What Is RLR and How To Make A Cheap Substitute

What is RLR?

I get this question often usually in response to my recommendation to use it.

RLR is a laundry additive, not a detergent.  It is phosphate and perfume free and helps to bind to the buildup in your diapers (minerals, detergent or ammonia gunk) and strip them.  After using RLR you will notice your cloth diapers are remarkably different, mostly in the odor department.

But, what IS RLR Laundry Treatment?  What’s it made of?

Well, call me sheltered or naive, but I had NO IDEA that RLR is mostly washing soda. Shocking, I know.

I was so excited when I learned this last week on one of my Facebook cloth diaper groups.

RLR is not just washing soda.  There are other additives that cause it to suds heavily.

What is washing soda?  Washing soda is sodium carbonate.  What is sodium carbonate?

From Wikipedia:

Sodium carbonate (also known as washing soda or soda ash), Na2CO3 is a sodium salt of carbonic acid. It most commonly occurs as a crystalline heptahydrate, which readily effloresces to form a white powder, the monohydrate. Sodium carbonate is domestically well known for its everyday use as a water softener. It can be extracted from the ashes of many plants. It is synthetically produced in large quantities from salt (sodium chloride) and limestone in a process known as the Solvay process.

How does this help you?  RLR is anywhere from $0.49-2.50 a packet.  If you have hard water and need a detergent booster often, this can add up fast.

Washing soda is cheap.  But, before you get too excited I need to tell you more.

RLR contains a highly concentrated form of sodium carbonate, more so than regular washing soda.  Where you might use 1/8 cup (packet size) of RLR to strip your diapers you would need up to 1 cup of washing soda to almost do as good a job.

You’re still saving money.

However, there is a way to get sodium carbonate in a higher concentration.  In the pool section of stores or on Amazon, you will find concentrated sodium carbonate.  I have read of many moms safely using this form on parenting boards like Mothering.com and Diaperswappers.com.

Having said that, I personally would not use it with every wash and I would rinse to overkill levels.

Washing soda I would use regularly.  I get a little scared of using something used for pools with a pH level of 13.

Using washing soda to strip your cloth diapers will not produce the exact same results as RLR but for the vast majority of situations you will be successful at fixing your problem.

But, what if you don’t have any washing soda?  It’s not always easy to find.

Did you know you can make your own washing soda?

True.  Everyone has baking soda in their kitchen.  Costco sells the huge bag for really cheap.

Penniless Parenting tells us

The difference between baking soda and washing soda is water and carbon dioxide. Seriously. Baking soda’s chemical makeup is NaHCO3 (1 sodium, 1 hydrogen, one carbon, and 3 oxygen molecules). Washing soda’s chemical makeup is Na2CO3 (2 sodium, 1 carbon, and 3 oxygen molecules). When baking soda is heated up to high temperatures, it breaks down to become washing soda, water steam, and carbon dioxide.
By cooking your baking soda, you can easily and safely get washing soda without needing to travel to far flung places to buy it, and you can make as much as you need at a time and don’t need to lay out a lot of money on buying washing soda. (If you buy baking soda in bulk as I do, you can make washing soda especially cheaply.)

To turn your baking soda into washing soda fill a shallow baking dish with baking soda and place in a 400 degree oven.  Stir periodically.  You will know it is washing soda by the consistency.

Baking soda is powdery, washing soda grainy. I just used baking soda last night when making deodorant and was annoyed with the clumps.  Washing soda loses the clumps.

All of this information blew my mind.  Many parents who cloth diaper are on a tight budget and this is a perfect DIY tip!

When would you need to use RLR or washing soda on your cloth diapers?

  • You have hard water.  Washing soda is a water softener.
  • Cloth diapers smell nasty and unclean.
  • Cloth diapers smell of ammonia.
  • Leaking or repelling.  There are many causes of leaking, buildup can be one.
  • You purchased used cloth diapers and want a “fresh” start.
  • You recently used heavy amounts of rash cream and are worried about side effects.
  • Child recently had diarrhea and smell is trapped.

