special washing detergents. Unless they have diagnosed skin issues, they do not have more sensitive skin than an adult. There ARE true reactions to fragrance (Synthetic and plant based), but this is very rare. If you have a reaction to a particular fragrance that doesn't mean your baby will. Fragrances are in all strong mainstream detergents to cover up the smell of surfactants. 

The biggest risk for a baby with sensitive skin, and in fact all skin, is exposure to ammonia in unclean nappies. Ammonia is highly irritating to skin, which is why our wash routines are designed to avoid any ammonia build up by using a good strong detergent. 

If your baby does have a reaction to a strong mainstream detergent, it is likely the fragrance is the cause so you can use a mainstream sensitive detergent. These deterrents are weaker than their fragranced counterparts as they don't contain as many surfactants. You will generally need to use 1.5 times the normal amount. 

Our favourite sensitive mainstream detergents are- Persil Sensitive, Surf Sensitive, Cold Power Sensitive. 

Environmental Impact

All detergents have an affect on the environment, and not all detergents that are labelled as eco or green are necessarily any more environmentally friendly than non-eco products as detergents go to the wastewater treatment plant, and the pre consumer process is harder to determine.

Make sure you are always washing full loads for your mainwash!

We believe that whatever you can do to make your cloth journey fun and easy is the best thing to do environmentally, so choose the detergent that helps you to achieve your cloth goals!


Mainstream detergent use-
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Detergent and skin irritation-

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