Can You Clean Cloth Diapers in the Dishwasher?

As parents we’re all looking to make things easier. Come on: tell me you don’t wish that you could snap your fingers and your house would clean itself, dinner would be ready, and you could have five minutes just to pee and maybe pin a bunch of crafts and recipes on Pinterest you say you’re going to make someday.

So imagine how I felt when I had read that there were other parents out there cleaning their cloth diapers in the dishwasher (or on the stove, or in the microwave). Could it be true? Could I skip the trips down into my dingy, dark, cold, spider-ridden basement? Could I get my diaper laundry done in the time it took me to make dinner?

Cloth diapers in dishwasher

Photo Credit: Between the Kids

Just do a quick search on Google and you can verify that I’m not making this up. A lot of moms are taking their kitchen appliances to the next level, stripping cloth diapers in the dishwasher or sanitizing them in the microwave using steam (similar to those bags for cleaning breast pump parts).

And of course there’s the old standby: boiling cloth diapers, which was a lot more prevalent back when cloth diapers were just basic flats that could stand up to rough treatment.

Listen, folks. Putting cloth diapers in the dishwasher is a huge fire hazard – if a fabric piece falls through and lands on the heating element, that spells trouble.

Effect of dishwasher heating element

This spatula fell onto the heating element of a dishwasher. Imagine if that had been a cloth diaper.

And what about boiling? First of all, don’t boil anything with snaps or PUL – you may just cause some melting of parts that are not meant to be melted. And while you can technically boil flats and prefolds without causing harm to the fabric, just think about the last time you tried multi-tasking in your sleep-deprived “mombie” state, got distracted, and completely abandoned whatever you were doing in the first place. Do you really want your sleeping angel woken up from his nap by the blaring beeps of your smoke detector after your prefolds start smoking in a dried-up pot? I didn’t think so.

boiling cloth diapers

Photo Credit: wikiHow

So why are people so obsessed with using kitchen appliances to clean their cloth diapers?

I blame Pinterest, where everyone celebrates life hacks and anything that’s repurposed. Make ice cream in your food processor! Make hash browns in your waffle iron! Toast nuts in your popcorn popper! Bake bread in your crockpot!

But you know what all the above “hacks” have in common? They use things that are meant for food to make other kids of food.

So I beg you, stick to using your washing machine for cloth diapers and leave your kitchen for its original purpose: cooking food.

Ruining Your Cloth Diapers with Flair

So you’re whining about having ruined your cloth diapers with a little diaper rash cream?

Waaahhhh! Somebody call the waaaaaahhhmbulance! 


(I could watch this over and over and over and over! And yes, I definitely plan saying this to my kids.)

First, I’d argue that you probably didn’t ruin them – you just need to take some extra steps in washing to get them squeaky clean again.

And secondly, come on – how cliché! If you want to be able to complain that you ruined your cloth diapers, then honey, be a little more creative! We want to hear a great story with impressive photos of the ruination you caused.

title image

1. Rip ‘Em to Shreds

The fastest way to create impressively tattered-looking diapers is to use heavy amounts of chlorine bleach. This SoftBums pod went from brand-new to shredded in just about two weeks, thanks to a two-hour soak in a chlorine bleach/water mixture. Comes in handy if you’re a newbie trying to impress some veteran cloth-diapering moms – your diapers can look so tattered, they’ll think you’ve been cloth diapering for years and years!

Chlorine bleach damage

2. Delamination in minutes

If you’re really serious about turning a good cloth diaper into a dud, delamination might be the route for you. Delamination involves the breakdown of the waterproof coating of a cloth diaper or a diaper cover. Why wait two or three years for a diaper to delaminate on its own when you can speed the process along with a nice hot iron?!

Damage to PUL after ironing

3. Honey, I Shrunk the Wool Soakers!

Special care instructions for hand-washing wool? Just ignore them and use hot water, the washing machine, or better yet – both! Not only will your wool soaker shrink to an impressively small size, but it will also lose its stretchiness and the stitches will look “blurred”.  This is truly a complaint-worthy mistake!