Here are instructions on how to use RLR to strip your cloth diapers.

With hard water, adding washing soda to every load will help the detergent do it’s job.

Recommendations on various laundry sites I visited suggested anywhere from 1/2c to 1cup per load.  That seems like a lot to use each time but I’m just thinking about it from a cost perspective.  I’d start at 1/4 cup and work your way up depending on the results you get.

Do you use washing soda as a water softener?  What is your experience?

, , , , , ,

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 https://www.facebook.com/beautifullyblessedlashes.

View all posts by Autumn Beck

50 Responses to “What Is RLR and How To Make A Cheap Substitute”

  1. liz Says:

    dirty washers are also a problem when using cloth diapers as the gunk residue in the washer gets redeposited on clothes unless you are rinsing in hot water above 120 which not many people do, so please wash your washer with cleaner first, use washing soda or a combo like washing soda and borax. I noticed that my kids had rashes. Then the doc asked what I use for my clothes. If you don’t use a separate clean washer you are just putting gunk on their clothes. He said new washer for just the kids or wash the washer. there are many brands. I use super hot water once a month for wash and rinse cycles and bleach and borax. Or use a washer machine cleaner from the store, use super hot water, you will have to adjust your water heater to do so for these two loads then turn it back. Or boil the diapers in Lye soap and water on your stove like the olden days then scrub on a washboard. Both ways get super bright whites.


  2. Lindsay Says:

    What about Borax instead of washing soda?


  3. flores trinity Says:

    I do not use cloth diapers for my little one. But my sister does use these for her daughter. Recently she started facing problems with them. Her daughter started getting rashes on her private parts. Now doctor has advised her to use readymade nappies.


  4. Isabelle gloriac Says:

    I too have the same problem. I use washing soda and grated soap with an antiseptic. But my daughter started having allergic reactions. She started getting rashes and doctor advised me to change the ingredients. But I am not sure which of them should I change. Can anybody suggest me a better way? Thanks.


    • amanda h Says:

      I dont think it is your detergent. The dipes probably need stripping from detergent buildup. All dipes need an occqsional strip. I would do rlr with tons of rinses until there are no more bubbles. If you have he or front loader make sure you add lots of extra water or it wont get all of the build up out bc front loaders never addenough extra water for to getcloth diapers as clean as they need to be. Also chech your hot water temp on the washer bc front loaders are notorious for not using hot enough water. Or, you can turn your water heater temp up.


  5. Jenny S. Says:

    As a rule of thumb, how often do diapers need to be stripped? Is it different all the time??


  6. leah Says:

    My son has a really bad burn, almost like a blister on one side and above his penis. But the diapers do not smell of ammonia. I usually rinse in warm then cold with bac out, then and either soap nuts, or All free and clear, then rinse 9 times give or take. When they come out of the washer and drier there is no smell? He’s 8 weeks old and all diapers are new. The oldest ones we have are about 4 weeks and I have a large stash. Any suggestions?


  7. Amanda Hughes Says:

    Last summer we had awful ammonia buildup. I tried several stipping methods with little success. Then I found grovia mighty bubbles…..oh my word! Amazing stuff. One wash and my dipes were like new. I am in love with this product. I use it about every two months .


  8. Caitlin Says:

    Just and FYI to everyone, the link Autumn posted for RLR in the post is for $0.49/pack however it is $5 shipping PER pack….hence I was charged $120 shipping for $12 worth of items! I was signed into the “one click ordering” feature on amazon that doesn’t let you review your purchases. Totally not Autumn’s fault, it’s my own. But I just wanted others to be aware.


  9. Claire Says:

    THANK YOU! Before this article I was about to give up on over 2 years of cloth diapering. Our pocket diapers (mostly FB used on a 1 yr old and 2.5 yr old) wreak of ammonia. Breaks my heart because I dont know if the ammonia is still here or gone until they’ve spent the night in them. So are you saying that 1 cup of washing soda is a good replacement or first try towards RLR? This article has given me HOPE as I have tried EVERYTHING else- boiling, dawn, hand scrubbing, different detergents and ammonia bouncers, sunning, rinsing to death… ugh! We currently are in sposies but have been using bare naked babies Rockin Green with our front loader. ANY advice is welcome and much appreciated!


