Cloth Diaper Care

The first reaction of many people to the idea of cloth diapers is that cleaning them at home will be disgusting and/or very time consuming. Guess what? Not true! Come on, it’s not as if you have to boil water in a backyard campfire and scrub them by hand on a washboard – there’s a machine for that. Washing cloth diapers is easy with the right know-how.

Step 1: Choosing a Detergent

Don’t let the decision paralyze you. Simply avoid anything with brighteners, softeners, bleach, or fragrances (although fragrance from essential oils is generally acceptable). By weeding out detergents with those additives you eliminate most of what’s on the shelf at your local supermarket. Although it seems like a natural choice for baby items, avoid Dreft (which contains brighteners); however, Original Tide is recommended by several cloth diaper manufacturers. Natural food stores often carry cloth-friendly, clean-rinsing detergents such as Country Save, Charlie’s Soap, or Allen’s Naturally. There are also many detergents made specifically for cloth diapers, including Rockin’ Green and Crunchy Clean. Some prefer homemade laundry detergent; if you do this, just be careful to avoid recipes that call for grated soap, which is notorious for building up on diapers and may cause skin irritation.

Step 2: Prepping New Diapers

“Prepping” refers to preparing new cloth diapers for their first use. The extent of prepping required depends on whether the diapers are made of natural or synthetic fibers.

  • Diapers made of synthetic materials (such as the typical pocket diaper with microfiber inserts) should be washed once with a small amount of detergent. Follow with an extra rinse.
  • Natural fibers (excluding wool, which has special care requirements) require repeated washing and drying to reach full absorbency. For the wash cycle, only a minimal amount of detergent is necessary since the items have not yet been used; for the drying, you can use the dryer on high heat as long as there is nothing in your load that contains PUL or elastic. After two wash/dry cycles, pour a small amount of water on the material. If the water soaks in immediately, you can begin using the diaper. Understand that it will continue to shrink and increase in absorbency over the next few uses, so if you do experience a leak, give it another chance. If the drops of water do not absorb immediately but bead up before soaking in, then repeat another wash/dry cycle.

Step 3: Washing Cloth Diapers – Your Regular Routine

The best washing routine for your cloth diapers is one that is simple and regular (at least every 2 days). With a good, cloth-friendly detergent and enough water, you shouldn’t need to add any other products. Too many variables will just make it more complicated to troubleshoot down the road should you ever encounter problems with smells or rashes. The most important thing about washing cloth diapers is finding the right balance of enough detergent to get the diapers fully clean and enough water to fully rinse the detergent away.

  • First, do a short rinse cycle using cold or warm water; no detergent is necessary. Choose whatever load size setting you would normally use if you were just washing clothes.
  • Next, run a wash cycle using hot water and the recommended amount of detergent. Consider up-sizing the load setting. Don’t let your water temperature exceed 150 degrees, and don’t use the “sanitize” setting – extremely hot water is hard on the diapers.
  • Finally, add another rinse. Since many washing machines have an automatic setting for an extra rinse, this step may not even require any of your attention. However, during the time period when you’re still getting the hang of your wash routine, it’s a good idea to peek in the washer during the last rinse to make sure you don’t see any suds. If suds are present, rinse some more and make a note to use a little less detergent the next time.

You can put cloth diapers in the dryer if you’re in a hurry – just avoid using fabric softening sheets and the high heat setting. To get maximum longevity out of your diapers (and keep your electricity bill lower), hang them to dry.