Cleaning Your Diapers the HARD Way!? With Hard Water that is!

July 11, 2010

Washing Cloth Diapers

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).

Hard Water

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:

  1. 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).
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

Only a limited time left to enter the  Öko Créations  custom changing pad giveaway! Click here to enter! *Post has been updated to include current information. Affiliate links may be contained in this post.  

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About Autumn Beck

Autumn is a wife, mother, homeschool teacher, friend and most important a follower of Christ. She began cloth diapering in 2005 and has experienced many joys and trials throughout the years. You can read more from Autumn over at

View all posts by Autumn Beck

35 Responses to “Cleaning Your Diapers the HARD Way!? With Hard Water that is!”

  1. Alix Davis Says:

    I know this is a really old post, but I was wondering if you ever came to a conclusion about what works best in your hard water? I have tried RnG Hard Rock as well as EcoSprouts and I’ve added Calgon and they still stink. I’ve even tried Tide and Calgon and that doesn’t work either. The list of detergents I’ve tried is a mile long, we’ve been in and out of disposables since January because the diapers stink so bad and give my daughter rashes! Any advice would be appreciated!


  2. kelsey Says:

    I live in east TN I wonder if I have hard water?


  3. doris Says:

    Autumn- Do you know what Rockin Green describes their bags as 45/90 or 90/180 for loads? Which is it? Does this mean it will do at least 45-90 loads?



  4. Desi Says:

    We have very hard water. Iron and lime mostly. We have a water softening system which helps but every few years it needs major work from the plumber because the iron in our water is so high. When it is not working right you come out of the shower smelling like a penny. I am about to switch to cloth for my 19 month old twins and a new baby due in February. I am leaning toward bumgenius and Flips. What is the best detergent for my situation?


    • Autumn Beck Says:

      eek, desi, that sounds rough. you could give rockin green hard rock, crunchy clean hard version or clean b for natural options first. then if you develop problems go with tide. don’t use vinegar.


    • Maddy Says:

      I know this is really old, just posting my experience in case it helps anyone out.

      We’ve been on a well for over 2 years now. We tried every ‘cloth safe’ detergent out there. We are VERY sensitive to fragrances and dyes, so we couldn’t use most mainstream detergent even if we wanted to. Eventually, though, we found that:

      1. Tide Free & Gentle powder works like a charm to actually clean the diapers, as long as we use enough for a heavily soiled load (load size determined by amount of diapers and sometimes towels). None of us react to it at all – it works just fine for all of our laundry.

      2. For getting rid of the peachy colour, I found a product called Super Iron Out, a powder that you add to your laundry. I have diapers that literally look BRAND SPANKIN’ NEW after using it! We were having recurrent stink problems, I guess from all the iron buildup, and now that it’s gone! Not even bedtime diapers stink. I’m still debating whether it’s better to make this an as-needed thing, or to include regularly in the wash. All I know now is I’ll actually be able to SELL these diapers once we’re done with them. Hallelujah!

      Hope that helps somebody out!


      • Allison Says:

        I have lived with high iron well water for four years and I’m very familiar with the super iron out. I use it on all of our load of white laundry. But I also know that it will bleach out colored clothing. I am a new mom and brand-new to cloth diapering. Does the super iron out damage the colors of your diaper covers? My diapers are still white inside for now.


        • Jennifer Reinhardt Says:

          PUL is colorfast. I am not sure how Iron out effects them in other ways though. For instance will it weaken elastics or damage the actual waterproof-ness of PUL?


          • Allison Says:

            I would assume yes it would weaken them because I’ve seen it happen with other laundry (cotton bed sheets). I do use it in every wash of our white towels and they are going strong after 4 years! I’d be too afraid to use it regularly on expensive cloth diapers. Maybe periodically (like with striping).


  5. Heidi Maxwell Says:

    FYI Rockin’ Green just did a voluntary recall of their Hard Rock (and possibly now their Classic) because of a bad batch at their mixing plant. So if you have been having stinkies and rashes whilst using a recent bag (made between May and June, I think), check out their website and facebook pages for the recall details. The new version 2.0 Hard Rock does not seem to be affected and seems to be killer on hard water and stink.


  6. Ashleigh Says:

    I also have hard water and I just purchased (haven’t had a chance to really test it yet) a magnetball. The idea is that it goes into your washer or dishwasher and breaks up the calcium and forms little crystals which softens your water and the crystals just flush away with the water. As far as I know I shouldn’t have to replace it and I can use whatever detergent I want. Like I say I am just starting to use it so I don’t really know how well it will work. Has anyone else heard of these?


