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How to Choose the Best Natural Laundry Detergent for Cloth Diapers

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Natural Cloth Diaper Detergent: What to Look for & What to Avoid

The thought of laundering cloth diapers is enough to turn anyone away from cloth diapering. It doesn’t have to, though!

Choosing the best natural laundry detergent for cloth diapers is just one step in the process, but don’t let it scare you away.

You can make it as simple or as complicated as you want.

So, how do you simplify the process of washing cloth diapers?


  1. Choose a detergent.
  2. Wash your diapers.
  3. Dry your diapers.
  4. Put them away.
  5. Repeat steps 2-4 every two to three days.


Of course, there’s more to it than that, but this is all you really need to know when getting started. You will learn a LOT more as you go.

Once you get past step 1, it’s pretty simple. Is that what’s holding you up? Let’s figure out what to look for in a cloth diaper detergent so you can get started.

Continue reading to find out what to look for in a laundry detergent for cloth diapers, plus a few things to avoid.

I will also share our pick for the best cloth diaper detergent and some tips for using it, along with a few other great options to choose from.


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Spoiler Alert: Our top pick for the best natural laundry detergent for cloth diapers is… Nellie’s All Natural Laundry Soda.


What to Look for in a Cloth Diaper Detergent…

With all the different laundry detergents available, it can be hard to figure out which is best for cloth diapers.

There might not necessarily be one “best” detergent, but there are a few things to look out for when making a decision.

A cloth diaper detergent should be:


  • able to get your diaper clean
  • safe for the environment
  • gentle on your baby’s skin
  • safe for your HE washer
  • compatible with your water type


Let’s break it down.


1. Effective

A cloth diaper detergent should ultimately remove any smells and bacteria lingering in the fabric. As a bonus, it might even help to keep them stain-free.

So, how do you determine if a cloth diaper detergent is effective before you have had a chance to use it? One of the best ways is to read online reviews so you can see what other people are saying.

If you order on Amazon, for example, take a look at how many stars it has received and how many people have reviewed it before taking individual comments into consideration.


2. Environmentally Friendly

A “green”, eco-friendly laundry detergent is biodegradable, hasn’t been tested on animals, and is free of toxins that could harm wildlife.


A 'green', eco-friendly laundry detergent is biodegradable, hasn't been tested on animals, and is free of toxins that could harm wildlife.Click To Tweet


This might not be important to everyone, but in our house, we do our best to avoid toxins that can harm the environment (and ourselves). Read the next section for more information on this topic.


3. Non-Toxic

As mentioned in the previous section, the best cloth diaper detergents are free of harmful ingredients.

This doesn’t only include toxins that could harm the eco-system, but it should also be free of ingredients that could be harmful to our babies.

A non-toxic detergent for cloth diapers should be free of phosphates, parabens, fragrances, dyes, etc. There are too many ingredients to list them all…

The best way to avoid toxic ingredients is to choose a cloth diaper detergent that has a very short ingredients list (and, of course, to read that list and understand what each item is).


4. HE Machine Certified

This might not apply if you don’t have an HE (high efficiency) washing machine. But if you do, then you’ll need to choose a HE machine certified detergent.

If you use a non-HE detergent in an HE machine, you could risk voiding the warranty.


5. Hard or Soft Water Compatible

As I’ve been researching and putting this article together, I’ve seen mentions of certain detergents being (or not being) compatible with certain water types. Hard water specifically.

Hard water can leave calcium and mineral deposits in fabrics, causing them to wear down more quickly. The best way to determine how a detergent performs with hard water is to read the label.


…and What to Avoid

What should you avoid when choosing a natural cloth diaper detergent? Here are a few things to look out for.


1. Fabric Softeners

Watch out for laundry detergents that have fabric softener.

Apparently, there are plant based fabric softeners that are supposed to be cloth diaper safe. As a general rule, though, I avoid using fabric softener and dryer sheets with ALL of my laundry.

Personally, I have never found it to be necessary. If you absolutely feel the need to use fabric softener, go ahead and try a plant based product (and let me know what you think!).

However, you shouldn’t use synthetic fabric softener on your cloth diapers, because it can reduce absorbency and deteriorate waterproof laminate.


2. Soap-Based Detergents

Soaps contain ingredients that can react with the minerals in your water and leave residues in your fabric. This residue causes repelling, rather than absorption, in cloth diapers.

Plus, soap residue has been known to stick to your washing machine and could cause irreparable damage over time.


3. Fragrances

“Fragrances” commonly contain ingredients such as phthalates, or chemicals that help the scents last longer. These toxic chemicals can pass through the skin into the bloodstream.

If you look at the ingredients list of certain laundry detergents — or nearly any personal care product — you might see “fragrance” on the ingredients list. It looks innocent enough.

But fragrances aren’t as innocent as they might seem. Because manufacturers are not legally required to list their fragrance ingredients on product labels, we don’t actually know what toxic chemicals make up the fragrance.


Best Natural Laundry Detergent for Cloth Diapers


photo of cloth diapering system


So far, we’ve gone over a list of things to look for in a cloth diaper detergent, plus a few things to avoid. While there are quite a few cloth diaper safe detergents available, I wanted to share our top pick with you.

We wash our cloth diapers with Nellie’s All Natural Laundry Soda. Here’s what we love about Nellie’s.



