How to Wash Cloth Diapers - Laundering Tips Washing Cloth Diapers
Wet Pail Vs Dry Pail
There are 2 basic methods for storing wet and soiled cloth diapers - the wet pailmethod and the dry pail method. In the wet pail method, all cloth diapers are placed in a pail filled with water. Storing the diapers in water (usually accompanied by baking soda) is said to help prevent stains from setting. When wash day comes, the water is drained in the bathtub or toilet and then the diapers go into the wash. This method has lost much of its popularity due to odor issues that arise from stagnant water, the potential for messiness, and the potential drowning hazard present by having a pail full of water in the vicinity of children. A wet pail can also be inconvenient when you consider that AIOs and diaper covers often need a separate (dry) pail.
The dry pail method seems to be the preferred method. In this method, wet and soiled diapers are merely placed within a covered (or uncovered) pail with no pre-soaking. Odors can easily be controlled by sprinkling baking soda on the diapers or by putting a deodorant disc at the bottom of the pail. Many dirty diaper bags are made with a small piece of fabric sewn into an inside seam. This piece is designed for adding a drop or two of your favorite essential oils (Tee Trea and Lavender are often used) to help mask any especially pungent odors.
Which Washing Method Works Best?
We recommend that you wash no more than two dozen diapers at one time, as too much friction can cause pilling. Also, make sure you fasten all velcro tabs to avoid diaper chains. Because detergent build-up can occur, we also recommend that you use less detergent than you normally would. Use about 1/4-1/2 of the recommended amount of your preferred detergent. Send your diapers through two cycles - a COLD/COLD wash or a COLD rinse or soak, and a HOT/COLD wash. If you are experiencing odor problems, 2-3 drops of Tea Tree Oil or 1-2 squirts of Bac-Out Stain & Odor Eliminator can help. Be aware that using too much of an essential oil in your wash routine may begin to cause repelling in your diapers. (Water and oil don't mix!)
After the washing portion is finished, your diaper should smell fresh and clean with no hint of urine, feces, ammonia or other unpleasant odors. Every now and then you may need to do an extra rinse to help eliminate odors caused from a build-up of detergent. Especially when using an HE machine, be sure to take note of any suds left in your final rinse water and re-rinse if needed. RINSING IS ONE OF THE MOST IMPORTANT STEPS WHEN CLEANING YOUR CLOTH DIAPERS! Be sure your rinse water rinses your diapers completely free of bubbles.
Once the diapers are freshly cleaned, they are ready to go in the dryer or be line dried. The heat from the dryer or the sun help to sanitize the diapers. Generally, you should dry your diapers on hot for 60-90 minutes. Some AIOs or extra thick diapers may take longer. Make sure you check the washing and drying instructions for every brand of diaper you buy in order to extend the overall life of your diapers. Wool is one example of a diapering product that requires special care because it does not need to be washed as regularly as other diaper covers and should always be air or line dried. If your diapers do not smell clean or if you can still detect a lingering diaper odor - you should wash them again. The odor you're smelling most likely means there is bacteria present in your diapers which could cause irritation to your baby and potential problems like diaper rash. Don't be afraid to experiment with your wash routine. Many factors can come into play when washing your diapers. For example: hard/soft water, type of diapers, type of detergent, etc.
If you want to cut your electricity usage by 50-60%, line drying is a good option. Not only will you help to conserve energy, but the sun is wonderful for getting out tough stains on diapers. To avoid stiff diapers, set them out on the line during early morning or late afternoon hours when they will not dry as fast. Line drying your diapers will also extend their life, especially AIOs and covers.
Which Detergent Should I use?
Generally, you will need to use less detergent than normal for washing cloth diapers because they are easily susceptible to build-up. The detergent you use for washing your other clothing may also work for your cloth diapers, to be sure check out our detergent chart. There are some detergents that work especially well for cloth diapers though, fragrance, dye and additive free detergents are usually best for something so close to your baby's skin.
For babies with sensitive skin, Free Clear formulas or Sensitive formulas usually do not contain dyes and fragrances. Be aware that some children can develop severe allergies to coconut and citrus based products. These two items are often found in laundry detergents. Allergies to anything can develop at virtually any time. Changing your laundry detergent is one of the most simple changes you can make to start trying to figure out what is causing your child's reaction. Allergies can be aggressive in some cases, so don't waste time thinking your child might recover without intervention. To help you weed through a rash or possible allergic reaction in your child consider these: your detergent, possible teething, new foods in your child's diet, clothing materials they come into contact with, and how well your detergent is being rinsed from your child's diapers. Don't forget the amazing cleaning power of adding baking soda to your wash cycle and distilled white vinegar to your rinse cycle. Not only are they highly effective, but they are also cheap!
It is best to avoid detergents with whitening enzymes. These enzymes can actually attack baby's sensitive skin and cause horrible, blistering rashes! You should also avoid washing cloth diapers with soap products since repeated washing with soap creates a waxy build-up that reduces the absorbency of an material.
