Washing Cloth Diapers

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It’s the question every cloth diapering mama wants to know…

drying diapers

How do you wash these things?!?

I’m going to tell you right now, there are a million and one ways to do this and every cloth diapering mama out there has her own groove.  This is mine.

You’ll remember from my video that I have a poopy pail and a not-so-poopy pail.  I dump both of those into the washer, along with the liners, spray out the pails with antibacterial spray and wipe clean with paper towels.  From there, washing goes like this:

Rinse, highest setting, Heavy duty, COLD

Long wash, highest setting, Heavy duty, HOT, with approx. 2 TBSP detergent

Rinse, highest setting, Normal, COLD

And lately, because I think it needs it, another

Rinse, on appropriate setting for # of dipes, Normal, COLD

Now, the method behind the madness (this is the place where you can stop reading if all you care about is the HOW and don’t need to know the WHY. 😉 )

Your first rinse is to obviously rinse out the leftover poo and such from the diapers.  You set it on the highest setting to give it the largest amount of agitating room.

Your wash is hot because hot cleans better.  You only use a small amount of detergent because diapers that don’t get the detergent fully rinsed out of them smell.  BAD.

Let me stop here for just a second and tell you a story…

When I first started cloth diapering, I lived in a house where the hot water going into the washer was broken.  I washed diapers in COLD.  And it worked!  However, I think the success of this was due largely, in part, to my DRYING routine. (more on that later!)

Next, is another rinse in cold and yes, on the highest setting.  Your goal here is to thoroughly rinse out the detergent.

If you’ve been noticing a smell or rashes, this is where you should choose to do yet another rinse.  This time you can lower the water setting if need be to accommodate the number of diapers, rather than keep it on the highest setting.

From there, you can line dry or machine dry.  I’ll explain my drying routine in the next post.

Oh, and a quick caveat…

If you are using wool covers/longies/shorties/skirties, these washing instructions ARE NOT FOR YOU!  I’m not much of a wool gal, so you’ll have to look elsewhere for that information. 😉

And, if you feel like something is really wrong with your diapers smell-wise or leak-wise, check out my friend, Lauren’s post on stripping diapers.

Helpful post on detergents: Diaper Jungle Detergent Chart


28 Comments on Washing Cloth Diapers

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28 thoughts on “Washing Cloth Diapers

  1. Thanks for posting this, Amy!!!! This is very, very similar to our routine. It seemed to work pretty well for us, until we abandoned it for something easier.

    That something easier did NOT work and DD started rashing out again. Not to mention the AWFUL smell of buildup that started to come back.

    So we went back to the rinse, wash, rinse, rinse routine again. Much better. Now, if the Rockin Green I ordered would finally arrive. . .

    Thanks again!

  2. Thanks for this post! I’m getting a new to me washer this week. This is the first time I’ve washed cloth diapers all on my own in a washer. I used to wash them by hand in the tub at my old apartment and then once a week I’d take them to my SIL’s house on laundry day and wash them there. It worked out great. There was no smell. Then we moved in with my SIL for awhile and I just threw them in with her diapers and used what she used. They started to smell funky. Now I don’t know how to make that funky go away. Once I figure that out I need to figure out my own washing routine so that doesn’t come back. I’ve been doing LOTS of research on it this week. And luckily for me alot of the blogs I follow have posted about it within the last week. Can’t wait to see how you dry your diapers!

  3. Do you use the same laundry detergent that you use for other laundry?

    I’m wondering if I should use something more gentle. . .

  4. I have been waiting for you to post on this! I told you before that I loved CD my daughter, but gave up b/c of our horrible build up issues we couldn’t get under control! I will check out Luara’s post on stripping.
    I can’t wait to start CD again!!
    Thanks for sharing this with us.

  5. Thanks for posting this!! We are just getting ready to start our adventure in cloth diapering so we don’t have a routine yet. I plan to hang general instructions in the laundry area (both for a sleep-deprived mommy and a well-intentioned daddy – LOL!). Hope you don’t mind that I use your routine as our basis. When you say “highest setting” do you mean longest cycle or largest load size???

  6. I’m proud to say that we’ll be entering this world of cloth diapers once again in at the end of the summer! My 3 year old has been out of them since she turned 2 (b/c of life issues), and I was SO SAD to pack them up. I can’t wait to get them out again, and add to the stash :) Thanks for sharing your methods! It can be hard to find the info on these like this out there.

  7. Thank you so much for bringing this up. I used to use cloth diapers but when we got to the point of three in diapers and we lived in a house with another family (that also needed to use the washer) I found it too dificult to keep up with. Since you brought up the subject I realized I only have 2 in diapers now and we have our own place. I pulled them back out!!!
    Btw I used the same wash routine but instead of extra rinses at the end I just ran the washer through the cycle again without detergent.

  8. Thanks for this post Amy! This is almost exactly our washing routine and it works very well for us also. I’m curious as to what diaper works for your family’s little ones through the night. The 2 I have in diapers are 17mo-old and 3mo-old and I use fuzzibunz and prefolds w/covers during the day. I can’t find a dipe that will get them through the night and won’t leave rashes in the morning. No rash problems with daytime use, but they will have a horrible rash with just one night of being in cloth. One of my older children had the same issue and we used disposables at night which is what we’re doing with the current 2 littles, but I’d rather find a cloth solution. Any ideas?

    • We do prefolds and Motherease Air Flow covers at night. You can add an extra liner to them as well. I like having cotton on them at night rather than something man made. If baby has gone to bed early, I will sometimes have leaks then, but they do really well otherwise.

