We’ve all heard the horror stories about washing cloth diapers. But just because you’ve read about them, it doesn’t mean your fluff has to fall victim to stink, rashes and leaks.
There are a million ways to get clean cloth diapers. The only real ‘rule’ is no synthetic fabric softeners.* Everything else is subject to interpretation. I don’t know the details of your life, your diapers or your wash routine. But these are tips that should make sense for most people and give you a good foundation for a solid wash routine.
1. Don’t be scared of washing cloth diapers. As a mom, you will soon realize there are many things that are FAR worse and WAY grosser than washing cloth diapers. I promise. Also, cloth diapers are not delicate nor are they made of unicorn hair. Cloth diapers are really dirty laundry…that is all.
2. Take a minute and breathe. Do a little research. Read the user’s manual for your machine. It pretty much lays out the best way to clean stuff right there in black and white. If you don’t have yours anymore, just google the washer’s model number + manual. Take the info you find, use common sense and apply.
3. Try to keep your wash routine as simple as possible. If you have a detergent that you already know works well on your clothing, start with that one (as long as it doesn’t contain synthetic fabric softener). If it works on your clothes, chances are that it will work on your diapers. But if not, you can always switch to something else. Simplicity is key when you are a parent.
4. Use a prerinse/wash that agitates, spins and drains. If it isn’t doing those things, it’s kind of a waste. The agitation helps to knock the big stuff off and gives your main wash a head start on cleaning. If you have issues with stink or rashes, try adding a bit of detergent to the prewash. I am a Tide user and add a scoop filled to the one line to a large load during the prewash. This is not something that is necessary for everyone but does work in some situations. If you find your cloth diapers aren’t getting clean, try using a longer cycle for the prewash. Some machines such as old school top loaders have cycles that aren’t all that long in the first place. Mine is like that. I use the heavy duty cycle for both pre and main washes. Finally, if you know you have soft water try reversing the detergent amounts. Use more in the prewash and less in the main. That gives it more of a chance to rinse out as that is the issue with soft water and laundry.
5. Use the LONGEST available HOT wash cycle. The longer agitation allows the detergent and machine time to do its job. This might be the heavy duty cycle for instance. If you have a heavily soiled option on your machine, use it. I think we can all agree if anything qualifies as heavily soiled…it’s cloth diapers!
6. Use an appropriate amount of water for the load size. This applies to machines where you self select water levels. The diapers need to rub against each other as part of the cleaning process. If you use too much water they are just going for a swim; too little water and they won’t be able to move and therefor won’t get clean. For regular old school top loaders, a wash cycle should look like a stew, not a soup. You shouldn’t need to ever mess with front loading HE machines and water levels. However, I have seen some HE top loaders have issues with water levels. If you notice that you have that kind of washer and smelly diapers try running the washer with more stuff in it. Either more diapers or you can also bulk with towels. I only recommend this if you are having issues.
7. Use an appropriate amount of detergent. Soft water requires a little less and hard water requires a little more. I recommend that you start with the same amount of detergent for cloth diapers that you would use for a same size load of heavily soiled clothing. One of the biggest mistakes people make when it comes to detergent amounts is not actually measuring. You could be using way less or way more than you think. And using more than you need can cause just as many issues. Use the included scoop or lid and measure! If you have hard water and find that you are getting stink issues…try adding a little more detergent to the main wash cycle and see if it makes a difference before trying anything crazy. Sometimes the simplest solution is the right one.
8. Don’t overload your washing machine. Consult the manual if you have questions on how to load your machine (trust me, there is a right way) and also the max capacity. An overfilled washer will not clean properly.
9. Clean cloth diapers should NOT smell. If you smell anything yucky out of the washer, dryer or immediately after a child urinates, there is a problem. Check that you are doing the above tips. If you have further issues, reach out for help.
10. There is no ONE right way to clean cloth diapers. Clean cloth diapers are dependent on many different factors including water type, washing machine type, detergent, type of cloth diapers being washed and the wash routine itself. Because of this, there are MANY ways that will work even with the same exact machine. As with anything in life, you may have to research and experiment a little to find what will work best for you and your family.
A few things I’d like to add…
If you are having stink (ammonia or barnyard) or rashes on baby that are due to the diapers not getting clean, a few things to try:
- Clean your washing machine on a regular basis. Here’s directions. We can’t expect a filthy machine to get other stuff clean, right? I was surprised at how gross mine had become. Now I clean it no more than every 3 months or so and it’s good to go.
- Use hot water for the prewash and main wash (up to 125 degrees is safe).
- Increase agitation. That can be done with longer wash cycles, especially for the prewash.
80% of the United States has some level of hard water. That DOES NOT mean that 80% of the US has to add a water softener to get clean laundry. Don’t immediately think that if you have hard water your diapers will be hard to clean or you will absolutely need to use a water softener. If you have issues, first try the above steps. Again, simplicity is key. If your clothing is getting clean without a softener, chances are you can make it happen with your cloth diapers too. That’s not to say that some people don’t need a water softener. If you find that you do Calgon and Borax are both options. I personally recommend Calgon as it is gentler on laundry and rinses cleaner. Borax can sometimes leave items with a slightly crunchy feel.
For more information on washing diapers, go here.
For those of you with clean cloth diapers and no issues, are there any tips you can share for anyone who might be struggling?