How to Wash Diapers

Most cloth diapering families will ask these three basic questions at some point in their experience:
1 – What detergent should we use?
2 – What kind of wash routine should we follow?
3 – How do we troubleshoot diaper laundry problems?
Here are some basic laundry tips I’ve learned after 8 years of diapering (and still counting). They should be helpful to anyone, no matter what kind of diapers, water or machine you have. And don’t forget that cloth diaper brands and shops can be great resources if you have questions.
#1 Find an Effective Detergent 
Cloth diapering mothers use a variety of detergents to get their diapers clean. Machine type, water type and laundry routine will determine what works best for you. No matter which detergent or soap you choose, make sure you (1) use enough for a heavily soiled load (2) use warm or hot water and (3) use enough water to allow diapers to agitate fully (think of a laundry stew).
  • Mainstream detergents like Arm & Hammer, Tide and Purex are easy to buy because you can pick them up just about anywhere. They help streamline your routine when you can use the same thing for your diapers that you do for your clothes. They may potentially help with odor or other problems that a natural or “cloth safe” detergent wasn’t able to address.
  • Cloth-safe detergents are specifically marketed for cleaning diapers. If you are concerned about certain ingredients or additives in detergent, then these products will eliminate the guesswork for you because there’s nothing in there that’s contraindicated when it comes to diapers. Popular brands include Lulu’s in the Fluff and Country Save. My limited experience with “cloth safe” detergents has been that they worked fine initially, but not long-term.
  • Natural detergents are basically mainstream detergents with eco-friendly labeling. Two examples are Seventh Generation and Molly’s Suds. If the ingredients in mainstream detergent are causing a reaction or rash in your child, natural products might be your answer.
  • Homemade diaper soap is appealing because it’s so cheap to make. And some people are just natural do-it-yourselfers. Homemade soaps are not generally as “strong” as mainstream detergents, so you may have to make some adjustments to your routine for proper cleaning power. There’s an interesting study which shows that mothers who use homemade soap for their diapers report the highest level of satisfaction overall compared to mothers who used all the other kinds of detergent.
The Real Diaper Association (RDA) has a handy detergent-finder that you can use to search for brands with or without ingredients, if that’s important to you.
#2 Wash Routine
I don’t have a set wash routine that I recommend to cloth diapering families, because I don’t believe in a one size fits all approach, and routines can be effective while still varying slightly from one another. No matter what your “routine” is, you’ll be doing the following:
  • Remove solids (#2) from the diaper, if needed. You can dunk and swish in the toilet, or use a diaper sprayer like this or this. Flushable diaper liners make poo clean up easier as well (I like the Bummis and Buttons brands). Some families just scrape off the poo with toilet paper.
  • Wash the diapers in warm to hot water with an effective detergent. Yes, it really can be that simple. For a heavily soiled (i.e. think poo) load, do a pre-rinse (light wash on some machines) with water only. Don’t ever add anything (additional rinses, boosters, residue removers) to your laundry routine just because or you could be wasting time and money!
  • Dry your diapers. The recommended dryer setting is low to medium. You can also line dry, use a rack, or flat dry.
#3 What if problems arise?
Common issues include ammonia odor, diapers not smelling clean, proper disinfection and rashes.
Check out my comprehensive Cloth Diaper Laundry FAQ post.
It’s kind of ironic that cloth diaper laundry is perceived to be difficult, when it’s not at all. Most of the troubles that arise come about simply because diapers aren’t getting clean enough. And as I’ve just pointed out, that’s not hard at all to accomplish.
The very first diapers I bought came with 4 PAGES of tips, warnings and washing instructions. The diaper shop meant well but……good grief! Talk about an anxiety-producer. And then there are groups dedicated to nothing but 24/7 chatter about washing diapers – the ups, the downs and (unfortunately) the inevitable drama and arguments.
I often wonder how many mothers have given up cloth diapers in frustration because of laundry issues that could have been avoided had they not been bombarded with so many myths, warnings and scare tactics. You don’t give up on wearing clothes if a stain proves hard to remove or your washer damages a zipper, so please don’t give up on cloth just because an issue (or two) arises. There IS a solution, and it’s probably very SIMPLE.
If you have any questions or tips to share, leave a comment below or use the Contact Me link on the top menu to dispatch an email. As always, happy diapering!

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