Washing Cloth Diapers
Sanitation and Residue-Free Detergents for residue free diapers
This is dirty business with regularly recurring exposure to acids and bacteria including staphylococcus areous and ecolli. While we want to minimize the unpleasantness to encourage the use of washable diapers, it is dangerous to minimize the importance of protecting your baby from bacterial infection. Broken or stressed skin can be an inadequate barrier and an immature immune response can be overwhelmed by the very bacteria we tolerate thru our entire lives. Sanitation failure can result in serious infection often requiring antibiotics. Don't be discouraged by the need to get it right. The irritation rate for cloth diapers can be lower than for disposables. In 1955, 100% of babies were cloth diapered; 7.1% of them experienced diaper rash. In 1990, 90% of babies were diapered with disposables, and 10% were cloth diapered; 78% of babies in 1990 experienced diaper rash. ("Why Use Cloth Diapers?" Kim Becker, www.thebabymarketplace.com/whyuseclothdiapers.pdf). In 1955 we used Bleach in storage Pails and boiled diapers after washing. Diaper services all claimed absolute sterilization.
The primary requirement of safe washings is to remove enough of this bacteria so that the skin gets a chance to recover before the next onslaught. If the look or smell of a diaper suggests you don't want to rub your face with it, then it is not ready for either end of your Baby.
In years past, diapers were dumped, scraped and rinsed in the toilet and then collected in a pail of water with 1 or 2 ounces of bleach. If soils were light the pail could be dumped into the washer and washed in hot water. Diapers that did not come out looking and smelling great would be boiled with a little bleach. We weren't concerned about saving hot water, avoiding the use of chlorine, or making the diapers last for 3 more kids. There was still the occasional irritation because Moms have always been busy and diapers get toxic real quick because that's what living bacteria do.
If a Doctor's diagnosis is staph infection or similar, chances are it results from excessive incubation time for a colony of bacteria rather the soap, baby oil, lotion or detergent. First you must eliminate bacteria, then you can concentrate on the benefits of eliminating detergent residue. Washable diapers certainly last longer if you can limit washing to warm or hot water without bleach, but if you are leaving stain and odor, you have no choice but to be more aggressive. Hot water is not what it used to be. In the interest of saving energy and preventing injury, hot water heaters are now regulated to lower temperatures. Some washers now contain heaters because your hot water storage tank is to cold to kill bacteria. Mom used to boil diapers. 212° F kills just about everything. 160° F kills most bacteria and used to be possible with older model water heaters. 120° F as found in a typical hot water home wash doesn't kill much of anything.
Always wash diapers in water at least 160° F. If you can't wash at 160° F you must use bleach, ultraviolet, or chemical disinfectant.
Don't try to maximize each use of a diaper. If you find it only lightly soiled change it anyway, this reduces storage (incubation) time on baby and in the pail. If you use twice as many changes, you will have enough to run a load in half the time. Be certain to pre-clean diapers before placing in pail. Rinsing in the toilet takes only a few seconds and reduces the soil going into the pail and into your machine.
Use a wet pail. Adding a tablespoon of bleach will kill bacteria without killing the diapers.
Use a little common sense and take extra precautions if you get a really bad one. Handle it separately and don't let it infect the others. Extra bleach or an oxidizing cleaner will shorten the life of "that" diaper only. Throwing it in with the others may cause you to use extra chemicals and heat for several cycles on dozens of diapers.
So much for the nasties. Lets look at the benefits of using a Residue-Free Detergent (RFD) like Sport-Wash or Sensi-Clean
Most of the residues left by laundry products are from ingredients that shouldn't be there in the first place. Fad ingredients that are intended to distinguish the product rather than to clean your clothes.
RFD's have no fragrance to cover the smell of missed bacteria. (Bacteria don't actually smell, you smell the byproducts they create.). Since these bacteria can be dangerous to us, we have evolved the ability to smell their byproducts so we can avoid them. If your detergent is unscented you can more easily tell if diapers are safe. The "clean laundry signal scent" or fragrance used in regular laundry products is usually oil borne so immediately you have two residues; the potentially irritating fragrance and the oil carrier that reduces the absorbency of the diaper media.