  7. Gloria Says:

    Sweet Bottoms Baby Boutique has a great shipping rate and price on Rockin Green Soap – Hard Rock 2.0 and the original Hard Rock formula are created just to deal with hard water and icky diaper buildup/staining!!! I love Rockin Green and use it exclusively on all my diapers and my clothes!


  8. Sarah Flukinger Says:

    I think it’s important to note, that to a certain degree, ammonia is a normal smell, like when you dump your pail into the washing machine after sitting for a few days. It’s going to stink!! Even overnight diapers generally have a bad smell, maybe not ammonia so much, but a definite pee smell, and I swear, boy pee smells stronger!! You know you have major problems when baby gets a rash, though. To me, that’s when I know I’ve got a big issue.


    • Janise Says:

      I agree. Unfortunately, as of a couple of weeks ago he’s begin developing a pink rash on his johnny and easily returns. Now, I have to make or find a cloth diaper safe ointment. I’ve been using disposables in the mean while with zinc ointment. But he started regressing with potty training and wearing cloth. He’s wearing cloth, now that he’s a little better. I sure don’t want to get discouraged after investing this much money and time on clothing it. Especially, now that I’m expecting a baby girl next month. Any suggestions?


      • Autumn Beck Says:

        there are many cloth diaper safe rash ointments. search the blog for some. don’t get discouraged. read my most recent post for how I figured out how to get rid of ammonia.


  9. Jennifer Says:

    Well, I too have hard water and thought I’d give Rockin’ Greens Hard Rock a try. Sadly, haven’t smelt an improvement. So, I stripped again and again and again and the RG’s still didn’t work for me. I went back to my Charlie’s Soap, and they are introducing a hard water formula.


  10. Jamie O'Hare Says:

    I’d try the Rockin Green! It is suggested on the packaging or somewhere that you can cut the extra rinse with it. I was making my own detergent, too, but I suddenly had an ammonia issue. I stripped my diapers and they were fine for a while on Charlie’s. Then the funk returned after I moved to an area with even harder water, and I got Rockin’ Green last week. Last night my diaper pail was accidentally left a bit open, and the bathroom didn’t smell at all thanks to Rockin’ Green knocking out the ammonia. I think that soap like fels and that borax aren’t recommended for diapers, btw. My detergent was baking soda, washing soda, and oxiclean, with a bit of Calgon WS. For regular laundry, I had those ingredients plus fels naptha and borax.


    • Janise Says:

      Thanks Jamie O’Hare for the response. I’ll definitely try your suggestions. Unfortunately, my recipe for detergent that I mentioned last time was from a pro-cloth diapering web site. I’ll be changing the recipe and try the Calgon WS before Rocking it. Thanks again. :-)


  11. Janise Says:

    After beginning my cloth venture 4 months ago, my diapers now have ammonia. When I wash the diapers, the smell creeps from the laundry room- even if I add an extra pot of boiling water. Vinegar did not work for me either. I make my own laundry detergent with Borax, Washing Soda, fels naptha and Tea Tree oil. It worked fine till now. I want to avoid buying expensive eco detergents and over rinsing because it defeats the money saving aspect. My question is this: How do I strip or clean his diapers without wasting so much water? Assuming that softening the water doesn’t work. I’ll definitely try.


  12. Liz Says:

    I commented in the ammonia article a couple of weeks back about my experience with CD friendly detergents. I first used Country Save and now use Tiny Bubbles. I mentioned that I used Rockin Green Classic but did not see much of a difference between that and Tiny Bubbles and because my local baby store carries Tiny Bubbles, I just buy it there. We are in RI for the summer and the house we stay at has hard water. Last year I had to use sposies because I would be washing the diapers for like 4 hours and trying every trick I knew to no avail. (I did not know at the time it was hard water). WELL I figured maybe it was hard water and decided to order some samples of RnG Hard Rock to try. I did not get them in time for my first wash and my diapers were very stinky after hours of cleaning. I “rocked a soak” as soon as I got RnG and it was AMAZING! This stuff really does work well for this area! Sorry for the long response but I just had to share :)


  13. Jessica Says:

    I’ve found powdered detergents do not work as well as liquids in our funky hard well water. Also we don’t have much scale type build-up but we have copper and iron bacteria in our water and that causes even more trouble with powdered detergents. We get a yellow to orangish staining on white cottons, especially those washed in hot water or that have been bleached. Bleach causes the iron and copper to precipitate out of the water and deposit on clothes-this staining is permanent usually. You can lighten it by using White Bright or Super Iron Out but only on 100% white cotton as s temoves colors and ruins PUL. And the washing soda in most powdered detergents will leave a white film on our washer drum that only Kaboom will remove. The only “diaper” detergents that have worked for us are Vaska for FuzziBunz and Crunchy Clean’s hard water version. With these kinds of water conditions store brand detergents are actually more effective at cleaning and rinsing because they have the ingredients needed to handle these metals.


