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Old 07-30-2010, 11:34 PM   #1
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Ok, lets talk about detergent, once and for all.

Okey dokey, there seems to be alot of discussions now about detergent, so lets talk about it. (FAQ's at the end of this post)

Many of you seem worried, afraid, mystified, etc about detergents and their ingredients, so at the risk of never selling another ounce of detergent myself (not that it is a big seller of mine anyway, its too messy to make!), lets talk about all of these ingredients, and what they do....and how they might affect you.

And, of course, I have no control over this thread once it gets rolling, but I would love for it to stay smart. There is alot of misinformation out there, and many times well intentioned people post helpful threads on here which I think just confuses things. So, everyone needs to remember that just because you read it on the internet....doesnt make it true.

So, the basics of laundry detergent:

Most commercial laundry detergents are made from petrochemical based surfactants (soapy like detergents), and a variety of chemicals that alter the water to make it more "slippery". They also add enzymes, optical whiteners, dyes, perfumes, and other assorted goodies.

Most of the "green" commercial laundry detergents are NON-petrochemical based surfactants (soaps) and a variety of chemicals that make the water more slippery. Some also have enzymes, perfumes, and other goodies.

Then you have all the WHAM detergents and diaper-specific detergents. I will get to those in a minute.

The reason so many people dont want to use commercial laundry detergents (tide, all, gain) is that petrochemicals are not nice....large companies are not nice....and you can never really be sure what is in the products. Also, the enzymes, optical whiteners, dyes, perfumes and "others" can cause irritation, buildup, and repelling on your diapers. Some of the commercial detergents have LESS of the bad additives in them, and seem to work well for some people. The best place to see the reviews for this is at

The "green" detergents use soap based surfactants, but they can have some of the same problems as the other commercial detergents with enzymes, whiteners, dyes and perfumes. Again, the list at is a good resource.

Now, for the WAHM and diaper specific detergents. I am not going to be specific with any particular brand or names of WAHM detergents, but I will use the ingredient list for Country Save detergent, since its ingredients are common to many of the WAHM detergents:

Ingredients: Sodium Carbonate, Sodium Sulfate, Sodium Borate, Sodium Alkyl Aryl Sulfonate, Linear Alcohol Ethoxylate, Coconut Diethanolamide.

Sodium Carbonate : Washing Soda --- You can get this at many grocery stores. This is a stronger version of baking soda. It changes the PH of the water, makes it more alkaline. It is a water softener, pulling the calcium out of your water.

Sodium Sulfate: Glauber Salt -- Mostly a filler used to add weight to the bag, but also keeps the mix dry. Safe when wet, but not good to breathe.

Sodium Borate: Borax -- Borax is a naturally occurring mineral. It mixes with water and creates a mild hydrogen peroxide solution, it is also a disinfectant, and changes the PH of the water, making the other ingredients work better. Many WAHM detergents do not use Sodium Borate because there is some concern in this community that it may be unsafe. A search of the medical studies doesnt show any clear problems, especially as a laundry additive.

Sodium Alkyl Aryl Sulfonate -- A surfactant - one of any number of soaps or detergents you will see. This makes the bubbles, breaks the water tension, and helps to wash away the dirt.

Linear Alcohol Ethoxylate -- Another surfactant or detergent.

Coconut Diethanolamide. -- coconut based surfactant.

Some other common soaps/surfactants you might see are : Ground soap or Sodium Lauryl Ether Sulphate

Fragrance: Fragrance oils or essential oils -- these are just there to make it smell nice. Most do not stick around long, and rinse out leaving little or no scent in the clean laundry. This is mostly because with no residue left in the laundry, there is nothing for the fragrance oil to stick rinses out with the detergent.

Some WAHM detergents have NO soap or detergents in them. This means they are going to be mostly Washing soda, maybe Borax, and possibly Oxyclean.

Sodium Percarbonate or Oxyclean is a great laundry booster. It works when it reacts with the water to create hydrogen peroxide, and sodium carbonate. It is antibacterial, and will help to disinfect your laundry. It will also help to whiten biological stains. Once mixed with the water, and dissolved, it returns to water and oxygen, and sodium carbonate, so it is pretty safe to use.

Ok, so these are the basic ingredients found in many of the detergents out there. There are hundreds of detergents you could add to the list up there, but the basic idea is the same. You have soaps/surfactants...which are really pretty important parts of the laundry detergent...and you have the modifiers....the washing soda. Basically ALL commercial detergent sold is made with Washing soda and some surfactant, and a filler. This is because, that is what works best. Some WAHM's have made detergents to leave out some of these ingredients because of fear of the ingredients, but if you leave these basic ingredients out of your recipe, you will have inferior cleaning, and your laundry will not get as clean. You may not have any problems with that, and that is OK with me too. No arguments here.

