Washing Cloth Diapers. How to Establish a Successful Laundry Routine.
4 Steps to Washing Cloth Diapers – You Can Do This!
Does the thought of washing cloth diapers make you feel squeamish? You are not alone. Many parents turn to disposables due to fear of handling dirty diapers. I’m telling you – it’s not that bad! In fact, I am 100% confident in your ability to establish a wash routine that works for you. You can totally rock cloth diapers for your little one. And, you will be helping your baby and the world by doing so.
Washing cloth diapers doesn’t have to be complicated. I’ve broken it into a 4 steps below. For each step, I’ve provided tips and recommendations on how to adapt your wash routine to fit your specific needs. Each household is unique. There are many variables that can affect your wash routine, such as the detergent used, hard vs soft water, water temperature, and the type of diaper. Sometimes it takes a little trial and error. You can also incorporate the manufacturer’s washing recommendations.
Step 1: Collect the dirty diapers
Pee diaper: Toss that diaper straight into the dirty basket.
* If you are exclusively breastfeeding, you can also toss the poop diapers directly into the dirty basket! Breastfed poop can be washed in your machine because it is water soluble. A simple pre-rinse is all you need. Sounds gross? I thought so, too, until I tried it. What a time-saver! Plus, it eliminated messy poop handling. Yes, the diapers and the machine come out clean.
* If you use formula or have introduced solids, then you will need to rinse the diaper before throwing it into your dirty basket/machine. This poop is not water soluble and needs to be flushed down the toilet.
- There are many methods to get the poop off a diaper. For example, you could spray, dunk, scrape, or plop. The best method for the job depends on your preference and the consistency of the poop. Thankfully, in my experience, most poops are plop-able since ramping up the solids. However, if it’s not an easy to plop-off poop, my favorite rinse method is a diaper sprayer. I love the diaper sprayer because it is effective, and I don’t have to get my hands near the poop. Some people prefer to dunk and swish in the toilet (not for me, but props to those who do it). Once rinsed and poop-free, toss that diaper right into your dirty bag.
- Another option for handling poopy diapers is to use disposable liners. These are thin, soft, cloth tissues that catch the poop and keep your diaper clean. While many are advertised as flushable, they can wreak havoc on your plumbing. Best practice is to flush the poop down the toilet and toss the liner in the trash.
Step 2: Wash your diapers
Invert your waterproof collection bag (wet bag or reusable pail liner) into the washing machine. Then, toss the bag in with the diapers.
Pre-rinse with water only to remove any surface waste. By doing so, you will ensure clean water for the detergent wash (next step).
Wash with detergent. Here are some considerations:
- Choose a long cycle of agitation. Each machine has different labels for these cycles, but common options are “heavily soiled” or “heavy duty”. A “high spin” can also be helpful in removing all the soiled water.
- Make sure you have enough water in your cycle. Because this is hard to adjust on front loaders and high-efficiency machines, you might have to compensate. For example, try collecting enough diapers to fill your machine 2/3-3/4 full. Another option, if you don’t have enough diapers, is to add some dirty towels to the load.
- Wash on hot, but not too hot. Do not use a sanitize cycle, because the super high temperature can harm the diapers.
- Use enough detergent. The goal is for your diapers to come out of the wash clean, but not sudsy. Each household and detergent is different, and it can take some trial and error to find that perfect amount. If you have soft water, you may not need as much detergent (use the recommended amount or possibly slightly less; consider adding an extra rinse). On the other hand, if you have hard water, you may have to add a little extra detergent. This is because some of the detergent binds with the minerals in the water, making it unavailable for cleaning duty. If the recommended amount of detergent isn’t cutting it, increase it by small quantities until you find an appropriate amount. Note that I said “small” quantities. It is possible to add too much detergent and end up with sudsy diapers that aren’t fully cleaned.
