Can You Clean Cloth Diapers in the Dishwasher?

As parents we’re all looking to make things easier. Come on: tell me you don’t wish that you could snap your fingers and your house would clean itself, dinner would be ready, and you could have five minutes just to pee and maybe pin a bunch of crafts and recipes on Pinterest you say you’re going to make someday.

So imagine how I felt when I had read that there were other parents out there cleaning their cloth diapers in the dishwasher (or on the stove, or in the microwave). Could it be true? Could I skip the trips down into my dingy, dark, cold, spider-ridden basement? Could I get my diaper laundry done in the time it took me to make dinner?

Cloth diapers in dishwasher

Photo Credit: Between the Kids

Just do a quick search on Google and you can verify that I’m not making this up. A lot of moms are taking their kitchen appliances to the next level, stripping cloth diapers in the dishwasher or sanitizing them in the microwave using steam (similar to those bags for cleaning breast pump parts).

And of course there’s the old standby: boiling cloth diapers, which was a lot more prevalent back when cloth diapers were just basic flats that could stand up to rough treatment.

Listen, folks. Putting cloth diapers in the dishwasher is a huge fire hazard – if a fabric piece falls through and lands on the heating element, that spells trouble.

Effect of dishwasher heating element

This spatula fell onto the heating element of a dishwasher. Imagine if that had been a cloth diaper.

And what about boiling? First of all, don’t boil anything with snaps or PUL – you may just cause some melting of parts that are not meant to be melted. And while you can technically boil flats and prefolds without causing harm to the fabric, just think about the last time you tried multi-tasking in your sleep-deprived “mombie” state, got distracted, and completely abandoned whatever you were doing in the first place. Do you really want your sleeping angel woken up from his nap by the blaring beeps of your smoke detector after your prefolds start smoking in a dried-up pot? I didn’t think so.

boiling cloth diapers

Photo Credit: wikiHow

So why are people so obsessed with using kitchen appliances to clean their cloth diapers?

I blame Pinterest, where everyone celebrates life hacks and anything that’s repurposed. Make ice cream in your food processor! Make hash browns in your waffle iron! Toast nuts in your popcorn popper! Bake bread in your crockpot!

But you know what all the above “hacks” have in common? They use things that are meant for food to make other kids of food.

So I beg you, stick to using your washing machine for cloth diapers and leave your kitchen for its original purpose: cooking food.

Ruining Your Cloth Diapers with Flair

So you’re whining about having ruined your cloth diapers with a little diaper rash cream?

Waaahhhh! Somebody call the waaaaaahhhmbulance! 


(I could watch this over and over and over and over! And yes, I definitely plan saying this to my kids.)

First, I’d argue that you probably didn’t ruin them – you just need to take some extra steps in washing to get them squeaky clean again.

And secondly, come on – how cliché! If you want to be able to complain that you ruined your cloth diapers, then honey, be a little more creative! We want to hear a great story with impressive photos of the ruination you caused.

title image

1. Rip ‘Em to Shreds

The fastest way to create impressively tattered-looking diapers is to use heavy amounts of chlorine bleach. This SoftBums pod went from brand-new to shredded in just about two weeks, thanks to a two-hour soak in a chlorine bleach/water mixture. Comes in handy if you’re a newbie trying to impress some veteran cloth-diapering moms – your diapers can look so tattered, they’ll think you’ve been cloth diapering for years and years!

Chlorine bleach damage

2. Delamination in minutes

If you’re really serious about turning a good cloth diaper into a dud, delamination might be the route for you. Delamination involves the breakdown of the waterproof coating of a cloth diaper or a diaper cover. Why wait two or three years for a diaper to delaminate on its own when you can speed the process along with a nice hot iron?!

Damage to PUL after ironing

3. Honey, I Shrunk the Wool Soakers!

Special care instructions for hand-washing wool? Just ignore them and use hot water, the washing machine, or better yet – both! Not only will your wool soaker shrink to an impressively small size, but it will also lose its stretchiness and the stitches will look “blurred”.  This is truly a complaint-worthy mistake!

Felted wool soaker

4. Burn, Baby, Burn!

Do you have a bit of a pyro streak in you? If so, you can strip your diapers in the dishwasher. Cross your fingers that the diaper will fall onto the dishwasher’s heating element and give you something exciting to take pictures of. If you’re lucky, maybe it will ruin the lamination, melt a few snaps, or even catch on fire!

I searched high and low for you for a picture of some dishwasher/diaper destruction, but alas, I couldn’t find anything right on point. Instead, you’ll have to settle for a photo of a rogue spatula of mine that somehow managed to wiggle free of the utensil holder and create a bit of a sizzle on the heating element. My house had a funky plastic smell for days.