Now, there has been alot of discussion about detergents causing damage to babies bottoms. If you look at the ingredients above, you can see which ingredients can cause damage, and which cannot. Some ingredients have the potential to cause allergic reactions......and that can be bad.

Borax is not safe to inhale, or to use on your skin directly. There is no research that shows it is unsafe in detergent however.

Washing soda is mildly Alkaline....and if you wet it and put it on sensitive will burn. It is not an acid burn, but an alkaline burn. It rinses out easily though, and should not be leaving residue, even if used full strength in your laundry.

Glaubers salt is acidic, and is dangerous to inhale in the powder form, but readily dissolves, and is easily washed away.

Oxyclean -- hydrogen peroxide can cause some damage in full concentration, but it is converted to water pretty quickly, so would not stay in the washed diapers.

If you are having problems with your diapers...and you think that you have residue from some detergent you have used, since most of the ingredients of the detergents are alkaline, if you want to neutralize the residue, you should use and acid. Run them through a wash with some vinegar (which is a mild acid -- white vinegar or cider vinegar is fine, whatever you have on hand). That should reduce the PH of any residue on your diapers. Also, you can simply rinse the diapers with water, and that will rinse away any PH problems. Just run plain water washes.

If you think your child is allergic to one of the soaps....strip the diapers with dawn or another dish detergent. Dawn is made with petrochemicals....which although maybe evil....are rarely allergy causing. Dawn is commonly called on because it is both a mild and effective degreaser. You can however, use whatever brand you have.

If your child has Ammonia burns, and your diapers stink, it is not the detergent's fault, it is simply that your diapers are not clean. That may be because the detergent is ineffective....but it is not that the detergent is stuck in your diapers. It just means that either the detergent is leaving a residue that is holding on to bacteria allowing ammonia to be created when your baby pees, or it is not cleaning the bacteria out of the diapers at all. So, strip your diapers, switch detergent, use more detergent, rinse more, use HOT water rinses, BOIL your diapers, add Oxyclean, add bleach , or do a search on this forum and you will find lots of helpful hints (many of which I have answered!) on how to get ammonia out of diapers. (my fave is stripping with dawn and boiling)

And, because it is the elephant in the room, we all know that one popular brand of detergent has had a mixing recall recently. I have no idea what the mix-up was....but if the ingredients listed on their page is right, then my advice for how to clean up and strip the bad detergent from the diapers holds true.

My final thought on this is.....I am a WAHM. I do this because I love to make things, I want to save money, and I love to help people. If I could wish one thing for those of you who read this though is that you all take a bit of skepticism with you. Not everything we do is better than a big company may have done. Proctor and Gamble (for example) might be a horrible company, but they do have some highly educated chemists working for them, coming up with products that work better, easier, etc. Most of us WAHMs are just moms...not experts. So, if you think your WAHM made detergent is not working, and your baby has a rash....please run down to your local grocery store and give some of your hard earned money to THE MAN and save your baby's bum. Sometimes it seems like we want to trust each other on here more than we want to trust THE spite of the evidence.

My favorite not quite "the man" made detergent? Country Save. Of course....what do we use? Me made. Why? Works better.

This is probably everything I know, but everyone else can feel free to add on.......(and if there are any typos or goofs, please LMK and I will edit)


I have a water softener, so we have soft water. How does that effect my needs as far as detergent goes?

Soft water needs less detergent, and it is harder to rinse the detergent out of your water. You do not need to add extra washing soda to your laundry, but oxyclean will work well for you still. Most WAHM detergents are made up of primarily washing soda, so they may not work as well on soft water as they do for harder commercial detergents may work better for you. Just use less, and use extra rinses.

Can you suggest a surfactant I can use to make my own detergent?

Low sudsing surfactants are not readily available to home users. Your best bet is to use a commercial detergent (pick from the list above) and just modify it for your water with oxy and washing soda. You can buy some pretty cheap detergents that work well, just look at the list.

Can 1tbl of detergent really be enough?

Depending on your water, and the detergent, yes. But, if your diapers are not getting clean, try adding more. This is all trial and error, and the detergents (WAHM and commercial) are formulated for a specific water type. Your water may differ, and so your needs will differ.

