Live chat with Biomolecular Engineer Chantelle Loevborg

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Welcome to our latest chat write-up (29 chats and counting!), this time with Chantelle Loevborg. Chantelle grew up in the US and has a BSc in Biomolecular Engineering. She then moved to Australia and in 2012 she finished her PhD on the study of biological surfactants and drug delivery applications. She then had a baby and, of course, decided to use cloth, which is when she started a cloth nappy business in Denmark.

She has also done a handful of washing studies very similar to what NSG is putting together, so have a read of this blog to find out what she discovered!

Q: So, if it’s not too big a question, what have you found out?
Chantelle: Haha that is a big question! My recommendations based on my studies are to start with a prewash with a half-dose of detergent, followed by an intensive wash with a full amount of good quality detergent at 60degC.  Full amount being the amount for heavily soiled items and the hardness of your water and size of machine.  I also tested one well known “cloth safe” detergent at the recommended dose. The brand name is Rockin Green, is that popular in the UK? It’s very popular in the US.
@Chantelle, yes Rockin Green is available in the UK, but I’ve never used it myself.
Chantelle: There is no need. It’s only useful if you use 5x the recommended dose. At the recommended dosage it hardly removes any bacteria. I was pretty shocked since I had used it myself for the first year.
@Chantelle, really?! How interesting!

Q: Were your tests done in Denmark? What kind of washing machine were you using? We’ve been reading about how US machines are really different to UK machines (in general – much shorter washes, lower temperatures, but much more water) – how does your test machine compare?
Chantelle: Yes testing was done in Denmark. With an A+++ rated LG front loader. I think the machines are probably pretty similar to what you have in UK.  Also my testing created kind of a worst case scenario for washing – I had very few items in the machine (ideally you want to have a pretty full machine), and I only washed on a 60 min cycle.

Q: Which type of detergent did you find was most effective?
Chantelle: I tested Ariel and a generic brand called Anglamark. Both were fine at the recommended dosage. They removed the majority of bacteria even at 20degC, but at 60degC they were pretty much eradicated, even though the cycle only hit close to 60degC for a couple of minutes. Both brands tested had enzymes. There is no bio/non-bio in Denmark. Pretty much anything that is not wool wash contains enzymes. Anglamark is a ‘nordic ecolabel’ product containing no scent, optical brighteners or dyes. Those kinds of detergents are what most people use, particularly for baby clothes.

Q: Did you repeat the experiment with a fuller machine and a longer wash time? If so what were the results?
Chantelle: No, I never had the chance to do a more realistic scenario. Which is why I don’t recommend just doing a short wash on your own diapers in general. To clean effectively you need a balance of water, agitation, temperature, time and detergent. So with more clothes for agitation and more time at the higher temperature you can extrapolate that the nappies should be squeaky clean.

Q: What results did you find at 40degC? Was there a big difference between 40degC and 60degC?
Chantelle : I am really excited about the 40degC washes that NSG plans to run. I was only able to do 20degC and 60degC. What I found is that at 60degC, even without detergent, you get almost no bacterial growth on the plates. It’s not gone, it’s just dead.

Q: Is there a lot of skin problems in babies caused by detergents with enzymes? Do you think the enzymes play an active role on sanitation of nappies, therefore the effectiveness at 20degC washes?
Chantelle : Good question. No, I don’t believe there are skin problems from enzymes. There have been plenty of studies disproving the link between enzymes and skin problems. Also, the amount of enzymes contained in detergents is very low. The role enzymes play in the wash is not to target live bacteria, but to remove proteins and fats, which poo and urine are made up of. This is why I recommend the use of enzymes. As for sanitation, I don’t think they are entirely necessary. I think the detergent surfactants and other additives are what are removing the bacteria. I always say there is a big difference between removing the bacteria and killing them. Even if you blast your diapers with heat (a lot of people wash regularly on boil wash here) you might kill bacteria but you won’t be removing them. It’s much more important that the detergent can pull off the bacteria; whether it is alive or dead when that happens doesn’t matter, as long as it’s gone, because dead bacteria is a perfect food source for new bacteria to thrive.

Here’s a few resources about enzymes Chantelle sent us after the chat: [link] and [link]

