How To Clean Cloth Diapers: A Comprehensive Guide

If you are considering cloth diapers, but the thought of how to keep them clean overwhelms you, don’t let it. The process to clean dirty diapers, and keep them absorbent is so simple it may actually surprise you. Setting up a wash routine is going to save you a lot of time, and energy. You don’t need to wash everyday, but the more frequently you wash, the fewer diapers you have in each load. Fewer diapers in each load means you won’t have the wear and tear on the diapers from over crowding. Plan to wash every 2-3 days, if you have enough diapers to get you through. Letting dirty diapers sit in a pail or wet longer can lead to stains, and residual stinkiness.

Prepping your Cloth Diapers for Washing:

Before you drop those dirty diapers into the washer, make sure that you remove any solid waste. If your baby is breastfed, those poopy diapers can go straight into the washer, no rinsing necessary. For babes that are formula fed make sure you clean as much waste off the diaper as possible before washing. This is also true for babies that eat solids. When it comes to ensuring the waste is in the trash or toilet you have a few options:

  • Wiggle and shake as much poo into the pot as you can.
  • Spray using a diaper sprayer, that hooks to your toilet. Click here for a cloth diaper sprayer.
  • Diaper Liners let you lift and toss the poop straight into the toilet- here is a link to liners that have worked well in our experience: Cloth Diaper Liners For more information on liners see our Cloth Diaper Liners Guide.
  • If you’re really brave- swirling the dirty diaper right into the toilet to shake it off. Gloves might make this one seem less gross for you.
  • Drop those mostly clean diapers into your cloth diaper pail or wet bag until you’re ready to wash.

Choosing the right Detergent for Cloth Diapers:

Which detergent you use is one of the most important steps for ensuring that you diapers will come out clean, and continue to absorb your little ones waste. If you currently use a detergent that has additives, such as built in fabric softener. Detergents are chemicals, and leave behind coatings on your diapers. If the diapers can’t absorb your child’s waste, it has to go somewhere, resulting in leaks. Leaky diapers mean additional laundry. No one wants to do more laundry. Similar to some detergents, fabric softeners tend to cause you garments to repel liquid. You want to ensure the diapers absorb, softeners will cause leaks.

Powder Tide is a simple, inexpensive detergent that you will find will work well, and you can find almost everywhere. Tide Powder will keep your diapers from holding odors, you won’t have issues with leaks from detergent. If you have a preference for liquid detergent, ECOS will also work well to clean your cloth diapers.

You will know if your detergent isn’t working for you if you’re having a lot of leaks after a short amount of time. Another hint that you may want to switch detergents is an ammonia smell after a few hours of your diapers being in the pail or wet bag.

If you notice smells and leaks, try experimenting with trial size detergents to find what will work best for getting your cloth diapers clean.

Choosing the right wash cycle

Once you have your dirty diapers to clean knowing which cycle to choose is important. Not every washing machine is created equally. No really, they vary from very simple and basic to so many options your head will spin (no pun intended.) If you have a two cycle machine, congrats, you don’t have to make as many trips to the washer as others. If your machine only has single cycle options, do a double wash for your cloth diapers. It is worth the effort. The double cycle prevents residual stink and leaks.

Start with a cold water rinse, this will ensure that all messes are off the diapers. If your washing machine does two-cycles, then set the second cycle to as hot as possible. The hot water will help clean the diapers.

If you have hard or soft water, an extra wash cycle to ensure that all remaining detergent is out of the diapers. Why? Sometimes, detergent that is left behind can cause diapers to be less absorbent, or develop smells after only 1 pee.

Best Ways to Dry Cloth Diapers:

Choose the method of drying that will work best for you, and your schedule. If you have enough diapers to line dry your diapers, this method is most ideal, but can take a bit longer. Obviously drying length depends on the climate. Line drying cloth diapers outside is most ideal. The sun is good for your diapers. Sunning diapers will ensure that any stains that didn’t come out during your wash routine will melt away in the sun. I’s like magic.

Line Drying

When line drying you will want to make sure that you hang your diapers in a fashion that won’t cause the weight of the wet diaper to stretch the elastics. Stretched elastic can cause leaks. If you don’t have the space to hang a clothes line, this fold-able drying rack is perfect for small spaces (like this one: DUOFIRE Clothes Drying Rack with 36 Clips) and helps prevent stretching.

If line drying outside isn’t an option- it’s cold, there’s lots of rain, you just don’t have the space, indoor line drying will also work.

Drying machine

Line drying can take up to a full day or more, if you’re drying inside. If you don’t have the supply or patience to line dry, using the dryer is a perfect option. When drying your cloth diapers in the dryer, make sure to change the settings. Use a low heat setting, or air only. These settings are preferred to ensure the liners maintain their integrity- helping to avoid leaks. The dry time is going to vary by dryer, which heat setting you choose (medium, low, no heat,) and how many diapers you’re drying (less is more.)

Trial and Error

It may take you a few washes to decide what process will work best for your family. Don’t let leaks discourage you. They happen, even to the most seasoned cloth diaper veterans. When starting out, you may find it helpful to note your routine. A few things you’ll want to take notes on- which and how much detergent you used, water temperatures, and how you dried.

Once you have an established wash and dry routine to clean your cloth diapers, you will want to develop your prepping routine. Check out tips and tricks for prepping your cloth diapers. You are doing your part to keep shit out of our landfills, and money in your pockets.

Happy fluffing!

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