Can't I just use Dawn all the time? Is Dawn bad for my machine/clothes/diapers?

You can use dawn all the time. Dawn is not made for clothes, but it is a gentle surfactant, with no other additives, which is why we use it. It is high sudsing however, so is not the best choice for FL washers. If you use it in a fler, you need to be sure to use a TINY squirt. If you fill your washer up with bubbles, you can damage your machine. As long as the barrel is not full totally with bubbles, you can use it in a fler. Just be careful.

How do I boil diapers exactly?

Go here for this one:

What diapers/inserts do you suggest for persistant ammonia problems?

Here again:

What about Soap Nuts?

Sure, they seem to have decent surfactant properties. I have not used them, but the research is good. You should add washing soda and oxy though, as they are JUST surfactant, no water softener in there.

How does one know if they have hard or soft water?

You can go to your city or county website, look for the water board, and they will have the water data on there. Every municipality has this data available. Call if you can't find it. Post here if you need help understanding the data.

Oxyclean:Is it really safe for your CDs? PUL/Pockets? Is there a specific Oxyclean formula (or just regular old OxyClean powder)? Should it be soaked according to the manufacturer directions? Added to your wash machine wash cycle? How can it be added to a FL?

Oxyclean is Sodium Percarbonate. When it hits the water, it turns to hydrogen peroxide, and washing soda. Both of these are safe for all of your laundry. Many manufacturers of clothes put all sorts of warnings on their clothes.....but this is more about CYA (cover your A) than it is about understanding the effects of chemicals. Washing soda is in just about every laundry detergent out there, and thus better be safe for diapers. Hydrogen peroxide, in the concentrations we are talking about, is very mild and does not hurt fabrics. Soaking will give it time to work on the bio-matter in your diapers. It will also work in the wash cycle. For FLers, you can add it with the detergent, or throw it in to the empty drum before your diapers. If you are using hot water, like I suggest, it will dissolve fine.

Q: How to fool a FLer into giving you more water?

A: You can try putting a wet towel in there to make it think the load is "heavier" than it is...this works with some FLers, not all. You can also just manually add some more water through the detergent cup, or directly into the barrel. However....dont add a ton more. You dont want to compromise the seals on the door. In order to get more water through the diapers, once the cycle is done, just turn the dial back and run the diapers through another cycle with no detergent. (HOT if you can, or warm/warm if you cant)

Q: What temprature should I rinse/wash/prerinse?

HOT HOT HOT HOT. And if you cant do hot, do warm. Hot water cleans and rinses better. Just dont do cold people! No cold! I keep seeing cold water on your routines here....dont know why...but USE HOT WATER! It will help. Cold water helps with getting out stains (colors) but not bacteria. You want your diapers clean...which means not smelly. If you are worried about them being pretty....sun them.

Q: Can I use Vinegar? Should I use Vinegar? When should I use Vinegar? How much?

A: Yes. Maybe. As a pre-rinse, or a rinse if you use chlorine bleach. Depends.

Vinegar is a mild acid, which helps to neutralize the ammonia in your diapers. It also neutralizes the chlorine is good as a prerinse if you have ammonia, or as a final rinse if you use chlorine bleach. You do not need it if you do not have ammonia, or bleach.

If you have BAD ammonia, you can do a pre-rinse/soak of about 1 cup. Toss your diapers in the washer, fill with water to cover, and put the vinegar in. Let it sit a while. (overnight is fine). Then run the cycle to spin out the water, and wash as usual. If you are using bleach, use about 1/4 cup in the 2nd rinse to help rinse all the bleach out.

Q: What wash routine would you suggest for most people?

A: For MOST people with no particular problems and moderately hard water....I would suggest you shake off all solids into the toilet. Run the diapers through a rinse cycle on hot water, with no detergent. Then wash a full cycle with the detergent manufacturer's recommended amount of detergent, an additional tablespoon of washing soda, and a scoop of oxy clean. Run the cycles on HOT if you can, with hot or warm rinses. This may mean you have to run back and turn the dials on your machine in the middle of the cycle to force the rinses to hot or warm. Once the cycle is complete, turn the dial back half way, and run the cycle through a half cycle so that you get another couple rinses. You will have to modify this to work with YOUR machine, but the goal is to get a full cycle, plus a couple rinses. I have a FLer, so the extra rinses are important.

