The Evils of the Sanitize Cycle on Cloth Diaper Laundry

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Whenever you do cloth diaper laundry, the goal is to get your diapers clean.  Your cloth diaper stash takes a lot of abuse.  I mean, our kids pee and poop on those things… over and over again!  So with that in mind, you’d think that you want to get your cloth diaper laundry as clean as humanly possible, right?  And what can be better than sanitized or sterilized?

It turns out that when it comes to your cloth diaper laundry, just plain clean is generally good enough.  But then there are these beautiful, amazingly energy efficient front load washers.  And there’s that lovely “sanitize” button…  It seems like it should be the perfect solution, right?

It’s not.  While “sanitize” means to “render sanitary, free from elements such as filth or pathogens,” it’s not super kind to your diapers.  It can actually get far hotter than manufacturer specifications for some varieties of diapers.

I was curious about the temperatures, so I decided to start calling washing machine manufacturers after finding no hard and fast temperature information on sites with washing machine specs.  According to Maytag, their sanitize cycle renders clothes NSF safe.  NSF certified minimums for washing is 131F/55C.  But that’s just the minimum.  I couldn’t find any information regarding the actual temperature that the washing machine uses on sanitize.  The nice gentleman on the other end of the Maytag customer support line couldn’t, either.

Some sanitize through steaming.  The temperature that water turns to steam is 212F/100C.  That’s also the boiling point of water.

Here’s the thing: while boiling will most certainly kill most things, it may also kill your diapers.  Rockin’ Green says to wash your diapers at a maximum of 150F/65C, but to stick with 130F/54C for every day cloth diaper laundry… with deference to the manufacturer instructions, of course.  The instructions on BumGenius diapers says to wash at 100F/40C.  AppleCheeks diapers say to wash at 140F/60C.  Rumparooz website says explicitly (and this is a quote from their website) “Washing your pockets on the sanitize cycle will void the warranty.”

If you really do need to hard core sanitize, you most likely will only need to sanitize your inserts.  That’s where the issues are more than likely to reside with your diapers in the first place.  The only time I would ever make an exception to this rule is under the same conditions that I would actually use bleach: if dealing with MRSA, a really bad nasty fungal infection, or something else that requires a “kill or cure” approach to getting your cloth diapers back.

Have you ever used the sanitize cycle on your cloth diapers?  How did it work out for you?