Reusable Diapers and Hard Water – An Ultimate Guide

The washing of reusable diapers is a critical factor with regards how successful you will be, and how enjoyable an experience it will be for you. This is our guide for you that talks you through a rather common situation for many of us; washing reusable diapers and inserts with hard water. We explain why this is important to factor in, water softener considerations, and tips on detergent selection.

What is hard water and how does it affect me?

Water hardness refers to the mineral content of your water. Hard water is high in dissolved minerals – primarily calcium and magnesium. The higher the concentration of calcium and magnesium, the higher the degree of hardness of this sample of water. This high mineral content results in high pH or alkalinity. 

Understanding the difference between alkalinity and pH and how alkaline water can affect your laundry, and in this case your reusable diapers, is important in determining what to do to remedy expected problems.

When we discuss water quality, alkalinity is significantly more important than pH. pH tells you whether the water is acidic, neutral, or basic, but not the buffering capacity of the water. Buffering capacity is the ability of water (or compound) to resist a change in pH. Alkalinity tells you the buffering capacity in the basic pH range of the water.

While a high mineral content in water is no cause for a health concern, and indeed hard water is a remarkably common occurrence worldwide, hard water is a nuisance in the home as it leaves mineral deposits on your faucets and fixtures. Hard water is also likely to affect the performance of your chosen laundry detergents, and therefore can have an adverse effect on your laundry routine.

Why does this occur? To put it simply, with hard water your detergent attempts to combat the minerals in your water rather than the dirt on your clothes and diapers. Hard water also leaves minerals and residue behind on your fabrics and can leave the appearance of clothes looking dull over time.  

What kind of water do I have?

You will only know this if you test it. Depending on where you live, you may find this information online, but you will only know to what degree of hardness you have by testing it.

Some households can have varying levels of water hardness, and this depends on where you source your water and how it is circulated around the home. The majority of modern homes have a water softening system. Some of these only have the capacity to reduce their hardness by a fraction, resulting in hard water continuing to be being pumped around your house. While your appliances may remain shiny, your clothes may still be impacted.

There are some obvious signs of what type of water you have such as mineral deposits on your sinks, toilets, showers, dinnerware, or glasses. Also, consider how much effort it is to get your soaps to lather, or if your whites turn dull and gray over a prolonged period. 

For the highest degree of accuracy, we advise testing your water. From online guidance to home testing strips, informing yourself has never been easier. The United States Geological Survey provides a Map of Water Hardness for free online, and they also provide accompanying information for you also: Hardness of Water Resources. Similar maps and guidance should be available wherever you are.

Testing your water is remarkably straightforward. There are establishments that will test your water for free if you provide a sample. To test on your own all you need are simple strips that you dip into water. Fill a glass from your main water line and follow the instructions on the packet of the product you received. The entire test takes mere minutes and will provide you with an incredibly valuable insight.

Can I wash reusable diapers in hard water?

Hard water affects many of us who use cloth diapers on their children and knowing the exact level of hardness in your supply is beneficial. But what exactly does this mean for your laundry routine?

Hard water negatively impacts detergent performance. Simply, detergents focus on attacking the minerals in hard water rather than attacking the dirt on your reusable diapers. Over time, these minerals will become trapped in fabrics causing repelling, which leads to ammonia build-up and leaks. When washing cloth diapers in hard water, we encourage you consider adding a water softener to your washing machine and selecting the best locally available detergent for cloth diapers in hard water.

How to choose a detergent for hard water

When you’re dealing with hard water, simple tweaks can make a substantial difference to their performance and longevity, and these tweaks begin with detergents and softeners.

In a hard water environment, choose a detergent with high concentrations of surfactants to wash your cloth diapers with. Surfactants are surface active agents, and they contribute to the cleaning ability of your detergent by breaking down stains on fabric. This allows dirt to wash away rather than redepositing on the materials in your laundry. Surfactants, by their very nature, are less sensitive to water hardness.

When you choose your detergent of choice, we encourage you to consider the big players in your market that have the chemical composition and experience to produce a product that will effectively do the job for you. And remember to look for detergents that have high concentrations of surfactants.

Also see if your local supermarket stocks a variety of detergent that is sensitive to your baby’s skin and this will help to safeguard your reusable diapers.

Detergent brands such as Tide and Gain make varieties that are highly recommended for cloth diapers, including us here at Bayrli, and include softening agents to combat hard water levels.

There are also natural alternatives as well. These brands claim to have high concentrations of surfactants that boost their cleaning power but here at Bayrli we cannot recommend them from our own testing.

Should I use a water softener?

Now let’s talk briefly about water softeners for your diapers. A good water softener will remove calcium, magnesium and other metals or minerals in your naturally occurring hard water supply.

One option is to install a mechanical water softening system into your home. While this is obviously an expensive consideration, the water softener will remove excess minerals in your supply and significantly extend the life of your plumbing equipment, appliances, and of course your cloth diapers. However, even if price isn’t the initial burden, this installation may not be feasible due to structural constraints.  

Another way, and a far cheaper way, is to add a water softening agent directly into your washing machine. Water softeners are either non-precipitating or precipitating. Non-precipitating water softeners bind to hard water minerals forming a solution that easily washes away. Precipitating water softeners bind to hard water minerals and form solid particles. These particles are then agitated away. A popular example of a water softener is Borax powder.

Precipitating water softeners are useful for addressing build-up and occasionally for stripping your cloth diapers. This may be a good water softener choice for you if you do not have an extremely high mineral content in your water. Please bear in mind non-precipitating water softeners are more effective and might be a better choice with an extremely hard water supply.

At Bayrli we do not recommend any water softeners simply because there are too many to test in detail. But you are likely to find something adequate locally.