  14. Jamie O'Hare Says:

    I have been using Rockin Green this week after we got a funky buildup with Charlie’s Soap plus Calgon WS. We live in the WV panhandle and have waaayyyy hard water. I “rocked the soak” this weekend, and the stink is gone! I am not brave enough to try an overnight cloth diaper (she’s in FuzziBunz) because she’s had some ugly ammonia burns from overnight diapers. I’ll use up the rest of the disposables at night and try some double-stuffed FB’s once we’ve been through a few weeks of laundry cycles with Rockin Green. No loss on the Charlie’s Soap, though! We can use it for everything else and keep the residue in the washer at a minimum.


  15. Julie Says:

    Thanks for the article! We have extremely hard water that is full of rust. For us, using Calgon does soften the water but our whites come out cream or peach due to the rust also reacting with it.
    We have the same problem with bleach and our regular clothes. A bleach load of socks and undies means not more whites, they all come out a shade of creamy peach.
    The Calgon does work extremely well with our non-whites. And I can use Ecover Fabric softner with it as well and my son’s clothes and the few diaper shells I use it on come out fluffy soft.

    I also have to disagree that lather equals clean. We never get any lather due to the hardness of our water and wash with Charlie’s. All our clothes come out frest and clean!


  16. Carol Says:

    I too have hard water and I tried the RNG hard rock. I hope Rock n’ Green works better in your hard water than it did in mine. For me it was a complete failure on my diapers and I REALLY wanted to like it. Until I used it I had no Ammonia odor.
    I re-stripped and went back to Tide for my diapers and no ammonia odor.
    I think that there is no one right or wrong detergent but some do work better in some water types than they do in others.


  17. Sarah Flukinger Says:

    So last October, we finally got a scale remover and filter put on our well. Thank the sweet Lord my hubby works in the water business and so got it for basically nothing!! It really was a life saver, because that with my Rockin Green Hard Rock, I stopped having so many problems. Then when I would get some build up, maybe once or twice every few months, I would simply wash my microfiber and hemp in some bleach and that would kick it to the curb.

    Well, a few weeks ago, we had a leak in our piping and my hubby was trying to get it all fixed (a hard task in the 100 degree Texas heat.) All of a sudden, Sam was smelling like brocolli when he peed during the day and ammonia so bad it burned my nose after a night of sleeping. What the heck?

    I said something to my hubby about my diapers being back to their old tricks again. I found out our water wasn’t going through the Hydrascale filter. It was bipassing until he could get the leak fixed. Wow. What a difference my filter really makes!!

    He fixed it yesterday and I’ve had to go back and do some more soaks with my rockingreen. I’m hoping they will be back to their non-repelling, non-stinky selves after today. And thank goodness I have a new bag coming in the mail this week!! Hard water is tough!!


  18. Adrian Post Says:


    Something I just did, since I started getting ammonia in the diapers to, is to boil the inserts for 15 minutes each in large pot. I could boil about 5-6 at a time. Then I used a little bleach with the actual diapers and washed them on HOT. I turned up the water heater all the way. Then I did several rinses and I haven’t had ammonia for a week now. It’s amazing.


  19. Karen Says:

    Great info! This is really comprehensive . Thanks a lot Autumn!


  20. Kristen Says:

    Autumn, I have to disagree with one point that’s made repeatedly in the above article: namely, the idea that lather = clean. As anyone who has gone “no-poo” for their hair can tell you, lather, caused by the chemical SLS in most soaps and shampoos, is not the only way to be able to tell if something is clean! There are plenty of ways to clean something without relying on suds as a visual cue.

    The minerals in hard water may very well contribute to all the other problems mentioned. My only objection is to perpetuating the idea that suds = clean. s:)


  21. Jill Says:

    I have super hard water and even lulus and RnG hard versions don’t seem to be cutting it. I have some refining to do. I just hope we can get a water softener very soon so I don’t have to deal with this. All the extra soaking and rinses plus more expensive detergent is killing my budget.


  22. Jannea Says:

    Thank you so much for your research that you have shared with us! I have hard water and my dipes seem to only have a faint smell only when my daughter pees..then she kind of smells like broccoli! I think I need to add some water softening agents to my loads. I can’t wait to try this :)


  23. Jenica Says:

    Thank you for posting this!! I have moderately hard water and I’ve been trying to find the right routine for the past 10 months. I just put some vinegar in a downy ball for the rinse in the wash that’s going as we speak. I’m hoping they dont get worse!!


  24. Tiffany U Says:

    I look forward to your conclusion on Rockin Green hard rock! We, too have been battling the hard water monster! I love knowing the science behind it!!


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