Before I launch into the meat of this post, I want to reference the stock photo I've chosen to head it. Please tell your children NOT to try this at home. It's incredible how many photos there are of people crawling into and out of washers and dryers. Am I missing something?
Today's question of the day from my The Mommy Playbook guest spot pertains to dryer sheets. Many parents are unaware of the impact dryer sheets can have on their diapers. But even before we talk about diapers, let's talk about the sheets themselves.
Do you really need to be using them?
First of all, if your clothing is all cotton, you are not going to get static cling. Static comes from the drying of synthetics like polyesters and you can avoid this and keep your clothes looking good for longer by hanging said articles to dry instead of putting them in the dryer.
Secondly, dryer sheets are made from a non-woven polyester (it's way more complicated than that but I'm not a textile specialist) and I once heard an environmentalist say that they are the scourge of the environment because they NEVER biodegrade. So by using these and then throwing them out we're contributing to the whole landfill problem, which, of course, is a large part of the reason we've chosen to cloth diaper, right?
Thirdly, think about what you're coating your clothing with by using dryer sheets. I'm not going to get into those details because they're boring but here is the Wikipedia link if you're interested. Yucky. Remember, your skin is your body's largest organ organ and whatever touches the skin also gets absorbed by it. And then that stuff then has to be processed by your kidneys and liver. Your organs are one thing, but your baby's organs are a whole lot smaller...
If you do want your clothes to be extra soft and if you do wear synthetic fibres, there are other, more natural options available on the market and there are a bunch of good suggestions on The Grinning Planet page. Note that this article was written in 2004 and yet the common sense methods still apply. Did you know that for some fibres, vinegar in the rinse cycle of your washing machine can actually be as effective as fabric softener?
Now, if you DO still use dryer sheets, or have used them in the past (and I'm not judging you either way! It's your choice), let's talk about the implications their use can have on your diapers.
Q: If you had previously used dryer sheets in your dryer - can that affect your cloth diapers? If so, how do you "clean" out your dryer?
A: Yup, it can cause some pretty yucky repelling, and I actually really like it when parents write in with repelling concerns and answer yes to the dryer sheet question because it makes the problem SO easy to solve.
So what happens if you do use dryer sheets? They tend to coat the drum of the dryer and that coating gets transferred to your diapers when you dry them, and repelling is the unfortunate side effect. Not the end of the world, of course, because you can strip and fix them (see below), but it's always better to prevent!
Note that if you do use them, you should also consider washing your lint filter pretty regularly with dish soap as you'll get a buildup there too, which can apparently result in an elevated fire risk.
What we suggest is that if you think a dryer sheet might have been in your dryer in the load prior to your diapers, run a damp towel for about five minutes before throwing in your diapers so that the towel cleans off any residue and your diapers won't get exposed!
And while we're on the subject of stripping (insert silly joke here)...
Q: I have somewhat hard water...I don't have any stink issues, and I'm hoping I won't have them anytime soon, but I know I'll have to strip them sometime...what do you recommend as the best way to do so?
A: Here is our approach, which we find works really well for most parents UNLESS they have fancy HE front loaders, in which case there are additional steps you might have to undertake.
1. Throw all diapers (covers, inserts, bags, accessories) into your machine and run a cold pre-rinse to get any fresh residues off.
2. Add your usual amount of detergent plus half a cup of baking soda and run a heavy-duty, hot wash (or the closest equivalent) cycle.
3. Run the heavy-duty, hot wash cycle again with another half cup of baking soda but no detergent.
4. Run as many water-only heavy duty, hot wash cycles as required until your diapers come out REALLY smelling clean. Sometimes it's just one more for a total of three, but sometimes you may have to do as many as five.
And that should do it! If it doesn't, email me so we can try to figure out if something else is preventing your diapers from really getting clean (like your high end HE machine!) If you do find you're dealing with stink issues a lot, then it's time to re-evaluate your washing technique. As I mentioned earlier, sometimes just adding a bit more detergent will make all the difference.