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What is detergent residue?

Detergent residue is honestly the #1 reason why cloth diapers will leak. I can’t stress enough that using the correct detergent is the absolute key to cloth diapering success.

So what is this term- detergent residue? Detergent residue is a film left behind from certain detergents and additives. You cannot see this residue and you won’t notice anything until you start having problems with leaks.

The major cause of detergent residue is the use of free and clear detergents. Free and clear detergents are the WORST detergents to use on cloth diapers. What? Are you serious, you ask! Over time (usually a few weeks) using a free and clear detergent on cloth diapers will leave a waxy coating on the diapers. Pocket diapers are especially vulnerable to this as the residue actually “clogs” the pores of the fleece or suede cloth (the part the wicks moisture away) and make the diapers leak. Customers have emailed me in a panic thinking it is a defect in the diapers when actually it is a detergent problem.

Now if you have used a free and clear detergent, don’t panic. First of all discontinue using it. This includes discontinue using it for your clothing AND cloth diapers. We HIGHLY recommend using one type of detergent for your regular laundry and cloth diaper laundry. If you switch back and forth you are literally creating a “scientific experiment” in your washing machine. Residues from the previous detergent will react with the next detergent and then deposit on your diapers.

Next, you need to “strip” your diapers. I know this sounds harsh but it is really quite simple. Wash your diapers in hot water with no detergent and add Oxiclean Versatile Powder (the regular version). You may need to do this routine 2-3 times, drying in between cycles.

Finally, choose a detergent that is suitable for cloth diaper laundry AND clothing laundry. We highly recommend Charlie’s Soap, Allen’s Naturally, or Fuzzi Bunz Detergent by Vaska.

Now my husband was a big Tide with bleach user. When I wanted to try out Charlie’s Soap he said to me , “There is no way that natural stuff is going to clean like Tide.” I asked him that we should try it for a week. We have never turned back. The Charlie’s Soap gets all our clothes clean (and better than Tide) and we have never once had any problems with my son’s cloth diapers!

Don’t use vinegars, essential oils, sodas, or laundry boosters in your wash load. We believe and know that using less is so much better. Occasionally you can use regular bleach on inserts (not on pocket diapers, covers, or similiar product).

Stay tuned as next week we will fill you in on the #2 reason why cloth diapers will leak.

-Picture courtesy of Diaper Jungle . A complete resource of cloth diapering fun!
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  1. Dani said...

    Why do people suggest using Dawn liquid to strip diapers? This was the recommended method from a majority of users on a board I visit.

  2. The Eco Chic said...

    Hi Dani,
    We don’t recommend the use of Dawn to strip diapers. First, there are so many versions of Dawn that most versions will actual make repelling/leaking worse on the diaper and will leave a coating. The other reason is using straight Dawn detergent in your washing machine does void any manufacturer warranties.
    We truly find that stripping with oxiclean versatile powder in hot water with no detergent works wonders. If you still have problems with repelling or residue issues you can make a paste with a bit of water added to the oxiclean. Scrub the cloth diaper area with a toothbrush. The only time this usually needs to be done is when a non-friendly diaper rash cream was used.

  3. Kathleen said...

    What is your opinion about using homemade detergent (the one that uses Borax, Washing Soda, and Fels Naptha soap)? I’ve used this for my prefolds and it made them soft and fluffy. I just bought some Bumgenius 3.0 a few weeks ago and don’t want to ruin them by using this, although they seem to be coming out clean and fluffy.

  4. Dani said...

    Thanks – I was skeptical about the use of Dawn!

  5. Hi, I make my own laundry detergent with a combination of grated ivory soap, washing soda & borax. Is this ok to use on cloth diapers? I've seen some info out there about using vinegar to avoid soap residue from homemade detergent, but your blog says not to use vinegar. Would love your opinion on this.

  6. The Eco Chic said...

    I do know that the Fels Naptha Soap is a pure soap. Pure soaps are not the most ideal for cloth diaper washing as over time they will leave a residue on diapers which may cause leaking. Using the Fels Naptha is probably fine for prefolds but for pocket diapers that have fleece or suedecloth I would tend to shy away as these fabrics are more prone to getting build up.
    The same would apply for the Ivory Soap as this is a pure soap too.
    I did a bit more research on both bars of soap and found this on Ivory Snow:
    “There is a soap residue. I have noticed that the residual soap that runs down the side of the bath tub near the soap dish does need removing, however the stuff has a consistency that removes easily….”
    My hunch that it is best to stay away from both bars especially if you are washing any synthetic fabrics and/or pocket diapers.

  7. Courtney said...

    What about borax isn’t it the same as oxiclean?

  8. Andrea said...

    I’m hoping that my Tide Free doesn’t cause a problem when I’m washing my other clothes with it (diapers I wash with Charlies). I have a ton of it in the closet still and I hate to throw it away. Anyone have any experience with problems doing this?

  9. Serena said...

    Hi Andrea!

    Thanks for posting your question here… You may want to visit the following blog post to help answer some of your questions about switching between using Charlie’s for your diapers and Tide for your clothes:
    The Cloth Diaper Whisperer Answers…

    Charlie’s Soap has determined problems are more likely to occure when you switch between the detergents (some babies have developed adverse skin reactions as a result).

