Using Homemade Detergent on Cloth Nappies



There are several recipes for DIY or homemade laundry detergent around the internet. They use 'natural' supermarket ingredients and are easy and cheap to make, so we definitely see the attraction. However, we generally recommend NOT using homemade detergents on your modern cloth nappies. There are two reasons for this:

1. In most cases it will void the warranty on your modern cloth nappies. We are a retailer, and we have a responsibility to abide by the information and advice provided by our suppliers. Some ingredients used in homemade detergents have been identified by some nappy manufacturers as potentially damaging to the fabric of component of their nappies.

    2. Making your own laundry detergent from a recipe that has not been scientifically tested, when you are not a chemist and are not aware of how different ingredients and formulas work together can actually be harmful. Unlike commercially available detergents, homemade recipes have not undergone proper testing to see if they suitable or safe for washing nappies.

    Here's run down of some of the most commonly used ingredients in homemade detergents:

    • Bicarb - sodium bicarbonate is not recommended for use on bamboo fabrics by some manufacturers as it may cause bamboo fibres to break down over time, especially when combined with uric acid from urine.
    • Soap (either grated bars like Sunlight/Velvet or soap flakes) is not recommended to be ever used on cloth nappies: see here.
    • Borax/sodium borate - quite abrasive and recommended against by many manufacturers - it's apparently quite bad for hook&loop/velcro and elastic due to its caustic nature. It is also a toxic substance (used as an insecticide) and can cause skin irritation so make sure - like other kitchen/laundry cleaners - it's kept out of the way of children. More info from the Environmental Working Group here.
    • Chlorine bleach & bleach based nappy soakers compromise waterproofing and elastic and can also damage fabric fibres and cause nappy rash if not rinsed out thoroughly. Note that chlorine bleach reacts with both ammonia and vinegar to create toxic fumes.
    • Washing soda/sodium carbonate is used in many commercial detergents. Each one has a different scientific formulation so they have different proportions and different results depending on how they interact with their other ingredients.
    • Vinegar can cause premature breakdown of nappy components (especially the waterproofing, but also elastic), and washing machine manufacturers can also recommend against the use of vinegar in their machine as it can damage the seals.

    So please be very careful about making your own detergent if you don't understand the chemical reactions involved. If you come across a recipe you'd like to try, find out who developed it and what their qualifications are, whether it's been tested as safe for fabrics and people, and if there are any safety measures that should be taken when making it. Most laundry substances can be irritating to the skin or eyes and should be handled with care. Remember that ingredient names may differ between countries.

    Keep in mind that if you use a 'nappy safe' detergent on your nappies, but use a homemade detergent on the rest of your washing, that residue from your homemade detergent could still end up in your nappies. You can always contact the manufacturer of your nappies and ask what impact the detergent or its ingredients could have on their nappies and their components and whether it will impact on their warranty.

    There are plenty of detergents in the supermarket that are great at cleaning nappies (the eco/grey water safe ones are a good place to start), and there are also detergents specifically designed for cloth nappies. For more information on washing cloth nappies, see our General Washing & Care Instructions.

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