Washing Cloth Diapers

Regular wash routine:

There are many opinions about washing cloth diapers, and many people have developed additional steps and routines based on their individual needs. Here is a simple routine for washing cloth diapers that has worked for us. We recommend starting simple and adjust only if necessary for your baby or water type.
  • If soiled, use a diaper sprayer to remove poop from diaper. Leave the diaper wet enough that it almost drips. Keeping the diaper wet until it is washed will help reduce stains and help poop wash out more easily.
  • Toss into a dry pail; wash every day or every other day.
  • Wash no more than 12 - 18 diapers at a time.
  • Use your washer's highest water level.
  • Pre-rinse with cold water and no detergent.
  • Use a regular warm water cycle and cloth-friendly detergent (a detergent that rinses clean).
  • Dry diapers in the dryer or hang dry or a combination of both.

Here are some things to avoid:

  • Avoid using chlorine bleach on a regular basis. It will break down fibers and noticeably shorten the life of your diapers. In addition, it may irritate your baby's skin.  Some manufacturers, like bumGenius!, recommend using 1/4 cup bleach with your regular wash once a month (this frequency will not shorten the life of your diapers).
  • No fabric softeners, which coat fabric and reduce absorbency. This includes 'baby' detergents such as Dreft.

Lengthening the life of your diapers

Here are some things that you can do to help your diapers last longer:

  • Hang dry overnight, or partially dry in the dryer and then hang dry.
  • To keep diapers soft, do not dry on your dryer's hottest setting.
  • Minimize use of bleach.
  • Never use fabric softener.
  • Use 1/2 cup lemon juice to whiten.
  • Sun them, even in cold weather, to freshen and remove stains
  • When line drying diapers with elastic, drape them in a way that supports the elastic so that the weight of the wet diapers is not stretching out the elastic while the diaper is drying.

Smelly diapers?

Use baking soda and vinegar! Here's how:

  • Do a cold rinse.
  • Use your regular amount of detergent.
  • Add 1/2 cup baking soda and a Downy ball filled to the top with distilled white vinegar.  Start your washer's warm/hot cycle.
  • After the diapers have agitated, but before the warm water has drained, stop the cycle (this can be done on some washers by leaving the lid up).
  • Let the diapers soak overnight.
  • Close the lid in the morning to complete the cycle.
  • You may also need to STRIP your diapers to remove detergent build up that is preventing thorough washing and trapping bacteria. For instructions, see below!

How do baking soda and vinegar work?

The baking soda neutralizes acidic odors, removes acid and protein-based stains, and softens the diapers. The vinegar neutralizes alkaline odors and removes alkaline-based stains. Rather than adding the baking soda to your washer on wash day, you can add it directly to the diaper pail before you begin to fill it with diapers. This will help keep your diaper pail smelling fresh. Note: if you have hard water, use borax instead of baking soda.

Do I HAVE to use a diaper sprayer for dirty diapers?

No! If your baby is solely breastfed, you can just throw the diaper into your diaper pail. The initial cold rinse will remove the poop. This is because the poop of breastfed babies is water soluble. However, stains will occur.

After your baby starts solids, you should shake off what you can into the toilet before placing the diapers into the diaper pail. Another option is to use biodegradable, flushable liners. Just remove the liner, poop and all, and drop into the toilet.

However, if you want your diapers remain stain-free, we recommend using a diaper sprayer and leaving your diaper almost dripping wet when placing it into the diaper pail. Keeping it wet until wash day will minimize staining.

Stripping Cloth Diapers

See our information on stripping here!

Choosing a detergent

There are many opinions about which detergents are best for cloth diapers. We believe you should use what works for you and your baby. Remember, if you feel your detergent isn't working, you can always strip your diapers and start over.  Our top three recommended detergents are Original Powder Tide (HARD TO FIND NOW AS FORMULAS HAVE CHANGED, not liquid Tide, HE Tide, or other version of Tide), Allen's Naturally, Charlie's Soap, and Sensi-Clean. Do not use any baby detergents such as Dreft, since they contain fabric softeners.

