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Washing in hard water

Hard water does add an additional challenge to washing, but it is definitely not insurmountable! Many cloth moms wash cloth nappies successfully in hard water without needing to strip

Why is it more difficult to clean nappies in hard water?


Hard water has lots of Magnesium and Calcium particles. When washing in hard water, the detergent particles bind to the Magnesium and Calcium instead of the fabric particles, making it less effective as these particles then don't clean but just get washed away (or deposited in the fabric). Therefore you need to take extra precautions to wash cloth nappies properly, otherwise mineral deposits bind to the fabric and also traps dirt and ammonia, causing stink issues

The biggest challenges with hard water: 

  • Not all detergents work well, therefore you need to play around a bit and see what works best for you

  • Fabrics deteriorate quicker in hard water and shortens the lifespan of clothes and nappies

  • Whites go dull and grey


How do you know you have hard water?


You will see a white flaky build-up on all appliances that use water, for example on kettles and geysers (or on your taps). You can also test your water hardness

Precautions when washing in hard water:

  • Wash on warm! Heat helps detergents dissolve better and increases cleaning power

  • Use powder detergents as they have build in water softeners which will aid in getting nappies cleaner (if you only have a cold water connection, rather use liquid detergents as they dissolve better in cold water - but it's highly recommended to wash on at least 40 degrees when you have hard water)

  • Use more detergent than recommended

  • NO vinegar! They bind to the minerals and cause more stink

  • NO extra rinses - this gives more opportunity for minerals to deposit onto fabrics

  • NO extra water

  • Use natural fibres as far as possible,  synthetic fibres hold on to stinks more

  • Borax or washing soda: They can damage fabrics in the long run. Borax and washing soda however can help clean better in hard water, and since hard water already damages fabric, you can choose which alternative you prefer.

  • Get a water softening system installed - they are expensive though. Remember cloth can be washed in hard water successfully without one

  • Remember, fabric softeners do not help for hard water, they just condition the fabrics and do not treat the hard water. Fabric softener is not advised for cloth nappies as they also cause build-up on the fibres which affects the fabric's ability to absorb and can lead to leaks. 

How to wash in hard water

Follow the basic steps as indicated here and just make sure you follow the additional precautions for washing: Pre-rinse, warm wash, no after rinses

Join our Facebook group if you still have problems and our friendly cloth nappy experts can help you troubleshoot

Some valuable sources on hard water:

Getting Clothes Clean: College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences, New Mexico State University

Thinking About Clothing Diapers: Cleaning Cloth Diapers

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