Laundering Baby Clothes

Archived Q&A and Reviews

Should I use special detergent for baby's laundry?

Jan 1999

I am expecting our first child in a month. I would like to learn how people do their laundry with baby clothes. There are expensive, specially-for-baby brands of detergents (Dreft, Ivory snow) that people recommended, and that probabily means doing baby laundry separately and spending even more $$.. I wonder if the dye-free, perfume-free detergent (maybe plus one more rinse cycle) would also work for baby's delicate skin. How about fabric softeners and dryer sheets? Cherri

My son, now three years old had severe eczema. We were very careful to only use detergents without fragrance or dyes. Tide and Cheer both have products that worked well for us. For the dryer we did the same - we use Bounce without fragrance. I have washed our clothes together and everything held up well.

We washed our clothes separately from the baby clothes for about a week. We have always used detergent with no perfumes or dyes, so that was never an issue. I understand that using fabric softener on cloth diapers and diaper wraps makes them less absorbent. Laurel

What worked well for us was washing once with a dye-free, perfume-free detergent, then running the clothes through the full wash cycle again with no detergent.

We had no problems with baby's skin. I think the extra rinse is important, as I've often noticed suds on the clothes if I open the washer right after the regular cycle is done. The soap isn't thoroughly rinsed out of the clothes in the regular cycle (at least with my washer). Cecilia

I did what you've already suggested - dye-free, perfume-free detergent with an extra rinse - when my daughter was a baby and it seemed to work fine. Although I had purchased Ivory, I found out later that you can't use it on sleepwear for baby/children since it is a soap and will remove the flame retardants.

As for softeners/dryer sheets - I never used them because the fragrance just seemed to chemically to me. I didn't want that next to the baby. Cathy

We don't use fabric softeners for a variety of reasons. But we found that our daughter's skin responded best to the dye- and perfume-free mainstream detergent (All or Arm & Hammer, etc.). Everything else, including all the expensive guilt-marketed baby stuff, gave her a rash. Laura

Laundry soap for babies: For my own and my daughter's clothes, I use plain old unscented Trader Joe's laundry detergent. It's cheap and concentrated so a box or bottle (comes in powder or liquid) lasts a long time. I'm allergic to almost all scents in brand-name products, and the smell of talcum powder literally makes me gag and gives me a headache, so I avoid most baby products. The clothes come out smelling and looking fine to me, and when time and weather permit, I dry them on the line outside rather than in the dryer, and then they smell super, though they might not be as soft. Nicole

I never did my baby's laundry separately, but I've always used Dye-Free, perfume-free detergent for my own sensitive skin. It seems to work just fine, and I haven't ever done a second rinse. Dawn

We have used Tide Free with for our child's clothes since she was born. (She is now almost 20 months old). We wash all of the family's clothes together, and have not had a problem with this method. Good luck, Gail Gail

I do a separate load of baby clothes, sheets, towels, etc. every week, all colors and fabrics together, with Dreft and warm water, and it has worked out fine. My son does not have problems with his skin, so I probably could use scent- and dye-free Tide or the like, but have not as yet. Such products are very harsh, however, so I would want to do at least one *warm* rinse. The other detergent we have used, both for ourselves and the kid, is an environmentally friendly liquid laundry product, Ecover, that we get at Whole Foods or the Berkeley Bowl. It comes in several sizes, including a biggish plastic bottle, and is fine for baby clothes. It is not a particularly budget product, however. I prefer to do the kid's wash separately, so that I can better control what he's exposed to, and it's not a problem to collect one load over the course of 4-7 days. As to dryer sheets and fabric softeners - I think those are a big waste of money and that you'd be better served buying the milder soap or detergent. Have fun. Wendy

Many babies are sensetive to the perfume and dyes in detergents. Believe it or not, Dreft has fragrance and even though some babies are ok with that, our pediatric dermetologist recommended All Free and Clear as a better option. Absoutely NO FABRIC SOFTNER OR DRYER SHEET. Even adults should really not use them if they have any sensetivities. I was allergic to them though I did not find that out till this year. Suddenly all my allergies disappered when I stopped using them. Downey makes a downey free but why bother?? If you want to talk some more, email me. Glosson

About washing baby clothes: I've been washing all of my daughter's (9 1/2 mos) clothes with regular detergent (Tide, usually) since she was born. I did one load after she got home with Tide and tried the clothes on her, keeping an eye out for reactions, and had no problem. This has worked for pretty much all of the other moms that I know. I'd say give it a shot before going out and investing in all the special detergents. At least that way, if you do have to use them, you'll know it's because that's what your baby needs. Good luck! jocelyn

Regarding detergent and baby clothes. Not all babies have sensitive skin. I have always washed both my kids clothes with our clothes and with our regular detergent, Arm and Hammer scent free, and it has never been a problem. We don't use any fabric softeners though. But some of my friends babies skin are more sensitive, and they use special detergent. Hopefully you won't have to. Liz

I have had no problems washing my baby's clothes with perfume-free, dye-free detergents; All, Tide, and Arm and Hammer all work, without even an extra rinse cycle. (I don't use much soap, since it's not as tough the clothes have ground-in dirt or anything.) She's five months old now, and we've been doing this since she was bornwith no sign of any allergic reaction. Your baby's skin may be more prone to irritation, but otherwise I see no reason to spend the extra money on Dreft etc. Couldn't tell you about fabric softeners and dryer sheets, though, 'cause I don't use either. Jennifer

One more point about fabric softeners that wasn't made by responders so far--the allergy doctor at Kaiser who treats my toddler for excema pointed that IF I choose to use a fabric softener, it should be the kind I put in the washing machine, not the sheets one adds to the clothes in the dryer, which work by coating the clothes (with a wax, I think) and is definitely going to contact the skin, even if it is scent-free. The fabric softener in the washer is less likely to be right on the surface of the cloth in contact with skin--it either penetrates into the fibers or is rinsed out or both--can't remember that part of the explanation. sally

We were both grad students when our son (almost 3) was born, and we didn't have time to do separate laundry, so I decided to use the all free (perfume-free, dye-free (unfortunately not also expense free!)) soap and it worked great.

Be sure to wash all new clothes before the baby wears them too. I was happy that this worked since several people in my family have severe skin allergies, so I was on the look-out for any adverse reaction. Heather