Detergent Build-up

Posted by Anna Apostolides-Fisher on

How to identify detergent build-up and how to fix it

What is detergent build-up?

     Detergent build-up happens when detergent used in a wash cycle does not fully rinse out of clothing. This causes a residue to be left on clothing fibers.



How does this cause issues with cloth diapers?

     The residue on the fibers can reduce how much moisture can be absorbed. This can cause your diapers to become less absorbent and leak. The residue can also act as a hiding place for bacteria and ammonia. When this happens, diapers can develop a strong odor and/or cause irritation to your baby's skin.



How do I know if I have detergent build-up?

     To find out if your issues are because of detergent residue, you need to rinse already clean diapers and check the rinse water for any signs of left over detergent.


Method 1: Take an insert and place it into a bowl of clean water. Allow your insert to absorb water and then squeeze the insert into the bowl. Check the water for signs of build-up. This can look like bubbles or suds floating on the waters surface or gathering around the edge of the bowl or water that is hazy or cloudy.


Pros: This method is quick and easy.
Cons: Some people get mixed results. This can happen if your build-up is not severe.


Method 2: Put all your clean items into your washing machine and run a hot, heavy duty cycle with no detergent. Check the water for signs of build-up during the wash. This method works best in a washing machine that is regularly cleaned. (To learn more about cleaning your washing machine click HERE)


Pros: This method helps remove build-up from clothes efficiently and requires no manual work.
Cons: This method can use a lot of water, which may be wasteful if detergent build-up is not found.


laundry being washed inside a machine with bubbles floating on top of the water

(Photo shows an example of what detergent build-up can look like during a rinse cycle)


What items in my stash can be affected by build-up?

     Detergent residue can build-up on any surface, but the items most affected by it are anything that is absorbent or allows moisture to pass through. This means all your absorbing layers (inserts, flats, prefolds, fitteds, etc) and anything that has a wicking layer, like a pocket diaper or liners.


How do I get rid of detergent build-up?

     To remove detergent buildup from diapers, you need to thoroughly rinse cloth until the water is no longer sudsy or hazy/cloudy and all signs of build-up are gone.


Method 1: Use your washing machine to continue washing diapers with no detergent until the water is clear and shows no signs of detergent build-up.


Pros: No manual work. (Just keep rinsing)
Cons: Running your washer multiple times can be time consuming. This also uses a lot of water, which can be costly.


Method 2: Hand rinsing items in a tub, sink, or basin. You can soak them in a tub and stomp on them with your feet or spray them with a hose outside.


Pros: Will use much less water than running full cycles in your washing machine.
Cons: Can be time consuming and is very labor intensive.



     When you have resolved the issue of detergent build-up, it is best to re-visit your wash routine to determine what changes should be made to prevent build-up from occurring again in the future. This could mean using longer wash cycles, an extra rinse, or changing the amount of detergent you use in your wash cycles. (To learn how to troubleshoot your wash routine, click HERE)


Additional tips:


*Adding a small amount of distilled white vinegar to your washing machine can help aide in rinsing out the residue. Or soaking your diapers for a short amount of time (30 minutes or so) in water/vinegar before rinsing to help with removing build-up.

(Recently, there has been information circulating the cloth diaper community that vinegar can break the rubber gaskets and seals of your washing machine. This is NOT true. You can safely use distilled white vinegar in your laundry without worrying about damage to your appliances.)


For additional support with issues related to your cloth diaper wash routine, you may book an individualized consultation with me by clicking HERE


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