Monday, October 11, 2010

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Attack of The Great White Crusty

You know your water is special when Kim, from Rockin' Green, says, “Wow.”

Let me start by saying that I already suspected we had very hard water . Water hardness is a measure of the amount of calcium and magnesium in your water – that's the (usually) white crusties that collect on the side of the pot if you start the pot of water boiling for dinner but get distracted by Thing 1 pinching Thing 2 because Thing 2 looked at Thing 1, “Like this, mom, and it made me feel so mad!”. If this sounds familiar (the white ring around the dishes, not the whiny Things - I can't help you there), you probably have hard water. If you've seen The Great White Crusty in your pans, coffee pot, and on your faucets, you can rest oh-so-much better tonight knowing it's also on/in your diapers. If you're not sure if I'm being sarcastic, here's a hint. The Great White Crusty (mineralization) does not increase the absorbency of your diapers.

I called the city water department and found that while the water hardness in our city “depends on several different factors”, it's roughly 600-800ppm (parts per million). For reference, anything over 200ppm is considered very hard. I was told that if I didn't want to ruin the diapers (I had to admit this was my reason for calling before the man would give me even a ballpark number, because, you know, it “depends on several different factors.” Sigh.) and all of our appliances to boot, the city strongly recommends installing a water softener.

Water softeners are a great idea in areas like ours, as long as the softened water only goes to the major appliances (water heater, AC, dishwasher, washing machine). You don't want it hooked into your drinking water supply, though; it has been shown in multiple studies that people who live in areas with (and drink) hard water have fewer cases of cardiovascular disease. See, there's always a silver lining!

That doesn't help my diapers, though, and not just because they conspicuously lack that little “je ne sais quoi” in the way of a cardiovascular system . Many of us are 1) renting or 2) unable to afford a new water softening system. So what can we do?

I called Kim at Rockin' Green. “600 ppm? Wow.” Here are the tips she passed on to me (along with my liberal interpretation):
  1. Cold rinse or wash without detergent: The more yuck you get out of diapers with that initial rinse/wash, the less work the detergent needs to do, once you add it. Less detergent = more money for more fluff.
  2. Fill and soak: It takes 15 minutes for the detergent to complex (bind) with the calcium and magnesium in the water so it can work properly. If your wash cycle is right at 15 minutes or less, you aren't getting the full effect of your detergent.
  3. Use more than the recommended amount of detergent: Yes, I said more. If you use the lowest recommended amount of detergent, the detergent is going to be spent on complexing/binding the calcium and magnesium, with no oomph left to actually clean your laundry. You MUST use more than the recommended amount of detergent, or use an additional water softener.
  4. Use Calgon Water Softener: If you don't want to use extra detergent, you can add a full dose of Calgon. Borax and washing soda are cheaper, but they bind with calcium and magnesium to form a solid. In your wash water. When your washer goes through the spin cycle, your diapers are going to filter out these tiny, ashy, solid particles. That's eventually going to “clog up” your diapers and cause them to repel. In contrast, the complexes formed between Calgon and calcium/magnesium will stay in solution (stay dissolved). When you spin your diapers, all of that calcium and magnesium exits, stage left, along with the water, soap, and... well, all that other fun stuff you get in baby diapers.
  5. Get a custom batch of detergent: How's that for customer service? If I can get enough moms together in my area, Kim is willing to make us a custom batch of Rockin Green. I'm not sure what she'd call it – Industrial Rock, maybe.
What finally worked for us? I wash diapers in the evening, every 2nd-3rd day.
  1. Cold wash (or sometimes just a rinse) diapers using the large load size setting, NO detergent.
  2. Change the load size to small, add 4 tablespoons of Rockin' Green detergent, and fill with hot water.
  3. Agitate for about 5-10 minutes.
  4. Soak overnight.
  5. In the morning, change the load size back to large, and the temperature to warm. Finish filling the washer (don't add any more detergent) and wash as normal, adding in the automatic extra rinse.
No more stink (unless I don't allow for an overnight soak – a few hours just doesn't cut it), and we're completely done with repelling issues.

Is it fair that we, already under attack by The Great White Crusty, have to spend a bit more (on extra detergent) to get our diapers clean? Maybe not, but hey, all of those extra minerals in our drinking water means that we (and our babies) will have healthier cardiovascular systems at the end of it all.

