Powdered Dishwasher Detergent (like Cascade) is NOT SAFE for Cloth Diapers

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.

delaminated diaper

Photo from The Cloth Diaper Compendium on Facebook. For privacy reasons, names and comments were redacted. Other than redacting names and comments, this photo was not edited.  This photo is representative of other, similar, photos showing degradation of PUL caused by Cascade soaks.  

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.

MOST IMPORTANTLY

DO NOT, EVER, USE DISHWASHER DETERGENT ON YOUR CLOTH DIAPERS.

It might hurt your baby.

Do you have thoughts to add?

39 thoughts on “Powdered Dishwasher Detergent (like Cascade) is NOT SAFE for Cloth Diapers

  1. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I don’t understand this “new” fad of using a detergent that is meant for *glass* and *ceramics* on fiber textiles. Surely there is something that works in a similar fashion that is meant for fiber textiles that are worn next to the body.

  2. Bravo.
    Thank you for outing the ridiculous antics of that horrendous group.
    I was banned from the group after stating that I use ECOS with great success. The reason was because they only allow advice that they approve of and they only approve of using mainstream detergents like Tide and Gain. I honestly believe that they started the group as a joke to see if they could get thier terrible and blatantly unsupported advice to catch on… Sadly, many babies were harmed and some will have lasting scars, not to mention the damage and potential long term effects from the unknown chemical concoctions that thier skin absorbed.
    Thank you again for caring more about our babies than those incredulous ‘women’.

  3. Thank you for sharing this!! The compendium has steered me in the right direction with most of their advice, however, thankfully I never did their “Cascade soak”. The thought alone made me nervous. I hope people in that group read this and realize just how dangerous it can be!

  4. There are other concerned mothers who have also looked into this horrible laundering trend and have contacted Protor & Gamble, the makers of Cascade, to see if tests had been done on fibers and what the results were. P&G replied and stated emphatically not to use Cascade on cloth diapers because some of the ingredients are known skin irritants.

    P&G actually releases their ingredient list for many of their products, including Cascade. The MSDS lists 12 ingredients, with the first listed as Sodium Carbonate. However, another ingredient is Hydrozincite and this is both a known skin irritant and has been shown in studies to be detrimental to aquatic wildlife. (Hydrozincite, Environmental Working Group, 12/31/2013)

    Cadie, the makers of RLR and a widely used laundry aid in removing hard water mineral buildup, also releases their MSDS to the public. RLR is 100% sodium carbonate – no other ingredients! It has been used for decades on cloth diapers and is very safe to use on fibers that come in contact with a babies skin and diaper area.

    RLR = 100% sodium carbonate
    Cascade = 12 ingredients (including sodium carbonate and 6 others that are used commonly used in laundry detergents as well. However, the remaining 5 ingredients are not!)

    ** Please help stop this horrible rumor and diaper laundering trend from continuing! It takes a village of informed citizens to make a change and stop using harmful chemicals in the home. **

  5. I’m excited for the Cloth Diaper Industry to get back to the basics! I always tell my customers to keep it simple and if you have problems CALL. My goal as a retailer is to make cloth diapering easy, fun and safe.

  6. THANK YOU for addressing this issue. As a retailer ourselves, we deal with the crazy internet advice given daily, as well as the upset customers when they have ruined their diapers (or voided their warranties). We always ask our customers to PLEASE come back and talk to us first, before trying something crazy.

    We’ve helped thousands of customers successfully launder their cloth diapers. While mom-to-mom support most definitely has it’s place, there’s something to be said for the experienced retailer that has helped more than just a handful parents.

  7. Thank you for taking time to post! It is so important to realize that adding more and more chemicals only compound the problems, not usually fix them. We always tell customers that water is the key in any diaper routine.

  8. Thank you for this! We retailers work hard to share good information with customers and appreciate the backup. This group and its instructions are toxic! Mamas, please contact a small retailer in your area if you need help simplifying your routine!

  9. Interesting to see all the controversy over diaper laundry. Not sure that one cascade soak would ruin a cloth diaper (at least a quality one) but I still wouldn’t recommend it or use it on my diapers that is for sure.

  10. Jen,
    Thank you so much for tackling this issue and for taking on TCDC and the crazy advice they offer. We actually have a mom who IS a chemist here locally. She was banned from their page for trying to point out scientific evidence contrary to their views.

