Checking with your diaper manufacturer is the best way to select a cloth diaper-safe detergent. If you have diapers from a variety of different brands that all recommend different detergents, select the detergent that will work for your most "finicky" brand (for example go with recommendations for your pocket diaper instead of the recommendation for your almost-indestructible prefold diaper). Some manufacturers recommend biodegradable eco-brands that stay away from fragrances and optical brighteners, while other retailers suggest mainstream detergent brands like Tide original: either option is fine if it's what your manufacturer recommends.
Most manufacturers want you to avoid laundry additives, and using additives can void the warranty of your diapers. Laundry additives include fabric softeners, baking soda, or vinegar. Fabric softener deposits oils on your diapers, and baking soda/vinegar can alter the acidity of your water (potentially damaging elastic and fabrics). The only additive I would ever use for my cloth diaper laundry is Calgon water softener (available at Walmart,etc): this laundry additive is intended for those who know they have extremely hard water, and who have had no success with detergents designed for use in hard water (ie. "Hard Rock" by Rockin' Green).
How often to wash:
It is recommended to wash your diapers at least twice a week. Letting soiled diapers sit for longer than 4 days can be extremely hard on them. If your manufacturer recommends washing more frequently than that, follow those instructions. If you have an HE machine, washing smaller loads more often will work better (diapers require an ample amount of water to get fully clean).
(Again, this may vary depending on the manufacturer's recommendations)
1. Remove any solid food or formula-feed poop (knock into the toilet), Breastfed/liquid poop will dissolve in the washer
2. Rinse diapers on a cold rinse cycle (no detergent)
3. Wash diapers on hot with detergent (1/4 the amount of regular clothes-laundry detergent, or recommended amount of cloth diaper specific detergent)
4. Follow with a cold water rinse (no detergent)
5. Line dry or dry diapers on low in a dryer
Why do people struggle so much with washing diapers?
Usually laundry struggles are the result of:
1) Not following manufacturers directions for washing
2) Having hard water
3) Using diapers with synthetic fabrics
Most people in the United States have hard water. Extra minerals in the water make it difficult to get diapers, clothes, and dishes clean. Mainstream detergents tend to work very well in hard water, as do many biodegradable detergents (Hard Rock, Eco-sprout). Synthetic fabrics (fleece, bamboo, microfiber) are also more prone to laundry issues than natural fibers (cotton). Despite the best and simplest laundry process, some types of diapers will require extra maintenance at times. This is normal, and we call this "stripping diapers", or the process of removing any build-up that could cause the diapers to repel liquid or have a bad odor.
Don't get discouraged
Most people go through a few laundry frustrations before they find a routine that works well for them. Start out with the idea that "simple is best", and avoid any fancy (and potentially damaging) laundry "tricks". If you're having laundry problems with one recommended brand of detergents, try another recommended brand. Don't give up- remember it's just laundry!
There are many types of detergents available specifically for cloth diapers- however not all detergents are suitable for every style of cloth diaper. Check with your cloth diaper manufacturer to find a recommended detergent that will not void your warranty.
Cloth Diaper Guru and its owners can not be held responsible for any damage resulting from advice contained in this post or blog. Remember to check with your manufacturer's recommendations to find a wash routine that combines the appropriate detergent and water temperature.