Washing & Caring for Cloth Diapers

Every order that includes a cloth diaper purchase at Parenting By Nature comes complete with detailed washing instructions for your particular cloth diaper items. This article will give you a quick run down of a basic washing routine just so that you can see how easy cloth diaper laundry really can be. We suggest making the commitment for at least one month. After you have been washing your diapers for this time period, you will have developed a routine that will have added very little extra time to any current diapering method!

The Diaper Pail
Basic Washing Routine
Things to Remember ~ Laundry Do’s and Don’t

Extending the Life of your Investment ~ NEW!

Frequently Asked Questions

Bummis User Guide ~ Washing and Using Cloth Diapers
(Please note, these recommendations are for PREFOLD cloth diapers or true cotton or hemp cloth diapers only. Instructions will vary for diapers containing polyester or PUL covers (Fuzzi Bunz, Happy Heiny's, BumGenius). Soaking these diapers is NOT recommended).

The Diaper Pail

We recommend at least two diaper pails. One can be kept in a washroom, close to the toilet for Mini Shower users, and the other can be kept beside the change table. If you are using a pocket diaper system, you will need two pails. One for the exterior covers, and one for the inserts. Some moms will use only one pail and store everything together, however, if you are looking to extend the life of your diapers beyond one child this is not recommended.

We have found an open dry pail works best for keeping odors at bay as the air is allowed to circulate and the diapers can breathe. However, you can always use an air-tight covered pail if this is not working for you. We would not recommend a wet pail. It is not necessary and it is messy and hazardous to have around children. You do not need to soak or “dunk” your diapers in the toilet. Again, this is messy and increases the Ewwwww factor. Let your washing machine work for your! Breastfed solids are water soluble and for other messes, a Mini Shower Diaper Sprayer will be your best friend. Simply spray the diaper off and toss into the diaper pail!

Basic Washing Routine

There are many opinions about how to best wash cloth diapers and some of these include very detailed and involved processes. This is a simple starting point, and a basic routine that works well for most families. We recommend starting simple, and then adjust from here only if necessary based on your baby, water-type or washing machine. The basic routine for washing cloth diapers is as follows:

  • COLD pre-wash
  • HOT regular wash, with highest water level setting and maximum agitation
  • Cold rinse cycle (sometimes two are needed)
  • Machine dry on Medium or hang to dry

Here is the same routine, step-by-step:

  1. Remove diaper. If soiled, use the Mini Shower to remove solids from the diaper. If breastfeeding, this is not necessary.
  2. Remove any insert or liner and toss into diaper pail.
  3. Toss diaper into the same diaper pail. Put diaper cover or pocket cover into separate pail.
  4. You can reuse diaper covers a number of times unless soiled. Rotate them by hanging and airing them out between changes.
  5. Wash diapers every other day. Your load should consist of approximately 20 diapers plus 3-4 covers, less for a smaller than average machine. Diapers need room to agitate.
  6. Using your washers highest water setting, run a COLD pre-wash with no detergent. This helps stains from setting in and the rinse gets the bulk of any soild “mess” out of the diapers.
  7. Some people choose to do a HOT 2 hour soak at this point, with just a bit of detergent, but this may not be necessary depending on your water type and detergent used.
  8. Follow with a regular HOT wash and COLD rinse. Use only a few tablespoons of detergent in your wash.
  9. An additional COLD rinse is optional. This will more than likely not be necessary when you start, however, if you begin to experience detergent build-up on your diapers, you might need to add an additional rinse to your routine.
  10. Dry cloth diapers in dryer, hang to dry or use a combination of both. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for which method is best for your particular system.

Things to Remember:

  • DO NOT use a lot of detergent. Use only about a quarter of the amount of detergent you would normally use.
  • DO NOT use chlorine bleach. Bleach is very irritating to a baby’s delicate skin. In addition, it will break down the fibers of your diapers and noticeably shorten their lifespan.
  • DO NOT use fabric softeners or dryer sheets. This will reduce the absorbency of your diapers as they leave a residue on your fabric.
  • DO NOT use diaper creams without a liner in any cloth diaper. The residue from such creams can hold in odors and cause stinky diapers.
  • DO use sunshine!! Sun is a natural whitener and will bleach and disinfect your diapers without chemicals when needed.
  • DO NOT use your dryer’s hottest setting. Diapers that can be machine dried should be done so on medium to medium-high.
  • DO wash every 2-3 days maximum. The more frequently you wash, the easier your diapers are to clean and the less wear will show from them sitting in urine.
  • As always, please follow any manufacturer’s washing instructions depending on the diapers you are using.

