A few years ago, we started to realize that our dishwasher wasn’t getting our dishes clean. The glasses were hazy. The silverware looked spotty. Things just weren’t coming clean. Then, the dishwasher broke. My thrifty husband did some reading, took it apart, fixed it, and put it back together again. Inside he found a mess of calcified detergent build-up that was clogging our pipes.
Some research quickly turned up some interesting information. In 2011, detergent manufacturers quietly removed TSP (trisodium phosphate) from dishwasher detergent. According to an NPR article on the issue, they did this because 17 states passed laws requiring the removal of phosphates from detergents. The article reads, “Phosphates pollute lakes, bays, and streams. They create algae blooms and starve fish of oxygen”.
The detergent industry is waiting on innovations leading to improved, environmentally safe detergents. Until that happens, our dishwashers aren’t working as well because those phosphates actually helped prevent food and other chemical particles from reattaching to everything inside the dishwasher.
Enter a new player. The Cloth Diaper Compendium and the group’s founder, Kate Shabanov. The Compendium seeks to help parents with washing cloth diapers and in their group description claims “16,000 strong can’t be wrong”. Documents written by Shabonov and previously published on her group called “The Cloth Diaper Compendium” advise cloth diaper users to use a product called RLR to strip their diapers of residue and dinginess. Shabanov writes, “I’ve often told people they could make their own RLR at home by mixing Calgon, washing soda and Borax. I still stand by that, but if you don’t want to buy all those ingredients to mix, you could also use some dishwasher detergent powder in a pinch.” Shabanov adds this statement: “RLR is, fundamentally, dishwasher detergent powder [emphasis hers]”. Furthermore, in online conversations with inquiring parents on her Facebook group, members of the Compendium repeatedly recommend the use of Cascade, a specific brand of dishwasher detergent, to soak cloth diapers, giving families the impression that Cascade would leave their diapers residue free and safe for a baby to wear because it is, again, “chemically similar to RLR”.
If dishes and dishwashers both show signs of residue left by dishwasher detergents, we’re not sure how it stands to reason that dishwasher detergent wouldn’t also leave a residue on cloth diapers.
Powdered dishwasher detergents are made up of a long list of ingredients, many of those ingredients are proprietary information closely held by their manufacturers. These detergents were chemically formulated for removing dried food and grease from non-absorbent surfaces, but most certainly not designed or tested for safety when used on laundry.
Knowing that our company has heard from many customers with complaints resulting from following the Compendium’s instructions, I put out a public request for reports from parents who had problems following the washing or stripping directions offered by The Cloth Diaper Compendium. My goal was to learn from what we heard to allow us to form a better response as a company. My one sentence question read: “Have you had your cloth diapers ruined, or, has your baby experienced a serious skin reaction, after following washing instructions provided by The Cloth Diaper Compendium?”
That single sentence provoked hundreds of two different types of responses. One type of response came from individuals who are faithful Compendium fans. The other responses were more urgent from parents using words like “I didn’t want to respond publicly because I was ashamed that I had used something on my diapers that ended up hurting my baby.” A few sent photos showing terrible rashes. One parent described scars.
When bad advice causes a delaminated cloth diapers like the one in the photo above, you can buy a new diaper and not make the same mistake again. However, as we all know, one baby harmed by bad advice is one too many. I don’t need to be a chemist. I don’t need to be a doctor. I only need to be a mom with some common sense to know that action must be taken.
Parents, think carefully about what you use to wash your cloth diapers. Use common sense. You ONLY need water, an appropriate amount of laundry detergent, and occasionally bleach. If you need help, please call our customer service line (888-332-2243) and ask.
You are in control of what you use in your home and what your baby is exposed to as a result. Do not create dangerous chemical experiments in your washing machine. The results of your experiment will be unpredictable effects on the components in your cloth diapers, most notably your elastic and the waterproof layer in the diapers. Diaper area wetness activates chemical residues. Those residues may cause a painful reaction in your baby’s skin.
DO NOT, EVER, USE DISHWASHER DETERGENT ON YOUR CLOTH DIAPERS.
It might hurt your baby.