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Cloth Diaper Washing Instructions

The most frightening question facing new moms (and dads) about cloth diapering is, without a doubt – What do I do with dirty diapers? Unlike their disposable cousins, cloth diapers do require some special attention, but with our handy washing tips, you’ll find it easy to get into the routine.

Note: You’ll probably want to wash ever 2-3 days, even if you’re not out of clean diapers. If you decide to wait much longer, you’ll find it’s harder to get diapers clean.

Getting Started
Wash and dry new cloth diapers 5 to 10 times to increase the absorbency. Don’t worry if you notice that your cloth diapers "quilt up" during this process. This is normal.

To extend the life of cloth diapers and covers, you may consider hanging them to dry. Of course, in the dead of winter or for those of you who don’t like to live in a constant state of laundry-limbo, feel free to toss them in the dryer on low heat every once in awhile.

Before You Wash
Shake off any solids from the diaper into the toilet, or spray it clean with a “Mini Shower.” If you’re using flushable, disposable liners, flush this down the toilet as well.

Remove the absorbent liner (if using pocket diapers), re-fasten the snaps or Velcro-like fasteners and put the whole lot in your diaper pail. If the diaper cover is dirty, put it in the pail, too – otherwise you can re-use it a few more times.

Wet Pail vs. Dry Pail Method
There are two basic methods for storing wet and soiled cloth diapers before laundry day: wet pail and dry pail.

  • Dry pail. After rinsing, dirty diapers are placed in a covered pail and sprinkled with baking soda or tea tree oil to control odor.

  • Wet pail. After rinsing, dirty diapers are placed in a pail filled half way with water. Important: Make sure this pail is covered to prevent infant from getting in.

    Most people prefer the dry pail method. It is easier to tote the dry pail to the laundry room and is often cleaner than going with the wet pail system.

    HGB Tip: Keep your diaper pail in the bathroom where you will be doing the majority of your rinsing to avoid dripping dirty diapers all over the house (ew!).

    Washing the Diapers

    1. Pre-Wash: Cold water, No detergent
    This can be skipped if you use the wet pail method.
    Empty diaper pail into the wash and run a “pre-wash” cycle or the “rinse and spin” cycle with 1/2 cup of baking soda, if you desire. This will remove most of the loose matter.

    Note: Baking Soda helps to whiten and remove smells from cloth diapers.

    2. Main Wash: Regular cycle, Hot water, 2 Rinses
    Add detergent (see below for tips on choosing the best detergent for cloth diapers) and run a regular wash cycle with hot water. Two rinses are recommended to ensure all laundry detergent is removed from diapers.

    During the first rinse, add about 1/2 cup of distilled white vinegar. If your washer has a fabric softener compartment, pour vinegar in there at the start of the hot wash. You can also use a conventional fabric softener ball to hold the vinegar until rinse time.

    Note: If you have hard water, vinegar will make your diaper covers smell funny. If you notice this funky smell, just stop adding the vinegar to the rinse cycle.

    Note: If you use baking soda in the pre- wash or as a soak, make sure to use vinegar in the rinse. This will help restore the pH of the cloth diapers. Otherwise your baby may end up with diaper rash.

    3. Dry
    Dry diapers on a low heat setting or hang outside and let the sun bleach them extra white! Hang diaper covers, pocket diapers and all-in-one diapers to air dry in order to extend their life.
    Dryers are very hard on waterproof fabrics.

    Detergents and Cleaning Agents for Cloth Diapers
    Stick with fragrance-free detergents and choose natural products to limit exposure to toxic chemicals. BioKleen and Ecos makes a great laundry soap that works well with cloth diapers. Naturally Yours laundry detergent is phosphate free and all the packaging is eco-responsible. Seventh Generation Liquid Laundry Detergent for Baby is fragrance free and gentle, but does a great job of cleaning tough laundry.

    Things to Remember:
    • Avoid all detergents containing fabric softeners, optical brighteners, whitening enzymes and stain protectors.
    • Do not use bleach or Borox. Both of these products are harsh on cloth diapers, the environment and your baby’s skin.
    • Do not add fabric softener. These products reduce the absorbency of cloth diapers.

    Cloth Wipes
    Instead of buying disposable wipes, you can make your own by using bamboo washcloths or other soft cloths soaked in this recipe from
  • 2 or 3 drops of tea tree oil.
  • 1 tablespoon of Dr. Bronner's soap.
  • Water

    Place cloth wipes in an empty disposable wipes container or a wipe warmer.

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