Felted wool soaker

4. Burn, Baby, Burn!

Do you have a bit of a pyro streak in you? If so, you can strip your diapers in the dishwasher. Cross your fingers that the diaper will fall onto the dishwasher’s heating element and give you something exciting to take pictures of. If you’re lucky, maybe it will ruin the lamination, melt a few snaps, or even catch on fire!

I searched high and low for you for a picture of some dishwasher/diaper destruction, but alas, I couldn’t find anything right on point. Instead, you’ll have to settle for a photo of a rogue spatula of mine that somehow managed to wiggle free of the utensil holder and create a bit of a sizzle on the heating element. My house had a funky plastic smell for days.

Effect of dishwasher heating element

5. Make-Your-Own Mushroom Farm

Warning: This activity takes a bit longer and is not for the faint of heart. You’ve been warned.

This photo is from a woman whose cloth diapers sat in the pail for a month between washes…and they grew mushrooms! Now, I don’t know what her kid had been eating, and I certainly don’t care to find out. However, I’ve got to hand it to her – this is the most creative form of cloth diaper ruination that I’ve ever heard of!

Mushrooms on cloth diapers

Will Grandma Els Cause Repelling?

Does Grandma Els cause repelling?

One of the precautions you must remember to take with cloth diapers is to avoid using just any old diaper cream on the shelves of your local supermarket or big-box store. Using a particularly pasty or greasy ointment can lead to a cloth diaper woe known as repelling, in which the fibers of the cloth aren’t able to absorb moisture properly because the residue from the ointment doesn’t wash away completely without some serious extra scrubbing.

A number of diaper creams and ointments – including Grandma Els – claim to be “cloth diaper friendly”, but many of us still wonder if we should use a liner in the diaper as a precaution just in case too much of the ointment touches the surface of the diaper. After all, most of the cloth-friendly ointments still include some type of disclaimer about how they can’t be held responsible for damages to diapers.

For example, the Grandma Els homepage clearly states:

“While Grandma Els works well with many brands of cloth diapers, there may be some brands or styles with which it may not. Grandma Els is not responsible for possible damages to cloth diapers or clothes.”

Of course, you can’t blame a company for putting out a disclaimer like that. They have no control over how much ointment you use, what kind of diapers you have, or how you wash the diapers. If someone makes a habit of using enormous globs of ointment and then washes their diapers in a high-efficiency machine with lukewarm water, there’s a good chance that the diapers will eventually show signs of repelling.

I took my sincere question to Google, which magically finished my question about Grandma Els being cloth-diaper safe. I’m not the only one hungry to know: “Will Grandma Els cause repelling?”

Google Search

Public Service Announcement: Google can also help you if you need to communicate with your grandmother in Elvish or if she’s in an elevator.

The first time I smelled a tiny sample packet of Grandma Els, it whisked me back to the days of playing with my collection of Strawberry Shortcake figurines. Needless to say, I was hooked on the sweet scent. I also appreciate the fact that it’s a little thicker than most other cloth-friendly ointments. It’s my go-to tube when my baby has a slightly red bottom, and usually after  just one or two uses, his skin clears right up. I have never used a liner and never had a repelling problem.

But I wanted to know: Will Grandma Els cause repelling in my cloth diapers if I try really hard and use a TON of it?! 

I devised a little experiment:

  1. Take two clean diapers – an unbleached cotton prefold and a bumGenius 4.0 – and mark a target on each.
  2. Test the time it takes each diaper to absorb 50 mL of water under pressure within the target area.
  3. Smear an entire teaspoon of Grandma Els on each target. Let it sit for an hour.
  4. Rinse off the diapers with a sprayer; put through regular laundry routine.
  5. Re-test the time it takes each diaper to absorb 50 mL of water within the target area.

Test for repelling with Grandma Els

The results?

  • The prefold absorbed the water in 16.5 seconds the first time and 17.1 seconds the next time (a 4% increase).
  • The bumGenius absorbed the water in 19.3 and 20.5 seconds, respectively (a 6% increase).

