The Dirty Truth


Homemade Cloth Diaper Safe Detergents

Homemade Cloth Diaper Safe Detergents

Let’s talk about homemade cloth diaper soap/detergent!I have seen a lot of posts on how to make it, what to use, where to get it and what works. Haven’t see a lot that say much about what doesn’t work, because everybody has the answer and theirs is right, right?

The dirty truth about soap and cloth diapers is.. They do not mix well.

First, we will take a look at the difference between soaps and detergents. They are not the same.

- Soap

  In chemistry, soap is a salt of a fatty acid.[1] Soaps are mainly used as surfactants for washing, bathing, and cleaning, but they are also used in textile spinning and are important components of lubricants. Soaps for cleansing are obtained by treating vegetable or animal oils and fats with a strongly alkaline solution. Fats and oils are composed of triglycerides: three molecules of fatty acids attached to a single molecule of glycerol.[2] The alkaline solution, often called lye, brings about a chemical reaction known as saponification. In saponification, the fats are first hydrolyzed into free fatty acids, which then combine with the alkali to form crude soap. Glycerol, often called glycerine, is liberated and is either left in or washed out and recovered as a useful by-product according to the process employed.[2]

Soaps are key components of most lubricating greases, which are usually emulsions of calcium soap or lithium soaps and mineral oil. These calcium- and lithium-based greases are widely used. Many other metallic soaps are also useful, including those of aluminium, sodium, and mixtures of them. Such soaps are also used as thickeners to increase the viscosity of oils. In ancient times, lubricating greases were made by the addition of lime to olive oil.[3]  

This one is one of my favorite.

 Types of Handcrafted Soap

While the chemical reaction that creates soap is always the same, different types of soaps can be made by different methods, all still relying upon that basic chemical reaction that occurs.

Cold Process Soap

Cold process soapmaking is the method most often used by soapmakers who make soap from scratch. It’s called “cold” process because no additional heat is added during the soapmaking process, however the process itself does generate heat. Often cold process soaps are insulated in the mold until they are completely cooled.

Soaps produced via the cold process method are opaque and usually have a creamy feel to the bar. Without any additives that change the color, the soap ranges from white-white to creamy-tan, depending on the oils that are used in making the soap.

The feel of the lather varies, also dependent upon the oils used to make the soap. The lather can range from tiny, very slippy, long-lasting bubbles (as with pure olive oil soap), to big, fluffy, short-lived bubbles (as with pure coconut oil soap).

The hardness of the bar is determined the selection of oils, the amount of water used and how long the soap was dried. Cold process soaps will continue to get harder as they age because additional water evaporates out of the soap.

Most cold process soaps are made with a combination of oils, in a recipe developed by the soapmaker to create a good lather and hard bar, as well as to provide benefits with additional ingredients.

Hot Process Soap

In hot process soapmaking, additional heat is applied to the soap mixture. The chemical reaction is the same, but occurs faster than in cold process soapmaking. Because of the additional heat, the finished soap bar tends feel smoother to the touch. The hardness of the bar again depends on the selection of oils, amount of water used in the process and length of time allowed for water to evaporate out of the finished bar.

As with cold process soap, the hot process soap is opaque and ranges from white-white to creamy-tan depending on the oils used.

The type and quality of the later and other benefits of the soap are determined by the oils and other ingredients selected to make the soap.

Liquid Soap

Liquid soap is made with the hot process method, The soap ends up liquid because a different type of lye is used (potassium hydroxide instead of sodium hydroxide) and more water is added. Liquid soaps are typically off-white to amber colored, depending on the oils used. Most liquid soaps are clear or mostly clear.

As a side note, most commerical “liquid soap” is not true soap; it is made with synthetic detergents.

Transparent Soap

Transparent Soap is made by the hot process method, with some added ingredients and steps in the process to make the soap clear. There are a few highly-skilled handcrafted soapmakers who produce transparent soap from scratch, but a majority of handcrafted transparent soaps on the market are produced from a ready-made soap base.

Glycerin Soap

Glycerin is a by-product of the chemical reaction of the soapmaking process. In commercial soaps, the glycerin is typically removed, purified and then sold for other uses including food, industrial and explosive manufacturing. The method for removing the glycerin from soap is complex and requires considerable equipment and skill. As a result, all handcrafted soaps made from scratch retain the glycerin (and all it’s beneficial properties) and so are all technically “glycerin soap”.

Subsequently, the term “glycerin soap” is somewhat of a misnomer. Most people using the term “glycerin soap” are, in fact, referring to transparent soap.

