Washing Cloth Diapers with Hard Water

Below is a question from Sara about washing cloth diapers with very hard water and it is an appropriate time to address this question with the launch of another hard water specific detergent last week by Rockin’ Green Soap.

I have really, really hard water and recently started using the new Thirsties pre-wash and wash.  I wash every other day, about 15 diapers or so.  Do you know if I should use a little more detergent due to my hard water?  When I first started cding 2 1/2 years ago we lived somewhere where the water was not as hard, I never stripped my dipes, and I rarely had any residual smells (used Charlie’s soap).  Now I find with my second baby and hard water I have to strip  at least once a month.  I’ve tried Allen’s naturally and now the Thirstie’s.  Major pro for Thirsties though–no more diaper rash!!!  My dd kept getting diaper rash all the time with the Allen’s and now I know its because they weren’t getting disinfected and there was a lot of residue.  Another question, do you wash pre folds and covers with pocket dipes and inserts?

First, I will answer your second question by stating that I wash all of my diapers together, regardless of the style or fabric. As long as you are using a cloth diaper safe detergent and are not using additives (i.e. vinegar) this is perfectly fine and I personally recommend it. If you are using other products (i.e. bleach with your prefolds) that are not cloth diaper or manufacture approved, you are making cloth diaper laundry a lot more complicated than it needs to be, because there are many cloth diaper detergents on the market that disinfect, naturally brighten and are safe on all of your cloth diapers (i.e. Thirsties Pre-Wash and Super Wash).

Stay away from additives (whether in your detergents or used separately) as much as possible, although it shouldn’t do any long term damage if used infrequently and in moderation. Some manufactures like bumGenius even recommend a monthly dose of bleach with your cloth diapers, but note that a very small amount should be used and you will need to be extra careful when you add it to the load of laundry (make sure there is plenty of water present to avoid heartbreak!). Vinegar, another popular additive, can weaken elastic so should be used sparingly and, like bleach, should only be used on a periodic rather than regular basis.

This brings us to the issue of hard water. Even if you are washing all of your diapers together with a great cloth diaper detergent the detergent cannot do its job properly without the proper “ingredients”. Regardless of the hardness or softness of your water, using more detergent is not necessarily the answer. I would say that using less detergent is typically the answer to most detergent issues (note: there will be exceptions to this depending on the washer, detergent, etc.), but hard water is not necessarily an issue of the amount of detergent you use. The amount of detergent is mainly determined by the type of washer you own, the size of the load and the wash cycles used. The issue hard water poses is that the minerals in the water can block the detergent from being able to clean effectively, so increasing the amount of detergent may not solve this issue.

I would recommend using a hard water specific detergent such as Crunchy Clean hard water version or Hard Rock (by Rockin’ Green) as they also have disinfecting ingredients, but I have also had luck with soapnuts (I prefer liquid versions) if you want a more organic or liquid option. My water is moderately hard and I have also had success with the Thirsties detergents, however, this and other non-hard-water-specific detergents may require a water softener like Calgon on very hard water like yours. If your water is extremely hard this would be something you’d probably want on hand for your regularly laundry as well and it can be used to help strip your diapers of mineral build up as well.

Here’s some great info regarding Calgon from Kelly’s Closet:

Simply put, hard water has a lot of minerals in it, namely calcium and magnesium.  These minerals, if not properly rinse away, can lead to a mineral build-up in your diapers which may cause offensive odors!

If so, hard water can sometimes lead to stinky diapers because:
1) The detergent is not able to work as effectively in hard water
2) The minerals from the hard water are being deposited back onto the diapers
Many detergents don’t work as well in hard water because they have to work at softening the water rather than cleaning.  Therefore we recommend using a separate water softener, such as Calgon Water Softener (NOT Calgon bath products). Calgon Water Softener is considered safe for use on all types of cloth diapers.

Calgon can also be used for stripping diapers, especially for areas with especially hard water.  Just wash clean diapers 3-4 times with hot water and Calgon (no detergent).  As always, be sure to rinse thoroughly!

Use ½ the recommended amount for a top loading machine and ¼ the recommended amount for a front loading machine.