Although there was a slight increase in the speed of absorption, it was not significant enough to cause a leak if these diapers had been worn by a baby. In addition, I don’t think anyone in their right mind would use that much ointment on that small of an area!

Therefore, I’m happy I can now *officially* recommend Grandma Els Diaper Rash Remedy & Prevention as truly cloth-diaper safe based on my own personal diaper wrecking attempt.

BUT WAIT! That’s not all…

You can enter the giveaway below for a chance to win a 2-ounce tube of Grandma Els! (Open to US & Canada, 18 & older.)

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Delaminated Diapers vs. NeverWet

I’m on a mission to find a cure for delaminated cloth diapers. So far, it’s the only cloth diaper problem that I don’t have any answer for. Elastic can be replaced, worn out hook & look closures can be converted to snaps, and repelling can be fixed with a few extra loads of laundry. But delamination continues to confound me.

“Turn it into a swim diaper,” they say. (I say it too, of course.) And that’s a nice way of looking on the bright side of things, but when you already have one or two swim diapers, you just want a magic fix that will re-laminate the diaper so it can be used like you’ve always used it.

My first set of delamination experiments involved a hot dryer, a steamer, and an iron. When those methods didn’t produce results, I tried various stick-on and iron-on waterproof patches. Some of those worked in the short run, but after several trips through my washing machine, none of them would stay on.

I had also intended to try a spray-on product called Kiwi Camp dry that I had found in my garage. However, when I read the following warning on the back of the can, I panicked and promptly tossed it in the trash:

Kiwi Camp Dry Causes Cancer

One of my readers expressed disappointment that I hadn’t at least tried the spray-on product, just to see if it worked or not. By then it had long since been hauled off in the trash, but I posed a question on the Diaper Wrecker Facebook page to see if others thought I was overreacting to the warning label.

The responses were varied, but all of them respectfully worded. Some people said it wasn’t worth it and wouldn’t use a product like that near their baby’s skin; after all, chemical avoidance is one of the main reasons they chose to use cloth diapers. Others had some interesting insights on the “may cause cancer” warning labels that I hadn’t ever considered, saying they’d seen them on products like sunglasses and Ikea furniture and that California requires that label to be on some really strange things. Another person reflected that the PUL could contain potentially cancer-causing chemicals as well – how do we know what goes into the lamination process in the first place? (I have no answer for that one – I’d love to know, too!)

After considering the pros and cons, I decided that I would try an experiment using a waterproof spray to satisfy my curiosity; I just wouldn’t use it on my son. I own a cloth diaper store, so it’s not exactly difficult or wildly expensive for me to replace a few delaminated diapers.

Enter NeverWet, a product that’s been generating a lot of buzz about this summer. I mean, just watch their promotional video and you’ll see why I was totally convinced that if anything could cure a delaminated diaper, NeverWet could.

I found it at my local Home Depot near the paint supplies and choked a little when I saw the price tag – $20 for the two-can system.

NeverWet

I didn’t read the label fully until I got home. Dude. This one has an even scarier warning label than the other kind!

NeverWet Warning Label

After reading this, I debated with myself a little more, but finally decided to go ahead and see if it worked. Even if it did work, I wouldn’t feel comfortable using it on my child’s diapers, but some people might like to know about it.

Of course, the “if it works, should I use it?” debate turned out to be moot. Long story short, NeverWet did work to waterproof a delaminated cloth diaper (at first), but after four trips through my washing machine, the diapers have returned to their former pathetic, delaminated state.

Diaper Coated with NeverWet after Four Washes

Since I sunk $20 into this experiment, I’m definitely hanging on to my NeverWet – after all, there are some pretty fascinating uses for this stuff that don’t involve close contact with it like on clothing. I’m thinking of coating my Potty Pail – I mean, did you see the part in the video where they coat the toilet brush?! (Jump to 1:08). Pretty slick; no pun intended.

…..

Ok, maybe I did intend that pun.

SoftBums: Boiled, Stained, Bleached, and Soaked

Remember the line from Forrest Gump where Bubba is talking about all you can do with shrimp?

