Cloth Diaper Detergent – Does it Matter? (Diaper Advice)

“I don’t want to use some special cloth diaper detergent.  What if I just use whatever I have on hand?  Right now I think it’s Baby Purex.”

Don’t.  As much as I love using cloth diapers, a lot of people who want to don’t because of the initial start up investment.  I spent over $300 on diapers before my kid was even born, and that was with a volume discount.  I made the mistake of using Tide Free and Clear because the directions said that they were okay.  It took forever to get the stench out… and this was only after a month.  I was constantly stripping my diapers (without really knowing what I was doing) trying to get the stench out after I switched to a cloth diaper safe detergent.  I started using Country Save, and while my stinky cloth diapers didn’t stink any worse, they weren’t getting any better.

Cloth Diaper Safe Detergent - Does It Matter? (Cloth Diaper Addicts)It took me a couple of months to fix it, and that was only after making my cloth diaper laundry routine a strictly Rockin’ Green based one.  Maybe I’d have gotten away with just using the far less expensive Country Save for my cloth diaper laundry if I’d only started using it from the get-go.  A friend of ours who lives in our area (and has the same water) has.

As for Baby Purex in particular… a local mom used Baby Purex.  She then contacted me because her baby was getting horrible rashes in her cloth, but would clear up in a sposie.  So she brought her diapers over to me… and it floored me.  The scent of the detergent about knocked me over (I do have fragrance sensitivities) and I could actually feel something on those beautiful, blindingly white diapers.  It took a week of stripping (hot washes after soaking in RLR) to get the detergent out.

Another issue with using the wrong detergent is that your diapers may start repelling moisture instead of absorbing them, thus making your diapers essentially useless.  That’s no good, either.  (Again, stripping them will fix that.)

It seems to me that if you’re willing to make that initial investment into using cloth diapers (and believe me, it’s most definitely an investment), shouldn’t you protect your investment by using a cloth diaper detergent that’s actually a cloth diaper detergent?  Yes, it’s more expensive.  But my $20 bag of detergent lasts me three or four months.  My Funk Rock bouncer lasts me a month or two for a $17 bag.

It’s worth it.  Since I rocked a soak in Funk Rock and then rocked a soak in my Rockin Green detergent, I’ve never had to strip my diapers again.  And no stench.

I’m not going to say, of course, that all “regular detergents” are bad.  They aren’t.  There are some detergents that are worse than others.  Even though I personally loathe Tide, there are other moms out there who use it and absolutely swear by it.  There are things that you want to avoid in particular, such as optical brighteners and fragrances.  As much as some people out there like to claim that cloth diaper build up is a lie, if detergents didn’t leave things behind, your clothes wouldn’t smell nifty from Gain, your clothes wouldn’t be blindingly white from the optical brighteners, and your clothes wouldn’t be softer from the softening ingredients in Arm & Hammer FabriCare.

(And this is your cloth diapering PSA for the day.  I’ll climb off of my soap box now.)

Do you use a cloth diaper safe detergent on your diapers?  Why (or why not)?

About Suzi

Suzi is an American ex-pat living in British Columbia. She's a cloth diaper addict, wife, mom of three, and President of the Prince George chapter of Cloth for a Cause.


  1. I use purex free and clear recommended to me by my local cloth diaper store. My kids have sensitive skin and major issues with soap switching and both have been great with this change. All free and clear is our regular detergent but wasn’t recommended for the diapers so we got the purex for the diapers.

  2. And then you’ve got AMP listing RnG as one that has been reported to cause leaks ( *sigh* As for the cost of cloth-diaper detergent, so many choose cloth to save money, and the cost of the fancy detergent can be prohibitive 🙁 I totally agree about the fact that if the scent of Gain and other such perfumed detergents sticks to your clothes, then that means there’s detergent stuff still stuck to your clothes! And if the scent gives me a headache… well, that’s not a good sign! Since most brands I’ve looked into also recommend certain main stream (as in not specifically made for cloth) detergents, I don’t think people need to panic, nor feel like they’re endangering their stash by choosing Tide or Gain et al. That being said, I haven’t found MY detergent yet that I will defend on my (laundry) soap box. You’re the RnG Queen, Suzi! I hope they send you free bags sometimes, lol! 🙂

    • Yup. I don’t think that people are endangering their stashes, per se. I, personally, freely admit to hating Tide while pointing out that other people use it and love it. It’s that whole “no one true way” thing that I’ve been touting lately.

