Sunday, June 27, 2010

How to Wash Cloth Diapers

Now that you've learned about the different kinds of cloth diapers available to modern moms and gotten ideas on how to choose the cloth diapering system that's best for you, you're wondering what to do with them between wash days and how to deodorize, disinfect, and keep them looking clean and bright.  Even after all the research, it was still a fairly lengthy trial and error process for me.  Here are a few insights and suggestions based on my experiences.


  • Gloves
  • Diaper bucket or waterproof bag
  • Cloth diaper friendly detergent
  • Diaper sprayer
You'll need a place to store dirty diapers between washes.  I have used 5 gallon paint buckets from the hardware store and a small, lidded trash can as my diaper buckets, but there are many other alternatives out there that may work better for you.  The Safety 1st Simple Step Diaper Pail is an affordable option with a handy foot pedal operated lid for hands free use, and this Swaddlebees Diaper Pail Liner is a multitasker that can also be used alone as a wet bag, laundry bag, or travel diaper pail.

The diaper sprayer and gloves are optional, but very useful to have.  I don't actually have a diaper sprayer because I have a "dirty" sink with a sprayer.  For those who don't have that luxury, my cloth diapering mom friends swear by their diaper sprayers because it allows them to spray the mess directly into the toilet before tossing the diaper in the pail or the wet bag.

Your choice of detergent is very important to the life and functionality of your diapers.  Most detergents leave a residue that will eventually build up on your diapers and cause skin irritation, interfere with the diaper's ability to wick away wetness, or both.  Cloth diaper makers do not recommend using regular commercial detergents such as Tide or Dreft, but some people have had success using 1/4 - 1/2 the recommended amount in their diaper washes.  I personally use Charlie's Soap because it is an all natural, residue free laundry powder.  I love that it's made in the USA and that I'm supporting American made products every time I purchase it.  It's also very economical.  Even though I do all my regular laundry with it in addition to the diapers (for diapers I usually double the amount of soap), one bag lasts over 3 months.  It is also not necessary to use fabric softener or static cling sheets with Charlie's soap as it is the chemical residues that stiffen clothes and cause static in the dryer.

Location, location, location!

When considering places to keep your dirty diaper pail, keep in mind that even with pre-rinsing, baking soda, and all the diaper odor tricks out there, it has been impossible in my experience to completely eliminate diaper bucket odors.  If you have space in your laundry room, I would recommend keeping the dirty diapers there since it will be out of the way.  If this is not an option, use a diaper pail with a tight fitting lid or a wet bag with a drawstring to seal in as much of the odor as possible.

To keep diaper odor to a minimum, I've found the rinsing all diapers, including the ones that only have pee, greatly reduces diaper pail smells.  You can also sprinkle the inside of your dirty diaper container with baking soda.  While I have had the best results using a dry diaper bucket, some have had success by keeping the diapers in water with a tablespoon of vinegar, but do not use bleach as this ruins the waterproof layers in your expensive AIOs and your waterproof covers.  If you do use bleach for your prefolds and other coverless diapers, make sure to rinse them thoroughly as the bleach residue can irritate your baby's skin.

The Wash Cycle

Pre-rinse wet diapers and remove solids from dirty diaper before putting them in the diaper bag or bucket.  Make sure all velcro tabs are secure so they do not snag other items.

Run your diapers through a rinse cycle first to get rid of any remaining solid waste.  This may be done with cold water.  You may do a short soak if you desire, but don't overdo it as this will breed bacteria.

After the pre-rinse, wash your diapers with your cloth friendly detergent on a cycle that uses hot water.  Hot water will serve to disinfect your diapers.  For extra whitening or deodorizing, you may add 2-4 tablespoons of baking soda.  If you are using a regular, commercial detergent for laundering your diapers, I would recommend using a bit of baking soda in the final rinse because it will help to remove the residues.  The added benefit is that baking soda is a natural fabric softener.

If you are laundering items with a hook & loop style closure such as Aplix or Velcro, make sure it is secured or it will stick to other garments and create snags and pulls or even ruin some fabrics.

Drying Cloth Diapers

Either line dry your cloth diapers or put them in the dryer on high heat WITHOUT fabric softener.  Fabric softener will make them less absorbent and cause repelling issues.  Using high heat or the sun will further disinfect your diapers for healthier reuse.  Drying in the sun is an energy efficient way to launder cloth diapers without increasing you utility bill that also naturally deodorizes without artificial fragrances that only mask unpleasant odors without treating the cause.  Line dried items are easily fluffed up by placing them in the dryer for a few minutes on a heatless setting.

Prewashing Pointers

All cloth diapers regardless of style or brand recommend prewashing up to 5 times before use in order to bring out the maximum absorbency of the fibers and fully preshrink the fabrics.  For most diapers prewashing with your regular laundry is fine as long as you use the appropriate detergent, remember to avoid fabric softener, and wash with like colors.

Certain fabrics, however, must be laundered separately.  The two main ones are wool and hemp.  Check the laundering instructions on your wool diaper covers to see if they're machine washable.  Most will be hand wash and line dry only.  Those items will shrink up to 50% or more if machine washed and/or dried.  Hemp has naturally occurring plant oils that will interfere with wicking, so it must be washed several times before use.  Do not wash hemp diapers with other fabrics until they have been completely stripped or the oils will transfer to them.

Up Next...

Now that you know the cloth diapering basics, come back to Cool Mom's Blog every week on Diaper Duty Tuesdays for an ongoing look at cloth diapering tips, how to's, and reviews!

For a look at all my cloth diaper information, go the the Cloth Diapering tab at the top of the page or click here.