Is homemade detergent good for washing cloth diapers? It can be!
• Your water has a normal amount of minerals, so not too hard and not too soft…
• AND you have all the ingredients for an easy wash routine; diapers made mostly of natural fibers, a regular top loader or a washing machine that allows you to adjust the water level.
Most homemade detergents don’t contain what we commonly refer to as “detergent”, and this is where a problem can arise. The key ingredient of detergent is surfactant, as that is the component that allows water to penetrate deep into fibers and release dirt.
Some homemade recipes include a soap which is a type of surfactant, but one that is very sensitive to the quality of water being used. If you have moderate to hard water, you can experience problems when using soap in your wash routine - such as a residue, which can cause your diapers to repel liquid instead of absorb it.
Some homemade recipes include oxygenated bleach, which depending on the brand, can contain a bit of surfactant as well but not enough for heavily soiled fabric, especially diapers. It is possible to purchase some types of synthetic surfactants, but then the tricky part is what type and how much to add. Here is a great article about how to choose a surfactant for your homemade detergent.
Most homemade detergent recipes include whiteners and brighteners, but not the other important cleaning ingredients in commercial detergents that make them as effective as they are. Most of the online recipes for homemade detergents will include at least 3 of the following substances:
• Washing soda (sodium carbonate): An alkali and a precipitating builder used to soften water and increase pH
• Baking soda (sodium bicarbonate): An alkali (therefore increases pH) which can help with release and breakdown of oily residues
• Borax (sodium borate): A whitening agent and alkali, borax also softens water to some degree. Some manufacturers say it is too corrosive and warn against it, so use caution when adding it to your detergent recipe, as it may void some manufacturers’ warranties.
• Residential oxybleach (i.e. not industrial): This consists of sodium percarbonate + sodium carbonate + other ingredients depending on brand. It is an oxidizing agent which helps render stains colorless or removes stains when the chemical bonds of stain cleave to it. Although we believe oxygenated bleach to be okay to use, use caution when adding it to your homemade detergent as using it may void some manufacturers’ warranties.
So as you can see, formulating an effective detergent involves many factors, and you will need to be careful about the ingredients you choose in order to develop a detergent which will get your diapers really clean! If your washing conditions are less than ideal (for instance you have an HE front loader, hard water, or are using synthetic diapers), it can be tricky to create something that cleans your diapers effectively.
A very important note is to please NOT use recipes that include dishwashing liquids - as these are high- foaming and can interfere with the proper functioning of washing machines.