    Small retailers who work with moms on a daily basis, together with the manufacturers who make the diapers really are the best resource for laundering information!a

    http://www.anurturingmoment.com

  11. Thank you Jen!! I was starting to get really concerned with the locals started going to the TCDC instead of speaking with their retailers or manufacturers to resolve laundry issues. I knew Cascade is NOT going to do it and would do the opposite! I’m going to share this in our group and on my page! Thank you again!!

    http://www.MyBlossomBottom.com Greeley, Colorado

  12. Thank you for posting this!
    I was told about this crazy method but confirmed with our local retailer and I was told not to do so. Because dish soap is not meant for laundry.
    I am very happy with the knowledge stuff at FBB so I am posting their link in case any one in eastern canada needs good advice.

  13. I am so happy to see a manufactuer put to rest the crazy notion that dish detergent could be used on something as intimate as cloth diapers. Our babies skin is much to delicate to use a product that has so many skin irritants in it. As a retailer this question has come up, along with many other detergent questions, and its good to show that cloth diaper safe products are not about hype they are about safety. If you have questions about your wash routine contact your local cloth diaper store that has experience, knowledge and can guide you to a solution that is right for you and your baby.

    http://www.kebbiesdiaperbag.com

  14. Thanks for putting this out there. I started getting a lot of strange troubleshooting requests lately and I couldn’t figure out why. When you have a good wash routine you shouldn’t have to resort to strange measures to get your diapers clean. Use products that are safe for your babies and diapers. When in doubt, contact the retailer you purchased your diapers from as they will be your best resource!

  15. Thank you for posting this! I was part of that group but have enough common sense to obviously not use something that wasn’t tested for the manner in which it was suggesting to be used in that group when that is not the intended use of the product. Some people are too eager to follow.

  16. Thanks so much for the great article! As a retailer of cloth diapers and other natural parenting products, what concerns me about the bad advice people are getting is what it will end up doing to their babies. I assume that my customers who choose to use cloth diapers do so at least in part because of concern for the environment AND concern for what goes against their baby’s skin. This is why it’s so important to be mindful of what we wash our diapers in. Thanks again for helping raise awareness if this issue!

    http://www.vipbabybum.com

  17. I’ve been sewing cloth diapers for over 6 years now. I joined the TCDC as I was linked there by some local cloth diapering moms. I had to leave. I couldn’t take the harsh washing suggestions – its just not ideal for baby’s skin or the diapers. Thankful that people are speaking against some of their harsh suggestions <3

  18. Thank you for your well written blog. There are several other ‘theories’ out there of what is good/ok to wash diapers in or how to strip them. Not sure these theories all came from the same source, but all the same it’s not safe. Several people have gotten advice to use fish tank ammonia cleaner to strip their diapers! How can people possibly think that’s safe? (and apparently the manufacturers have been made aware people are using it this way and they were appalled) Stripping is done to get rid of buildup of detergent, ammonia, stink issues, etc. Why would you add something if the point is to get rid of something. It seems like we’re just too trusting to assume someone knows what they’re talking about when instead we need to use common sense. Sorry for going off topic, again I appreciate what you’ve written.

  19. Thanks again for sharing this! I’m not sure why people think that something (like Cascade) which isn’t even that safe for dishes (read the fine print on why you shouldn’t put cascade residue in your mouth!) would be considered ok to use to wash something applied to babies’ skin. Please call your local CD shop to help with troubleshooting your diaper routine! http://www.babytimeia.com

  20. I’d like to point out that the Cloth Diaper Compendium has been shut down due to Kate’s admission of defrauding her coop members and TCDC members. She broadcast a while ago that she had a fire in her apartment and accepted monetary donations. She admits there was no fire. Check out The Cloth Diaper Symposium for all of the facts and Kate’s very fake apology. Thanks for the article!

  21. I do not believe that doing the Cascade soak caused any rashes or harm to babies. If that would have happened moms would have come back and said people don’t use cascade on your diapers because my baby got a rash. Not one person complained of harm to their babies. If it were true moms would have went crazy on all the cloth diapering groups warning other moms. Guess what it didn’t happen. I believe you totally made that up Jennifer. All you have for evidence is one diaper that delamanated and that diaper probably had a defect any way.

    • Actually, in the cloth diapering group I am in, other members DID warn us about TCDC and some of the crazy ideas being promoted there.

  22. I actually just had half of my cloth diapering stash delaminated from using RLR. When I contacted Cadie customer service, they told me their product was for use on fabric only, and they knew it would eat through waterproof linings. Guess they should advertise that. Assholes.

  23. Thanks for this great advice. Sometimes, we just need to educate customers. Cloth diapers has PUL component and definitely we need to be aware that not all detergent are great for cloth diapers! Proper rinsing is also as important.