Shrimp Is the Fruit of the Sea

“You can barbecue it, boil it, broil it, bake it, saute it. Dey’s uh, shrimp-kabobs, shrimp creole, shrimp gumbo. Pan fried, deep fried, stir-fried. There’s pineapple shrimp, lemon shrimp, coconut shrimp, pepper shrimp, shrimp soup, shrimp stew, shrimp salad, shrimp and potatoes, shrimp burger, shrimp sandwich. That- that’s about it.”

This is how I felt when contemplating how I could attempt to wreck a SoftBums diaper. The possibilities are endless! And how fun is a company that’s not just okay with me attempting to wreck their beautiful products, but actually enthusiastic about it?! I want the blog portion of Diaper Wrecker to informative but also fun, so I don’t do plain ole reviews. I only do wrecks!

I received two SoftBums Echo shells and two SoftBums one-size bamboo pods. The Echo shell and pod comprise an all-in-two (AI2) cloth diaper system. The Echo is a waterproof shell, lined with soft fleece on the inside, and the long “pod” (the SoftBums term for the absorbent soaker) snaps into the back of the shell.

When I opened the package from SoftBums, I was momentarily confused. The diapers were so tiny, they looked like they were made for newborns. In fact, I had several newborn diapers laying around my store, so I set them up for a comparison photo. (Warning – this photo may cause you to want to have more babies.)

SoftBums compared to newborn diapers

SoftBums Echo Shell (with elastic fully tightened), Swaddlebees Newborn Simplex, GroVia Newborn AIO, Lil Joey Newborn AIO.

Anyway, I then realized that the elastic was simply tightened up all the way on both diapers, so I used the toggles to loosen the elastic on one of the diapers. Voila! Now I see a lot of cloth diapers, folks, and this was so cool I think I may have jumped up and down with excitement. Most diapers that claim to be “one-size” make me roll my eyes – newborns are simply too tiny for them. This one, though? They’re serious! It’s the only real “one-size” diaper I’ve seen.

SoftBums Elastic Setting Comparison

Same diaper – different elastic settings.

For the purposes of this attempted wreck, the ocean blue shell and its pod were treated properly, while the chocolate shell and its pod were subjected to various forms of cloth diaper torture. With these diapers, I went on a quest to discover:

  1. Is boiling an effective method of prepping natural fibers?
  2. Is vinegar bad for elastic and/or PUL?
  3. Is borax bad for elastic and/or PUL?
  4. Is oxygen bleach just as effective as chlorine bleach?

Boiling Cloth Diapers

As explained on the “Cloth Diaper Care” page, the extent of prepping required for new cloth diapers depends on whether they are made of natural or synthetic fibers. Natural fibers, such as SoftBums’ bamboo pods, require repeated washing and drying to help them reach full absorbency. I generally put natural fiber diapers through three wash/dry cycles before use, but I hear a lot of people talk about boiling as a faster means of prepping. And of course I’m game!

So here I’m boiling the SoftBums bamboo pod. Anyone know the melting temperature of plastic snaps? I’m secretly hoping the snap will melt, or at least get a little warped. That would be exciting.

Boiling diapers

I boiled the bamboo pod vigorously for 20 minutes. You could do the same or until al dente. Remove with tongs.

Boiled Diaper

Side note: Clearly this is the closest I’ll ever come to running a cooking blog.

As you can see, the snap fared just fine through 20 minutes of boiling. In addition, when I did a side-by-side comparison of the three-times-washed-and-dried pod versus the boiled pod, they had both shrunk to the exact same size. The boiled pod (right) just looks a little more wrinkly, but that’s because I hung it to dry whereas the other one had tumbled in the dryer.

Regular Prepping vs Boiling

So, sadly, there was no wreckage to report with the boiling. However, I really don’t recommend this route and here’s why. First, it created so much extra heat in the kitchen. I live in Memphis and it’s summertime, y’all – ugh! Also, I’m a somewhat forgetful multi-tasker and it could be a fire hazard. If you’re chasing after little ones or dealing with pregnancy brain, it’s not worth the risk.

