Washing Baby Clothes 101

I love the excitement that surrounds having a new baby- the nesting phase. Folding all those baby clothes, getting the nursery prepped, and buying almost every baby product imaginable. However, the unfortunate reality is the baby industry can be incredibly confusing for any parent, not just the first-time parents. Being a pediatrician, I knew a little about what things were practical during the infancy stage and what wasn’t. For example, baby proofing the house for an infant who can’t move or crawl or let alone roll over is probably not a priority during the last stages of pregnancy. What is a priority is having a safe crib or bassinet set up for the baby to sleep in when you’re home from the hospital. One thing I see parents often worry about is detergents and soaps when it comes to caring for your infant’s clothes and skin. My husband, dermatologist Dr. Zain Husain, and I teamed up for this blog post to break down what to look for and be aware of when picking your baby detergents.

Many detergents label themselves as “baby friendly” meaning they leave less detergent residue on clothing, and therefore less likely to cause irritation. Also, some sources recommend washing baby’s clothing separately from adults to minimize detergent use. In reality, sometimes these “baby-friendly” detergents and even the detergents labelled “organic” do not do a good job of getting your child’s clothes clean, plus who has time to do TWO separate loads of laundry as a new mom?

What I advise my patients is to buy the same detergent you use on your own clothes unless there is an underlying issue with skin sensitivity such as eczema or contact dermatitis. In this case, I steer families toward hypoallergenic and fragrance -free detergent. Bonus: The same detergent can be used on laundry loads containing adult clothing to simplify your life!

In general, infants can have sensitive skin and present with a number of normal newborn rashes. Your friendly pediatrician is almost always able to diagnose and help you recognize these. Most are benign and resolve on their own. However, some rashes can actually be the beginnings of atopic dermatitis or eczema as infant’s skin and immune system are not fully mature. Their skin can react to various chemicals present in detergents, especially those prone to atopic dermatitis (eczema). I always advise hypoallergenic, fragrance-free and dye-free detergents to minimize the chance of your baby developing contact dermatitis. Please keep in mind that fragrance-free is not the same as unscented, as unscented means that the fragrance has been masked, but is still present in the detergent. I discourage the use of detergents containing brighteners, which are chemicals that make fabrics appear brighter, but can lead to skin irritation.

Now let’s talk safety. Your infant may not be crawling yet but if you have toddlers or older children in the house, please be aware of the risks of ingestion with laundry packets. Unfortunately, these are becoming a source of poison and toxicity in young children who are attracted by the bright colors. The detergent in single-use laundry packets is very concentrated so, even a small amount can be harmful-symptoms can range from mild eye irritation, serious respiratory or gastrointestinal problems, to even coma and death. The packets dissolve quickly when in contact with water, wet hands, or saliva so don’t remove a packet from the original container until you are ready to actually put it in the washing machine. Don’t leave it on the counter or on top of the washer or dryer. Personally, I think it’s best to use traditional powder or liquid detergent until your children are school-age (at least 5-6 years old) as they are less concentrated if a child comes in contact.

Other Safety Tips:

-Many parents use bleach with certain loads, especially when washing whites. Things to keep in mind with bleach: Household bleach can be used as a disinfectant or sanitizer, depending on its concentration. Household or laundry bleach is approximately 5% sodium hypochlorite and is safe to use as a cleaner in the house provided the surface is rinsed thereafter, but the higher strength industrial bleach solutions concentration (typically available in hardware stores) should not be used in settings where children reside.

-Try to keep laundry products in their original container with the original label on them. If the container is empty, throw it away as soon as possible and do not reuse detergent buckets or bottles for other uses.

-Always put products such as detergents and sprays out of site and reach of children. The best place is high up in a cabinet, preferably locked or child proof.

Washing your baby’s clothes can get confusing, but it shouldn’t be. Hopefully, this insight from a pediatrician and dermatologist can help guide you when picking your family’s detergent!

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