A note on "Free and Clear"...

We get calls daily about leaking cloth diapers, especially pocket diapers and all-in-ones, and the Free & Clear detergents listed below are the culprits 99% of the time.  Please note that many parents do use Free & Clear detergents successfully... it depends on the water in your area. However, it is true that when we receive calls and the issue is due to the detergent, Free & Clear detergents were often being used. And if you do want or need to use a Free & Clear detergent, then we recommend two brands below (Purex and Mountain Green).

Free & Clear detergents contain microbiostats, which control the growth of microorganisms, such as dust mites.  This is beneficial to those with allergies, but may be the common ingredient that causes the fleece in your pocket diapers
to repel.  Now, many parents use Free and Clear detergents with great success (it really depends on your local water mineral content and washer), but if you begin to have leaks or smells after a few weeks or months, try stripping your diapers and then switching detergents.

Rating Detergent
and Cost/Load
Comments

*****

Tide Original (Powder Only)

(12 cents/load,
24 cents/load for HE)
99%

*

*

*

*

This is the one detergent we have never received a complaint about with regards to cloth diapers. For an additive-free detergent, we recommend Allen's Naturally.

*****

Allen's Naturally
(HE compatible)

(18 cents/load,
9 cents/load for HE,
for 1 gallon size.)
98% Best for Babies with Sensitive Skin.
A completely natural detergent (the only detergent with the ingredients listed on the label) that works great! Biodegradable.
Charlie's Soap Laundry Detergent - 3 sizes - liquid and powder

*****

Charlie's Soap
(HE compatible)

(10 cents/load,
5 cents/load for HE,
assuming 2.64 powder size)
98% Ranked #1: Works for most and least expensive. Try first and then change if it doesn't work for you.
Similar to Allen's Naturally, however ingredients are proprietary. Extensive studies by Clemson University have shown it leaves no residue. Biodegradable. Technically a "detergent" (not a soap, despite its name).
   

*****

 Rockin Green
(HE compatible)

(33 cents/load,
17 cents/load for HE)
80%           The most well-known cloth diaper detergent.
Formulations for soft, regular, and hard water. Mixed reviews for our customers in upstate New York. Many customers have very hard water and even well water, and have leaks and smell issues with Rockin Green. But when it works, it rocks!

*****

Sensi-Clean /
Sports-Wash
(HE compatible)

(18 cents/load,
9 cents/load for HE,
assuming 1 liter size)
90% Great for stripping cloth diapers on a monthly basis. Note: while this detergent works great for the majority of babies, some babies will develop a rash.
   

*****

RLR Laundry Treatment

(75 cents/load,
38 cents/load for HE, assuming bulk price of $1.50/packet)
99%           Best for stripping cloth diapers on a monthly basis. Note: while this detergent works great for the majority of babies, some babies will develop a rash.

*****

Country Save

(13 cents/load,
7 cents/load for HE,
assuming bulk pricing)
98% Cost effective, additive free, and great results.

*****

Mountain Green
Baby Free & Clear

This is a detergent that our
customers have started to really
rave about.

*****

 Mountain Green
Free & Clear
This is a detergent that our
customers have started to really
rave about.
   

*****

 Purex Free & Clear

(10 cents/load,
5 cents/load for HE)
             A great Free and Clear detergent, works well with most water types.

*

Seventh Generation
25%

*

Prone to leaking and smell
issues. Contains a small amount
of Surcide-p, a synthetic
preservative.  Biodegradable.
 

*

Arm & Hammer Free 25%

*

 

 
 

*

Prone to leaking and smell issues.
 

*

All Free and Clear 25%        

*

 
Prone to leaking and smell issues.
 

*

Arm & Hammer Fabricare 25%  

*

 

*

 

*

Prone to leaking and smell issues.