Q: So if you run a half dose prewash and a full dose main wash do you find you need to rinse quite heavily to remove suds? And what kind of water do you have?
Chantelle: We have extremely hard water in my area. So I actually recommend a water softening agent like Calgon. If you do use Calgon you can cut the amount of detergent significantly (to the ‘soft water’ amount recommended on the box). After an intensive wash the diapers are clean and don’t have any detergent residue. But of course every machine is different.
@Chantelle, Would bicarbonate of soda work in the same way as Calgon in your opinion?
Chantelle: Bicarbonate of soda will not work in the same way. It’s not a strong enough water softener.
@Chantelle, will washing soda work as well as Calgon?
Chantelle: Washing soda (which is bicarb but with one less water molecule – you can actually make it by baking bicarb on low heat) is a more effective water softener. But it works in a different way to the main ingredient in Calgon. Calgon essentially binds to the minerals and washes away, whereas soda will form precipitates. I was actually asking Mark and Adrian if they thought that could be an issue but I don’t know what their verdict was.
@Chantelle, interesting. Now I just need to find an additive to make my water LESS soft, I get a lot of suds.
Chantelle: Yes, soft water can actually be more of a challenge than hard water. If you have too many, you can help cut the suds in the end with a vinegar rinse, but you don’t want to add it during cleaning because it will alter the pH and make the detergent less effective. [EDIT after the chat Chantelle added that a dilute amount of vinegar in a washer full of water should not be concentrated enough to harm any of the fabrics or elastics]
@Chantelle, I have AquaSoftna tablets which contain Polycarboxylate – would that work in the same way as Calgon?
Chantelle: Yes, polycarboxylate is the ingredient you are looking for. We have a few generic brands here as well.

Q: So, in your opinion, you don’t think an additional rinse after the main wash is necessary?
Chantelle: I don’t think a rinse is always necessary. My machine scrubs the heck out of the clothes, it’s a 3 hour cycle. So I don’t do an extra rinse. I occasionally do a ‘medic rinse’ which just boosts the temp of the rinse to 40 degrees. Warmer water helps to break down detergent better. f you have an extremely sensitive child or your machine isn’t doing a great job of rinsing you might want to. You can kind of tell if things come out feeling a little soapy/slimy. But if you do an extra rinse in a hard water area you have to add water softener. Otherwise all of those minerals you worked so hard to keep out are going to have a free pass at the fabrics during the rinse.

Q: So is there anything else non-proprietary we could use as a water softener? I know a box of washing soda is a lot cheaper than Calgon!
@All, Aquasoftna is about half the price of Calgon.
Chantelle: Sounds like Aquasoftna is a better choice. I know in the US a lot are using soda or borax, but because they precipitate I am hesitant to recommend them.
@Chantelle, in our latest chat with Mark and Adrian we found out that borax is banned in the EU!
Chantelle: I know, I can’t find borax in Denmark either. There is some suggested risk, although the people who use it in America have an argument for why it is actually safe. I prefer not to use it as I don’t think it’s necessary.
@chantelle, so the practical recommendation should be, instead of using more detergent, use a water softener and reduce the amount of powder, right? What temperature would you recommend then, 40degC or still 60degC?
Chantelle : Yes. I always recommend 60degC for nappies to be on the safe side. But if NSG is to find that it’s just as effective at 40degC I will be happy to hear it.

Q: There just doesn’t appear to be a one-size-fits-all and the type of water and machine one has influences so much how we should wash!
Chantelle: There really is no one size fits all approach. I spend a lot of time trying to trouble shoot with people and find a good routine for their own washer and water. Detergent manufacturers spend a lot of time to find the optimal amount necessary in each wash. So go by what they say. If you have hard water I find that it is actually cheaper to use a softener and the ‘soft water, heavy soil’ amount of detergent. Does everyone know why more detergent is needed if the water is hard?
@Chantelle, something to do with the minerals in the water?
@Chantelle, please assume we know nothing, that way we miss nothing.
Chantelle: Minerals in the water are positively charged, and most surfactants are negatively charged. So rather than the surfactant interacting with the clothing, it binds to the minerals. Then it can’t work to get the clothing clean. So you are essentially wasting the detergent to combat the minerals. That is why if you use half of the amount of detergent you end up just softening the water, and you have nothing to actually clean the clothes with.
@Chantelle, I always thought the manufacturers of detergent recommend using too much to increase their profits.
Chantelle: I have heard that too,  but I try to think the best of the manufacturers. Would they really try to get you to use more just for profits, if it made the product not work well because everything ended up too soapy? They would lose business because you would stop buying their product.

Q: We’ve been talking about bacteria, but we spoke to a microbiologist who said nappies don’t really need to be free of bacteria, as they’ll only get pooed in again and a child can’t get reinfected with something.
Chantelle: Of course the aim isn’t to create a sterile environment, otherwise I’d be telling you to bleach the cr*p out of them (literally).  But I disagree that a child can’t get infected with something. What if they have a little nappy rash and the skin breaks? That is the perfect entry point for bacterial infection.
@Chantelle he was an expert in infection control for the NHS, but not an expert in infant dermatology, so he could be wrong regarding nappy rash. But for the sake of argument, surely fresh poo is a much more abundant source of bacteria?
Chantelle: Yes, of course fresh poo is loaded with bacteria. But generally you would change a poopy diaper right away. What about a clean one that is teeming with live bacteria from improper washing? That could sit on the bum for hours.