    Although you generally don’t see it, your washing machine also gets build up from detergent residues… when you wash your diapers with the cloth friendly detergent and use the other stuff (in your case Tide) for your clothes, it’s possible the residual traces of Tide inside your washing machine can work their way into your diapers without you realizing it.

    I understand you don’t want to waste the detergent you do have on hand… if you want, you may consider donating it to a local woman’s shelter or other organization in your area where it might be put to good use – so you don’t feel like it’s being wasted. (Just a thought).

  10. Anonymous said...

    So why will no one tell us what the “magic” ingredient in Charlies and fuzzy bunz etc is?

    not everyone can afford 14$ a bottle for 25 loads….

    What do these “correct” laundry soaps have in them that we can’t find somewhere else?

  11. Serena said...

    Anonymous: There’s no “magic” ingredient to Charlie’s or other detergents. Actually, nearly all of the “cloth diaper friendly” detergents disclose their ingredients (simply look on their website… the ingredients are also listed on the product itself as well).

    The same can’t be said for other commercial products who typically refuse to list their ingredients and oddly enough aren’t regulated by law to do so (based on my understanding anyhow).

    Now, with all that said… the cloth diaper friendly detergents do not have phosphates, enzymes, dyes, fragrances, optical brighteners, and/or fabric softening agents, etc… These things can cause excessive wear and tear on your diapers… and in some cases (especially in the case of fabric softeners) cause repelling issues.

    Lastly, the biggest misconception is the price comparison to detergents. If you were to actually compare the price per load for Charlie’s, Allen’s Naturally or some of the other well loved “brands” such as Country Save or Planet – the are in many cases CHEAPER than commercial detergents (especially since the “loads per box” isn’t accurate for commercial products whereas these products truly do the loads per bag/box/container as stated on the package).

    I hope this helps!

  12. Amy/Gabi said...

    I'm surprised that no one has mentioned's Diaper Detergent. We use this detergent on all our laundry and it is extremely affordable and doesn't take much for a load. It also comes in either unscented or TONS of other awesome scents. They also offer Pure Oxygen Cleaner, which I haven't used yet, but can't wait to try.

  13. April said...

    I am completely new to cloth diapering and haven't even started yet – just starting my stash….I have bought a few bags of Rockin Green, is this recommended for cloth diapers? Just want to be sure before I use it. Thanks for all this wonderful info!

  14. phrogmom said...

    is regular vaska detergent ok??

  15. Missy said...

    What about Rockin' Green?!?
    I LOVE Rockin' Green. I used Charlie's for quite some time and now I am a Rockin' Green convert. You can do a soak with Rockin' Green and not have to bother with the Oxiclean.

  16. Leasa said...

    I live in a high rise with shared washers and dryers. I had been wiping down the washer and dryer for each cloth diaper load I do with a 50/50 vinegar water mixture to avoid buildup on the diapers from residue left behind from other peoples detergent. Is this going to hurt my diaps?

  17. tiffibug said...

    What can I use instead of Oxy Clean? My whole family is allergic to it.

  18. Carolyn said...

    We have well water and after a bad experience with All Free & Clear I switched to Purex F&C over a year ago and haven't had any issues. It doesn'y have any brighteners, enzymes, etc.

  19. Tricia said...

    When using Charlies isn't occasional disinfecting necessary? How do you recommend doing so? I was having stink issues with my pockets so I used a bit of vinegar in the rinse out of desperation. I just bleached the microfiber inserts, but I HATE using bleach! I sun when possible.

  20. Meredith said...

    What would you recommend for those who use a laundromat? I use Charlie's soap, but I just read that it is bad for people who use public washers, because it brings out the residue from other detergents and deposits it on your diapers. What can you do when you can't control the residue in the washer?

  21. hlkeaton said...

    Charlie's is my favorite detergent too! I started using it on diapers and within a week was hooked forever…now it's all I use for everything. Not to mention, I recommend it to everyone I know!

  22. Kristen Doucet said...

    What about Dove soap in replace of the Ivory or Fels-Naptha. Dove has that commercial with the mirrors and it was the only soap not to cause a build up. This mixture is sooo cheap and easy that I really want to continue to make my own Detergent with the borax and washing soda.
    The 3 detergents that you listed we cannot buy from anywhere in the stores and I am not into buying online all the time.

  23. Kristen Doucet said...

    Oh and what if we just used the oxyclean in each load, would it be ok to only use that every time?

  24. robin.sayers said...

    The homemade LD that I have been using combines Borax. Washing Soda, and Oxiclean free (one cup of each, shake to combine, use 2-3 tbs per load). This removes the risk of bar soap residue. Any thoughts? It seems to be working great and the generic names for the ingredients are all listed in the RnG soap, so I'm thinking it should be safe, but then someone mentioned the oxiclean causing holes in their clothes??

  25. Kristi Lynn said...

    Is vinegar harmful to use on cloth diapers. I use 1/4 cup in the rise cycle. Also I make my own soap from Fels Naptha, Borax, Washing Soda and Oxi clean; I have never had a problem with build up. I think that this is because I use vinegar. Can these products cause harm other than build up? Will vinegar break down my diaper covers?

  26. Anonymous said...

    Why are free and clear detergents the worst? I don't understand.

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