Areas of the U.S. with ultra hard water include the borderlands of the Southwest US, from Texas to Los Angeles, as well as parts of Kansas and Florida (particularly areas that draw some or all of their water from local streams – something that is generally done seasonally by municipal water suppliers. Hence, your ultra hard water could be seasonal, adding yet another layer of complexity).

Since the issue of hard water can be a bit more complicated, depending on your area and the type of hardness, I highly recommend taking the guesswork out of your laundry routine. Call your city water department or local extension office for a ballpark water hardness measurement. Then call your local extension office or favorite detergent company for a custom laundry recommendation.

Call today, and tell us how hard YOUR water is! Are you surprised?

Author: Angie S. is the mother of two, Andrew (7), and Kate (8 months). She's passionate about chemistry and cloth diapers.

14 comments:

Deltaflute said...

Very cool tip. I'll have to look into the Calligon. I know that our water is super hard. Today my bathwater looked blue. I've just been dealing with it the best way I can. I think we have a water softener in our building (I live in a condo and we share water) so it's not all that bad. We haven't had too many repelling issues.

Jill said...

Ours is almost 300 and we live near Saint Louis. Basically it was costing too much and taking too long to wash our dipes in RnG or other natural detergents you can't buy in the store. As much as I loved the scents and all that, we switched to Tide (which several diaper companies recommend). One of the manufacturers even told me that if I had to use 'that much' of their detergent and my diapers still weren't getting clean, that I should consider a different avenue because it's not cost effective anymore. I've used 'plain' Tide and free and gentle and they both work fine. I do a large cold rinse, large hot wash w/Tide, 2nd large hot wash to make sure it's thoroughly out, every 2nd or 3rd day (about 15 diapers for a toddler). I don't see any excess wear or issues with my diapers from the switch. Since I have an almost 2 year old (who is refusing to potty train), most of my diapers are no longer under warranty, and even if they wouldn't be replaced, the cost of using regular store detergent I can use on all my clothes, instead of paying $10 for shipping pretty much would take care of it. I have nothing against the natural soap people, I really don't. It just didn't work for us--oh and a big factor was the bleeding rash that healed up in an instant when we switched to Tide.

Alycia said...

My water is probably as hard, if not worse, than yours. We have well water. ugh. I tried RnG Hard Rock and it did nothing for our diapers. I wish it had!

Oh, and love the "great white crusty" what a name!

Alyssa said...

I just called my water company and the lady told me it is 8-9 GPG (grains per gallon). I'm not really sure how that relates to others, but she assured me it is a lot better now than it was a couple of years ago.

dannyscotland said...

This was really informative, easy to read, and HILARIOUS! I don't think I've read to the end of an article on hard water in a long time (I don't have hard water) but I couldn't stop reading this.

StephanieU said...

I am glad our water isn't that hard, but I did grow up with water hard enough to require a water softener. I definitely prefer the taste/texture of non-softened water.

sarah said...

I cannot tell you how happy I am that you posted this! The Great White Crusty lives comfortably in our home and has caused many fights with our dishwasher to keep it just barely functioning. We are unable to install a water softner in our small home without a basement due to the placement of our water main. I was fighting a bit of funk while using a basic washing cycle and RNG. I have since learned to get rid of the funk, I will have to invest a bit more time because our water is so very hard. Your suggestion is almost identical to what I have adopted. However, I will be using your method from now on. This is perfect and thank you, thank you, thank you!!!!

Tawnya said...

Ooh, I'm excited to try your washing routine. Phx has terribly hard water and I've been trying to use up my existing detergent before buying the Hard Rock.

Heather said...

We have hard water as well. However, I have an HE Washer, so there is little soaking at least not in the traditional sense. What is the best plan?

Anonymous said...

our water is 120 ppm or 7 grains per gallon. I hope this is soft enough to not have to do all this extra stuff. But if so, now I know what to do!

Carrie said...

I recently wrote my own post about my hard water and diapers - http://dangerouscrayon.blogspot.com/2010/09/hard-water.html

My water hardness is about 195 mg/L, which puts us into the very hard category, but clearly not in the "so hard rocks are falling out of my faucet" category that you are in. I wasn't surprised, but relieved I have the "right" RnG formula for my water.

I contacted Kim, and have been working at trying to tweak my wash routine. Funk has been an issue, and soaking in my machine (an HE FL) doesn't work. Still tweaking.

