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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 NappyMojo we base our detergent advice on the premise that nappies are laundry, extremely dirty laundry, and although we want to look after them so they can last the distance, our priority is that they are clean and safe every time they go on your babies precious bum. We recommend using regular detergents that are powerful, easy to come by and cost effective as opposed to 'cloth safe' detergents. Usually the detergent you use on your clothing is fine.


Powder or Liquid?

Powders clean better than liquids in both Consumer NZ and Choice Australia detergent testing, even in low temperatures. Liquids are good for short wash cycles, but with nappies you will always need to use a long cycle. Powders also contain more water softeners so help bind to any minerals in your water. If you have particularly soft water or issues with too many suds, you could switch to a liquid.

Choose the right detergent for your machine

If you have a front loader only use a detergent that specifies it is for a front loader, some high efficiency top loader manuals also recommend a front loader detergent

Start out with a standard or high performance detergent with enzymes

These will enable you to clean your cloth nappies with less effort, less cost and at a cooler temperature. People sometimes have concerns about what is in mainstream detergents. You can read more detail about ingredients here, for cleaning cloth nappies we are most interested in surfactants and enzymes.

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, some 'cloth-safe' detergents contain little or no surfactants. All homemade ‘detergents’ contain no surfactants. 

Enzymes- 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.

Sensitive Skin

Babies do not need special washing detergents, unless they have diagnosed skin issues, they do not have more sensitive skin than an adult. It's all a bit of marketing hype. 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. Or if you really don't like fragrance. Try a mainstream sensitive detergent. Sensitive detergents are weaker as they don't contain as many surfactants.

Plant based detergents are not any friendlier to skin than regular detergents. 

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. All detergents go to the wastewater treatment plant. Phosphates in detergents build up in waterways and can kill fish, dolphins and plants. All detergents in New Zealand should be phosphate free, but if buying a parallel imported detergent, be sure to check it is phosphate free. If you would like to use an 'Eco' detergent, that is fine, they are not quite as strong as standard detergents so you will need to use more and will need to use hot water.

Which detergent should I choose?

Some of our favourites are: Persil Ultimate or Standard, Surf, Cold Power, Drive, and Ecostore for Plant based. Check out the full Detergent Index over at Clean Cloth Nappies. 


Mainstream detergent use-

Enzyme use and skin irritation-;jsessionid=534F2B41CED109CB14BE0903707BA9C7.f03t04

Detergent and skin irritation-

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