Friday, December 4, 2009

Cloth Diapers and HE Machines

As more and more people look for ways to lessen their carbon footprint, more people decide to purchase high efficiency (HE) machines when it's time to buy a new washing machine. I love my HE machine (I actually have a top-loading HE) for regular clothing. It's gentler on the clothes, spins out so much water and is very quiet. For cloth diapering, though, the HE machine can turn a great wash routine into a big mess. Lots of families complain about HE machines for diapers.
Why? Why is a machine that's so great for clothing so stinky (hee, hee) for diapers? HE machines use a lot less water than traditional machines. This can be an issue for diapers since they are dirtier than other loads, and they really need water to "swish" in. Making it even worse is the fact that diapers are absorbent and can suck up a lot of the wash water, leaving less to agitate and distribute detergent effectively and rinse the diapers clean. I think that people who have the most success with HE machines are diapers are the ones that know how to get water into their cycles.
How? This can be tricky. My machine does not allow you to up the water level, and doesn't even disclose in my manual which cycles use the most water. You may need to call and find out, then choose the best cycle with the most water. I've heard that the delicate cycle is good for water level, but I can't use the hot water function on delicate, so that's out for me. I've tried sheets and towels as well as normal and just put the soil level as "heavy" so that the machine uses its full power.
Another trick I learned is to increase the weight of the load. HE machines add water based on the size and weight of each load. I run 2 cycles- a quick wash and a second cycle with detergent. On the second cycle, I add a couple of quarts of water to the load, pouring it right on inserts and prefolds. Even after a wash, they soak up a lot of water, since the machine spins out water so well. Adding this water increases weight to the load so the machine will add more water to the wash. I find this more effective than adding a wet towel, since it takes care of the inserts and prefolds absorbing a lot of the wash water.
Is it even worth it to have an HE machine if you need to make it add more water? I think so. Overall, it uses less energy than a traditional washer, and it's better on my other clothing. Even by adding this extra water, it uses less than a traditional washer.
If you're struggling with HE blues, find a way to add more water to the cycle or trick your washer into doing it. It may help!