Do I Need to Buy Special Detergent for My Baby's Laundry?

African American mother and son hanging clothing on clothes line
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Many new parents buy special baby detergent to wash their newborn's clothes. Some continue to use that baby laundry detergent through babyhood and even when their little one is a toddler. Is it necessary? Probably not. Plenty of parents like using baby detergent, though, not out of necessity but because it has a classic smell associated with snuggling a tiny human.

Which detergent you buy for baby clothes depends on personal preference, family history and any allergies or skin reactions after baby arrives. There are four basic choices when it comes to baby laundry detergent.

Laundry Detergent Made Just for Baby Clothes

The special detergents that are "baby-specific" are usually scent-free and have fewer ingredients that would be likely to irritate delicate skin. Some baby detergents have a soft scent that is very recognizable, at least in the United States, as a classic baby smell. This type of detergent is fine to use if that's what you like. Some parents find that these detergents don't do as well in removing tough stains, so you may need to use a good pre-treatment for satisfactory results.

The downside to choosing a special detergent for your baby clothes is that you'll need to store two different types of detergent, unless you also switch your own clothes to the baby-specific stuff. For families that have to take clothes to a laundromat, hauling two detergent containers may be inconvenient. If you use separate baby clothes detergent, you also can't throw a few of your baby's clothes in with other family laundry.

Scent-Free Laundry Detergents

A second category of laundry products to consider is scent-free detergents that are not baby-specific. Eco-friendly and alternative detergents or soaps (such as soap nuts) also fall into this category. If you have trouble getting clothes clean with the special baby detergents, these types of detergents may be a better choice. Unscented detergents and soap nuts are typically good choices for cloth diaper washing, too. These types of detergents are readily available today, and are generally available for all types of washing machines.

One advantage to choosing a regular, scent-free detergent, or an eco-friendly one, is that it's easier to do the whole family's laundry without switching soaps. If you prefer a scent on your clothes after they're washed, though, you may not be happy with this type of detergent. If there is a family history of sensitive skin or scent/soap allergies, consider choosing this type of detergent right from the start, since baby may also have those sensitivities. It's better to avoid having a newborn's already sensitive skin irritated by allergies or rashes right at the start!

Homemade Laundry Soaps and Detergents

Many families now make their own laundry detergent or soap at home. Powder or liquid laundry detergent can easily be made at home and works for washing cloth diapers, baby clothes, plus everyone else's laundry. This is pretty easy to do and is really cheap to make, plus you can customize your own version with essential oils or some types of scented soaps if you like scented laundry.

The low cost and convenience of one detergent is an advantage here, plus the effectiveness if you find a homemade detergent that works really well with your water and machine. However, you have to spend extra time making batches of the detergent versus just picking it up at the store. You also have to find a good way to store the homemade detergent, since powdered types need to be well sealed to keep out moisture and liquid detergents need to be easy to pour or ladle out and possibly mixable since some separate between uses.

Just Wash 'Em - Regular Laundry Detergent

One last choice is just to wash baby's clothes in a regular, scented laundry detergent. So long as your baby doesn't have any skin sensitivities or allergies to the scent, you don't have to buy a special detergent just for baby laundry. If you choose this route, be sure to watch baby's skin carefully to be sure he or she doesn't develop any rashes or reddened areas, and ask your pediatrician if you have any concerns about potential irritation from baby's clothes or the detergent.

Your regular laundry detergent probably does a good job of removing stains and dirt, so this is usually the most convenient choice. Babies typically get more food on their clothes, and leaky diapers can create rather large messes, though. Some regular detergents may not remove those stains in the normal wash cycle. A pre-treatment, such as a stain removal spray or a stain remover stick, should do the trick, or you may need to try another detergent. Laundry detergent that contains enzymes may be best for stains that are biological in nature.