  • safe and effective
  • made with only four ingredients*
  • biodegradable
  • free of fragrance and fabric softener**
  • safe for HE machines
  • compatible with hard or soft water
  • compatible with cold or hot water
  • highly-concentrated powder


*Ingredients: Soda Ash (Sodium Carbonate), Sodium Metasilicate, Sodium Chloride, Linear Alcohol Ethoxylate

**There is no SLS, SLES, gluten, phosphates, chlorine, optical brighteners, or solid synthetics.


More Choices

If you want a few more options, here are some Writer Mom-approved natural laundry detergents for cloth diapers.


1. Rockin’ Green Natural HE

2. Charlie’s Soap Laundry Powder

3. Molly’s Suds


While we haven’t personally tried these brands on our cloth diapers, I would be comfortable using them based on the ingredients lists.


How to Wash Cloth Diapers With Nellie’s Laundry Soda

We wash cloth diapers every other day — occasionally, we’ll go three days in between washes. Here’s our cloth diaper washing routine.


  1. Toss everything into the washing machine. This includes cloth diapers, covers, and the wet bag. If my big girl had an accident, I wash her undies with the cloth diapers. Otherwise, we keep cloth diapers separate from the rest of our laundry.
  2. Run a cold rinse cycle. 
  3. Add Nellie’s Laundry Soda to the washing machine tub. We run a wash cycle on “heavy duty” using hot water to get them nice and clean. I also like to run an extra rinse and spin afterward.
  4. Throw everything into the dryer. First, I’ll dry everything on low heat for 30 minutes. I then remove my diaper covers and hang them to finish drying. Finish drying the cloth diapers on normal heat.


Pretty simple! Then I put the diapers away and repeat two days later.

For more details on this process, you’ll want to read this article: The Busy Mom’s Guide to Washing Cloth Diapers.


Where to Buy Nellie’s Laundry Soda

We order Nellie’s through Amazon. If you’re just getting started and want to try it out before committing, you can get a small 15-load bag here.

We usually buy the 100-load tin, which you will find right here.

Want to get the most value for your money? Here is a huge 500-load bucket that will last you a reeeally long time!


Frequently Asked Questions

1. Can you wash cloth diapers with regular detergent?

Regular laundry detergent often contains additives that can cause buildup or other problems with your cloth diapers, so stick with a cloth diaper safe detergent.


2. Why am I getting buildup on my cloth diapers?

If you’re using a cloth diaper safe detergent, try using a little less detergent — especially if you have very soft water. Smell them before drying and if there’s an odor, then you might need to use more detergent.


3. Is powder or liquid detergent better for cloth diapers?

Powder detergent is typically cheaper, and it’s more eco-friendly.

Some people find that the powder doesn’t dissolve as well in their machine, although our recommendation has a good track record when it comes to dissolving in hot/cold and hard/soft water.


4. What about homemade cloth diaper detergent?

While you’ll find lots of homemade detergent recipes on the Internet, there are mixed opinions on using it, and I haven’t tried it personally.

However, if you choose to try DIYing it, just be sure to avoid recipes that include soap (due to residue buildup).


5. Do dryer sheets ruin cloth diapers?

If you accidentally throw them in once, they probably won’t do much. However, you’ll want to avoid using dryer sheets with your cloth diapers regularly due to buildup that could reduce the diapers’ absorbency over time.


Do you need help choosing the best cloth diaper detergent? Post your questions or comments below. Otherwise, here are a few more articles related to cloth diapering that you might find interesting.


More on Cloth Diapering:

The Writer Mom’s Cloth Diapering Shopping Guide

How to Choose the Best Cloth Diapers on Amazon (and Our Top 9 Picks!)

How to Choose the Best Diaper Rash Cream for Cloth Diapers — and What to Avoid

Prefolds vs. Pockets: Which Cloth Diapers are Best? 


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  1. Thanks for the post! I heard through forums and online groups that Nellies and other natural detergents are not strong enough to clean cloth diapers. After a whole saga over here using “cloth diaper approved” detergent, I started getting detergent build up on the diapers. I want to use Nellies on my cloth diapers because we use it for everything else! I have about 20 diapers ready to be washed every 3 days. How much detergent would you use for the main wash? I have very soft water (40ppm). Thanks for your help and this great post!

    1. Hi Silene! Thanks for the question. My understanding is that, with soft water, you can get away with using less detergent than normal. We have soft water and use Nellie’s for washing cloth diapers with no issues getting them clean. Ours came with a little blue scoop, which I believe equals one tablespoon. I would start out with half of a tablespoon and see if they smell clean after washing — if not, then I would try a full tablespoon. Good luck! Hope that helps.

  2. Thank you for this post! I’m new to cloth diapering and actually stopped after reading some horrible things in an online group that talked about natural detergents not cleaning diapers and actually causing chemical burns. I’ve been using Charlie’s Soap and they said that was a big no, along with Nellie’s and a few others. I noticed Nellie’s and Charlie’s have the same ingredients and wondering which one to believe. I see so many conflicting reviews and I’m really nervous about putting a cloth diaper on my son now. How is a newbie supposed to know what to do?

    1. Hi Adrienne, to be honest I’ve never heard that before but we have always used Nellie’s without any problems. I agree, though, all the conflicting advice can be really confusing — we all just have to do what we’re comfortable with and keep a close eye out for any problems.

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