Diapering Guide

How to Wash Cloth Diapers?

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Have you decided to use cloth diapers for your baby? Congratulations! You’ve made a choice that is great for planet Earth because you’re keeping 7000 disposable diapers out of the landfills. You’ve also made a choice that will save you a lot of money. Using disposable diapers costs about $1500 per child, while with cloth diapers, your only costs are the initial diaper purchase and the cost of water and electricity to keep the diapers clean. Learning how to wash cloth diapers, however, can be a challenge. Follow these steps to get your washing routine off to a good start.

Pre-Use Washing

Before using your cloth diapers for the first time, you should wash them. Synthetic diapers need to be washed just once before using. Diapers that are made of a natural fiber like cotton, bamboo, or hemp should be washed and dried three to six times before their first use. This helps break down the natural oils in the fibers and makes them more absorbent.

Washing Routine

You’ll need a place to store dirty diapers in between washes. A dry diaper pail is the recommended solution (wet pails pose a drowning risk, and may harbor bacteria). Dump solids into the toilet, and then rinse the diaper before putting it in the diaper pail. Diaper liners can be a huge help. If you use a disposable liner under your baby’s cloth diaper, you can lift poop and liner out of the diaper together and flush them down the toilet in one neat package.

Many parents use a cloth diaper sprayer to make rinsing easier. The sprayer hooks into your toilet’s water supply, making rinsing cloth diapers over the toilet quick and easy. (Not all toilets have the right plumbing hookup for a diaper sprayer, so check your toilet before you purchase one of these.)

When it’s time to wash, make sure you follow any special instructions that came with your diapers. Covers may be washed along with your diapers, as long as they can tolerate the hot wash cycle (check the manufacturer’s instructions). If your diapers or diaper covers have snaps or velcro tabs, fasten them before washing to make them last longer.

Unless your diapers have special instructions, follow these steps to get your diapers clean:

  1. Put your diapers in the washing machine by themselves – diapers shouldn’t be washed with regular items of clothing.
  2. Run your diapers through a cold pre-rinse cycle with no detergent.
  3. Using the highest water level your washer allows, wash your diapers in hot water (unless otherwise recommended by the manufacturer) and detergent. Choose a detergent that doesn’t have fabric softener or bleach in it. Tide Original is a popular and effective choice. The water softener should be added to the wash cycle if you live in an area with hard water.
  4. Run the diapers through an extra rinse cycle to remove all traces of detergent. Do not add fabric softener to the rinse cycle. Fabric softener reduces the absorbency of your cloth diapers and may irritate your baby’s skin. If the water in your area is particularly hard, you may want to add a water softener to the second rinse cycle.

Plus1Please has an excellent video on washing cloth diapers:


Cloth Diapers and Hard Water

The hardness of your water may seem like a small issue, but it’s actually quite important in cloth diaper washing. Hard water leaves mineral buildup on faucets, drains, and shower walls, and it will leave the same buildup in your baby’s diapers. When enough buildup accumulates, the diapers will become much more prone to leakage. Adding water softener to hard water helps eliminate this problem.

You can test the hardness of your water, or call your city officials for information about the water where you live.

When Diapers Still Smell Dirty After Washing

When you remove the diapers from the washer, they should smell clean. If they still smell dirty, they need additional attention. Odors may indicate the presence of bacteria, which can irritate your baby’s sensitive skin.

If your diapers still smell after being washed, wash them again following the instructions above. In the hot wash cycle, use detergent, a half cup of baking soda, and a Downy ball full of distilled white vinegar. Again, run the diapers through an additional rinse cycle. The addition of baking soda and vinegar should prevent the need to use bleach, which can be a skin irritant.

Detergent Choices

There are many detergent choices available, and you should try a few of them to see which one works best for you. Some top-rated choices include:

  • Tide Original (powder)
  • Allen’s Naturally (HE compatible)
  • Charlie’s Soap (HE compatible)
  • Rockin’ Green (HE compatible)
  • Sensi-Clean/Sports-Wash (HE compatible)
  • RLR Laundry Treatment
  • Country Save

Drying Cloth Diapers

All diapers may be line dried, and many diapers can be put in the dryer. If your diapers contain elastic parts or a water-resistant coating, check the manufacturer’s instructions to make sure the high heat of the dryer won’t damage the diapers. Many parents choose to line dry their cloth diapers because sunlight acts as a natural bleaching agent.

The diaper-washing process may seem intimidating at first. You’ll need to experiment to find the right pre-washing routine, the best detergent, and your preferred method of drying. Hang in there! Once you’ve washed a few loads of diapers, you’ll begin to develop a routine and the process will become second nature.

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