How to Wash Cloth Diapers in Hard Water: My Natural Wash Routine with Plant Based Detergent

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I took me a while to figure out how to wash cloth diapers in hard water with a natural, plant based detergent. But now I have a routine that works great!

How to wash cloth diapers natural routine

How to wash cloth diapers in hard water

Washing cloth diapers in hard water can feel like a huge mountain to tackle! Luckily, it doesn’t have to be. With a little bit of extra ingredients, you can use clean, natural products products to wash your sweet baby’s diapers and avoid any nasty minerals that hard water can add.

Ready to learn how to wash cloth diapers in hard water? Keep reading…

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What is the biggest challenge in figuring out a wash routine?

I’ve used cloth diapers about 90% of the time for both of my kids. I love how well cloth works in general, how it cuts down on the trash we create, and how it’s a more natural choice for baby’s skin.

Figuring out how to use cloth diapers in general was a pretty easy learning curve. They’re not that much more work than disposables, and using cloth most of the time really saves money over having to buy disposables full time.

I have learned so much about the benefits of using cloth diapers these past few years! Keep reading to learn all of my tips and tricks- including how to wash cloth diapers in hard water…

Choosing what type of detergent to use

The biggest challenge with cloth diapers for me personally was figuring out a wash routine that I loved. I didn’t want to use a chemical laden, mainstream commercial detergent. I also didn’t want to use a “free and clear” version of the mainstream commercial detergents.

Although these can clean well, they all contain optical brighteners. I didn’t feel comfortable using something that leaves any type of chemicals behind on my clothes, whether that be synthetic fragrances or optical brighteners. I especially didn’t want these chemicals on my baby’s diapers.

If you’re looking for directions on how to make your own homemade laundry detergent, check out this guide on DIY laundry detergent from Mom Loves Best

For a while I tried several different natural, plant based detergents. These worked okay at first, but after a while, my daughter (the baby at the time) began to have trouble with rashes. I couldn’t quite figure out where the rashes were coming from.

We managed to avoid the rashes by very frequent diaper changes, and using a disposable during the night. I didn’t figure out what the problem was until later.

Eventually she was potty trained. A little while before she was potty trained, her little brother was born. I did a natural disposable for both my kids during the newborn stage, and switched to cloth as soon as they were big enough for the covers. I didn’t revisit cloth with my son right away, so it wasn’t until a little while later that my issues with cloth diapers resurfaced.

Best detergent to use using hard water

Hard water presents a lot of issues when it comes to washing cloth diapers- primarily that plant based detergents don’t remove all of the minerals from the fabric. 

If you want to remove those minerals AND avoid using commercial detergents filled with toxic, harmful chemicals, then you want to add in some sort of softener. For me, Borax works best. I always add some to my favorite detergent, Boulder Clean and I love the results.

What kind of water do you have?

Testing what sort of water you have is easy and fun! Add your kids in for a fun afternoon science experiment.

Here’s how to test the hardness of your water: From your sink, fill a jar of water halfway with water and add 10 drops of dishwasher soap to the jar. Shut the lid and shake for about 10 seconds. Sit the jar on the counter and look for two things: 

  1. Clarity in the water
  2. How many bubbles are on top of the water

The clearer the water with lots of bubbles on top, the softer your water is!  

What is hard water and why should you care?

Hard water simply means that it has a higher mineral content to it. 

Hard water works differently with soap and can create a lot of sud buildup, meaning that you aren’t cleaning things as efficiently as soft water will. 

How does hard water affect cloth diapers?

When washing cloth diapers with hard water, they won’t get as clean as you need them to be for little one’s gentle bottoms. 

Hard water is jam packed with minerals and, since it doesn’t work well with soap, oftentimes a cloth diaper will remain dirty and full of harmful minerals that can harm your baby’s skin. 

Keep reading to learn about how these minerals can cause burns….

How do you overcome hard water?

Overcoming hard water with your laundry is done by simply adding a water softener to the washing machine along with the detergent. 

Minerals and Burns

The first time I tried cloth diapers on my son, it was a disaster. He got a painful red rash that reminded me of a burn. I immediately put him back in disposables and began to research. I figured out what the problem was.

There is a lot of misinformation out there when it comes to how to wash cloth diapers. I had previously boughten into the instructions that say to only use “cloth diaper safe” detergent. These detergents (including the one I had been using) are usually naturally derived and plant based, but here’s the critical thing: they aren’t powerful enough to clean diapers effectively in hard water.

In my research, I found an extremely helpful website called Fluff Love University. (They are not sponsors or connected with this post in any way; they’re just a really valuable resource that I want to share!) Through the wealth of information there, I learned that my water here in Colorado is quite hard. 

