What type of water I have was something that I never bothered to think about until I started cloth diapering. It turns out I have hard water and it really makes a difference in how I clean my diapers. I never noticed it before because I’ve always used Tide and Gain to clean my clothes. But as we all know, those detergents aren’t good for cloth diapers (nor the environment – but that’s another story).
Well the one benefit to those detergents is that they have ingredients in them that block hard water minerals which is why if you have hard water like me, you likely never experienced problems getting your clothes clean. In contrast though, most cloth diaper friendly detergents don’t have these ‘extra’ ingredients and this is when my problems surfaced.
My dipes were coming out of the wash smelling NOT-SO-APRIL-FRESH and I found myself stripping more often than I cared to just to make them pass the sniff test. I even tried using vinegar (like I’ve seen suggested on so many other sites and blogs) but that actually seemed to make it worse. This launched me into my journey about understanding hard water vs. soft water. Here’s what I found.
Where does hard water come from?
As rainwater falls and makes its way through the ground and into our waterways, it picks up minerals like chalk, lime, calcium and magnesium. High concentrations of those minerals in your water (mainly calcium and magnesium) are what is termed hard water. In contrast, soft water is hard water that has been treated with sodium to remove the minerals.
The major difference between hard and soft water can best be seen in household chores. Minerals in hard water leave our dishes with spots and residue and our bathtubs with lots of film and soap scum. Hard water also causes soap to be less effective (making it hard to lather) – leaving hair looking dull and clothes looking dingy.
Hard water can also take a toll on household appliances as well – causing lime scale to form in piping systems – eventually leading to clogged pipes, ruined water heaters, and decreased life of toilet piping systems.
Hard water does have its benefits though. It contains essential minerals – making it the preferred drinking water because of the health benefits from the minerals it has. It also has a better flavor than soft water which tends to be salty.
In contrast, soft water lathers better, leaves items feeling cleaner, makes hair and skin softer and healthier looking, and because appliances don’t have to work as hard – soft water helps to prolong the life of washing machines, dishwashers and water heaters.
How do I know if I have hard water?
One simple way to know if you have hard water is to look at how often you have to clean your showers and tubs. Since hard water causes lime scale and scum very quickly, if you find that you’re constantly cleaning lime scale and scum out of your showers and tubs you likely have hard water. Another way to determine if you have hard water is by using a hard water testing kit. You can find these online or at your local fish supply store. Finally, if you live in the following areas, it is highly likely you have hard water:
Australia – Adelaid, Brisbane, Perth (certain areas)
Canada – Montreal, Calgary, Regina, Saskatoon, Toronto, Charlottetown PEI
England – most areas, excluding Wales, Devon, Cornwall and parts of NW England
United States: More than 85% of homes in the US have hard water.
What does this mean for your cloth diapers?
If you have soft water, not much. Because of its lack of minerals, soft water helps your detergent lather better which means you can use the same or slightly less than the recommended amount of your detergent to get your diapers clean. However, if you have hard water, it’s much more difficult to get your detergent to lather and as a result, you’ll need to do one of the following:
- Add a water softening agent to your wash cycle along with your detergent. Good water softeners are RLR Laundry Treatment and Calgon Water Softener (please note this is NOT the Calgon ‘take me away’ soap stuff).
- Use a detergent specially formulated for hard water. Good hard water detergents include LuLu’s Glamour Wash Hard Water formula, Rockin Green Hard Water formula and Tide. These detergents have water softener agents built in that help to lift minerals and get your diapers extra clean.
- Purchase an ion exchange water softener unit for your home. This will soften all of the water in your household without adding sodium to it.
*Note: After doing extensive research I discovered that the acid in vinegar can react with the minerals in hard water and cause odor. I believe this is why vinegar never worked for me on my cloth diapers. If you’ve also experienced an increase in odor with the use of vinegar, consider adding one of water softeners recommended above and eliminating your use of vinegar.
Article provided courtesy of Maj Bass, founder and owner of Pooters – an online cloth diaper retailer based out of Dallas, Texas. Maj is a Christian, wife to a wonderful husband, and mother to two wonderful, cloth-diapered, busy little boys!
I am so grateful for Maj. Since moving to Kerrville (south Texas), I have discovered that life with hard water is tough! I never even thought water type would be an issue. My kitchen sink faucets are atrocious! I fear for the plumbing in my house.
I have been diligently following all of Maj’s advice in the attempt to cure my cloth diaper issues. Through all the ammonia problems I can say that the Bum Genius Elementals have never succumbed to the problem. Praise the Lord for this! I at least have plenty of day time diapers.
At night I have been using Flip disposables. Tonight, however, Sterling is back in a double stuffed Flip. I pray the super long soak in the new Rockin Green Hard Rock (in testing phases right now) kicked the ammonia to the curb. We’ll see in the morning.
Finding what works best is never easy or quick but always worth it.
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