Ready-Made Soap Bases

Rather than make soap from scratch, some soapmakers choose to purchase ready-made soap bases which are melted down, have color, scent or other ingredients added and are then poured into molds.

The benefit to using a ready-made soap base is that the chemical reaction which produces soap has already occurred, making it easier for the soapmaker to craft elegantly and uniquely shaped and colored soaps. Many of the artistic presentations of handcrafted soap can only be created with a ready-made soap base.

A ready-made soap base may be a “true soap” (made via the chemical reaction referred to above) or could include synthetic detergents as all or a portion its ingredients.

Okay, so basically all soap must have a fat and an alkaline solution (lye).

- Detergents

A detergent is a surfactant or a mixture of surfactants with “cleaning properties in dilute solutions.”[1] These substances are usually alkylbenzenesulfonates, a family of compounds that are similar to soap but are more soluble in hard water, because the polar sulfonate (of detergents) is less likely than the polar carboxyl (of soap) to bind to calcium and other ions found in hard water. In most household contexts, the term detergent by itself refers specifically to laundry detergent or dish detergent, as opposed to hand soap or other types of cleaning agents. Detergents are commonly available as powders or concentrated solutions. Detergents–like soaps– work because they are amphiphilic – partly hydrophilic (polar) and partly hydrophobic (non-polar). Their dual nature facilitates the mixture of hydrophobic compounds (like oil and grease) with water. Because air is not hydrophillic, detergents are also foaming agents to varying degrees.

And this,

Laundry detergent, or washing powder, is a type of detergent (cleaning agent) that is added for cleaning laundry. In common usage, “detergent” refers to mixtures of chemical compounds including alkylbenzenesulfonates, which are similar to soap but are less affected by “hard water.” In most household contexts, the term detergent refers to laundry detergent vs hand soap or other types of cleaning agents. Most detergent is delivered in powdered form.[1]

So soap and detergent are different. Their chemical makeup are not the same, although they work similar to each other the outcome for cloth diapers is serious stuff. You can also read  this and this.

For cloth diapers.. we need something that is clean rinsing, as in.. nothing is left behind. Our diapers are clean and there is no residue. Soap will leave a residue which can lead to repelling, stink and rashes, which we hate! Can I get a “HELL YEAH!”

No Soap

No Soap

Obviously any kind of soap no matter the kind is not clean rinsing.  Especially pure soaps, and as we just learned.. a pure soap is a soap which consist only of fatty acids and alkali(sodium hydroxide or LYE as most of us know it) without other ingredients which aren’t need chemically to make a soap. There are several diapering websites that absolutely do not recommend any kind of soap. Here are a few:

Pure Soap: Bar soap, grated soap, Fels Naptha soap, Castile soap:

Pure soaps can deteriorate lamination, creating tiny pinholes and rendering the waterproofing useless. Pure soaps can also coat diapers, making them repel rather than absorb.

Do not use on any diapering product.

*Disclaimer - Soaps, like those called for in the above recipes, can cause a build-up that leads to repelling on cloth diapers. Most cloth diaper manufacturers do not recommend the use of pure soaps for this reason. Although many moms choose to make their own laundry detergent using the recipes we have shared here, they also realize that stripping their diapers will likely be needed over time. Please consult your manufacturer’s warranty before using any of these recipes on your cloth diapers. The information contained within this site is given without warranty, either expressed or implied. The Diaper Jungle cannot be held liable for any damages caused directly or indirectly by the links and information on this site. In addition, changes and improvements to the information provided herein may be made at any time.

Although washing with some of these natural chemicals may not be ideal for diapers, many have come to the point that due to their water conditions or budget, it is just something they need to do.

There is no bar soap that is safe for using on cloth diapers. Period. Therefore most of the homemade detergent recipes are not safe for your diapers. Best-case senario you will need to strip your diapers to remove the oil buildup. Worst case your baby will break out from the exposure to these chemicals. This oily build-up will also stick around in your washing machine until you clean it out (with a non-residue detergent, plain dish soap or vinegar), we also strongly recommend against using a homemade detergent for your regular clothes during the time you are washing diapers. Even if you choose a diaper-safe detergent for just the diaper loads there can be transfer from the oils inside your washing machine.

Do not use detergents containing pure soap, enzymes, fabric whiteners, fabric brighteners, fabric softeners or anything scented. You may download a list of detergent recommendations here.

