Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Washing Cloth Diapers and an HE Frontloader: Problems and Solutions (Prelude to Rockin' Green Review and Giveaway)

Cleaning cloth diapers is simply not simple, at least not if you have an High Efficiency Front Loader washing machine. Just about every person you ask will have a different answer about what did or does work or not work for them, even among those who've been doing it for a long time. There are so many types of washers, water, and detergents, not only that but you never know the history of the diapers in question, and what kind of residue they may already have. I could make a list a mile long of factors that can influence cleaning diapers, but I don't have time to write a mile long post. :) I've got a half mile to go as it is...

Several months ago, I posted about what I'd learned so far about washing cloth diapers in an HE Frontloader, including the necessity (for me) to use "clean rinsing" detergent, the help of adding a large wet towel, and the help of using a diaper sprayer. At that time, I had  completely ceased to have issues with detergent build up (so long fishies!) and for some time enjoyed my diapers coming out of the wash smelling gloriously of NOTHING (this is how you know they are clean), and even after wet on, they smelled only of pee (this is how you know they are REALLY clean). I thought I had it all figured out!  Until...

Enter Ammonia.

I'd heard that pee eventually turned to ammonia as it sits, and not until my baby was at least 6 months old or so did I learn what that smelled like. Back to the Diaper Pin forums I went.  It wasn't too bad at first, only in overnight diapers and in the pail when it was time to wash did I smell it, but then it began to be an issue even after a diaper had been in the wet bag for a few hours while we were out on the town. It began to intensify and I was beginning to realize I had a problem.

I knew that some level of ammonia smell was normal, to be expected, and not necessarily a problem. I asked around to find out what was "normal," and the consensus seemed to be that it's normal in the overnight diaper (unless it's strong enough to burn your nose or something), normal in the pail after a day or too, but NOT normal if it is smelling like that in the wet bag after just a few hours and as I already new definitely not normal if you could smell it immediately after the diaper is wet. Fortunately, I've not gotten to that point.

However, it was an unavoidable fact...I had some ammonia build up. Now, what to do?

All HE Frontloaders are not created equal. I've looked it up so very many times and I often hear "use this setting or that setting, mine does this or that if you do this or that," and found none of those scenarios to be true for my washer. I've read the user manual front to back numerous times, and had almost become convinced that it was impossible to get cloth diapers PERFECTLY clean in my washing machine.

I had started or continued doing few things that had helped keep the problem from getting out of hand, and I still find them necessary to do, but they are not sufficient in themselves:

1. Spray out even just heavily wet diapers before putting them in the pail. Not only does this go ahead and rinse out some of the urine, it also makes the diaper already saturated when going into the washer so that they do not merely absorb all the teesie bit of water that the HE Frontloader puts in!

2. Throw a huge wet towel into the wash.

3. Wash at least every 2.5 days...

4. Do a delicate wash first (in place of the cold wash or rinse generally prescribed), because the delicate cycle uses more water than any other cycle (on most machines). This gives a better rinse than I had been getting. (I'd tried both doing a quick wash cold, regular wash cold, and just cold rinse.)

Though these things helped, and made my diapers tolerable, there simply was not enough water getting through my diapers. I had decided I was going to drive 1.5 hours to my parents house and hang out for a day or two and wash wash wash. That was after planning to do it at a laundry mat, which seemed like a great idea until I realized that there was no way I could have my not walking yet but crawling everywhere and eating every minute particle off the floor baby there all day!

(For those of you new  to cloth...please don't be scared away from cloth diapers...this kind of stripping only needs to be done once in a while...and you can make it a LONG while with clean rinsing detergent and...well...not having my washing machine.)

There were a couple of options before me, both of which came highly recommended.

1. RLR

2. Rockin' Green

I ordered the RLR, but did not use it right away because I felt that I would only know if it really worked if I tried it in a different washing machine or figured out how to get more water going through mine. Not long after this I wrote Rockin' Green to see if they'd be interested in working with me on a review of their product.

THEN, I heard some exciting news. I learned from this post on The Cloth Diaper Whisperer, that it is possible to add water to your machine through the detergent dispenser! The couple who wrote the article had the luxury of a sink in their laundry room, and were able to use a hose to add the water. I had to use a bucket, and yes some splashing was involved, but IT WORKED! I found that if I added two or three bucket fulls (depending on the size of the load) I could actually SEE the water moving around the dipes! I was very excited. I'm looking for a large watering can with a spout that doesn't have the "sprinkler" attached, which will make pouring in the extra water mess free.

I started doing this, and though I still had the ammonia smell, it definitely was NOT getting worse. This was no surprise to me since I knew it was a BUILD UP problem, and required stripping. Now I just had to figure out how to get that 'ol build up outta there!

I had finally heard back from Rockin' Green and they were going to send me a few samples of their product for review.

I had a choice to make. RLR, or Rockin' Green?  I decided to wait on trying the RLR, and give the Rockin' Green a chance first, especially since it was supposed to remove build up by SOAKING rather than stripping (and because I had to write a review of it :).

You'll hear the rest of the tale , or at least the next chapter, in my soon upcoming review and giveaway of Rockin' Green Soap!


  1. Thanks for this! I'm not cloth diapering yet (baby due in feb), but I have read some horror stories about front loaders and washing issues. I'm bookmarking this post to refer back to when I start washing diapers!

  2. This is very good to know! I am 'Rocking' my first soak as we speak. I'll probably try a 3 hour soak this first time.

  3. Very good points! diaper is an absorbent garment worn by individuals who are incapable of controlling their bladder or bowel movements are unable or unwilling to use a toilet. Thanks a lot....

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  5. The link to your old post listed in the second paragraph isn't working. Also I would love to find your post on the Rockin' Green soak and how it worked for you. I am running into many issues with my front loader. Just as soon as I think I have it figured out a month or so later I get the stink! I did a Rockin' Green soak and can't believe how clean they got, now I KNOW my front loader is to blame. I just wish it would soak them everytime.


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