Welcome to the Cloth Diapering 101 Series! Part two is all about how to wash cloth diapers. Make sure to check out Part 1 – Different Types of Cloth Diapers.
I believe that the number one reason why parents don’t stick with cloth diapering is laundry issues. Diaper laundry can be extremely simple once you get in to a routine, but finding a routine that works for you can be challenging. What works for one family may not work for another. Washing cloth diapers can seem very complicated for the beginner. I created this post to explain diaper laundry as simply as possible. Here are some common questions that a new cloth diapering parent might have about laundry.
What Detergent Do I Use?
This is definitely a personal decision! It depends on whether or not you want to use a different detergent for diapers and regular clothes, what kind of water you have (hard or soft) and how much you want to spend. A generally “safe” recommendation is Tide Powder, it is cheap and works well for most families. It can also be used for regular laundry so you don’t have to switch. I did use it myself for a few months, and it is probably the easiest option since it is widely available. When I first started cloth diapering I used my regular detergent (something eco-friendly) and it worked okay. I don’t use softeners, bleach or fabric sheets anyway, which is great since they aren’t recommended for cloth diapers.
That being said I eventually got “stink issues” which can happen when ammonia builds up. I ended up trying Rockin Green detergent and I highly recommend it. I also used my own home-made laundry detergent, and that worked well too. If you don’t have time to make your own, I recommend either Tide Powder, or Rockin’ Green.
Why can’t I use softener, bleach, dryer sheets, etc.?
Many diapers (especially the “good” ones) will say not to add softeners, bleach or other additives right on the tag. This is really simple for those of us who didn’t use those things in the first place, but if you use them in your regular laundry you may wonder why they are not cloth diaper safe. Fabric softeners can cause liquids to repel off of diapers, obviously you don’t want this because it causes leaks. Dryer sheets can do the same thing to diapers in the dryer, many cloth diapering parents choose dryer balls instead to reduce static and for added softness. I used to make dryer balls, and I have some that I have been using for years. You can also buy them on Amazon.
Why do my diapers stink/leak?
The most common reason for smelly diapers is using either too much detergent or not enough. If you are using regular detergent you should use 1/4 to 1/2 (start with 1/4) of the recommended amount. If using a cloth diaper specific detergent, use the amount specified on the label. It’s also very important to always do an extra rinse when you wash diapers. Leaking problems are often caused by the use of softeners or dryer sheets so make sure that you don’t use them and that there is no residue from them in your washer/dryer. I recommend washing diapers in hot water, and to do an extra rinse to make sure all the soap has been washed out.
How do I get rid of stains?
Washing promptly is the best way to avoid stains in the first place. I have found that if you wash every other day (or every day,) stains aren’t really an issue. My diapers never had major stains, and I didn’t do anything to prevent them. If you do have stains, hanging them in the sun is the best way to get rid of them. The sun naturally “bleaches” the diapers. Line drying is also thrifty (free!) and green (uses no electricity) so it’s really a win-win. You can also soak the diapers in a bucket with some Oxiclean, but make sure to wash and rinse very well so that the oxiclean doesn’t leave any residue.
What exactly should I do to wash my diapers?
No wash routine works for everyone, a lot of it depends on your washer/dryer and water. Here are two wash routines that have personally worked for me, the first is what I used once I bought an HE front loader, and the second is what I used with an older top loader prior to that.
Pre-rinse in cold (if poopy diapers are in the mix)
HOT wash with 2 TBSP of Rockin Green, Tide Powder, or homemade laundry soap
Cold rinse, extra rinse
The washing methods are similar, just use more soap with a top loader. Top loaders aren’t the most eco-friendly way to do laundry because they use more water, but many people find that they get the diapers cleaner. Just add an extra rinse if your HE machine isn’t getting your diapers clean enough. I always line dry my covers and usually line dry my pocket shells. Microfiber and hemp inserts always go in the dryer and prefolds and fitted diapers are often hung to dry but thrown in the dryer for a few minutes after just to make them soft and fluffy.
This is what has worked for me. It may take a little bit of tweaking to figure out what works for your family, but it is a good place to start. The key things to remember are not using softeners/additives, washing on hot if possible and making sure to rinse enough to get all of the soap out of the diapers. I hope this helps! Feel free to comment with any questions related to diaper laundry, or anything cloth diaper related.
PS. Don’t miss part one of the Cloth Diapering 101 series, different types of cloth diapers, and make sure to subscribe to my weekly newsletter for more tips delivered directly to your inbox!