(Unless of course it is a clean rinsing scent, like  in 100% natural essential oils. No fragrance oils. Obviously.. some cloth diaper safe detergents have a clean rinsing scent! It is only there because we associate clean with smells.)

So, the list of safe bar soaps for cloth diapers is slim to none. Let’s look at a few of the ones I have seen listed on websites and blogs  that you are going to want to avoid. Fels Naptha, Ivory, Castile, Zote (any bar soap but these are specific names I have seen) They are all made  the same. Cold process, Hot process.. soap is soap. Zote also has optical brighteners, listed on their website.  All of them will eventually cause problems. Maybe not today, tomorrow or 6 months from now, but they will. (The length of time also depends on how soft or hard your water is!) Any kind of soap will cause  problems.

98% of the time if you are having trouble with your cloth diapers it is a wash routine problem. Using a soap, not using enough detergent, using too much detergent or using the wrong kind of detergent for your water type; which is an entirely different blog post I have not written yet. (le sigh) The other 2% is allergies or yeast.  In fact, you have probably had a problem and didn’t realize it was due to soap, because you stripped (probably with dawn.. whole different blog all together, but dawn is a degreaser.. not a laundry additive, and it does not sanitize) your diapers and  it “went away”. It actually just started the process all over again. Ta-Da!

Okay, it is quite clear we don’t want a soap, but we do  need a detergent… a GOOD  one.. (but to make my point..this is a *cd safe* list of charts..)

Notice something here? Not one of them say that you can use a SOAP.

Still want to make your own? Don’t use any soap! Still need a recipe?  Too bad!

hahaha I am kidding! Some people do this:

1 cup soda ash, half cup oxygen booster, and a few drops of essential oils to scent if you want

Some people do this:

1 cup soda ash, half cup baking soda, half cup oxygen booster

Some people do this:

1 cup soda ash, half cup baking soda, half cup oxygen booster, half cup salt

It keeps going and going…

I understand that some make their own diaper detergent and consider themselves to be problem free, I have to say though that the ratio of all ingredients in most cases will not be correct so I cannot recommend the use of homemade detergents on diapers. That, along with other factors, like the ingredients available to the general public are a bad mix. They have nothing that actually cleans, they are a bunch of water softeners and oxyclean. Please do not jump on the “I make my own..” wagon, read extensively and talk to a chemist if needed. With that being said, soap is bad! Borax is a water softener and is sharp; It will eat a hole through heavy jeans if too concentrated (in clumps and not dissolved fully). The sharpness leaves small cuts in the PUL which will eventually lead to delamination and/or pinholes. It gets stuck in the elastic and will wear on it like small knives making microscopic cuts until it eventually has no stretch.  Completely dilute borax before adding it as a water softener to any load, or add it when the water is filling and then add diapers.

Some people swear by vinegar, so if you use it and it works.. great. If you use causes problems.. stop using it!

Although you -can- make detergents with these, like  I said above it is the ratio of each ingredient that also matters, and they have no “detergents” nothing that cleans, they have no surfactants, they are water softeners and oxycleans. LAUNDRY BOOSTERS. If you do decide you want to risk it and make your own, THAT IS YOUR CHOICE.

If you research, you will probably come in across many of the articles that say these are harsh and can damage your diapers.  Mainly because the actual molecule of some ingredients are “sharp” which can/has potential to damage PUL. Like borax. ANYTHING homemade has potential to cause an issue. It is just the materials we have at hand.

However we NEED a detergent or things aren’t clean at all.

The truth is.. it is best to leave it up to the professionals. The people who talk to chemists and have the time/money to figure out a recipe that is safe for diapers AND cleans.  Don’t trust what some random mom on a cloth diaper group says about her homemade detergent that has worked for 3 months with no problems. It can take longer than 3 months to build up. Especially if you have a large enough rotation that diapers are only being washed 3-4 times a month. Plus, in my opinion.. someone who has cloth diapered for less than a year has not encountered all the problems that can happen with cloth diapers.

 There you have it, mamas. Don’t use any soap or anything that contains a soap, just don’t make homemade detergent for diapers. Usually you can see the flecks of soap in there. (Unless they pulsed the crap out of it in a food processor, but even then you will find a tiny clump or two. You can always ASK what is in it or do a bunch of googling.) You want a complete powder or a liquid, without any chunky anything in them.

If you have any questions, comments or anything to add, please feel free to contact me at TBellArtistry at yahoo dot com.


2 thoughts on “The Dirty Truth

  1. Pingback: Busting the Bubble on Diaper Laundry « Fat Bottom Babies

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