Frequently Asked Questions

What about diaper covers?

Diaper covers should be stored separately from your diapers (or anything urine soaked or soiled) as this will help to keep them looking their best and extend their life. Diaper covers can be reused until they start to hold an odor or they are soiled. Simply hang them to air out between changes. Pocket diaper covers need to be washed after each use, however, and they should also be stored separate from wet and soiled diapers and inserts. Pocket diapers are prone to build-up, and detergent build-up on fleece causes it to repel water—disastrous for pocket diaper users.

What type of detergent should I use for cloth diapers?

There are many opinions about which detergents are best for cloth diapers. We believe you should use what works for your baby, what works with your water (hard vs. soft) and one that is easy to get at your local grocery store. How do you know if your detergent is working well? Your cloth diapers will smell clean, they will absorb liquids readily (as opposed to repelling them) and your detergent will NOT be causing your baby to have diaper rash.

HINT! Do you have soft or hard water? If you have soft water, note that soft water makes rinsing very difficult so it is important to use less detergent and do an extra rinse. You do not have soft water if you have hard water and use a softener. You still have hard water, it's just not as hard as it might be without a softening agent. Hard water can bind to the surfactant in your regular detergent and make it less effective, so you may need to use more detergent or invest in a water softener.

There are a few important things to keep in mind when choosing a suitable detergent for cloth diapers. Many detergents contain additives, enzymes and oils that will retain in the fabric and cause you trouble down the road. This is because there are hundreds of available brands on the market, and each company must do something "different" to stand out among the rest. This was not the case when our parents and/or grandparents used cloth diapers, so we do have to be more selective when making choices today.

Things to look for when selecting a detergent,

  • Free of phosphates
  • Free of enzymes
  • Free of alcohol
  • Bleach-free
  • Free of additives
  • Contains NO optical brighteners
  • Free of perfumes, dyes and fragrances
  • Do NOT use soap based detergents
  • Do not use detergents with fabric softeners

So what DO we recommend you use to wash your cloth diapers with? We strongly believe that a cloth diaper detergent should be easily accessible - something that you can pick up while running your normal errands week to week. We highly recommend Nature Clean (the powder version) - an all natural detergent that continues to work well for us and many of our customers. It is also recommended by the Bummis company! Overall we've found the powder to work better in hard water situations, as the oil content is slightly less than the liquid version. This is particularly important for use with polyester (fleece) diapers. Both detergents seem to work equally as well in normal water situations, or with softer water.

We specifically recommend Nature Clean in Canada as it is available at most major grocery and hardware stores so it is easy to pick up while you are out shopping. It is made right here in Canada and readily available. This detergent is also very concentrated, so a little bit goes a long way. You will find it down the "Natural Heath" aisle of most grocery stores that sell the PC (President's Choice) line of products. It is not normally with the regular laundry detergents. (Click here for Where to Buy Nature Clean).

For those of you that are having trouble finding a local source of appropriate cloth diaper detergent, or if you'd simply prefer to do your shopping online (with two kids of my own, I absolutely appreciate the convenience online shopping allows!) we recommend Allens Naturally liquid detergent.

The perfect cloth diaper detergent will be:

  • All natural
  • Unscented
  • Hypoallergenic
  • Safe and gentle on infant cloths
  • Safe for High Efficiency Machines
  • Non-Toxic
  • Not tested on Animals
  • No Animal ingredients
  • Concentrated
  • Septic Safe - Biodegradable

Note that most "Free and Clear" detergents contain additives and enzymes and are NOT recommended for use with cloth diapers. Also, many phosphate-free formulas use replacements such as EDTA and NTA that tend to combine with heavy metals in our water, forming compounds that won't biodegrade. (This is not the case with Nature Clean or Allens Naturally).