Effect of dishwasher heating element

5. Make-Your-Own Mushroom Farm

Warning: This activity takes a bit longer and is not for the faint of heart. You’ve been warned.

This photo is from a woman whose cloth diapers sat in the pail for a month between washes…and they grew mushrooms! Now, I don’t know what her kid had been eating, and I certainly don’t care to find out. However, I’ve got to hand it to her – this is the most creative form of cloth diaper ruination that I’ve ever heard of!

Mushrooms on cloth diapers

Diaper Rash Creams and Cloth Diapers

If you’re just jumping into the world of cloth diapers, you’re probably thinking, “Whew! I finally got it all straight. I’ve figured out the cloth diaper systems, materials, features, and care. Wait, now you’re telling me that I also have to be careful about what kind of diaper rash creams can be used?!”

I know. I’m sorry. But I promise that it’s not hard to sort out the compatibility of diaper rash creams and cloth diapers. You just need to look at it on the ingredient level, which is what we will do in this article.

Diaper Rash Creams and Cloth Diapers

Common Diaper Rash Cream Ingredients

Ingredients Generally Considered “Cloth-Safe”

All of the “cloth friendly” ingredients should rinse away easily in regular the hot wash cycle of your washing machine without additional cleaning measures. These ingredients are not overly greasy or thick. They are best for preventative use.

  • Beeswax – locks in moisture; naturally anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, anti-allergenic, and germicidal
  • Vitamin E – high in antioxidants; benefits the skin by helping it retain its natural moisture content
  • Lanolin – a rich source of skin lipids
  • Shea butter – effective at repairing damaged skin due to high levels of natural antioxidants and essential fatty acids
  • Cocoa butter – a natural skin softener, high in Vitamin E
  • Aloe vera – cool and soothing; can reduce skin inflammations, itchiness, and blistering
  • Coconut oil – contains a unique combination of fatty acids that moisturize skin beautifully
  • Olive oil – a gentle moisturizer for dry skin, containing Vitamin E, Vitamin A, and four different antioxidants
  • Grapeseed oil – aids with skin repair, as it has mildly antiseptic qualities
  • Jojoba oil – acts as a natural barrier to environmental allergens, and may help slow the growth of bacteria because of its anti-microbial properties

Ingredients to Use with Caution

Paraffin, petroleum jelly, white or yellow petrolatum, and mineral oil are common ingredients to see on the labels of diaper rash creams. These ingredients are derived from hydrocarbons and put through a refining process. Because they have a heavier, greasier texture than most of the ingredients in the section above, I recommend using these with caution on cloth diapers. Test them first (like I did with Grandma El’s – which contains yellow petrolatum) or use a disposable liner as a precaution.

Zinc oxide is questionable; many sources claim that it causes repelling and stains.

Ingredients to Keep Away from Cloth Diapers

The three ingredients in diaper rash creams that you should always keep away from cloth diapers are:

  1. Cod liver oil – will cause repelling and a “fishy” smell in cloth diapers.
  2. Calamine – may cause repelling; will leave a pink stain.

Tips for Avoiding Problems with Diaper Rash Creams and Cloth Diapers

Remember, natural fibers are more forgiving when it comes to washing away any kind of build-up, because the pores of the fibers are larger. Prefolds, flats, or any natural-fiber AIO or AI2 are great to have on hand for those times when you might need to use a particularly thick ointment. My mom, Crunchy Nana, recalls using Vaseline fairly regularly with prefolds without ever encountering a repelling problem.

If you’re not sure about an ingredient (or a combination of ingredients), just go ahead and use a liner to be safe. I’ve had to turn to Triple Paste a few times to resolve a bad diaper rash quickly, and I kept using my cloth diapers. Thanks to disposable liners, I had no issues with the thick cream transferring to the diaper.

One additional caution: If you’re dealing with a yeast rash, consider switching to disposable diapers until the rash has cleared up. It’s not necessarily the creams that cause a problem with your diapers (although they might), but you could have a bigger problem with the yeast lingering in the diapers.

Stripping Greasy Build-Up from Cloth Diapers

Oops! So let’s say that you were blissfully unaware of the problems that some diaper rash creams can cause for cloth diapers. Let’s say you smeared globs and globs of the greasiest possible ointment all over your baby’s bottom and then put on the best, most expensive, most beautiful cloth diaper in your entire stash.

The horrors!

Is there any recourse?

I’m certain that you can fix any build-up problem you have. I once tried to ruin a diaper with Desitin, but was able to fully restore its absorbency with just a few extra steps. (It does still have some stubborn gray stains that won’t go away, but that doesn’t affect the performance of the diaper in any way.)