Soaking in Vinegar and Borax

Have you ever heard that vinegar and borax are both too harsh on cloth diapers? I have, but some people choose to use these products on their diaper laundry anyway. Time for Diaper Wrecker to investigate!

Vinegar and Borax

Distilled white vinegar is commonly used as a natural alternative to fabric softeners such as Bounce or Downy (both of which will cause greasy build-up on cloth diapers). I’ve also read claims that it will kill bacteria and restore the pH balance in cloth diapers. Vinegar is essentially a mixture of acetic acid and water and has a pH of about 3 (acidic), so the bacteria-killing properties make sense. However, as the pH of human urine varies by individual and diet, whether or not it will balance out the pH in your diapers is a bit of a gamble, in my opinion.

Borax may be a natural mineral, but is toxic to humans when ingested. Less than 5 grams can be lethal to a child if ingested. Therefore, if you use this product in your household, keep it stored away safely where your little ones cannot reach it! It has a slightly alkaline pH (about 9.5).

As you can see from the pH chart below, these products are on opposite ends of the spectrum:

ph-chart

So of course, I had to subject the chocolate Echo shell to a good, long soak in these two products to see if there was any noticeable effect. First, the shell enjoyed a 36-hour bath in about a gallon of water and two cups of distilled white vinegar. After that, it hopped into a 36-hour soak in about a gallon of water and a cup of borax.

The results were quite boring – I could find no evidence of immediate damage to the PUL or elastic of the SoftBums Echo shell. However, my recommendation is that if you use these products on your cloth diaper laundry, do it on inserts only. After all, PUL and elastic are the more delicate (and expensive) parts of a cloth diaper, and I have no doubt that repeatedly subjecting them to acidic or alkaline products would cause unnecessary wear on them in the long run.

Battle of the Bleaches – Chlorine vs. Oxygen

My final experiment involves another hotly debated laundry product. Aren’t you tired of wondering whether bleach is okay for your cloth diapers or not? I think the pH chart above helps explain why you don’t want to use it frequently – it’s highly alkaline. But sometimes a stubborn stain might make you a bit desperate.

We had some delicious beets for dinner one night, when I got a wonderful, awful idea. Why should I throw out all that wonderful beet juice when it would make the PERFECT STUBBORN STAIN?

Beet Stains

My husband said it looked like the SoftBums pod had been used for some afterbirth cleanup. And so it did. Now you know why they use blue dye in all the diaper and feminine product demonstrations!

After a couple of washes, I was really excited about how good and stained it was. Hard to believe this is a brand-new pod. Beet stains; who knew?!

Stained pod

I soaked one end of the pod in oxygen bleach and the other end in chlorine bleach for two hours. I love oxygen bleach, so I was really pulling for it to do an equally good job as the chlorine bleach!  Oxygen vs Chlorine Bleach

Good thing I didn’t put any money on this bet. The chlorine bleach-soaked end of the pod was a beautiful white, while the oxygen bleach-soaked end remained quite dingy. There you have it – if you have a really stubborn stain, go for the big guns! Oxygen vs Chlorine Bleach Test

TL;DR Version (“Too Long; Didn’t Read”)

  • Boiling the bamboo pod was just as effective as washing & drying it three times, but I’m not converted to boiling.
  • Vinegar and borax are on opposite ends of the pH scale, so both could be harsh for your diapers. However, 36 hours of each didn’t harm my SoftBums Omni Shell, so if you’ve been using these products on elastic and PUL, you may not see immediate signs of damage. I’d recommend using products like that on inserts only.
  • For tough stains, chlorine bleach is much more effective than oxygen bleach. However, it is highly alkaline, so use it only when necessary (and again, I’d recommend keeping it away from elastic and PUL).

Are you intrigued by the SoftBums’ “Slide2Size” toggle elastic system? You should be! It’s the coolest thing I’ve seen all week. Coming up tomorrow – a SoftBums giveaway!