do you need enzymes to launder cloth diapers?

Learn about Dinobi Detergent

This is a great podcast episode with Dinobi Detergent, a plant-based detergent brand.


Esembly Baby

This conversation with Esembly Baby is coming in 2021 about their washing powder and diapers. 

What is a Detergent Enzyme?

An enzyme is something that works to break down other dirt compounds. The Science Learning Hub best describes it as a “biological molecules that catalyst chemical reactions.” It is a natural occurring thing that is derived from micro-organisms. They are considered biodegradable.

Some of the more popular laundry enzymes are lipase (for oils and fats), amylases (starch molecules) and proteases (for protein chains). This makes them excellent at removing stains. However, you need a specific enzyme for a specific stain as they target different molecules. 

We need very little enzyme in a detergent to be effective.

Do we need Enzymes in detergent to wash cloth diapers? No. 

The short is answer is no, and the pressure that only enzyme loaded detergents will efficiently wash cloth diapers is misplaced energy built on the misunderstanding of detergent functionality. Many groups insist that enzymes are needed, but after personal consult with detergent brands and cloth diaper brands, there is very little evidence that this assumption is grounded in anything other than personal perference about a detergents functionality.

Thinking back to my conversation with Esembly Baby, she mentioned that she thought they would need enzymes in the detergent, but after years of consult with the detergent specialist in formulating their wash powder, enzymes didn’t make the list. Because it’s not NEEDED to create a product that cleans. 

Enzymes are typically cited for their stain removal capabilities and less for their cleaning capability. Most detergents suggest they use enzymes not because it cleans better but because it reduces staining. This suggests we only need enzymes if we want less staining. 

There are many enzyme-free detergents that also successfully clean cloth diapers. Remember, cloth diaper laundry is a mix of factors from water temperature, to agitation, to the type of diapers and soil you are trying to remove. 

Proteases are best suitable for protein-based issues like urine and poop.

We need very little enzyme in a detergent to be effective. Strangely, Enzymes are something that can be reused. It’s not a one wash and done. We just don’t have any effective way of recapturing them before sending them down the drain with microfibre particles.

 And while. I’m a skeptical about the insistence we need them, this article from the New York Times makes an interesting argument about how enzymes increase the efficiency of laundering allowing us to use less detergent (and thus less petrochemical and palm oil) and use colder water for washing. That sounds like a perk. Now to find a cloth diaper friendly detergent that has a mix of great wonderful things .

Do enzymes cause allergic reactions to detergents?

Many detergent companies list enzymes as being a common allergen. Within the written research, it appears this allergy is traced back to detergent factories in which some factory workers exposed to enzymes struggled with rhinitis and/or asthma. This issue was managed by capsulation enzymes and reducing their airborne nature. 

However, a literature review of 44 other papers in 2008 (Basketter, et al., 2008), concluded that enzyme-containing laundry detergent was not linked to skin complaints. 

What do detergent manufacturers have to say about enzymes?

Persil: Persil notes enzymes allow washing at colder temperatures while allowing for easier dirt removal. This reduces staining and impacts household bills. Detergents without enzymes still clean but need higher water temperatures for enzymatic stains. 

Tide: Tide has very little information pertaining to enzymes but I did reach out. All Tide products contain enzymes to speed up the breaking down of stains during the laundry process and they use a combination of enzymes to tackle many of the common staining culprits. 

Frequently Asked Questions

Are Enzymes Bad for Cloth Diapers

No. Enzymes are not bad. They are a detergent additive that influences perofrmance based on a number of different factors. 

What laundry detergent is best for cloth diapers?

The detergent that works for your families needs is best for you. 

Synthetic detergents clean synthetic diapers best, and plant-based detergents can be a great choice for natural fiber stashes. 

ABC Group INSISTS I need to use an enzyme detergent

Okay, ask them under what pretense? So many families cloth diaper without enzyme based detergents that insisting that they are needed is not founded in any science-based evidence, but rather convualted with personal opinions based on personal experiences.

It’s one thing to say – enzyme based detergents cleaned my diapers more efficiently, and another to say that you must use enzyme based detergents.

Many detergents clean diapers without enzymes. 

My Book on Cloth Diapering

Ready to take this conversation offline? Or maybe you just want to learn about cloth diapering in one easy-to-load resource. The Cloth Diaper Book is everything you need to get started cloth diapering. This is the cloth diaper book for beginners and covers many topics in a simple to read Cloth 101 style

FAQ on Every Topic

Detailed Graphics & Images on Diapers

Wash Routine Support & Info

Professional Cloth Diaper Educator

Bailey brings 5+ years of cloth diapering experience and conversation to the cloth diaper space. She's not just your every day mom blogger sharing her experience - Bailey is immersed in the cloth diaper community learning from other parents and growing as an individual. She wants to find the cloth diaper solution that truly works for you.

Bailey believes we need to stop and listen to cloth diapering parents. We need to recognize our own bias and preferences and focus on solutions that work for you, not us. The Cloth Diaper community needs to recognize the privilege of being able to cloth diaper, and provide spaces for more conversations and stories.

Cloth diapering is not about rules but about our own strength as parents to do the best we can for our children with the resources available.

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