hard water diaper laundry

One of my girl Laura’s recent #ThirstiesLive chats on the official Thirsties Facebook page (and @thirstiesinc Instagram Live!) was a topic that we’ve had tons of questions about (and that many of us have dealt with firsthand). As a family who lives in an area with pretty hard water, my ears perked up when I heard the phrase. When someone has wash issues, the first place my brain usually goes is the hardness of the person’s water.

So, I thought it’d be cool to share some of the amazing information that was put forth in case you’re having any of the issues mentioned and would like some help amending them.

What is hard water & how do you know if you have it?


The actual phrase “hard water” sounds weird, doesn’t it? “How can water be HARD? It’s…liquid.” Aside from freezing it into solid ice cubes, hard water is actually caused by the amount of hard minerals (like calcium) in your regular tap water.

Some signs that your water may be hard? The least scientific but pretty common way to determine if you have hard water is if you have stink issues with your cloth diapers.

Some more reliable ways to determine your water’s hardness would be to look up your area on a hard water map or, the best choice, to test your water. These can be simple strips or more advanced and are usually available at local hardware stores, Amazon, or, honestly, even at Walmart.  

When testing, 60 ppm (parts per million) or more equals hard water. If you have 180 ppm or more, you’ll definitely need a water softener.

Why does hard water impact diaper laundry and what are the potential problems from mineral build-up?

Cloth diapers are made to be absorbent so with hard water the minerals in water, it’s only natural that the same absorbency that we rely on for our diaper needs will also work to soak up these additional minerals. Wop, wop.

So, ultimately, harder water may leave you with less absorbent diapers. This means that you’ll experience repelling of liquids, the dreaded leaks, and ammonia build-up (“stink!”).


How do you fix the problem?

By the numbers, you’ll most likely need a water softener if you have a hardness of 180-250ppm. Usually a water softener such as ¼ cup of Calgon (about a capful) per load should work. Borax is okay but hard on hook & loop. (We use Borax but we use snaps.) Oh, and 250ppm or more will need ½ cup of softener.


Good Principles of Washing

Figuring out a good wash routine is vital to becoming a successful cloth-diapering family. I can’t overstate that enough, really. Over the years, I’ve read so many desperate posts (and some great and not so great advice) requesting wash advice, it’s crazy but true: once you figure out what works for your family (ie your diapers, your baby’s skin, your washing machine, your water hardness, etc), STICK WITH IT.

Hopefully these guidelines will help make the process of figuring it out a bit easier. Laura suggests not using too much water; diaper laundry should look more like a stew than a brothy soup (some swear by adding rags or towels into their laundry after the initial rinsing phase, but you could also just make sure you don’t fill the machine if you don’t have a huge load to keep the ratio nice and “stew-like”).

Also, although it goes against conventional wisdom, more soap does NOT actually make your cloth diapers cleaner. It can, in fact, leave your diapers built up and not fully rinsing properly. But, obviously, you still need enough to get things CLEAN. So make sure you’re using enough, but not too much. When you find the sweet spot, stick with it! 

Finally, try not to exceed 3 days between washes. Kind of self-explanatory, but it’s easiest for your washer to do its job if you don’t want forever.

So, drop us a line in the comments! Do you know if you have hard water? Do you have a tried-and-true wash routine? We’d love to hear (along with all the other cloth diapering parents).

Oh, and if you have the time, Thirsties goes live every Friday at 1:00pm MST on Facebook and 1:45 MST on Instagram! The topics vary and are always helpful and interesting, and I know you’ll love Laura’s energy and sweet personality as much as we do!