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Sunday, February 19, 2012

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The Laundry Scientist

Laundry has never been my thing. I don’t sort colors. Have never used fancy detergents, softeners, bleaches or stain removers. One of our couches houses a perpetual “laundry monster” of clean, unfolded clothing which we sort through to pick out our clothes for the day. Can never quite find the time for folding and if it’s not made from a wrinkle-free fabric it doesn’t make its way into our home. We do own an iron but can’t say that we’ve ever actually used it.

Now it’s 1:00am on a Saturday night and I am staring into the window of my washing machine. This has become my new pastime. It seems cloth diapers have turned me into a bit of a laundry scientist. Since my son has been born, I have experimented with countless detergents in varying amounts and combinations. I’ve carefully observed water levels and tirelessly checked for suds residue. I’ve tested every conceivable combination of wash cycle. I’ve tried every trick in the book for getting my front-loading machine to add more water. On more than one occasion my husband has walked into the bathroom (where our laundry machine lives) and asked “Honey, what are you staring at in there?”

The research has paid off. I have finally discovered the perfect cycles and combination of “ingredients” for keeping my son’s diapers ammonia-free most of the time. Now, it is not a quick and easy task. And I don’t see it as sustainable for the long-haul in terms of the amount of time, electricity and water that goes into the process. Through all of this experimentation it has become very clear that something is WRONG with our water. So we recently had our water tested and learned that its calcium content places it on the “extremely hard” end of the spectrum. This is a big issue for diapers but also for our fixtures, appliances, water heater, plumbing and—interestingly enough—tartar build-up on our otherwise well-cared for teeth (learned this at a recent visit to the dentist!). We are researching a water softening system for all of these reasons and though it sounds like it may be costly it may help prevent the potential costs of replacing fixtures, appliances, water heater and plumbing down the road. A representative from the water testing company told us that some households with calcium levels as high as ours have burnt out a water heater within two-three years.

In the meantime, here’s what works for our diapers. And, if it works in our extremely hard water with a frontloading washing machine, I am fairly sure it can solve anyone’s ammonia issues. We’ve even been able to bring our fleece-lined pocket diapers back into rotation!

1. Spray poopy diapers with diaper sprayer. Then hand rinse all diaper parts and pieces in the tub. Do not ring dry. Place in washer with one soaked bath towel. The heavy wet diapers along with the weight of the extra towel “trick” the washer into adding more water.
2. Run one cold/cold express wash cycle with 1/2 tablespoon original Tide powder, 1 scoop of Sun oxygen cleaner and 1 tablespoon of Calgon water softener. Tide powder and Sun oxygen cleaner get added to the detergent drawer first. After it washes these “ingredients” into the machine, I add the softener and wash it down with a pint of water.
3. One heavy duty hot/cold cycle with the same "ingredients" as above. Add eight pints of water directly to diapers to saturate before running cycle.
4. One warm/cold rinse cycle with another tablespoon of Calgon water softener. Again, with eight pints of water added beforehand.
5. Another rinse cycle or two. All with water softener and added water.

Though I’ve got a system down, I remain vigilant. Every other night you will likely catch me gazing into the washing machine--keeping watch over water levels and suds. The odds are also good you’ll find me sniffing not just clean diapers but (yes, I’ll admit it) freshly changed pee-pee diapers as well. A wet diaper that smells clean is a cause for celebration when you’ve got water like ours.

POSTNOTE: Now that we’re on this “investigative journey” my husband suspects that the interior of our pipes are coated with a scale of calcium that could be limiting the flow of water. This may be the issue affecting water levels in our front loader more so than the front loader itself. My husband recently helped my in-laws (who also have hard water) to re-plumb the lines to their washing machine and they have seen a significant increase in the amount of water that flows to the machine as a result. We’re not in a position to re-plumb all of our pipes but it is interesting to learn how many factors can be at play in keeping laundry clean.

Nicole Magnan Caruso delights in being a mom to two beautiful little souls. She and her family live in Maine and enjoy all things outdoors.


MyClothLove said...

Man oh Man front loaders seem to be a pain in the fluffy rump! I love love love cloth and would definitely hate to try to combat washing with a front loader. Even people with regular water have several issues with water levels. Have you ever tryed hard rock rockin green detergent? I hear that you dont need calgon for there hard water formula because its already set up for hard water.

Anne Johnson said...

I have a front loader too and after many late night experiments, i learned this..... first cycle cold handwash (it doesnt spin, therefore it rinses out yucky stuff and adds weight to the diapers) then doyour cold quick wash, then hot wash, rhen extra rinse ir quick wash.