What types of diaper rash creams have you had problems with? What is your favorite “cloth-friendly” diaper rash cream?

affiliate link disclosure

So You’ve Got Repelling Cloth Diapers

Repelling cloth diapers (and how to fix them) are a hot topic in discussion forums. As the Diaper Wrecker, I felt it was my duty to investigate this problem and see whether it’s really so angst-worthy. After slathering this poor diaper with Desitin and soaking it in a Downy bath for 24 hours, I was pretty sure I had successfully created a repelling problem. I hung it up to dry, and I was haunted by two thoughts: (1) Downy has a way strong smell, and (2) ohhh emm geee how am I ever going to remove all of that smeared-on, greasy Desitin?!

Repelling Cloth Diaper

Before I describe how I went about excorcising this diaper of its evil, greasy build-up, I have a word of caution for you. This is an extreme example of a repelling diaper. If you have a problem with persistent leaks and think your diapers might be repelling, check a few other things first. It may just be that the diaper is fully saturated or not fitting properly on your baby.

Now let’s talk about stripping. It’s a word I hear waaaaaay too often in cloth diapering discussion forums and it usually makes me cringe. Why? Because if you have to strip (i.e. deep-clean) your cloth diapers on a regular basis, it means something about your regular wash routine is out of whack. There are many different ways to strip cloth diapers, and the method you choose should depend on what kind of build-up (detergent, ammonia, ointment, etc.) is present:

  • For detergent build-up, a few extra hot washes with RLR Laundry Treatment
    will generally do the trick, and then you need to reduce the amount of detergent in your usual wash routine.
  • For ammonia build-up, a soak in Rockin Green Funk Rock Ammonia Bouncer
    followed by a hot wash with detergent usually does it for me.
  • For serious greasiness, unfortunately, laundry products don’t usually help, and we turn to a product made for de-greasing dishes – Dawn.

Blue Dawn is a de-greaser, which can help your repelling cloth diapers

This was actually my first time to use Dawn for diapers and I wanted to be careful. Dawn generates some pretty intense suds, which can overwhelm the pump and motor of your washing machine if you use too much. We had to replace the pump of our washing machine a few years ago and it cost about $300 when it was all said and done, so I’m not interested in risking that for the sake of one cloth diaper. This is a job that requires scrubbing by hand.

I added this much Dawn. It made me laugh because it made me think of a Smurf skid mark.

9_Dawn application

Anyway, then I started scrubbing it with hot water and a toothbrush. It didn’t seem to be doing much – I could still feel the Desitin clinging to the fleece. Out of frustration, I threw it in the soaking bucket, added 2 more drops of Dawn, filled it with hot water, and left it for a few hours.

10_Dawn Soak

After the soak, I rinsed it with hot water until most of the suds were gone, and then tossed it into the washing machine and did a hot rinse.

After the pocket and insert had dried, I re-tested to determine the time it would to absorb 50 ml of water under pressure. (Before the experiment, it only took 8 seconds.) I was pleasantly surprised to find that although now it took 13 seconds to absorb the same amount, the water did go through. I was really expecting it to just sit there on top of the fleece.

I was doing diaper laundry anyway, so my next step was to throw it in the pre-wash with my other diapers. I added a scoop of Country Save oxygen bleach in the pre-wash just for the heck of it, and then did my normal hot wash with Country Save detergent followed by a final rinse. After everything had dried, I noticed that the “wrecked” diaper no longer smelled much like Downy. There was just a faint hint of it.

I laid the “wrecked” diaper next to its twin (which been cared for properly and never exposed to the Downy, Desitin, or dryer sheets) and poured a little water on both of them. I let them sit this way for 15 minutes, but neither one of them absorbed the water. As I’ve explained before, this is normal behavior. I bet you can’t even tell which diaper is which:

Side by Side Comparison

Ok, ok, I’ll tell you. The diaper on the left is the one that went through the gauntlet. After this photo, it absorbed 50 ml in 10.5 seconds, while the diaper on the right did it in 8 seconds.

Based on my experience, it wasn’t too hard to bring the diaper back to decent performance. I was actually hoping that it would be harder, because I wanted to share an idea for what you could do as a last-ditch effort to prevent repelling.

12_Scissors

She WOULDN’T.

Snip, snip.

13_Snip Snip

Ha ha! Just did. Ok, I don’t actually recommend this. I suppose if  you were at the end of your rope, without a warranty, and just seriously pissed off a diaper, you could do it. It might feel liberating.

(But it only improved the time to 9.5 seconds, which wasn’t too impressive.)