Laundry residues do not cause bad odours. Laundry residues do not even exist, at least not as is generally understood in relation to cloth diapers.

What is the farm smell?

"Farm smell" refers to any unpleasant odour that emanates from your cloth diapers (other than the smell of ammonia) after you wash them or have been soiled. Some people say that their diapers smell like the farm, others, that they smell the skunk, the fish or the musty. Any unpleasant odour that is not similar to ammonia can be called a farm smell.

What causes the farm smell?

I warn you that I am completely against the tide about this. Read this document to the end, and you'll probably know more than you'd like about detergents, how they work and why they're essential to the cleanliness of laundry (and diapers!).

Go to any other cloth diaper website, in the help section or the FAQ, and you will be told that farm odors are caused by the use of too much laundry. I do not believe that at all. Too much laundry can't cause mysterious odours in your cloth diapers. That's impossible. That's not how laundry detergent works. This goes against logic and common sense when it comes to laundry.

Farm odours are simply caused either by the use of an insufficient amount of laundry detergent, too much water (we'll talk about it later), or a combination of these two factors. Inadequate cleaning of biological waste allows bacteria to proliferate, which causes odours. It's as simple as that!

Okay, but then, if the use of an insufficient amount of laundry detergent causes odors, why do all the "specialists" insist on using (insert a ridiculously small amount of approved laundry detergent for cloth diapers here)?

A company that sells or manufactures cloth diapers does not necessarily specialize in textiles, their maintenance or the chemical processes involved in laundry. In addition, many manufacturers distribute their own brand of laundry, which contains a minimalist set of ingredients and (almost) none of those that are needed to really clean diapers under normal conditions of use. The reason for this minimalist approach is to prevent the terrible residues, to which all the ills of the earth are attributed, from the stench of the cloth diapers to the collapse of the economy.

Although in principle this theory seems logical, this approach is completely wrong.

A quick summary of how laundry detergent works:

The surfactant is the number one ingredient in a laundry detergent, the one that is essential for washing clothes properly. The surfactant word derives from the combination of the words "surface active agents." Surface agents take their name from their particular chemical structure, which allows them to interact with two different types of surfaces, such as oil and water. The tail of a surfactant molecule is hydrophobic, which means it is not attracted to water. The hydrophobic tail is rather attracted to grease and dirt. The molecule's head is hydrophilic, which means it is attracted to water.

When a dirty garment is immersed in water to which a laundry contains a surfactant has been added, the tail of the surfactant molecule attaches to the fat, while the head of the molecule remains attracted to the water. When the washing machine shakes clothes, the molecules form small spheres that remain suspended in the water and are rinsed when soapy water is discharged. In short, the main advantage of surfactants is their ability to attract dirt out of clothing and ensure that it does not return to cling to fabrics.

The term "detergent" is used rather than "soap" because soaps contain nothing to prevent dirt from being deposited on the fabric (anyone who has ever seen a soap ring knows this phenomenon), while the laundry detergent prevents these deposits through chemical interactions.

There are four main types of surfactants. The first three are the ones that are used the most in laundry, and their action depends on their interaction with the ions. Ions are particles bearing a charge due to the gain or loss of electrons. They can be positive, as is the case with calcium (Ca2), or negative, as is the case with chlorine (Cl-).

Anional surfactants are negative in a solution. However, they do not work very well on their own in hard water, since this water contains many positive ions such as calcium (Ca2) and magnesium (Mg2). Because anionic surfactants are negative, they are attracted to and bind to positive ions, making them unable to bind to other molecules in the solution.

Amplifier or zwitterionic surfactants are both negative and positive. These surfactants are very soft and are often found in gentle cleansers such as hand soaps, shampoos and cosmetics.

Non-ion surfactants have no charge. As a result, they are less easily affected by hard water, as they are not attracted to positive ions.

Cationic surfactants are positive in solution. They help anionic surfactant molecules to come together when water and dirt meet, allowing these surfactants to attract more dirt.