    • Claire Says:

      Doh I meant *top loader.


    • Autumn Beck Says:

      You say you have tried everything so forgive the questions. Have you tried a heavy detergent like Tide or Purex? I ask b/c a lot of moms try lots of natural detergents but never give the big ones a try. Remember also that ammonia is normal for those aged children. Have you replaced your inserts recently? Microfiber really only lasts about a year. Soaking them in RLR is a good one time thing and then I’d start implementing the washing soda.


      • Claire Says:

        Thank you for your reply Autumn!
        Yes, I have tried regular powdered Tide but not Purex. I have replaced some inserts but some are surely more than a year old. After I read this post a few days ago I went straight to my washer and washed a load of clean diapers with HOT water and no soap but 1 cup of washing soda (that I had on hand from trying homemade detergent). I was optimistic but it didnt really make any difference after that wash followed by 5 hot wash/cold rinse cycles. Should I try again with my normal detergent (RG) and another cup of soda? Or just go to RLR? Thank you for your help! I have had a hard time even getting replies some other places so I really to appreciate this!!!


        • Claire Says:

          P.S. My son’s name is Camden too! He’s 2.5. :)


          • Autumn Beck Says:

            Do you only notice ammonia after all night in the diaper? I can put a brand new, straight out of the package diaper on Camden for night and I can smell ammonia in the morning. I hate it but I realize it is normal. It varies greatly for each child of course. To prevent a rash from occurring I generously cover him in a cream or CJs BUTTer spritz. When we could use Grandma El’s that was my favorite barrier ointment. I still highly recommend it.


            • Claire Says:

              Thank you for your reply. No, sadly we have ammonia issues even during the day. It’s the worst on Camden who is 2.5 and *mostly* in under pants during the day. However, I also get it during the day with Daisy who just turned 1. We do use GroVia Magic Stick and it does seem to help but as of late it seemed to be getting even worse. I do think the washing soda in the wash has helped, but we still have the same problems. :( They are in sposies at night because the ammonia really is that bad. :(


              • Trisha Says:

                What I found that helped me out with ammonia was to soak the diapers for an hour or two up to overnight before I wash them. I just use a plastic trash bucket for a diaper pail, so I fill it up with hot water and a little bit of Tide powder and let it sit usually overnight. I would let them soak in the machine if I had a toploader, but ours is a fl.

                That one little thing has completely wiped away our ammonia. It allows all the yuck particles to come loose so when I do wash it washes them away. I realized before that any ammonia issues were a cause of the diaper not coming completely clean. I was soaking them in 8 cups of vinegar in my bathtub once a week trying to keep the ammonia at bay. It would help for about one wash, and then the next wash we’d be right back to singe your nose hairs ammonia smell. I tried almost everything too, and nothing seemed to work until I started soaking them first. Now it’s been a good 6+ months of no ammonia for us.


        • Danielle Siggins Says:

          I had severe ammonia issues for awhile, I have very hard well water… Purex works pretty well but I have extremely found that a detergent called Foca, sold at Walmart in a large bag works great, I add a little baking soda and oxiclean versatile free and haven’t had ammonia problems since… My husband is severely allergic to tide so that wasn’t an option for us… Powered detergent is always better in hard water as well and you need more than the recommended amount in my experience! Just wanted to tell you my experience because I know how frustrating it was for us! Good luck!