Jill's comment makes me consider using tide, although I've been hesitant since we have a greywater system for our laundry waste water. No septic or sewer to break things down, so I'm cautious about what ends up washing out onto our land.

Ang-n-Jas said...

*Author here*
Jill - the only issue some have with Tide is the optical brighteners (many with hard water find it builds up, since it's designed to stay in clothing even after rinsing) and the enzymes. Enzymes that aren't completely rinsed out can be reactivated every time the diaper gets wet. What works out great in the laundry (oil and protein-eating enzymes) do terrible things to a baby's bum. Many find that they can get good enough rinses, though, and I like your argument stating that your warranties have already expired.

Alycia - I think the key to getting the RnG to work (or any other detergent you choose) in ultra hard water is that long soak and a bit of extra detergent, rather than the "less than recommended" we've always been told.

Alyssa - 1 gpg is equal to 17.1 ppm, so you can multiply your 9gpg by 17.1ppm/gpg to get a waterhardness of 153 ppm. You're good using regular detergent, no need for a special routine!

Stephanie - I also prefer the taste of hard water. I thought I was the only one!

Tawnya - Try your own detergent first, but add in an overnight soak and maybe increase your detergent by an extra 1/4 of your normal amount (so if you usually use 1/4 cup, add in an extra tablespoon) of detergent. If you can get the local stuff to work, there's no reason to switch to something else.

Heather - I'm not sure what to do about HE washers, those are challenges in and of themselves. I did have the opportunity to use a top loading HE machine recently, though, and noticed that there is a "pause" feature. I'm wondering if a soak could be worked in somehow using that?

Anonymous - At 120 ppm, you're safe using a normal laundry routine.

Carrie - The funk is, I think, a side effect of using what is essentially plastic (polyester) in diapering. Just like our kitchen plastics hold odors, so do our diapering plastics. I think the key is a good detergent, strong, and soak. I particularly like your comment about wanting to do best by your septic system. That's why I started doing a small load soak to begin with - it's like using a full load of water for soaking with 3-4 times the detergent, except that since you do the soak with a small amount of water, you can use a much smaller amount and still get the effect of the detergent. When you finish filling the washer and continue the wash as normal, the detergent is diluted out to a "normal" concentration.

Ang-n-Jas said...

*Author here*
Jill - the only issue some have with Tide is the optical brighteners (many with hard water find it builds up, since it's designed to stay in clothing even after rinsing) and the enzymes. Enzymes that aren't completely rinsed out can be reactivated every time the diaper gets wet. What works out great in the laundry (oil and protein-eating enzymes) do terrible things to a baby's bum. Many find that they can get good enough rinses, though, and I like your argument stating that your warranties have already expired.

Alycia - I think the key to getting the RnG to work (or any other detergent you choose) in ultra hard water is that long soak and a bit of extra detergent, rather than the "less than recommended" we've always been told.

Alyssa - 1 gpg is equal to 17.1 ppm, so you can multiply your 9gpg by 17.1ppm/gpg to get a waterhardness of 153 ppm. You're good using regular detergent, no need for a special routine!

Ang-n-Jas said...

Stephanie - I also prefer the taste of hard water. I thought I was the only one!

Tawnya - Try your own detergent first, but add in an overnight soak and maybe increase your detergent by an extra 1/4 of your normal amount (so if you usually use 1/4 cup, add in an extra tablespoon) of detergent. If you can get the local stuff to work, there's no reason to switch to something else.

Heather - I'm not sure what to do about HE washers, those are challenges in and of themselves. I did have the opportunity to use a top loading HE machine recently, though, and noticed that there is a "pause" feature. I'm wondering if a soak could be worked in somehow using that?

Anonymous - At 120 ppm, you're safe using a normal laundry routine.

Carrie - The funk is, I think, a side effect of using what is essentially plastic (polyester) in diapering. Just like our kitchen plastics hold odors, so do our diapering plastics. I think the key is a good detergent, strong, and soak. I particularly like your comment about wanting to do best by your septic system. That's why I started doing a small load soak to begin with - it's like using a full load of water for soaking with 3-4 times the detergent, except that since you do the soak with a small amount of water, you can use a much smaller amount and still get the effect of the detergent. When you finish filling the washer and continue the wash as normal, the detergent is diluted out to a "normal" concentration.