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Could you have hard water?

Most moms I talk to are oftentimes discouraged from even considering cloth diapers because they are intimidated and overwhelmed by the mere thought of having to wash “dirty” diapers. My husband, too, shot down my initial suggestion of cloth diapering when I was pregnant with our first darling daughter because of his concerns with washing them.

My initial thoughts when it came to laundering cloth diapers were, “What’s the big deal? I’m already doing laundry; what’s an extra load or two a week. It can’t possibly be too vexing; after all the machine is doing most of the work.” I personally LOVE doing laundry. However, in my early cloth diaper days I discovered a few challenges that almost had me throwing in the proverbial towel.

I read many comments online about not having to rinse soiled diapers of exclusively breastfed (EBF) babies. Just throw the soiled diaper in the pail and it will all come out in the wash. How simple! Now imagine my dismay after the first load of diapers came out looking nearly the same way they went in. YUCK!

I quickly figured out that I wouldn’t be able to get away with not rinsing the diapers before putting them in the pail. Thankfully I purchased the bumGenius Shop and Go Pak from Kelly’s Closet which included the nifty diaper sprayer making rinsing a cinch! This step along drastically improved the cleanliness of my dipes after laundering them.

Unfortunately, I still had issues with the vibrant orange poo juice stains. After a bit of online detective work I discovered the culprit: hard water. But not just ordinary hard water; I’m talking water so hard if measured and ranked on Mohs Hardness Scale it would be as hard as a diamond.

Simply put, hard water has a lot of minerals in it, namely calcium and magnesium. Detergents don’t work as well in hard water because they often work at softening the water instead of cleaning the clothes – so a separate water softener is strongly recommended. After adding a water softener to my detergent I finally achieved the oh-so-clean diapers I had been longing for!

Some common (and not so common) water softeners are Borax (sodium borate), pH UP (sodium carbonate), and Calgon (polycarboxylates). Most pocket diaper manufacturers will recommend/approve the use of Calgon for combating hard water while laundering their products. The aforementioned additives also do wonders for softening hard water which is why you will find both of these elements in many of the “cloth diaper friendly” detergents such as Allen’s Naturally, Country Save, Planet, etc… However, it’s important to keep in mind these elements have been carefully formulated/measured to be effective but not harmful to your clothes and diapers.

If you find that you are having difficulties with your cloth diapers not coming out completely clean – hard water may be the problem! The easiest way to detect hard water is if you notice soap scum in your bathtub or on your shower tiles, and/or calcified deposits (white buildup) on plumbing fixtures (sink/bath faucets) and/or inside your coffee maker or tea kettle.

Here is a photo of the United States with a visual breakdown of concentration of water hardness… I figured this would help you guys visually to pinpoint your area and have an idea on the level of water hardness you may be dealing with:


– By Serena


  1. the momma said...

    I haven’t had any problems with hard water, but I do LOVE our diaper sprayer!!! With just a few quick blasts from the sprayer, our diapers go into the wash looking already clean!

  2. Shawna said...

    Thanks so much for posting this! I’ve been wondering about the hard water issue.

  3. Megan said...

    Interesting. We live in Central Ohio- I wonder if hard water will be an issue for us!

  4. After reading this I think I have hard water, but my dipes come out clean with every wash. I get the occasional poop stain but nothing a good sunning wouldn’t help.

    Are there any other problems that hard water can do to the dipes?

  5. Serena said...

    Yes there are other issues that hard water causes – I wanted to include them but I felt my post was already too long as it is… stay tuned and I’ll be back with more not-so-lovely problems hard water can cause (among them – everyone’s favorite – STINKY diapers)!!!

  6. The Eco Chic said...

    I loved this post as well. Thanks Serena for making it simple for all of us to learn about hard water.

  7. Cassie said...

    Thank you so much for this post. it is very helpful. I hadn’t even thought about it and we have hard water.

  8. Kristin said...

    I always worried that I’d have awful laundry problems with the diapers, hard water being one of them. I think we’re in the clear so far, though. Doesn’t extremely soft water cause problems, too? Are you going to do a post on that? I’d love to compare potential issues!

  9. Dani said...

    What a great post – I really appreciate the map! Washing diapers for me was a lot of trial and error to find the right detergent and wash routine for my front loader, it took me a couple of months to figure it out!

  10. Tanya said...

    I think I hard water. I may try the Calgon. Now I need to find it. I’m still working out all the kinks.

  11. we have hard water 🙁 I have always known it but now I have proof. Thanks for the list of detergents that combat hard water.

  12. Senior Family said...

    what a great post 🙂

  13. JGRUMET said...

    my diapers always come out clean using charlies soap (never a stain on them!)…but I am in a red zone! I am not so sure my hair could be as soft as it could be, but the magnesium and calcium in the water is great for blood pressure!

  14. brietta said...

    Although I live in northern NY (which looks like it should be an okay zone)), I have hard water. The diapers come out clean in my HE frontloader w/ a good scoop of Charlie’s, but I do have problems with rinsing and stinky diapers. I’m looking forward to your next installment on this issue!

    I’m also wondering if you can inform me at all about Vaska, the fuzzi bunz detergent. I use all fuzzi bunz right now (love them!) and have wondered if I would have better success with Vaska keeping diapers clean smelling than I do with Charlie’s. Thoughts?

  15. The Eco Chic said...

    Hi Tanya,
    If you can’t find the Calgon water softener at your local dept store you can go online to . They sometimes have free shipping too.