  10. Cara D Says:

    I am having a major diaper problem. We have been cloth diapering my daughter since she was 5 weeks old and she turns one next week. i had no problems until the last few months but stripping with RLR and tons of washes cleared up the ammonia smell. Well the smell was back so I decided to try tide instead of my LIL outlaws detergent because I had read it worked well and I thought maybe my detergent was the issue. I washed the diapers once using Funk Rocks ammonia bouncer adn then once with tide. They came out musty. I washed them again with tide and an entire cycle with no detergent. They were still musty/mildewey. We have never had this smell. We wash every other day. I cleaned my washer and it isn’t helping. I had to run to the grocery store to buy disposables for daycare today. My daycare provider said the other kids have been saying my baby stinks :( I’m about to switch to disposables if i can’t get this cleared up. If anyone has any suggestions please let me know. I have moderately hard water (use Calgon) and a HE front loader. have mostly grovia and tots bots easy fit with some others sprinkled in.


    • Autumn Beck Says:

      have you gone back to lil outlaws?


      • Cara D Says:

        No this just happened. I was starting to have major ammonia build up quite often so that is why I tried the tide (2 days ago). My friend recommended stripping with dawn adn using bleach. I haven’t stripped this way because I have an HE front loader. I guess I will have to hand scrub adn rinse them in the tub. Do I use color safe bleach? Do you htink I should go back to using the lil outlaws?


        • Autumn Beck Says:

          If it’s really a mildew smell then I wouldn’t hesitate to use 1/4 cup of bleach. Then go back to using Lil Outlaws until you need a deep clean again.


          • Cara Says:

            Thanks, I put my diapers from the past two days into wash with LIL outlaws and some oxyclean on the sanitize setting. They came out smelling good, some of them were even the mildewy diapers from before. I still wanted to fix my original ammonia problem so I put all of my diapers in a dawn soak in the tub and am scrubbing them. Then I am washing with lil outlaws/oxyclean on sanitize setting. Hope this fixes it.


    • Amberly Says:

      Cara, if u have Facebook I’d highly recommend the cloth diaper compendium page on there. Lots of moms having issues with there diapers come and read there documents and there diapers are clean and stinky free!


  11. Sierra Says:

    Thanks for the great post! I also realized that the first ingredient in BumGenius’ detergent is washing soda. So, that’s a good one to try too!


  12. Crystal Says:

    Which cloth diaper group do you belong to on facebook Autumn? I am always excited to find new cloth diaper groups! Thanks :)


  13. Courtney Roybal Says:

    I make a homemade detergent and make my own washing soda out of the Costco bag of baking soda. You can’t beat 13lbs (I think?) for less than $7. My detergent costs me hardly anything. I use borax, baking soda, washing soda, and I’ve actually tossed in a few packets of RLR into the mix, now I guess I don’t need to waste it since half my batch of homemade is washing soda. Thanks for the tip! Glad I don’t feel the need to fork out the money for RLR anymore.


  14. Laurann Says:

    Great article! I’ll have to shoot this over to my mom as well. It’s always nice to know about cheap effective alternatives. I’ll have to try using washing soda on a regular basis. Where do you buy baking soda in bulk? Thanks again!


  15. Renae Meyer Says:

    Or I’ll just make my own :)


  16. Renae Meyer Says:

    Thanks, where do you find RLR? I picked some up at a fabulous cloth diapering store in Scottsdale, AZ but now I live in MT and I’m not sure where to find it?


  17. jan Says:

    My diapers are starting to get, well hard, I have been forced to give up on microfiber because it gets crunchy and doesn’t hold and now my prefolds are not as soft as they should be. Would RLR or washing soda solve that problem? My water sucks, it is horribly hard. Help me!


    • Shannon Says:

      Yes! In my opinion, if they are already hard (I’m assuming you mean kind of crunchy?), then I would first strip a time or two with RLR before switching to just plain washing soda. Our water is incredibly hard and it has worked wonders for us.


