A very frequent question I get is how do I wash my cloth diapers in my washing machine. It is so much easier once you start doing it. I’ve written it down step by step so you can see how easy and doable it is! I’ve been cloth diapering for over 15 years now, so I’ve got the washing routine down to a science.
Don’t Make Washing Cloth Diapers Complicated
First, you should start with the most simple washing routine for your diapers (always avoiding the no-no items of bleach and fabric softners). If you start complicated, your wash routine will always be complicated. If you start simple, you may find that simple is more than enough for you. In which case, you’ve made your life infinitely easier.
Soap and Water
Second, the real trick to washing cloth diapers in your washing machine is using just enough detergent to get your diapers clean, and then using enough water to thoroughly rinse the detergent out. Seems simple, right? Well, the 1/4th a capful rule makes many people wary of using too much detergent and they end up with ammonia build up. Don’t be scared. If you use too much detergent, you can always rinse it out. You won’t ruin your diapers by using a little more detergent.
Cloth Diapers and Washing Machine Load Sizes
Lastly, take into account your load size. A very small load of diapers (10 or so) will need very little detergent. If you are cloth diapering 3 and your load is 30 diapers, you’ll clearly need more detergent. Also, if you have a load size setting on your machine, always over estimate your load size, rather than underestimate it. You need water to clean your diapers!
Also, don’t wait to wash until the load is crammed full! An overstuffed washing machine won’t let the diapers agitate enough to get good and clean. A half full machine is always ideal for washing cloth diapers.
One of my first questions when I was beginning to cloth diaper was, “What on earth is a diaper pail?” I couldn’t imagine sticking cloth diapers in our Diaper Genie, so what was I supposed to do with them?
You can use a Diaper Champ or something similar, but the easiest is using a kitchen trash can with a lid. You can see mine have liners. I made them from some extra home decor fabric I had lying around. I made two, so while one is in the wash, the other is in the pail. But it isn’t even waterproof?! I realize that. If you choose non-waterproof liners, you’ll need to spray and kind of let the pail air out a little before putting a new liner in.
If you want to use waterproof liners, you can sew them yourself with PUL. Or you can buy them. They aren’t very expensive. You’ll still need to clean and air out your pail every now and then. But it could save you some time most wash days.
Before Tossing a Cloth Diaper into the Diaper Pail
Dump any solids! (That means, put poop in the toilet.)
Remove insert (if any).
If velcro, secure velcro to laundry tabs. (I despise Velcro on cloth diapers and have completely gotten rid of all velcro on any of my diapers! It seems easier, but it snags in the wash, snags baby’s clothes, and snags my clothes!)
My Cloth Diaper Washing Routine
1. Once all soiled diapers, wipes, and the diaper pail liner are in the machine- I run one cold rinse. (This rinses out any poop that wasn’t dumpable – think breastfed baby- and keeps most poop stains from setting in.)
2. Add 1/2 capful of detergent (I know, you’ve heard to use a forth of what you’d normally use. I did that, it did not get my diapers clean enough. So, now I use half a capful to 3/4 a capful!) and turn washer on for a hot wash with warm rinse.
3. Turn washer back on (without adding more detergent) for another hot wash and warm rinse. (My machine does have an “extra rinse cycle” button that you can push, however, I found that a wash and two rinses just wasn’t enough. So, now I essentially have a wash and 3 rinses.)
4. Put all diapers, wipes, inserts, and pail liner into the dryer and dry one cycle on low. Take out all covers (this includes the outer portion of pocket diapers) and dry on high heat.
What detergent should I use to wash cloth diapers?
You can use the special diaper detergents, but to start off that way goes against my “keep it simple” rule. So, I decided simple would be buying only one kind of laundry detergent for my entire household. I have used original Tide and Arm & Hammer with Oxi Clean. Both work. Trying to decide on a detergent? Avoid “free & clear” varieties. Avoid anything with added fabric softner, water softner, or bleach. I also think the liquid kind rinses easier from cloth diapers.