  16. KayStarGoesRawr said...

    Wow, I’ve been wondering why my diapers still hold a smell. That map shows that we have super hard water here…go figure. THANK YOU! I didn’t understand exactly what hard water was.

  17. This is a great post thank you. I am positive I have hard water problems.

  18. Thanks for writing about this. We have a water softener, I guess by the map I live in an area that has a lot of hard water. I know that on my mom’s farm up north (MN) they have VERY hard water, and I have been avoiding washing my diapers up there. I was wondering what the effects would be on the diapers, I didn’t want to chance it though. I think that I will still avoid it if I can so that I don’t have to purchase any extra softeners, but maybe I will anyways to see if it helps with my washes… and yes, the diaper sprayer is awesome, but being pregnant, I am not spending as much time on the dirty diapers, I just want to get away from the smell all together. I don’t have a lot of problems with staining, but sometimes I do have some. I wish that I lived in a state that saw the sun more often, we have winter for over half of the year here in MN and I don’t get to use the sun to bleech my diapers, so this article was helpful.

  19. Kelly said...

    We have hard water here. We also, however, have a water softener in our home. I know it might sound silly but does having a water softener solve the dilemma caused by hard water? Or do the chemicals in water softeners cause their own set of problems? Just wondering! Thanks for the info!

  20. Katie said...

    I didn’t know about Calgon – good tip!

  21. montanamomof3 said...

    I live in Montana and in my area there’s a TON of minerals etc. in our water. Essentially VERY hard water. I’m trying to figure out the best washing routine for my diapers, so could I just use Allen’s or Planet by themselves or should I also add Calgon? What would be the best detergent? We will be using mainly pockets. TIA.

  22. Andrea said...

    Well, that explains a lot! Too bad all my diapers are already pretty well stained.

  23. kim said...

    Thanks for the info on hard water. This could be the culprit for our stinky, stained Fuzzi Bunz. I cannot find most of the recommended detergents in our area and was wondering about home made detergents, especially those using borax, washing soda and Fels Naptha soap. Does anyone have any info on the recommendations and effectiveness of these products on inserts and diapers? Any info would be appreciated. Thanks

  24. Serena said...

    Kim: Yes, stinky diapers are oftentimes caused by hard water (as well as a build-up of bacteria). Homemade detergents are great for your REGULAR laundry but are NOT cloth diaper friendly. Washing Soda (sodium carbonate) and Borax (sodium borate) are ingredients found in most cloth diaper friendly detergents such as Allen’s and Country Save.

    Unfortunately, since homemade detergents aren’t formulated percentage-wise the same way these “commercial” detergents are – it’s not recommended to go the route of homemade detergents. This is primarily because Washing Soda and Borax are very strong, alkaline substances and over the course of time it’s likely they will break down the materials in your diapers (namely the elastic and the PUL – waterproof lining in most pockets, all-in-one’s and diaper covers).

    Fels Naptha is another big no-no. This is a soap and soaps are not at all recommended for use with cloth diapers (this will cause buildup which in turn causes leaking/repelling).

    I understand you can’t find the cloth diaper friendly detergents locally… honestly I live in a fairly large city and there’s only a couple of places where I can find the cloth diaper friendly detergents. Therefore I typically order them online.

    I hope this helps!

  25. Kelly said...

    My diapers recently started smelling awful despite numerous rinse cycles, so I decided to try out the Calgon last week after guessing we had hard water (we have the rings around our drains and white spots on the faucets). Smell is gone! Sooo glad it was that easy a fix!

  26. as said...

    Thanks for the post! Very helpful. I have hard water. My diapers do come out clean, but they are often stinky. Ugh! I am using Country Save detergent for my cloth diapers. Any suggestions for hard water & stink?

  27. Serena said...

    Hi there!

    I also use Country Save and it works remarkably well for areas with hard water.

    If you’re having stinky diaper issues it’s either because of:

    1) The minerals from the hard water are being deposited back onto the diapers
    2) Residual bacteria is hanging out in the diapers

    If the minerals from the hard water is the issue then you will need to ADD the use of a water softener, such as Calgon Water Softener (NOT the bath products). After laundering them, try running them through an additional hot wash/rinse with no detergent but using the Calgon water softener – this will help rinse away the minerals.

    If hard water isn’t the problem then it is likely due to bacteria remaining in the inserts (or prefolds – depending on what type of diapers you use). Detergent residue can also cause stinky diapers but this is unlikely if you’re using the proper amount of Country Save when laundering your diapers.

    In order to kill the bacteria I would recommend bleaching the inserts only (do NOT bleach any products containing PUL such as pocket diapers or diaper covers). Add 2 tablespoons of bleach to a hot wash cycle. This should do the trick. Afterwards, for maintenance I would recommend bleaching your inserts once or month (or as needed if you notice any smell issues).

    However, if you’re able to SUN dry your inserts – this may prolong the length of time before you’ll need to bleach the inserts again. The sun acts as a natural disinfectant (and also removes stains/whitens so your inserts will look pretty spectacular).

    I hope this helps!

  28. Megan R. said...

    This is really interesting. I KNOW we have hard water, but I haven't had any problems because of it yet. And I do NOT rinse/spray my dipes before putting them in the wash. I do keep an eye out for any problems that may pop up though!

  29. Anonymous said...

    I'm already using country save which you mentioned has an additive. But the stains won't come out… might I need to put in additional additive?

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