Four Fundamentals of Washing Cloth Diapers

Four Fundamentals of Washing Cloth Diapers

You’ve decided you want to cloth diaper. Awesome! Now what?!?! One of the first steps is to establish a great wash routine. You want a routine that is going to keep your diapers smelling fresh and absorbing well, but you also want to avoid irritating that precious little bum. Sound like a tall order? It’s not! Washing cloth diapers is easy, promise.

There are a four fundamentals of washing diapers that are completely universal. Whether you’ve got a high efficiency (HE) front loader, an HE top loader, or an old school top loader with a central agitator, these four “rules” apply.

1. Do two wash cycles: one short cold wash and one long hot wash. Use detergent in both cycles. The first cycle is to wash away a good amount of the pee and poop from the diapers. This means you’ll be washing in much cleaner water for the long hot wash, and that will make it easier for the detergent to do its job where it really counts.

2. Use enough detergent. Soiled diapers are dirty. I mean, poop and pee dirty. They are (hopefully) the dirtiest laundry you will ever have to wash. So why would you ever use less detergent to wash them? You should be using the amount recommended on your box/bottle of detergent for a small load in the short cold wash, and the amount recommended for a heavily soiled load in the long hot wash. If you’re using a “free” or plant based detergent, you’ll use 1.5 – 2 times the recommended amount.

Four Fundamentals of Washing Cloth Diapers

3. Make sure you’re getting great agitation. The key to washing diapers is agitation and that can be achieved a couple of ways. For HE machines, you get enough agitation by filling the drum with enough diapers. There are a few exceptions, but for most HE machines the drum should be 2/3-3/4 full of diapers for the long hot wash cycle (it can be less for the short cold cycle). Don’t have enough diapers to get the drum that full? No problem! Just add other small laundry items you have to wash anyway (baby clothes, toddler clothes, underwear, face or hand towels, etc.). For an old school top loader, you want “diaper stew”. That is achieved by selecting the load size that gives you 2-3” of water above the diapers when you press down gently. Another way to check for stew is to watch the diapers during agitation. You want to see the diapers being pulled in and down by the agitator.

4. Skip the extra rinses. I know what you’re thinking… This goes against everything you thought you knew about washing cloth diapers, am I right? The truth is they aren’t necessary. More importantly, additional rinses just redeposit minerals from the water back into the diapers. Those minerals can build up leading to stink.

There you have it! Focus on those fundamentals, and you’ll have the groundwork for a great wash routine!

Tell me, how do you wash your diapers?

33 Comments on “Four Fundamentals of Washing Cloth Diapers

  1. I am hoping you give me the low down on how to handle my stash before the babies start eating solids. Are any adjustments to the routine required?

    • If you’re already following the fundamentals and using a mainstream detergent, you shouldn’t need to make any adjustments to your wash routine when baby starts solids. The biggest thing is to make sure you’re rinsing solids off the diapers well. You can do that with a diaper sprayer or the dunk n swish method. If you prefer, you can use reusable or flushable liners to catch the poop too.

  2. Great article with simple advice. I’m curious about hard / soft water and detergent. I have the same washer as you (in the photo) and am having troubles with ammonia and gettjng the stink out. I use the proper amount of gain detergent. What do you use? Any suggestions?

    • I have hard water too and I use Tide Original HE powder (line 1 and then line 4). Gain can work, but it performs best in soft water. To use it in hard water you’d want to add a water softener like Calgon or Borax to both cycles. Note that Gain powder is not recommended for HE machines (even though it says it’s for “all” machines) as it causes over-sudsing. Gain liquid is fine for HE machines. The cycles I use are Rapid Wash and then Power Wash.

  3. We live in an apartment building and have coin-operated laundry. The washers are top-loading and have large or regular water level, gentle or normal spin and 3 water temperature settings: Heavy (Hot/Cold), Permanent Press (Warm/Cold) and Colorfast (Cold/Cold). I don’t think they do extra rinses or anything like that, and we do the rest of our laundry on Colorfast setting so I only know the length of that cycle. What are you recommendations? (We’re expecting in December so we haven’t done any diaper laundry yet).

    • Hi!
      I just started cloth diapering 3 months ago and we too have -expensive- coin operated laundry. So I didn’t want to do 2 cycles or it would cost almost as much as disposables. I’m using the heavy cycle but in cold as recommended by my pocket diapers manufacturer. I rinse all pee inserts off the bum and hang them in the bathroom till the laundry. I spray and scrub all the poop pockets and inserts till they only show faint stains. I also use 1.5x green baby detergent. So far so good. But I’m concerned they’ll start building up ammonia as now it smells like pee in the bathroom when they’re hanging there before laundry (not on baby). I didn’t want to put them right away in a pail while wet for fear of mold that’s why I hang them but apparently that’s what everyone does?

  4. I never thought to put detergent in my 1st rinse cycle. Will do that in the future. I also do lots of rinses because I still see suds in the water after 1-2 rinses after the long hot wash so I usually do 3 rinses. My front load washer is too efficient and doesn’t give enough water. I do an RLR soak every couple of months to help with the mineral deposits.