A true Residue-Free Detergent (RDF) must be free of optical brighteners. These have lots of names including FWA's Fluorescent Whitening Agents, Color Safe Bleach, Color enhancer, etc. They are actually dyes that absorb UV energy and reradiate it as a short blue brightness that is barely visible to humans. These compounds, like fragrance and oils, can cause irritation of sensitive, warm, moist skin. An easy way to eliminate many detergents that claim to be dye free is to observe them under a blacklight. A handy blacklight is available for checking detergents at Atsko.com. If a detergent glows under a blacklight, it has optical brighteners, even if it claims to be dye-free. If it is depositing brighteners or perfume , by any name or disguise, in your clothes, it can't be a RFD.
The primary cleaning power of a detergent or soap is the ingredient called a surfactant. In the case of soaps, these are poorly defined like the result of boiling tallow with Lye. Soaps leave a lot of residue and scum in all but the softest water. Modern surfactant science provides a choice of hundreds of distinct molecules that can be blended to maximize different features. A Residue-Free Detergent (RFD) is blended to maximize rinsability so that you not only wash away the soil, but also rinse away every trace of the surfactants that separated the soil from the fabric. At 100% strength most good surfactants should be able to irritate skin simply because they can remove the oils from it. But they are highly diluted in your machine and can't possibly cause irritation if they rinse away completely. If surfactants remain in your clothes, they can be detected by how they reduce the repellency of Durable Water Repellent (DWR) treated diaper covers. The DWR should continue to work thru many washings if your detergent is a RFD.
Other ingredients like preservatives and pH balancers are used in minimal quantities to keep the product safe from biodegrading in the bottle and aid the surfactants. These can't be eliminated like brighteners, fragrances, enzymes, and oils, so they must be chosen carefully and used sparingly for maximum rinsability.
Finally, we have additives that should not be necessary if your detergent is a RFD. These include silicone and other softeners which are totally unnecessary if the fibers are not pasted together with detergent residue. Also polyvinylpyrrolidone (PVP) which seals fiber ends and surfaces that are being eroded by oxidizing type detergents. PVP holds things together, like detergent residue and fabrics. Enzymes are another source of irritation that should not be necessary if you have a good RFD to begin with.
RFD's will allow you to reduce the chance of irritation to the very lowest possible level. It will save you money in several ways and actually make diapers more absorbent and longer lasting. Residue-Free Detergents can even reduce the flammability of children's 100% polyester sleepwear (see Clemson University study at atsko.com). Only a RFD like Sport-Wash or Sensi-Clean can maximize absorbency of diaper media while maximizing repellency of covers.
Be aware that Sport-Wash or Sensi-Clean is going to clean all the old laundry residue out of your machine as well as your clothes. If caked up deposits break free during a final rinse, your diapers could be strongly contaminated with your old detergent. To clean your machine, fill it to the max fill with the hottest water possible and 1 ounce of Sport-Wash or Sensi-Clean. Agitate for a few minutes and then let it soak for two hours before finishing the cycle. Also rewash your clean diapers without any detergent until they stop foaming. RFD will slowly remove the last of your old detergent over the course of several uses and washings. You and your baby can now enjoy the benefits of Residue-Free Diapers.
An occasional irritation can still occur when you have no detergent residue at all. Babies begin life with immunity supplied, not inherited, from the Mother. Over time this immunity fades away and the baby must begin making immune response based on genetic inheritance from Mother and Father. These responses don't begin immediately. The baby has to learn how to create them as the need arises when immunity from the Mother declines.
During this transitional period, rash, redness and irritation of the skin along with digestive upsets, sleep disruption and behavioral changes can all result from exposure to food, liquids, air borne chemicals and organisms from pets to mold spores. A poorly sanitized or over ripe diaper can certainly be a source of irritation. Infants may also lack antimicrobial peptides like LL-37 and HBD-2, which are important in controlling bacterial attacks.
The bottom line; assure sanitation first, then pursue total elimination of all residue by using a Residue-Free Detergent. Sport-Wash and Sensi-Clean are free of all counterproductive ingredients and rinse completely as documented by the Clemson University test available on line at www.atsko.com. You can't have irritation from something that is not present.