See our Detergent Chart
Should I Dunk in the Toilet?
Many parents cringe at the thought of having to rinse soiled diapers before washing them. This is the very reason why many would prefer to use disposables and "throw away" the problem. Dunking them in the toilet is not necessary however. In most cases, all that you need to do is lightly shake any excess feces into the toilet, perhaps using a bit of toilet paper, an old rubber scraper or a diaper sprayer to remove stubborn spots, and then simply throw the diaper into your diaper pail. If you baby is still only drinking milk (especially breastmilk) you need not worry about removing the feces as it will wash right out in the washing machine. If you would feel more comfortable rinsing your cloth diapers, a diaper sprayer that attaches to your commode or bathroom sink is a great idea but certainly not a necessity. Many cloth diaper retailers sell diaper sprayers or mini-showers, as they are often called.
Cloth Diapers in the Laundromat
Taking cloth diapers to a Laundromat can be a chore, but it is possible! The good news about Laundromat washing is that many times huge front-loading machines are available that can wash up to 40-50 diapers at a time - and they're easier on your diapers than a top-loading machine. With this in mind, you may be able to limit your Laundromat visits to once or twice a week. It is also helpful to use a pail liner and avoid hauling the entire diaper pail into the Laundromat. One of the major issues is the detergent build-up that can occur due to others using the same machines. The best way to avoid this is to wipe out the insides of both the washer and the dryer that you will use and the detergent dispenser if possible. Another idea is to run your regular laundry through first in the machine that you will be washing your cloth diapers in making sure to use the same cloth diaper safe detergent for all loads.
Washing and Lanolizing Wool
Washing wool in a washing machine is incredibly simple. Fill the machine with just enough warm water to cover your wool items and add a teaspoon of Eucalan No Rinse Fabric Wash or other wool cleaner for each gallon of water. Soak for 1/2 hour. Squeeze gently by hand and remove. Spin the remaining water out. Of course, you may also use a bucket or the kitchen sink as well. Avoid hot and cold water as they will distress the natural wool fibers.
To dry, simple wring out excess water and either line dry or lay flat on a towel to air dry. Never tumble dry. If you notice your wool diaper product is leaking, you may need to lanolize it. Simply put one to two drops of pure lanolin in a basin of hot water. Dunk your wool and saturate for 15-20 minutes. Wring out excess water and roll in a towel to remove as much water as possible. Hang dry. Lanolizing your wool covers should usually be done once a month.
The following products and processes are not recommended for use in laundering cloth diapers:
Chlorine Bleach - Yes it is great for killing germs, but it is bad for cloth diapers, covers and your family. It will actually eat away at the fibers in your diapers, leaving holes and frayed edges. It also decreases their durability and absorbency. It may adversely affect the waterproofing in certain cloth diapers. Baking soda and oxygen bleach are great whiteners to use in its place.
Fabric Softener - This product is equated with super soft and fresh smelling clothing, so it is only natural that you would want to use it on your cloth diapers. This would be a serious mistake. Fabric softener, either in liquid or sheet form, leaves a water-repelling residue on your diapers, making them less absorbent and useless in the very purpose that they serve. It also coats your diaper covers and can deteriorate their water-proof laminate. We recommend these re-usable dryer sheets by Static Eliminator. The Static Eliminator Re-Usable Dryer Sheetscontain no chemicals and are hypoallergenic. In addition, they don't affect the flame resistance of clothing. Want to know the best part? They are safe for cloth diapers!
Pure Soaps - Pure soaps are the more natural choice in the world of cleaners, but will leave a residue on your diapers and covers similar to the soap scum you find in your tub. Soap scum on diapers makes them repel moisture rather than absorb it. It is also harsh on the laminates used in your diaper covers, making them absorb rather than repel water. The best choice for washing your diapers is to use a natural clothes detergent.
Stripping Cloth Diapers
If you have used pure soap, fabric softeners or have hard water, you may find you need to remove the build-up these conditions leave behind in the fibers of your diapers. Also, if you wash natural fibers with synthetics or do not rinse all the detergent out of your diapers each time you wash, you may notice your fleece begins to repel or your diapers begin to leak. If your diapers start to stink, this can also be a sign that it it time to bring out the laundry big guns. The industry term for this process is called "stripping" your diapers.
So how can this be done? There are couple of different ways:
1. Take your clean diapers - not necessarily dry, but clean is important - and wash them on hot 2-3 times without detergent. You might want to turn up the mixing valve on your hot water heater for the day as well to make sure the water is nice and hot (please keep kids away from faucets if you do this.) Rinse them until the water runs clear and there are no suds left in the rinse water.
2. Wash your clean diapers on hot with a squirt of original Dawn dish liquid soap. Beware! If you own a high efficiency washing machine, Dawn dish washing liquid is NOT a low sudsing, HE approved detergent. Check with your washing machine manufacturer before choosing this method of stripping your diapers.
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