- Use the right detergent. Detergents work differently for different families. Success of any particular detergent depends on your washing machine, wash routines, water hardness level, type of diapers, etc. Don’t think too hard about it. Just pick one that you would like to try. If it’s not working, try adjusting your wash routine with some of these wash tips. If it’s still not successful, consider switching to a different detergent. Big-name brands often work better in hard water. Tide (original) is frequently recommended in the cloth diaper world. Liquid detergent also tends to work better in hard water.
- Avoid fabric softeners. These can lead to build-up, leaking, and stinky diapers. If this happens, you will probably need to strip your diapers (info coming in another post).
- If you have very hard water, you may need to add a water conditioner during the wash and rinse cycles. Water conditioner is also called water softener, not to be confused with fabric softeners. A water softener deals with the water’s hard minerals, so your detergent can do it’s job. Start by trying a non-precipitating water softeners, like Calgon or RLR.
- Check with the manufacturer about bleach. Bleach is usually best when reserved for special circumstances. For example: buying used diapers, after yeast infection, or after certain GI bugs.
Extra Rinse – A debated step. Your machine integrates one rinse into the wash cycle to remove detergent. For some, this integrated rinse is enough, while others may need to add a second rinse. In general, you want to use the minimum number of rinses needed for your diapers to come out clean and suds free. Each home is unique due to a variety of variables, one of which is water hardness. If you have hard water, extra rinses can cause mineral build-up (leading to stinky diapers). In soft water, however, an extra rinse can be helpful in removing all the detergent.
Step 3: Dry your diapers
Natural fibers can be dried on high heat (think prefolds, doublers, flats, fitteds). However, consider drying your synthetic materials on a cooler setting (think microfiber, velcro, elastic, waterproofing).
Pros: Saves energy. And, is there anything cuter than a bunch of cloth diapers hanging on a line??
Con: Your diapers may feel a bit stiff. A short tumble in the dryer will fluff them up again. That said, my daughter never seemed to mind a stiffer diaper right off the line.
Hemp: may not fully dry on the line unless you live in an arid climate. You may need to tumble dry these for a bit to finish the job.
PUL covers and Wet Bags: I hang these after every wash. They dry super fast!
Step 4: Optional prep-for-use step.
Everyone finds their own organization system. By doing a little prep work, such as pre-stuff the pockets or pre-folding the prefolds, you create a no-fuss grab-and-go diaper that can be donned much like a disposable. I started out very organized like this, but I’ve since grown pretty lazy. Now, I just throw all the inserts, doublers, and diapers together in a bin and fish out what I want during a diaper change (see more about my set-up here). Play with your set-up until you find what works for you.
Hopefully I’ve convinced you that washing cloth diapers is totally do-able! If, however, you are still against washing your own diapers, look into a diaper service. Each diaper service runs a little differently, but they all provide you with clean diapers and pick up/launder your dirty ones (usually on a weekly basis).
- You don’t have to do an extra load of laundry every couple days.
- You don’t need to research what kind of diapers you want to buy, because the diaper service provides them for you.
- It will still cost less than using disposable diapers.
- Diaper Services can simplify the cloth diapering experience.
- Not available in all areas.
- Many diaper services only provide prefolds as a diapering option, though some provide other diaper styles, too.
- You are often responsible for buying/washing your own covers. Most likely, you will also need to buy your own prefold fastening devices (snappis, pins, or boingos), if you choose to use them. See how to use prefolds without a fastening device in my video.
- More expensive than home laundering.
Laundry Sources and Additional Reading:
Fluff Love University: a really great resource for washing cloth diapers, especially when it you need to trouble-shoot your routine. Search through their website to find info on washing in hard water, washing with HE or Non-HE machines, recommended detergents, and more.
Thinking About Cloth Diapers: How to Overcome Hard Water
Baby Gear Lab: Cloth Diapering Laundry Basics & Helpful Hints
Mother Ease – Cloth Diaper Washing 101
Zephyr Hill Blog by Anne Marie: Cloth Diaper Laundry FAQ
The Spruce: How to Solve Hard Water Laundry Problems