Since it sounds like you already have some detergent on hand you’d like to use, Calgon may be your best bet. Once you’ve used the detergent you currently on hand, and if the Calgon is solving the issues you are having, you can continue to use it, try your luck at another detergent with Calgon or switch to a hard water specific detergent. Make sure you use Calgon in the same way you would use a cloth diaper detergent: 1/2 the recommended amount for top-loaders and 1/4 of the recommended amount for HE washers. Lastly, always read the labels when switching to or using a new detergent since each detergent is a slightly different formula or concentration.

Not sure what type of water you have? Pick up some Rockin’ Green Water Quality Test Strips and leave all guessing and experimenting behind.

{If you enjoyed reading Washing Cloth Diapers with Hard Water I would be tickled pink if you left a comment. To read more about my green(er) parenting aspirations, advice and adventures be sure to subscribe to my RSS feed or get updates via email.}


By Emi Stapler. I am a cloth diaper advocate, green parenting blogger, mother of three and a military wife who enjoys sharing my motherhood adventures and advice. Follow me at The Cloth Diaper Report on Facebook, Twitter @TheCDReport , Google +, Pinterest and Instagram.

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  1. I'm glad you mentioned Calgon. I have very hard water and Calgon is a lifesaver! The only problem is finding it in bulk. They sell a 6-pack on Amazon for ~$41 (6x 32-fl oz), or singles (still 32-fl oz) for $9.99. However, I buy the same size at the grocery store for $4.99, and *that* price is still more than I want to pay… :(

    I also don't line dry my prefolds. They get hard as a rock! So for the questioner with hard water, hang dry your covers, pockets, etc (anything with elastic or PUL I hang dry) and machine dry the prefolds with dryer balls (the plastic balls with nubbies/spikes on them). They fluff up so nicely!

  2. Great tips! I just got some Hard Rock and love it. I've been using the Classic Rock and it works well but I have noticed even less smell with the Hard Rock.
    I've been wanting to try Calgon with all of my clothes and it's great to find out it will work on my CD's!

    Thanks again.

  3. Great Information! Thanks!!

  4. One quick comment, when you FIRST get prefolds, don't wash them with your pockets, all the extra fluff will soak into the aplix in the pocket dipes.

    Also, brand new cloth wipes? Wash them with towels first. Particularly the terry ones. Lesson learned.

  5. Thanks so much for addressing my questions! I plan to try some Calgon to see if that helps. Thanks again!

  6. Teresha@Marlie and Me says:

    thanks for sharing your knowledge! I have hard water issues too. this article has been helpful!

  7. simplymerry says:

    Another thank you – this has been a big help. :)

  8. James, Andrea, and Clara Smith says:

    This is a timely post. I just had to strip my diapers last week. I followed the directions on the Cotton Babies website using the Dawn and bleach. Then I read that bleach can cause the PUL to crack and have holes in it! Ak! I really hope I didn't use too much! I really love my diapers. Next time I will try Calgon or something like it. At least it helped the diapers not stink or leak!

  9. I am so happy to see this post. Coincidentally, I just tried Calgon for the first time yesterday, and I can't believe what a difference it has made!

    I had been using first Planet and then Mountain Green, and I had a bit of a stink issue, but more importantly, repelling was becoming a huge problem on my pocket diapers. We have moderately hard water, but it had never been a problem for washing regular clothes. I tried Rockin Green Classic (the Hard Rock wasn't out when I bought it a few weeks ago), and it made the smell almost completely disappear, but the repelling was still making the diapers virtually unusable, despite several soaks and washes.

    I did a lot of reading and talked to several people, and although Dawn and Borax are really popular and recommended by people I trust, I was too afraid to try them. Using Dawn in particular also seemed like a lot of extra work and would use up a lot of water. I decided to try Calgon because the Fuzzi Bunz website suggested it, although it was a little vague about the amount.

    I did a hot wash with 1/2 the usual amount of both Planet detergent and Calgon, and after just one wash and extra rinse, my diapers are as good as new. I can't tell you how much of a relief this is! Thank you so much for telling people about this great product and particularly for giving directions on how to use it with cloth diapers!

  10. Hey Hard Water ladies…I have hard well water. I have run through many different "cloth diaper safe" detergents as well as tried many additives (like vinegar, baking soda, Calgon, etc.) trying to get rid of the recurrent residue stink that would eventually lead to absorbency issues.