Shouldn't we disinfect our cloth diapers?

There is no need to disinfect cloth diapers. You are not living in a completely sanitary environment, nor are you an operating room. All that is required to wash cloth diapers is simple soap and water. This is sufficient to remove most microbes, and unless you
have an active infection, this is all that is needed. Other ways to remove microbes include UV light (drying in the sun) and heat (a dryer).

Overenthusiastic disinfecting can impair a child's need to build immunity to common bugs and they become more prone to illness and infection. If a child's environment is continuously disinfected, when they travel places that aren't so thoroughly disinfected, they are exposed to many common bugs, yet have nothing to protect themselves with. This makes for a child that is sick more often.

How about using bleach to wash cloth diapers?

We do not recommend using bleach as part of your regular washing routine. Bleach destroys natural fibres, including skin, and can be damaging to modern synthetics such as PUL, and elastics. Also, the use of bleach will void any and all manufacturer's warranties.

Excess detergent can cause build up on your diapers which can lead to odors and decreased absorbency. You must ensure that all detergent is rinsed out completely with each washing. If you feel you require more detergent, we would recommend a second or even third cold rinse cycle, using a small amount of vinegar in one.

What about using a wet pail?

We don’t recommend using a wet diaper pail as this can pose a drowning hazard to curious toddlers, they are messy and they are heavy and difficult to empty. Using a dry pail will extend the life of your diapers, as the fabric is not soaking causing them to age faster, and they are easier to transport around the house. However, if this is a system you feel you must try, DO change the water daily to prevent odors from setting in the fibers and DO be sure to use a pail with child safety latches so that no curious fingers can get into it. Do NOT soak diaper covers, PUL diapers or all-in-one diapers.

What about vinegar and baking soda?

We do not recommend additives when washing cloth diapers. In most cases they will interfere with getting your diapers thoroughly clean and can void the warranty on your diapers. Some additives will also damage your cloth diapers over time. Vinegar, in particular, is is known for destroying elastomers (it is acidic!) so this is not something that should be used often.

You may wish to occasionally add about a quarter cup of vinegar to your rinse cycle which will help to remove any excess detergent residue and also helps to soften your diapers. This is a great alternative to commercial fabric softeners. Adding vinegar is not universally necessary, however, and we do not suggest using this with every wash. We might suggest using vinegar as part of a stripping routine to help remove residue from diapers that has built up over time.

Baking soda is not necessary while establishing your initial wash routine. Again, we suggest starting simple (no additives!), and adding or changing your routine based on your own personal results. You can add up to 1/4 cup of baking soda to your cold pre-wash and regular wash to prevent odors and stains if you find it necessary. Do follow any manufacturer's instructions first and foremost, so as not to void the warranty that might come with your diapers.

What if my diaper pail still smells?

You can add a small amount of baking soda to your pail each day to help to absorb odors. We also like to add a few drops of tea tree oil to a cloth wipe and leave this in the pail. This works wonderfully! You might also try storing your wet diapers separately from your soiled diapers. Two separate wet bags works well for this and allows for maximum air circulation. When it is time to wash, you only need to run the soiled diapers through the pre-wash, and much of the soiled “mess” will be removed. We are strong advocates of allowing your washing machine work FOR you!

Can I wash my Cloth for Mom with my diapers?

Yes, absolutely! We recommend soaking your Moon Pads in cold water, changing the water daily, until washday. Some moms use a pretty little carafe or ceramic jug for this purpose. On laundry day, wash as usual with similar colored laundry or toss them in with your cloth diapers. It couldn’t be easier!


Want to learn more about using cloth diapers?

Continue on with our Cloth Diapering Tutorial using the following links:

  1. Beginner's Most Frequently Asked Questions
  2. Why Parents are Choosing Cloth Diapers
  3. Which Witch is Which? (aka What’s What in Cloth)
  4. How to Choose a Cloth Diapering System
  5. Washing & Caring for Cloth Diapers (trust us, it's easy!)
  6. Getting Started with Cloth Diapers ~ What do I need?
  7. Cloth Diapering Tips & Tricks