Do Certain Detergents/Additives Cause More Diaper Damage?

Earlier this week I posted a guide to making your own homemade detergent, with many cautions about the fact that you could risk diaper damage. In fact, Thirsties wrote an interesting post this week cautioning people against making their own detergents due to diaper damage from harsh ingredients that may be present in the detergent. So this is definitely a topic I want to look into.

I was interested in seeing what our numbers here had to say about it. I have found that sometimes the survey responses conflict with the advice given by many companies.  I don’t think any of these companies have some evil scheme behind them, they are caring people who want to be very sure that your diapers get the longest use out of them. But I do worry that there is not enough research behind many of the frowned-upon products. I don’t consider my survey legitimate research, but I do think that survey responses certainly give us a good picture of how different detergents are doing.

Previous Surveys: Maria at Change-Diapers surveyed over 500 cloth diapering individuals and “94% of respondents report no damage to their diapers. Those who selected ‘yes’ for damage to their diapers were unsure as to whether the leaking, repelling, fraying, delamination etc. was due to detergent. Less than 1/4 of those people were using a ‘no-no’ mainstream detergent. The remainder were using detergents that are recommended on ‘the lists’ etc.” This information is startling, and I wondered if the numbers would change if we only considered those who had used the detergents/additives for a long time.

Methods: To help answer this question, I used the over 2,200 responses to the Washing Diapers Survey to compare the diaper damage present*** in Cloth Diaper Safe detergents, Homemade Detergents, Tide, All Detergents (not the brand, but literally All detergents that were listed in the survey), and various additives*. I determined what detergents were deemed “Cloth Diaper Safe” by selecting those which received five stars in this handy table that Pin Stripes and Polka Dots made regarding cloth diaper safe detergents. I only looked at those who had used the detergent/additive for 9 months or more. I initially looked at how different the numbers were with different water types and found that there wasn’t a significant difference among the different detergents**.


What does this suggest?

Of those who used a detergent or additive for over 9 months, only 11% reported damage visible in their diapers.

There may not be as much correlation between detergents/additives and diaper damage as we think. Or at least not enough to worry about. We do see that Homemade detergent may be associated with higher damage, but again, the difference is small.

In other words, I do think many of us are a little too concerned about damaging our diapers.

Limitations: I want to make clear that each individual case may vary–these are estimates.There are also several additional variables that should be considered such as drying method, water type, machine type, diaper type, whether or not the diaper was purchased used, and the age of the diaper. It would also be interesting to clarify damage type. Respondents from both my survey and Maria’s noted things such as worn velcro as damage and that may classify more as diaper wear.

Conclusion: It is my hope that we explore this area of the cloth diapering community a little more closely. As you know, I feel like we are making cloth diapering a little more difficult than it need to be. And I know you will probably look at this chart and scream “HYPOCRITE!” I do wish there was stronger evidence that specifically looked at how different detergents worked on cloth diapers specifically and on different machine types, diaper types, water types, etc. Our survey responses certainly give us a great glimpse at that, but I would love if a more controlled experiment existed out there specifically geared towards cloth diapers. I felt that this was a great suggestion that Maria from Change-Diapers put on my Facebook Page regarding what companies can do to feel confident in their washing/warranty regulations. She suggest that companies have diapers “washed 18  at a time, every 3 days for whatever the typical life expectancy on their diaper is, checked after every 10 or so washes… do this in soft water, hard water, top load HE, front load HE and standard top loading machines. Chlorinated city water & well water, with and without a water softener, and in different brand machines.” I agree with that completely, but I also understand that a company may not have the funds to do that. It is my hope that a company can invest the money to create a controlled experiment to cover this topic and that if companies caution against certain detergents/additives, they would be able to cite that experiment (or one like it) as their source.

What are your thoughts? Have you experienced diaper damage? Do you think your detergent is to blame? 

If you haven’t filled out the Washing Diapers Survey, please head on over here to fill it out.

Special thanks to Maria at Change-Diapers for contributing to this post and special thanks to Carolyn at Making It Work for the graphic.

* Additives were based on those who used them 90% of the time

** I did find that those with hard water experienced more damage with using homemade detergent than those with normal water. Those with normal water experienced more damage with cloth diaper safe detergent than those with hard water. But I do not feel as though these differences were statistically significant.

*** Respondents rated presence of diaper damage on a 5 point scale, with 1 being “no damage” and 5 being “severe damage.” I considered responses in the 3-5 range as those indicating damage, since many who indicated a level of “2” also noted that it was in diapers that they either purchased used or had for a long time.
I want to re-iterate my belief that I don’t think cloth diaper companies are bad and this article is in no way intended to attack them. I know many of these company owners and they are wonderful, caring people who are just trying to get the diaper to last a long time and I would likely be just as cautious as them if I were in their shoes. However, I hope this article can be read in such a way that perhaps we re-consider our current cloth diaper laundering “No-no” list. 

Tara Porter

Tara Porter began using cloth diapers in 2011 when she felt that using disposable diapers was costing too much money. The problem was, a lot of the highly recommended diapers weren’t working for her baby. What she finally discovered was that her baby was skinny and a heavy wetter, and that diapers worked differently for those baby types. Because of her professional work with survey design and statistics, she designed Padded Tush Stats as a way to determine how different cloth diapers worked on different babies.

Tara moved on to other career endeavors in 2014 but can still be found online blogging about health and fitness at Fit Baby Steps.