If you have a big Top Loader with extra rinses built in, you may not need it.
If you have soft water, drop the washing soda, and run a full extra cycle.
If you have ammonia, put vinegar in the pre rinse (1 cup)
If you want to use bleach, add it with the detergent, and add 1/4 cup vinegar to the normal rinse cycle (not the extra rinses)

Oh, also, for those who are looking for answers but are overwhelmed by the size of the thread now....

once you have read the first post, which has a bunch of beginning info....

you can use the SEARCH feature at the top of the page. Right up at the says "search this thread"

So, you can search on a key word.....or, you can do advanced search and search on a person. Now....there have been a TON of great posts by people OTHER than me...but since I am only posting answers, not questions, if you were to search on posts only by me, you would see all my posts in this thread. Then, if you saw an answer that looked good to you, you can go back and read the questions and discussions from everyone else around that answer to get all the info to fill in the blanks.

Might save you some time and help you filter out some of the repeat info.....


Cheri, WAHM to one fantastic dd! We Moved! If you are looking for Discounts...come to my Facebook page! Alioop on Facebook Shop

Last edited by Alioop; 06-13-2011 at 08:30 PM.
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Old 07-30-2010, 11:46 PM   #2
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Re: Ok, lets talk about detergent, for once and all.

This is a great post, mama Thanks.
I just bought Country Save for the first time. I'm washing my first load in it as I type this. I hope it works out well. I have a good feeling about it. And wow, was it nice to spend less than $10 on detergent.
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Old 07-30-2010, 11:50 PM   #3
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Re: Ok, lets talk about detergent, for once and all.

Wow, thanks for all the info and the work you put into the research.

I am curious about the statement that petrochemicals are rarely allergenic. I have chemical sensitivities, and no bias against petrochemicals per se (I use mineral oil for many things, and must avoid aloe) but my respiratory and skin reactions happen frequently in reaction to petrochemicals.

It's also important to not just blame synthetics when there is a sensitivity. The root of my chemical sensitivities is aspirin, which is a synthetic salicylic acid. Natural salicylic acid is in willow bark and aloe (this is why aloe has anti-inflammatory properties). For me, natural baby wipes are more irritating than ones from "the man" ... I despise the fragrance in most, but have skin and respiratory issues with the natural and sensitive ones (except Target Up&Up Sensitive, which has no aloe and has lanolin).

I tried a billion different things in the years of figuring out this sensitivity; the only detergent that works for my own clothes long-term is Biokleen All Temp Liquid (makers of Bac-Out). A lot of their cleaning products irritate me but that one doesn't and it's doing well for my diapers.

And while I'm plugging (NAYY), an $8 jug of Biokleen can wash more than 240 loads of diapers (twice that in HE) if I'm calculating correctly (1/4 the recommended detergent per load ... recommends 1 oz and it's a 64 oz bottle ...)

Last edited by Laydiebugs; 07-30-2010 at 11:52 PM.
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Old 07-30-2010, 11:55 PM   #4
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Re: Ok, lets talk about detergent, for once and all.

Thank you so much!!! You're right, there is a lot of 'urban legend' on the internet and some of it is just not logical!
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Old 07-30-2010, 11:59 PM   #5
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Re: Ok, lets talk about detergent, for once and all.

This is so helpful, thanks!
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Old 07-31-2010, 12:02 AM   #6
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Re: Ok, lets talk about detergent, for once and all.

Excellent post! I hope in particular it helps clarify the issue of reaction to detergent vs. ammonia burns caused by diapers not getting clean (that seems to have come up quite a bit lately).

Any experience with Thirsties pre-wash and superwash? The probiotics seem interesting--I just did our first load today and the dipes smell clean, but I'm sure time will tell.
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Old 07-31-2010, 12:07 AM   #7
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Re: Ok, lets talk about detergent, for once and all.

Very informative!!! I second the PP about the petrochem sensitivity though, I have issues as well!

Also, for those unfortunate few of us who are allergic to all things coconut (including rusks) most of the WAHM and natural made detergents (especially powder) are out like belly shirts and teased bangs.
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Old 07-31-2010, 12:25 AM   #8
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Re: Ok, lets talk about detergent, for once and all.

Thanks...I was kinda stressing about it this week.
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Old 07-31-2010, 12:49 AM   #9
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Re: Ok, lets talk about detergent, for once and all.

Wonderful post! I love my All Small & Might F&C A cold rinse, hot wash with 1 tablespoon All, and a full light cycle on hot at the end always does the trick!
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Old 07-31-2010, 12:58 AM   #10
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Re: Ok, lets talk about detergent, for once and all.

Well, hot diggity dog, Alioop, you need to put that OP in a blog and have someone here make it a sticky! Great post!
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