Q: Dso did you look at any other elements of cleaning – like removal of ammonia? Or is bacterial presence a kind of proxy for all sorts of cleaning?
Chantelle: It’s not just bacteria, although that is all that I tested. There’s other microbes like yeast/thrush etc. I REALLY wish I had been able to do some studies on thrush.
@Chantelle, regarding microbiological properties, do you think that yeast is more difficult to eliminate than bacteria?
Chantelle: Probably not. I think it dies somewhere close to 50degC, so a 60degC wash with enough detergent should be enough. I also looked at bacterial transfer when I was washing. I used clean tea towels along with the dirty diapers. What I found is that there was plenty of bacterial transfer, but it was only significant when the diapers were not cleaned thoroughly. At 60degC, with a regular dose of detergent, there was no bacteria on the diapers or towels. But one thing that I accidentally discovered was that tea towels may have even hardier bacteria on them. And that those bacteria can transfer to the diapers.
@chantelle, did you wash the tea towels in with the nappies or in the next wash?
Chantelle: In the same wash. I did a prewash with the dirty diapers all together (30 min, no detergent, cold). Then would put a few diapers in with clean towels to do the main wash. Also, I had done a boil wash on these towels before I used them. I didn’t use detergent because I thought heat would be enough. Our control towel had bacteria. The result is that now I wash my tea towels even more thoroughly than my diapers and I keep kitchen towels separate from diapers.
@Chantelle, I dread to think what’s on my tea towels! They just go in 40degC wash with our clothes!
Chantelle: My recommendation is to wash towels on hot. I have a bunch of towels so save them for a load and then do a boil wash followed by another 40degC or 60degC wash. And I think it’s best to keep them away from things that touch your body like bath towels and underwear.

Q: I always recommend a 30degC or 40degC prewash rather than a cold rinse as it works much better for me. Have you found this also?
Chantelle: I think it depends on the machine. Some people can get away with hitting the ‘prewash’ setting as their first rinse, and some have to do a full short cycle. But the bit of heat could boost the effectiveness of the detergent, so it is just giving an extra kickstart to get things clean.

Q: Did you test sanitisers like Miofresh?
Chantelle: No, I did not test any other additives. I don’t know if Miofresh is available here. There is one from a brand called Ulrichs that claims to kill bacteria at 40degC. So I looked into it, but it’s just sodium percarbonate with no activator, so it definitely won’t work at 40degC. I occasionally recommend Vanish as a booster since it is sodium percarbonate with some extra enzymes.
@Chantelle, BioD Nappy Fresh is similar to MioFresh – it contains Sodium Carbonate, Sodium Percarbonate, Sodium Sulphate, Organic Sequestering Agents, Anionic Surfactant, Cellulose Colloids, Activator – would that work? do you think a sanitiser like that is necessary to add to the laundry routine?
Chantelle: Based on those ingredients I think Nappy Fresh and MioFresh are just weak detergents since the main ingredient is washing soda. I don’t see anything in them to sanitise except for sodium percarbonate and the activator. Same as Vanish.

Q: What about soapnuts or Ecoeggs?
Chantelle: Let’s start with soapnuts. They do create a surfactant, called saponin. But saponin is a soap and not a detergent. The difference between soap and detergent is that in the former the hydrophilic head group is a carboxylate COO- and in the latter it is usually sulfonate SO3-. Carboxylate head groups are much more sensitive to water hardness and much more likely to bind to minerals in the water. Not only that, but when they do bind they fall out of solution so they end up making surfaces they are trying to clean even more dirty. It’s called soap scum. Whereas when a detergent interacts with minerals it will bind but stay in solution until it is washed away. So it won’t help clean the clothes but won’t make things worse.
@Chantelle Could you use soapnuts with a water softener like Aquasoftna or Calgon? Would that work?
Chantelle: Mark and Adrian talked a bit about it. I think you really have to get a good balance of a lot of things to make the detergent work properly so trying to concoct your own is never going to be as effective as one that has been created and tested professionally. There are also some studies showing that soap nuts are no more effective than water alone. In this study “The results showed that the cleaning effect of the four alternative laundry products was equal to that of water alone. Conventional compact detergent showed significantly better cleaning effect at all tested soil types. However, the results also indicate that water alone already has a substantial cleaning effect.” The same goes for Ecoeggs, laundry balls, washing pellets and laundry magnets.

Here’s a link to an explanation of how soap works that Chantelle sent us after the chat [link]

Q: Did you do any experiments on “stripping”?
Chantelle: No experiments other than my own personal ones. I am pretty much in line with Fluff Love on stripping although I don’t recommend to bleach afterwards. Either 2 washes on 60degC and dry on high heat in between, or a boil wash afterwards, if you trust your diapers can handle it. I have washing and stripping advice in English on my webshop.

@Chantelle, thank you so much, I actually feel like I finally understood the sciency stuff tonight!
Chantelle: Thank you everyone! It’s been fun. Hope I have been clear! And feel free to tag me with questions on the NSG page or visit my website for more info.

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