  3. I have been using Soap Nuts for a few months now. I’m happy with them. I do an RLR wash once a month to get them super clean, but so far I’m pleased with soap nuts! I had issues with all the free and clears and Tide. I do believe that detergents can leave build-up. It just makes sense! Never tried Rock n Green, but you making me want to try it!

    • If Soap Nuts are working for you, then don’t change it. 🙂 If you should decide that you don’t love the Soap Nuts anymore, then you may want to, but don’t fix what isn’t broken.

  4. If you are cloth diapering for environmental reasons or for the safety of your baby you really should stick with environmentally friendly detergents which most are cloth diaper friendly. To me, it does not make since to say you want to avoid petrochemicals and dioxins ect. Found in disposables and then use Tide or other main stream detergents to wash your diapers.

  5. I started with Vaska which was on the list as being okay, but I ended up with build up and had to strip my diapers. I then switched to Rockin Green, then I tried Eco Sprout and finally Eco Nuts. All of them seemed to be getting my diapers clean because there was no smell at all on my diapers, but we had rashes. Open sores that would eventually develop yeast. I tried to figure it out for almost a year and then chalked it up to acidic poo.

    Then we moved to a hard water area and I didn’t want to mess around so I changed to Tide. No more open sore rashes at all in over a year so I have to assume that my diapers weren’t as clean as they seemed to be. I am now reviewing a CD safe detergent and we have another rash just like before – a small open sore on the inside of his butt cheek. I am working on the amount of detergent to use and I am using more than the recommended amount but that isn’t very cost effective in the long run so I am an unashamed Tide convert 🙂
    Regan recently posted…{Guest Post} Two Kids In Cloth, Yes It Can Be Done. How to stay sane cloth diapering 2 babies.My Profile

  6. I’m a newbie to cloth diapering & the detergent requirement was one major hurdle for me to make the leap. I think before each person posts a comment, it’s important to know: 1. what’s their washer make/model; 2. their washing routine (cycles used); 3. water hardness; 4. what’s your diaper – prefold pocket or all in one, hybrid? natural fiber or fleece or microfiber? You can’t generalize without knowing these basic information. Front loader – regardless what detergent you use, probably will cause a problem simply because its programming does not allow enough water to launder the diapers properly. I’ve seen moms swear by All Free & Clear, Purex Free & Clear, Tide Free & Gentle, or plain old Tide Original, to name a few. I’ve also seen moms pour vinegar into her washer every time she does a load of diapers. But each person’s washer, water hardness, washing routine & choice of diapers, are all different. So these generalized statements are not helpful.

  7. I’ve tried many different natural, homemade and cloth safe detergents over the years, but find (for reasons unknown to me) that their efficacy seems to wear off over time. There hasn’t been a kind I’ve been able to stick with over the long haul and get consistent results. So I use Tide. The fragrance doesn’t bother me at all, I can pick it up at the local dollar store and it cleans the heck out of everything. I love being able to use the same bottle of detergent no matter what I’m washing. Ok, except for my wool. That’s special!
    Anne Sweden recently posted…Ella Bella Bum Pocket Diaper Review and GiveawayMy Profile

  8. I tried Tide for a week. My diapers either stank to high heaven or I had to rinse 3, 4, 5 times. I immediately went back to Rockin’ Green and will not switch again.

  9. What about detergent I max with borax and soap? Is that cloth diaper compatible?

  10. I use either Purex (regular) or Nature Clean on mine, and have never had a problem. All my diapers are Alva brand. I would never use Tide on anything, I can’t stand the smell or the cost and it always gives us rashes!

  11. My son is no longer on cloth diaper since he’s already potty trained. But before I just use the same detergent we used on our clothes. I must admit that when I am just with cloth diaper, I was too excited to try that I forgot to learn first what are the basics like the detergent to be used. I have read moms here are using Charlie soap.
    Maye Domencil recently posted…Lazada launches mobile shopping app for iPhone and iPadMy Profile

  12. I tried rockin green in the beginning and it made my diapers stink so bad! I started using tide and never looked back! It’s cheap and it works great for us. No stink or absorbancy issues. However, I do have a really good washer so that might be part of the reason for my success with TIde.

    • More than likely, it’s actually your water type. 🙂 Tide has water softeners in it, and if you’ve got hard water… the options are to either use more detergent or a detergent with more softeners.