While surfactants are at the heart of detergents ability to clean fabrics, other ingredients can also help detergents wash better, make clothes brighter or give them a good smell. As mentioned, some types of surfactants generally do not work well in hard water due to the excess of positive ions. Some additives called adjuvants (or water softeners) can help laundry work better in hard water. They attract calcium (Ca2) and magnesium (Mg2) ions from hard water and form bonds with them. This allows surfactants, especially anionic surfactants, to bind to more dirt particles rather than to positive ions in water. Adjuvants are also bases, so they neutralize acid and can help break chemical bonds. Adjuvants include sodium tripolyphosphate and zeolites (which are the main ingredients of the Calgon brand water softener).

Enzymes are another essential ingredient in laundry. They are found naturally in biological agents found in many laundry, depending on a varying concentration. These enzymes are generally classified in the following categories and are similar to the enzymes our body uses to digest food.

Proteases: help dissolve proteins;

Lipases: help dissolve fat (fats);

Amylases: help dissolve carbohydrates.

These enzymes help dissolve food particles on clothing by catalyzing or accelerating the decomposition process. Remember that an enzyme only acts on the product with which it is designed to react. An enzyme does not react with the skin. It does not cause irritation, it is only irrational assumptions. Similarly, an enzyme cannot damage elastics, PUL or any other component of the tissue, since there is nothing in these materials that triggers the catalyst. Many popular laundry sits also contain minimal amounts of dye (aimed at making products more attractive), and some of them contain optical bleaching agents. The most common bleaching agents in laundry detergents are bleach, which is designed with peroxide and works by oxidizing the fabric. Oxidation is the same chemical reaction that occurs with oxygen-activated detergent reinforcing products, such as Vanish, percarbonate, and other similar product brands. Fluorescent bleaches are also added to some laundry because they stop yellowing of tissues. These additives work by absorbing ultraviolet rays and emitting a bluish hue, which masks the yellow that makes the colors bland and white dirty.

Wait, wait... aren't we supposed to avoid enzymes, bleach, dyes, perfumes, etc?? I thought they made the cloth diapers waterproof, caused leaks, irritations, (insert some problem here).

In short: no. There is no evidence that enzymes, bleaches, dyes, perfumes or other laundry ingredients are the cause of the problems they are often attributed to. Enzymes do not react arbitrarily with any surface (such as skin), since they cannot. Bleaching agents remain in such minimal quantities that they cannot be quantified. The same goes for dyes. Think about it for a few minutes, when you take your clothes out of the machine, even the white clothes, were they dyed by the detergent? Perfumes give good smell to clothes, but there are very few physically left when the machine leaves.

However, if you are concerned about adding perfumes and dyes, whether it is because you have sensitive skin or allergies, you can get perfume-free laundry.

Well, now I know you say nonsense! We are not supposed to use perfume-free laundry because they contain wax, chemical agents, softeners! All sites say to avoid them!

This is where it becomes (even more) interesting. There was a time when scentless laundry contained so-called microbiostatic agents, which inhibited the growth of bacteria, fungi and other unwanted particles in tissues. However, fragrance-free laundry no longer contains perfume, unless it is clearly indicated on the container. The reason they were eliminated is that many consumers have had severe allergic reactions to these chemicals, which were initially intended to address allergy problems. It is true that microbiostatic agents were originally used in a wax-based medium, but fragrance-free formulas no longer contain this mystery ingredient that soils fabrics and repels dander. These are only detergents without dye or perfume, the most common allergens of commercial detergents.

However, it is a pity that many of the fragrance-free formulas do not work as well as their original equivalent. This is because many fragrance-free laundrys contain as few active ingredients as possible to minimize any reactions. Remember that when you choose your formula, especially if you have hard water. If you're not sure what to do, ask for advice or add an additive like Vanish, percarbonate, or similar.

But if it is safe to use enzymes, bleach, etc., why do all companies recommend that we avoid them?

Honestly, I don't know. To buy the detergents they approve? So that parents are constantly in a state of paranoia (I exaggerate)? I do not know what their reasoning is, but I know it is wrong.

So, in short, why cloth diaper laundry detergent don't work?

First, because of the ingredients. Or rather, a lack of ingredients. Most laundry that is said to be safe for cloth diapers consists of three main ingredients, varying in concentrations: sodium carbonate, sodium percarbonate and sodium bicarbonate.