    • Saria Says:

      Hey, i though of a process that might help you. Avoid the dawn, it’ll good your warranty on your washer out you use it. But definitely try a cold bleach soak for about thirty minutes. Then rinse vastly in cold water, and run through a hot wash with two rinses with regular amount of detergent.
      I have hard water, I’m in Central Texas, and have found that foca at Wal-Mart, gain even, works really well with washing diapers. A lot of washing routines with implementing mostly high quantities of washing soda in their main ingredient as detergent cause buildup and can be the culprit of rashes and ammonia burn. Charlie’s soap and rockin green are often culprits to washing issues. Simply switching to one of the bigger brands after a thorough bleach strip and a big rinsing session after that will help clear it up. You can even use a store brand. If it suds up lots, you might not be using enough water for the amount of soap, or too much soap for the amount of water.
      To fix it, do another session of rinsing until you clear it up. The diapers should pucker up, They shouldn’t feel slick, or slimy, and they should smell clean, or throw them all back for another wash. On the last rinse look and watch for a soap film on the water, out you spot even a bit of soap, do another rinse.
      When you have detergent left in your diapers, They react to urine and poop to cause awful reactions like rash and ammonia. And buildup is not just from minerals: it can be from detergent, also.


  18. judi Says:

    I need to try this!! We have super, super hard water, a super, super tight budget and a front loader. My hubby’s t-shirts are always gray within a couple months of purchase.


  19. Pam Says:

    I use Nellie’s and it contains washing soda, never had a problem with buildup, amonia or stink of any kind yet, I even hand wash the diapers myself everyday now (flats) and it works great!


    • Jena Says:

      I love using Nellie’s, too–I’ve never had a real problem with diapers needing to be stripped or anything, and my diapers are on their second baby. We already have fairly soft water, though. But since having Baby 2, some of our laundry has taken on a stink (which we can only conclude is the result of postpartum hormones) and spread in the laundry. Nellie’s doesn’t touch it, and neither do any of the regular brands that I’ve tried. It’s been 10 months and using vinegar & baking soda helps–sometimes. So I’m going to try washing soda/RLR, ’cause if that doesn’t get it out, I’m afraid we’re going to have to chuck the clothes. (The only thing I’ve wanted to try but haven’t is sunning; I just couldn’t get to my clothesline this season.)


  20. Sarah Says:

    So happy to read this! I use washing soda in my homemade detergent, but it only comes out to a partial scoop of washing soda per load. I’ve been using bleach, trying to get rid of the smell, and it still doesn’t completely do the job. Adding a cup to my next diaper load!


  21. Kristina Says:

    How long do you bake it for?


  22. Jules Says:

    using an HE front loader, could you walk through a step by step on where to put detergent and where/how to add the washing soda or RLR?


  23. Shannon Says:

    Right after I just paid for RLR, then saw cheaper on another coop! Washing soda sitting on shelf for when I finally get to try tie dyeing, someday when I think I can concentrate and be hopefully uninterrupt, much anyway! ;)


  24. Shannon Says:

    Washing soda is one of the main ingredients in my DIY laundry detergent. In addition, because we have very hard water, I use RLR approx. once every 2 months or so, just to give an extra boost of clean. Now that I’ve been doing that for about 6 months or so, I think I can start spacing it out a bit longer. It was sooooo gross when I would lift the washer lid in mid RLR cycle and peek at the water…a very funky, gross color! Now, when I peek, it is barely discolored at all. I never get odors either. We use pockets, and therefore they are lined with PUL, and none of them have been affected negatively by the use of washing soda or RLR.


  25. Jamie Says:

    I haves used rlr and it works great. When we use it the water turns grey because of all the minerals from our hard water. I have washing soda because we make our own soap. We don’t use it on the diapers because I heard borax was hard on them. I’m am excited to try washing soda. We use calgon in every wash. Im Going to try the washing soda instead.


  26. Gwen Says:

    I use washing soda, borax, and finely grated castile soap as our laundry detergent. We use flats, though, so I don’t know about how it would affect PUL. I do have some holey cotton but when we were battling yeast I was bleaching the heck out of my diapers so the breakdown probably has more to do with that. I’ve not tried adding extra washing soda to strip the diapers but will definitely try it if we have issues. Thanks so much for this article! I’m always eyeing the RLR but haven’t felt the need to purchase it… now I don’t have to!


Leave a Reply

Pin It on Pinterest

Sharing is caring!