  13. Just a question? What about Method Free & Clear. I have been using it for several months for my own clothes and am slowly getting my deliveries of CDs for my soon to arrive son. Has anyone used this for CDs?

  14. We have tested many big name brand detergents over our 3+ years of cloth diapering as well as our customers usually try something different then we recommend and it almost always comes back to trying Sunlight Sensitive Skin. We are well aware that it contains a blueing agent which acts as an optical brightener. That being said we have to strip maybe once every 6 months and mostly as a preventative measure. Any time we have tried anything else we have had results ranging from smelly diapers and leaks to chemical burns on our child (which are awful). The problem with a lot of “boutique detergents” is that they don’t contain a surfactant which is absolutely necessary for washing in hard water which 90% of North Americans have. I would suggest taking the advice of your local diaper retailer as they probably have more experience dealing with these short of topics then someone brand new to cloth. Always ask to make sure what you’re doing won’t void your warranty.

    • Actually… the boutique brands do have surfactants. At least, Nellie’s, The Laundry Tarts, and Rockin’ Green do. (I’ve not tried other brands, but I’d be shocked if I ever found a commercially available detergent – even a boutique detergent – that didn’t have some type of surfactant.)

  15. This was really helpful! Thanks for all the great info!

  16. Kristi Knight says:

    Very few of the so called CD safe detergents have surfactants in them. While they do have some surfactants, they don’t contain enough to work properly. I highly suggest you do more research on detergents and how they work. Surfactants and plently of them are needed because they grab the dirt and they rinse out along with the dirt. Another things that is really good in a good detergent is enzymes. They eat the waste. Detergents were invented because of modern day washing machines. Detergents are designed to rinse out. Now the scents in the detergents are meant to be left behind. Detergents do not build up however there can be small amounts of residue which is harmless. It really gets under my skin when people like you go and give totally incorrect washing advice. So called CD safe detergents are a home. Don’t waste your money. They are made up if laundry boosters and water softeners and then they put them in a pretty bag and put a big price onit. If tthose ingredients alone work so good, then why don’t we see detergents with only those ingredients on the shelf? Just think about it. When people change their detergents, say they were using Rock inGreen and then started using Tide but they still had stink, well that’s because the Tide is trying to pull out all that built up crap out if the diapers and it can take several washes to get it all out. CD safe detergents do not work because they don’t have any real cleaning power in them. It really ticks me off that the CD companies are getting so much money from people who CD and think they have to use CD safe detergents only. Our babies butts are at risk for yeast, bacterial infections that require a RX for antibiotics to get better and our babies are at risk for ammonia burn. All those things happen when you use the so called CD safe detergents cause they do not clean properly. With a great wash routine and a good detergent you will never need to strip. And that stink youget is actually bacteria that is growing in the diapers from left over pee and poop.


    • I, personally, hate Tide. I got stink with Tide free and clear. (And it’s what I started with.) I can’t use original Tide because it makes me ill. However, cloth diaper safe detergents DO, in fact, contain surfactants. I’ve been using Rockin’ Green with excellent results for around four years now.

      There’s a lot more to a wash routine than just the detergent brand used.

    • Kristi,

      I couldn’t agree with you more except about enzymes. Enzymes can be harmful for cloth because of what they do. They can actually strip the fibers and cause your PUL to separate. It is for all the reasons you mentioned that our little cloth diaper company (Snappy Nappies) has not brought in a detergent as we find the so called CD safe ones just don’t have the ability to clean properly and that some store bought detergents that are a fraction of the price such as Sunlight Sensitive Skin or Sunlight Green Clean do an amazing job without having dyes, fragrances or enzymes. Too many of us have a problem with over thinking it, at the end of the day dirty diapers are dirty laundry and should be treated as such.


  17. This was a very helpful post, thank you.

  18. I agree as well. There should be no need for a “regular” strip (like some moms mentioned) if you have a good wash routine. I use Tide, but there are plenty of other mainstream detergents that will work. I ended up on this page bc a mom I’m speaking dealing with ammonia burns. She apparently stripped but is not switching to Rockin’ Green…and I’m pretty sure she’ll be dealing with another issue again very soon.

    • Why would she? Some of us have used Rockin’ Green or other cloth specific detergents for years. (I’m at five years of cloth diapering here.)

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