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There are several special hypoallergenic baby detergents available, and these are considered safest for baby because of a lack of irritating chemicals and perfumes. But what if you don't have any baby detergent left and you need to do a load of baby laundry? Or what if you're finding Dreft baby detergent too expensive and want to use regular detergent? Let's take a look at whether you can wash baby clothes with regular detergent. The short answer is yes, but with some caveats, which will be explained here.
Disclaimer: This is mom-to-mom advice and should not be considered medical advice. If your baby has allergies or a skin condition, check with your pediatrician or dermatologist.
Why baby detergent is always safest
Baby detergent is hypoallergenic and is usually unscented, meaning that any slight residue that might wind up in baby's clothing is not going to be an irritant or a source of allergens for him or her. It's a very gentle detergent.
The formulation is also different: baby detergent is usually made in liquid form, not powder, because we've all seen situations where powder didn't dissolve properly in the washing machine, which would be a big problem if it got on baby's skin. In contrast, liquid detergent is going to spread itself out properly and evenly among the clothes and dissolves perfectly, making it safe for baby. So if you have access to baby detergent, that is always the best choice.
How to wash baby clothes with regular laundry detergent
If you have a reason to wash baby clothes in regular laundry detergent, here are the best ways to do it:
- Use less detergent than you normally do - try about half the recommended amount. Baby's skin health and immune system development is much more important than the most perfectly clean clothes.
- Set your washing machine to do a second rinse cycle when you do the baby laundry. This way, any slight residue of laundry detergent is going to be washed away even more.
- Preferably, use an unscented liquid detergent without dyes.
I'll also take a look a little further down at cheaper alternatives to Dreft which work for baby and the whole family.
If you have accidentally just completed a load of baby laundry with regular laundry detergent
It's not the end of the world if you completed a load of baby laundry with your normal laundry detergent for adults. You do not need to wash the whole load again with baby detergent.
Assuming you used a typical laundry detergent (not a hypoallergenic one), you might like to do an extra rinse cycle with water before throwing the load in the dryer. Most washing machines have a setting that allows you to do just the rinse cycle alone without detergent or anything else. It's much faster than doing another entire wash of the clothes, and since the clothes are already clean, it just means getting out any detergent residue that might remain in the baby clothes.
If you've already washed and dried the load of laundry though, I wouldn't recommend going to all the effort of re-washing and re-drying. Instead just keep an occasional eye on baby's skin when wearing the baby clothes. If there is no redness or irritation, it's OK.
Are you finding yourself doing baby laundry too frequently? You may also like to check out my article about baby clothes on a budget.
Cheaper alternatives to Dreft for baby laundry
Arm & Hammer baby - best scented option
Arm & Hammer Baby laundry detergent is my favorite for baby laundry. It has no preservatives, dyes or phosphates, it includes natural stain lifters, and it's almost half the price of Dreft for a similar number of loads of laundry.
Arm & Hammer Baby laundry detergent is also pediatrician-tested and dermatologist tested, and it's also an EPA Safer Choice certified detergent. One thing to be aware of is that it does have a naturally sourced scent to it. So if you're seeking an unscented detergent, let's move on and look at the next affordable alternative to Dreft.
All Free & Clear, All baby - best unscented option
All Free & Clear is an unscented hypoallergenic detergent, but be aware it's not actually considered a baby detergent. However, because it's 100% free of perfumes and dyes, and is hypoallergenic, this is the brand I used when my kids were babies. This is quite a bit cheaper than Dreft.
But if you want one that's actually labeled as a baby detergent, then All also makes a special even more gentle version for babies called All baby which is pediatrician tested.
Both of these All products are cheaper than Dreft, but All Free & Clear is the cheapest.
Tide Free & Gentle - best HE-compatible option
Tide Free & Gentle is an HE-compatible hypoallergenic laundry detergent which is free of dyes and perfumes. It's not labeled as a baby detergent, so be aware of that if you choose to go with it. Tide doesn't have a baby detergent, this hypoallergenic detergent is the closest option from Tide to a baby detergent. It's cheaper than Dreft.
Seventh Generation Free & Clear - best environmentally friendly option
As for the previous detergent, be aware that Seventh Generation Free & Clear is a hypoallergenic detergent, and is not specifically a baby detergent. It's 96% bio-based with plant-based ingredients and is EPA Safter Choice Certified, making it a great eco-friendly choice. It is septic safe and is cheaper than Dreft.
You can wash baby clothes with regular detergent, but in that situation it's best to use smaller amounts of the regular detergent and a second rinse cycle. Alternatively you can use a hypoallergenic fragrance-free dye-free detergent - this has the added convenience that you can easily use it for the whole family's laundry, not just baby.