When you're preparing for the arrival of your first baby, many people will advise you to purchase a laundry detergent specifically designated for infant use. Mainstream wisdom says that everything your newborn is going to touch — onesies, burp cloths, crib sheets, oh my — absolutely must be washed in a detergent that is specifically created with the sensitive skin of infants in mind. But is baby detergent really necessary, or is it just one more thing society has invented to overcomplicate parenthood?
Midwife and Maternity Consultant Kathy Fray says the answer is not so straightforward. "It all depends on the laundry detergent you are currently using," Fray tells Romper. "It's pretty reasonable to assume that the laundry powder needed to successfully clean an adult's dirty sports gear or sweaty work socks is a very different product from what is ideal for washing a newborn's barely dirty knitted hat or woolen onesie."
So if the detergent you personally use is chemically strong enough to remove things like blood or grass stains, which is likely, you probably do want to consider purchasing a separate product to use for your baby's needs. However, Fray says, if you already use an organic or all-natural laundry powder, then you probably don’t need to change.
Why is the skin of a newborn so much more sensitive than ours? Well, aside from the fact that you haven't yet had time to assess whether any allergies are present, newborn skin is incredibly fragile and also hasn't had the chance to adjust to the atmosphere outside your body.
"Babies have grown in a womb’s sterile, neutral environment for nine months before being born," explains Fray, "And their skin is the thinnest and most delicate it will ever be in their entire lives, except perhaps when they are very old. So yes, it is completely possible that some of the caustic ingredients in regular cheap clothing detergent could irritate their skin."
In families like mine, where the oldest child is halfway through elementary school and the youngest is just a baby, laundry needs vary wildly. Even though my husband and I aren't getting mud and grass stains on our jeans, our two oldest boys sure are. We need heavy duty detergent around here.
But at the same time, I'm aware that the baby comes into close contact with much more than strictly his own items. Whether he's sleepily rubbing his face against my shirt or mischievously putting his brothers' socks in his mouth (yes, it's happened), I can't exactly keep the little guy quarantined. I've had to experiment with the balance of effective and safe laundry detergents for everyone.
In our house, we've landed on using an organic laundry detergent that we can buy in bulk and use for every load of laundry we run. That way I don't have to worry about the baby being exposed to harmful chemicals, yet I also don't have to use a mild infant detergent on the massacre that is the potty-training-toddler's soiled shorts. Although all-natural brands tend to not be quite as strong as the traditional detergents, applying a stain remover when necessary has worked as a perfect compromise.
That being said, nothing in the world smells as heavenly as newborn detergent; it's like they bottled up your baby's sweetness and made an aroma out of it. Honestly, that in and of itself is reason enough to fork over the cash for a second kind of detergent in the house.
The point is, you have options. Fray says it doesn't really matter whether you wash your baby's clothes in a separate detergent or throw everyone's in together with a multipurpose organic one, but it's probably wise not to expose your baby to harsh chemicals until you absolutely have to. And when that day comes and he tumbles inside covered in grass and mud, I can recommend a good stain remover.