For people who use a mainstream detergent, the hard water isn’t an issue, because these detergents have built-in water softeners. But, the plant based detergents don’t have softeners built in. And that’s why I was having issues.

The reason that my cloth diapers were not getting clean was that the minerals in the hard water were staying in the cloth fibers, and preventing the cloth from really getting completely washed. I was so happy to finally have the mystery solved!

How to wash cloth diapers plant based detergent hard water

How to remove mineral deposits in cloth diapers

During this time, I started using another natural, plant based detergent for our household laundry, Boulder Clean. This was the best natural detergent I’d used yet, and I hoped I could figure out a way to successfully use it with my cloth diapers.

Fluff Love University has an extensive detergent database. They talk about what detergents work well with cloth diapers, and which ones should be avoided. I was really happy to see that Boulder Clean was one of the best natural options for cloth diapers.

Fluff Love University taught me that certain natural detergents can work with hard water, but you have to add a water softening agent. I decided to use Borax as my softening agent and now my son wears his cloth diapers with ease!

How to avoid burns while using cloth diapers    

The burn that my son experienced was from not cleaning with a softener along with my laundry detergent. 

This is primarily caused by ammonia and can be extremely painful!

To help avoid any painful diaper rashes for your little ones, make sure you add in a softener (like Borax) to your hard water in order to assure that your washing machine can effectively clean the entire diaper.

Choosing the best solution to use for hard water

When choosing the best solution to use for hard water, it is important to know if your water is iron rich or simply hard (full of extra minerals). 

There are two types of water softener: 

  • Precipitating water softener: very useful and more effective on extremely hard water
  • Non-precipitating water softener: generally more effective of softer water 

The package will tell you what type of softener is so that you can choose the best option for wherever you live. 

Time to Strip

Now that you know how to better clean your cloth diapers, you can do better! Time to strip those diapers of all the old minerals. 

Keep reading to learn how to effectively strip away minerals in cloth diapers…

How to properly strip the minerals in cloth diapers

In order to get my cloth diapers back to square one, I needed to strip them. Fluff Love University is an awesome resource for this. Basically, stripping removed all of the mineral buildup that had accumulated over time on my cloth diapers. Now they were truly clean!

After completing the strip process, I learned the best settings for how to wash cloth diapers in my particular washing machine, and began a proper wash routine with Boulder Clean and Borax as my softening agent. Fluff Love University has a washing machine database as well, with information on how to do the prewash and main wash cycles with whatever washing machine you have.

After that, I went back to using cloth diapers with my son, and we have had no issues whatsoever. As I’m writing this, he will be two in a couple of months, so he’s been in cloth for a significant amount of time by now.

While we’re on the topic of laundry, I also have a recipe for an essential oil stain remover that uses lemon essential oil to remove laundry stains. 

What cloth diapers should you use?

Since there are SO many different brands of cloth diapers out there, I wanted briefly go over the cloth diapers I use, and why I like them.

For us, one of the main reasons for deciding to cloth diaper was to save money. Prefolds and covers are the most economical option, so I went with those.

When it comes to covers, I really like Thirsties Duo Snap. They come in two sizes, which fit from about a month old to potty training. These covers have held up great through two kids, and I really like how they fit. I show a Thirsties Duo Snap cover in this blog post. To make them last longer, I hang the covers to dry.

I went with Cloth-eeze prefolds for the inside part of the cloth diapers. These are the highest quality prefolds of all the options I tried, and they also have an organic option.

For wipes, I really like the Cloth-eeze cloth wipes. They work so well! It’s really easy to use them, too. You just wet them with either water or a wipe solution (I will show how I make my wipe solution soon), wipe, and toss them in the wet bag with the dirty cloth diapers.

Instead of a diaper pail, I like using a wet bag. I just toss the prefolds (and covers, when they get dirty) into the wet bag and zip it closed. When it’s full, I dump the whole thing into the washing machine, and wash the wet bag, too.

How to wash cloth diapers naturally

Step by step process to wash cloth diapers in hard water


  1. Place all of the dirty cloth diapers, prefolds, and cloth into the washing machine.
  2. Add your favorite plant based laundry detergent.
  3. Add some water softener into where you place your laundry detergent- not the laundry softener container. This will help the laundry be cleaned effectively. 
  4. Once washed, I like to air dry by hanging everything on a drying rack like this one that connects to the wall. 

How to Wash Cloth Diapers in Hard Water Video

Have you ever used cloth diapers?

Are you considering using them? Which ones? Let me know!

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Boulder Clean laundry detergent


Thirsties Duo Snap diaper covers

Cloth-eeze cloth diapers

Cloth-eeze cloth wipes

Drying rack

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