  9. Ok, so do you have hard water?? Any advice for those of us who do b/c I’m soaking mine in rainwater from the barrels, then washing….in order to soften the water. Sometimes its good, sometimes it isn’t! lol! I have NO method, and am quite frankly, frustrated! lol! ;D Any suggestions?–S

    • Sara,
      You might try using Rockin’ Green (just for your diapers). It is supposed to be really good when you have hard water issues.

  10. We use prefolds during the day. I never thought of using them at night because they feel the wetness. Does your little one STTN? Mine is still night nursing and I am afriad the wetness might way him up. Also do you double up or just one prefold?

  11. I did not use cloth until my fourth baby and now I LOVE them!!!!! I have a front loader and I wash the diapers on cold to rinse them and then on sanitize to knock out all the germs :) I have never rinsed after the sanitize cycle and we have had no problems with our kiddos very sensitive skin. I think its due to using soap nuts. They make the diapers so soft and there is never any build up :)

  12. We use to Cloth Diaper but had to give it up because of iron in our water. We went through 2 sets(36 each) of brand new diapers that the elastic gave out and really bad leaking issues. We only had the diapers 3 months. We also used homemade laundry detergent. We would love to CD again but dont want to spend the money to ruin them again.

  13. Amy, I just began cloth diapering with diapers made for me by a SAHM. I’m excited to finally start doing this with our 3rd child! I’m wondering what creams are acceptable for my baby’s bum now that I’m using cloth diapers. I have some old A&D that I’m pretty sure I can’t use and some California Baby Diaper Rash Cream. What ingredients make the creams a no-go with cloth diapers?

    • Dawn,
      I’m not sure what ingredients make creams unacceptable, but I know Grandma El’s is touted as a safe diaper cream. I use HardLotion.com’s diaper cream and have never had any issues. It is coconut oil based. I just don’t use anything that is actually “creamy,” as in thick and white. Hope that helps!

  14. Thanks so much for sharing your washing routine! So much can depend on the type of washer and water you have. I just read the other day on the Real Diaper Association website that they are recommending the first rinse in warm water. Apparently warm water works better in removing waste that was created in a warm environment. I’ve only tried it out once, and so far so good. But I’m not sure if it’s any better than cold.

  15. I just wanted to let you know how much I enjoy reading your blogs! I am just rereading through the year and I love that you compiled all your highlights for readers like me who started at the end of the year. I feel all caught up!
    I have a few CD I bought from Alvababy.com but I haven’t had the courage to use them. I have received. A LOT of critcism and negativity about going cloth! I am a first time mom and wanted to be as frugal as possible to make our income stretch since I felt the Lord wanted me home to raise our sweet boy.
    I was given some CD they’ve been through 3 other kids so I don’t know how much life they have left and how to properly rid them of the previous owners dinge as they have taken on an oatmeal color but no foul odor.
    How many should I have to get started? Where do you buy them without much start-up cost?

    • Crystal – Welcome! And you are going to LOVE the series I will soon be doing with Sweet Little Blessings all about cloth diapering! :) For the cheapest way to cloth diaper, I usually tell people to get 4 covers and 15-20 prefolds and a couple of Snappis. I’ve purchased from an online swap called DiaperSwappers, but hands down prefolds are the cheapest way to diaper and not costly even when purchased new. I hope that helps! :)

      • I just went back to cloth. I used cloth for my fist 5 but when my 5th child, the first girl, used them. She would get rashes at night. I became pregnant with our 6th and had a source of free disposable. So I switched. No more rash. 6 and 7 were in sposies. I started to gather cloth when I became pregnant with our 8th, but that baby was stillborn. Babies 6 and 7 started wetting the bed, so I decided to use the cloth I have for them at night. After a few nights the boy started getting chaffed cheeks. My little girl though has a terrible red rash every where the cloth diaper touches! For her I have Sandy’s by mother ease and a mother ease cover. I also have 1 fuzzibunz pocket diaper. When I put a disposable on her, the rash starts to clear. Any thoughts.

        • Lori,
          I do not cloth diaper at night for this very reason. I just cannot keep them dry enough. So, I use a disposable on them at night and then put them in cloth during the day. If you are noticing that even during the day with regular changes baby is getting a rash, then you might need to strip the diapers and sun them good. Perhaps even bleach them. There might some sort of bacteria in the diaper that is not coming out with regular washing; however, my guess is that at night it is just too wet for baby.

  16. I am new to cloth diapers. The thought of messing with poop and having ANY poop in my washing machine seriously grosses me out. However, I am open to giving this a try but am a little hesitant because of this…that and the extra work added to the laundry. ; )

    My question is: If you are using a sprayer to rinse the poop off at the toilet, why is a prewash cycle needed? Isn’t it all rinsed off before throwing in a diaper pail and definitely before putting in washing machine?

    Today my son had two horribly bad poopy diapers. Not at all the kind shown in the youtube videos that easily plop in the toilet. I’m talking yuk! If this scenario happened while I was cloth diapering I would want to thoroughly rinse it off with the sprayer you mentioned. However, is it reasonable to assume I would be able to do that or is the sprayer not powerful enough to get ALL of it off?

    Thanks for your input! ; )

    • Even with a sprayer, you don’t totally get it all. Also, I use a dry pail method. And newborn diapers you don’t spray off at all. I’ll be honest, in the tough seasons of my life, cloth diapers are the first thing to go. 😉