  5. I haven’t had to strip my diapers at all using the wash routine above! Thank you Monarch Mommy 🙂

  6. Pingback: Seven Things You Need To Start Cloth Diapering - TheMonarchMommy

  7. Pingback: Washing Cloth Diapers in HARD Water - TheMonarchMommy

  8. I’m trying this and your stripping method and bleach method. If these all work, you are my cloth diaper hero! Thank you.

  9. Should we use a full scoop of detergent even if we have very soft water? When we wash our hands they feel slimy- that’s how soft the water is! I keep getting amonia stink but haven’t been using a full scoop of detergent. We use regular Tide powder.
    Also, it’s just my husband, baby, and I. We don’t have a lot of clothes to wash every 3 days nor a ton of diapers. What would you suggest I use in the wash? I’ve had friends tell me to go buy hand towels, but that can get expensive! Any advice? Thanks so much! -Margot

    • If you’re using tide original powder, you’d use line 1 in the first cold cycle and line 4 in the second hot cycle. A full scoop of tide original is way too much (even in hard water).

      For bulking, I’m with your friends! Get some cheap hand towels, face cloths, kitchen towels to bulk with (get them at the dollar store so you’re not spending much)!

  10. The things I wish I’d known in the beginning… 1)Does Purex Free & Clear fall into the “free” category meaning I need to use 1.5-2x the amount? (Our load is usually small or medium in a non-HE top loader) 2)I haven’t been doing a previous rinse before hot wash. Just getting ready to test water hardness. But perhaps natural fibers and AI2 system have kept it from getting too bad. Would it be possible to do an immediate rinse of every insert at change time (pee & poo) instead of adding that first cold wash? (My husband is worried about the water bill going up too much. :-p)

    • Hi Alissa,

      Yes, Purex Free & Clear falls into the “free” category. You can rinse as soon as diapers come off the bum, but you’ll still need a short cold wash with detergent before the long hot wash.

  11. This may be a newbie question but I use a liquid fragrance and dye free. Arm and Hammee. It’s geared for sensitive skin I think. Is it okay to use for cloth diapers?

    • Arm & Hammer sensitive skin can work! You would need to use 1.5-2x the recommended amount on the A&H bottle and add a water softener if your water is at all hard.

  12. I think the washing is what really holds some back from using cloth over disposables. I never shied away from it, and really had no problems using cloth. I rarely used disposables and it has been years and way before all of the nice ones with inserts.

  13. I loved using cloth diapers. The new ones are just awesome. Thank you so much for sharing how to take care of these. God Bless

  14. I have an he front loader no matter what I do my diapers come out with yellow and black stains. I just can’t figure it out. And they smell funny too me. Not sure if its bleach or ammonia or if they are just clean. Kind of frustrating. I do the wash routine cold and then hot with a cold rinse and put in on extra spins and heavy soil for both pre wash (speed wash) and main wash (cotton/).

    • Hi Em,

      What detergent are you using and how much? Are you fluffing and bulking your drum to 2/3-3/4 full? Have you tested your water hardness?

  15. This is so perfect for beginners!! Thanks for the great info!! I think it can be super overwhelming to start but helpful tips like this make it so easy!

  16. Could you clarify–I have a top-load HE machine. I can’t interrupt the cycle once it has begun. Does this mean I essentially need to wash the diapers twice: the first wash is cold and quick with less detergent. The second wash is hot and long with a bit more detergent. Is that correct?

    For example:
    Wash 1: Quick Cycle. Cold. Line 1 or 2 detergent.
    Once that finishes…
    Wash 2: Heavy Duty Cycle. Hot. Line 3 or 4 detergent.

    Thanks so much!

  17. Some of my diapers and liners have light pink staining. What is this? Baby is exclusively breastfed, no blood in urine or stool.

    • Any chance baby’s had Tylenol (even dye free Tylenol)? Sometimes it can cause urine to stain diapers. It can be a range of colours including grey and pink.

      The other possibility is that something you added to the wash had its colour run in the wash. Even a red PUL cover/shell can run a bit.

  18. This is awesome. So many of the articles I have read with washing advice make it seem so complicated! I realize there are lots of variables at play, and every washer + detergent combo is different, but this is just super straightforward advice. I think we’re battling ammonia right now, so I’m going to give your strip + bleach process a try. Thanks!

  19. 14 months in and we’re struggling now with rash and stinks. I know you say no extra rinses but in my case I had detergent build up! I know because I took a washed and dried diaper and put it in warm water and boom soapy cloudy water! I know that can cause stinks. So I’m unsure of what I should be changing in my wash routine. I use 7th gen and Calgon and sometimes Oxiclean. Thinking of ditching the oxiclean and going with a Tide free and clear. It’s been a problem I think since I moved and have an older washer. Help!

  20. Wondering about wash detergent. Will any of the liquid Kirkland detergents work? I have been using powder tide original
    But baby 2 is getting rashes… baby 1 is okay.

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