Every laundry routine is as unique as every family. Even though it's great to hear from other people what works for them, it is still a trial and error that everyone needs to go through. There are so many different things that can cause something to work for one person but not another. So today I'm going to address some of these variables.
The first variable is your type of diapers. Cotton and all natural fabrics will wash differently than man made fabrics like microfiber. Prefolds, flats and fitteds will launder more easily than pockets, AI2s and AIOs. This is because they are more often a natural fiber and they have no PUL fabric to content with. Pockets, AI2s and AIOs are a little more finicky. The typical microfiber, suede cloth or rayon made from bamboo tend to have more build up and stink problems than natural fibers. Not only that, but they also have PUL or other kinds of waterproof fabric, elastic, and snaps or aplix that you have to be careful how hot they get and what types of chemicals they interact with.
Another thing that makes doing your cloth diaper laundry different is what type of washer you use. The traditional top loader is favored among cloth diaper users. This is because you can adjust the water levels easily. You can also open it to look inside at the diapers and how they are getting cleaned. The agitation is different compared to a front loader. Front loader machines (or HE machines) are more efficient and use less electricity and water. There are ways to 'trick' your front loader into adding more water. You can add a soaking wet towel, which will add weight, to increase water and it will also give more texture for your diapers to agitate against. You can also manually add water to the detergent fill area on some machines. I haven't had much experience working with a front loading washer, so I can't really say if one is better than the other. I just know that they are different.
One of the hardest things to figure out is the type of water. Many things come into play when it comes to water. The biggest one is hardness. You can find out your water hardness level by contacting your local city offices or a local water treatment company. There is also a map that you can check here. Hard water will make it more difficult for your detergent to produce suds or to break down the oils and dirt on your diapers. It can also cause mineral deposits from the hard water. Another part of your water is the pH level and other additives. Your city has guidelines as to what they add or how they process their water that has to be reported to the State. You can contact your local city office for this information too. You can rent or buy a water softener for your house. This is a great choice because it will help you cut down on shampoos and soaps of all kinds and it will leave your skin and hair softer and less likely to have rashes or dry skin. It will leave less build up on your appliances, counter tops, sinks, showers and tubs. Your dishes and glasses will come out with no spots from your dishwasher. If that is not an option, you can also buy cloth diaper detergents that are made specifically for hard water.
Now you have to decide what you want your washing routine to be like. Every cloth diaper washing routine should include a rinse to start. This helps wash out the excess ammonia build up and any solids that might be lingering. Then you have to decide whether you want to do just one wash cycle or if you want to add an extra rinse at the end of that wash cycle. Some detergents work better with an additional rinse; others don't need it. This will also affect how often you need to do regular diaper maintenance too (meaning stripping or soaking your diapers.) Regular diaper maintenance is a lot like maintaining your car. You don't necessarily have to do it, but it will help avoid problems in the long run and it will keep your diapers newer, longer.
Another variable is how old your child is and what they eat. This can make a big difference in how you do your cloth diaper laundry. Exclusively breastfed babies have much easier diapers to take care of compared to formula fed babies. There is little to no smell to breastfed baby waste, it doesn't stain, and it's a different, lighter consistency. Once your child starts eating solids, your diaper routine will change again. Solid food baby waste will vary as much as the food your child eats. Some foods will make baby waste smell very acidic and heavy of ammonia.
The last variable is the weather and the phases of the moon. OK, so I'm being a little tongue in cheek, but the weather can play part in how you wash your diapers. Heat and humidity will make cloth diaper laundering difficult. Smells will be more pungent and stains will seem to set faster. Rainy days will also affect it too. Sometimes random things will cause problems with your cloth diaper laundry and you just can't explain it, but it will solve itself before you can figure out what happened.
I look forward to sharing more about how to find a solution to your cloth diapering problems and different ways to strip different kinds of diapers later in the week!