Sodium carbonate and sodium percarbonate are the active ingredients of Vanish and its equivalents, sodium bicarbonate, although it contains some very mild surfactants and water softeners, it serves mainly as a filler.

Mix some percarbonate with bicarbonate, and you get cloth diaper laundry for a fraction of the price of what's in your green and black bag. But the problem is that no quality surfactant is used, and a bunch of raw ingredients that are part of a laundry don't necessarily form laundry. I could collect a bunch of carbon with a little salt and other traces of minerals and say it's a person, but basically it wouldn't be a person. It would only be a bunch of ingredients that make up a person. You see?

In addition, many of these ingredients serve as additives (water softeners), which does not seem to be a problem in itself... except when we know that most homes in Europe are supplied with hard or very hard water. If there are not enough chemicals in the laundry to soften the water as well as attract and retain dirt, the clothes will not be properly cleaned as the surfactants will bind to the mineral and metal elements of the water.

To put an end to the ideology of cloth diaper laundry detergent, let's talk about the recommended quantities. Let's face it: in most situations, 1/4 tablespoon of the glorious magic laundry (i.e. cloth diaper laundry detergent) is not enough to clean anything, much less fabrics full of organic waste. Add to that the recommendation to use as much water as possible (which is bad advice in itself, in any situation), and you have a good recipe for creating problems.

In summary: poor quality laundry detergent, used in a too small quantity to attract and suspend dirt, combined with too much water (on dilution of the main ingredients) are the cause of odours and foulings. point.

All right, Madam I-know-everything, you convinced me. I'm going to try your way. How do I do that?

The first step is to eliminate the current odour problem. You should do this by scraping with a product containing 30% of oxygenated whitening agents, or/then with 2.5 tablespoons of bleach at 2.5% sodium hypochlorite per 4 liters of cold water (not a product safe for colors or activated by oxygen, you will need the chlorine disinfectant property for this operation) in a tank full of clean cloth diapers. First fill the tank with water, add the bleach, mix for a while, then add your cloth diapers. Soak your cloth diapers for at least half an hour, or for as long as you like. Rinse your cloth diapers with a 60 degrees cycle of hot water without laundry detergent. Then wash your cloth diapers (this will allow you to get rid of any remaining amount of bleach) with a normal amount of laundry detergent and water (also at 60). Use the laundry detergent of your choice. If you want to keep your cloth diaper laundry detergent, double the amount you used before. If you want to use commercial laundry detergent (such as X-tra, Ariel, Omo, ...), start with the right amount for your type of water and the weight of the laundry in the machine. There is no reason to use a huge amount of water if you only have a small load of diapers to wash.

How do I choose a commercial laundry detergent? How do I know what's safe and what works?

My best advice would be to use what works well in general for your laundry. If you use Ariel because it works well to wash your clothes, try it with your cloth diapers. You might be pleasantly surprised by the results. The same reasoning applies to any other laundry detergent. The only ingredients to avoid are softeners, soaps (Marseille, Alepp, black), cocoates and sweet derivatives.

I don't only use one brand of laundry, I usually buy the one that's the cheapest or for sale, and I've never had a problem with my regular laundry. Can I do the same with my cloth diapers? Would I need to do a de-sling every time I change laundry detergent?

I firmly believe that if you have to do a regular break-up, you are wrong somewhere... but you can correct the situation. If any of the laundry you used works, keep it. The general rule is that if it works with your clothes, it will work with your diapers. There's no reason to do a scrapping when you change laundry unless you have a problem (for example, you've tried inefficient laundry and your diapers smell bad). In this case, decree and start again.

I have hard water. What can I/should use?

In hard water situations, powdered laundry is always recommended in sufficient quantities. The use of an antical (Calgon or private label) is recommended.

So, according to what you say, not only can I use a "normal" laundry, put a "normal" amount, but in addition, I should not need to break down? That's crazy!!

It's not crazy when you understand how laundry detergent works. In an ideal world, once you've found the laundry detergent that works best for your type of water, your laundry, your machine, you won't need to clear or disinfect (except in case of possible fungus), because you won't have any more problem.


Source: Accros aux couches lavables, written by Kate Shabanov, adapted by