    I spent months going through our cloth diapering routine, including the various accessories like diaper area cleaners, and banishing liquid and sheet fabric softener trying to rule everything so I could be sure it was hard water.

    I started using Calgon with EVERY cloth diaper load and the stink and absorbency issues went away and stayed away…however it got to be very expensive. I was SO EXCITED when CrunchyClean told me I shouldn't have to use the Calgon anymore once I start using their hard water version. Things were great for awhile but eventually I started having residue issues again. I contact CrunchyClean and was not given any help, only told to add more of the ingredients she already had in her product or use Calgon again.

    I didn't feel I should have to spend more to get their hard water product to work for me and was getting pretty irritated with the whole thing…CrunchyClean did refund my purchase, which I thought was awesome of her to do but that still left me without a long term solution…my youngest is 10 months old, we've got awhile yet to go in cloth diapers.

    I was extremely thankful to be chosen as a hard water tester for a brand spankin' new cloth diaper detergent called Glamour Wash from a company called Lulu's in the fluff. I had high hopes but low expectations considering all the issues I've had.

    Glamour Wash has been spectacular!

    I was completely amazed the first few times I used it because the stain removal properties were awesome, much much better than CrunchyClean. It is also truly clean rinsing– unlike CC I don't smell the scent after my washing cycle is over. I was having to do extra rinses with CC.

    I kept using it expecting to eventually have the residual smell and absorbency issues but I've been using it for about a month and nothing so far! I was having to strip my CDs every couple of weeks with CrunchyClean. Plus, she's willing to do custom orders if you have very hard water and need more "omph"

    She hasn't launched yet…any day now…but she is taking pre-orders and she was doing FFS sample bags…not sure if she still as any left though. If you guys check my blog you'll find links to the FFS samples.

  11. Thanks for the info! I'm new to CDing so this was helpful!!

  12. I want to second Lulu's In The Fluff Glamour Wash!! It's all new and just amazing for hard water! And the best part is, Lulu is more then willing to work with people who need extra help with their water! The customer service is wonderful!

    It looks like there still are at least a few FFS samples available if you go to inthefluff.com!!

  13. I read once that the water softener was actually invented by a man whose wife was having a lot of laundry issues with their cloth diapers.

  14. MamaSquirrel says:

    oh thank you, thank you, thank you for posting this!!!

    we have hard water and been struggling with it, will definitely try all the tips you suggest to help with the laundry!

  15. I know that this is posted so late lol but I hope I can get a reply. I am brand spanking new to CDing and I was wondering if I should add Calgon with my detergent/wash cycle or if I should use it in just my rinse, or even both? What would you suggest?

  16. I have hard water and my four month old has as super bad diaper rash. Have you found that using Calgon helps with this as well? I am hoping so. I am going to try it.

    • I have not personally used Calgon, but be sure to read the Kelly’s Closet guidelines I shared in the article as you will want to use less with your cloth diapers. Washing Soda is a great option as well– either adding 1-2 tablespoons as a “boost” in each load or do a monthly washing soda regimen using 4 TBSP and no detergent.

      • I did the recommended Calgon recipe from Kelly’s Closet above and she is still getting diaper rash with the diapers. When I put her in disposables the rash goes away. I am wondering if stripping at a laundromat would be a good solution??? Any help is welcomed. Thanks so much.

        • Trying to strip with Calgon one time may not be enough if it is mineral build up. The thing with diaper rash is there are multiple culprits, so you have to identify if it is biological (ammonia, bacteria, yeast), hard water minerals or a reaction to a detergent or chemical. If you know you have hard water it could even be a combination of causes.

          I would recommend getting a box of washing soda– it is super cheap and run a few loads to try and strip them of minerals or gunk. Worst-case scenario you may need to go to plan B like a cautious bleaching to battle bacteria or gunk that has gotten trapped deep inside. Whatever method you try be sure to rinse, rinse and rinse again.

    • AHargis says:

      I would use RLR to strip. Just google it. It’s awesome.

  17. Heather says:

    Thanks for the advice! Do i use liquid or powder calgon?

    • You could probably use either, just remember to use a lot less than a regular load for diapers!


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