What about stripping cloth diapers?
Every other week to every week wash once using plain blue Dawn instead of my detergent. It seems to keep build up problems at bay to routinely Dawn your diapers, though it is far from necessary. Need a deep clean but don’t want to use Dawn? Use more of your detergent (and you can add a scoop or two of Oxi Clean) and add a couple more rinse cycles to the end of your wash. It is amazing what a really good rinse will do.
What about using baking soda or vinegar?
Once again, to start with, keep it simple. Baking soda added to the initial rinse can help with detergent build up. Vinegar added to you end rinse cycles can sometimes help with ammonia build up. Sometimes vinegar will make your problem worse. Baking soda can make ammonia problems worse. So, jump these hurdles if they come, but don’t start out using either.
How do I know if I have ammonia build up or detergent build up?
We often automatically assume it is the dreaded detergent when we have issues. Detergent build up will show up by your diapers not absorbing as much as they should. You’ll begin having unexplained leaks that are not caused by improper size or infrequent changes. Your baby could get a rash on their bum, but it usually doesn’t make your diapers smell. If your baby has a rash and your diapers have a smell (sometimes out of the dryer, sometimes when peed on) but are not leaking, ammonia is probably the culprit.
What do I do for detergent build up?
More rinsing! A Dawn strip can help you get your diapers back on track. If you are using “free & clear” detergent, find something else to use. “Free & Clear” detergents are a common culprit in detergent build up. Don’t cut down on the amount of detergent you use, you’ll only give yourself an ammonia problem that way. Add more rinsing to your routine! (And you may want to switch detergents. The more basic the detergent, the better.)
What do I do for ammonia build up?
A Dawn strip may help you quickly get your situation under control. Increase the amount of detergent you are using, because you are clearly not using enough detergent to get your diapers clean (thus the build up). You may need to increase you rinsing to make sure you rinse the increased amount of detergent out.
If you can, once a week add an extra rinse cycle or two to your normal load. I call this a “mini-strip” and usually do mine with Oxi-Clean or Dawn instead of my usual detergent.
What do I do if I’m still not sure if my problem is detergent or ammonia?
Easy. Do the most simple thing. Increase your detergent and add an extra rinse or two. To keep it from recurring, you can increase both your detergent and rinsing permanently. A strip or “mini-strip” would help both!
How many rinse cycles must I do?
Typically, one extra rinse is enough. ( rinse + wash + rinse + rinse) If you find that isn’t enough, you can increase your rinsing in one of two ways. You can add on rinses to the end (rinse + wash + rinse + rinse + rinse) or you can increase your load size on your washer, so each rinse uses more water, thus rinsing a little better (small load to medium load). In my experience, water is the key to clean diapers!
Make sure you aren’t putting too many cloth diapers in the washing machine at a time!
Isn’t machine drying rough on your diapers?
Yes. I never dry my PUL on anything but low heat. I am not very easy on my diapers (should give you a little more confidence in my reviews). You can line dry your diapers, I just find very little time for such things. I’ll replace my covers every 3-4 years because I have neither the time nor space to hang dry diaper cover– much less diapers.
It is entirely possibly to line dry diapers. Flat diapers are going to dry quickest and easiest– if you have the room.
How often do you wash diapers?
It depends on how many diapers you have and how many kids in diapers you have. Some wash daily. Some people wash every other day. Others only wash twice (or once!) a week. When I had three in diapers, I had too many diapers to wash anything other than daily. With only one in diapers, I can space it out to every third day or so.
Doesn’t washing diapers take a lot of time?
Yes and no. I’m not washing them by hand! But they do take up valuable washing machine and dryer time. But you don’t have to sit by the washing machine while it works.
You quickly settle into a nice washing routine. If I start my diapers when the kids are getting baths, I can have them in the dryer before bedtime. (I take them out when I get up in the morning, unless I just can’t sleep & do it after the kids are in bed.)