Top 10 Tips on Washing Cloth Diapers

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.

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.

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.  Start with what ever detergent you are using on your clothing. If it turns out it’s not working on your cloth diapers 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.

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. 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. A wash cycle should look like a stew, not a soup.

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. 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.

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?

* You will know that a detergent contains synthetic fabric softener because the bottle or box will say it right on the front, for example Tide w/Downy.
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About Jennifer Reinhardt

Jenn is a WAHM to two beautiful little girls. Sophia (4.5 years old) and Norah (4 months). She closed her business, Curves, when she found out she was pregnant so she could stay home with her first daughter. Now Jenn spends her time spreading the love of fluff and sharing common sense answers that help to make cloth diapers easy for everyone.

View all posts by Jennifer Reinhardt

33 Responses to “Top 10 Tips on Washing Cloth Diapers”

  1. Katie Says:

    What is the best cheap store bought laundry detergent to use for cloth diapers

    Reply

    • Jennifer Reinhardt Says:

      Lots of people like Foca. But honestly anything is ok to use that doesn’t have synthetic fabric softeners in it. Try using what you already use on your clothes. Adjust the length of agitation or water temp if you need more cleaning power. Detergent is just one part of the equation.

      Reply

  2. Sarah Osborne Says:

    Such a helpful guide!

    Reply

  3. Robin Says:

    Hello! So glad I found this, my diapers come out clean smelling but sometimes still have some yellow on them, is this a cleaning issue or a staining issue?? I sun them sometimes outside but not religiously. We’ve been cloth diapering for about 1.5 months now and I LOVE IT!!!

    We waited so long because we got disposies at her baby shower and used all those while we were learning how to breastfeed!! Next baby I will cloth from day one! :)

    Reply

    • Jennifer Reinhardt Says:

      If they don’t smell, leak or cause a rash it’s probably a stain. Sunning is for sure the easiest and best way to get it out :) So good to hear you love cloth!

      Reply

  4. Charissa N. Says:

    Great info. I am new to cloth diapering and often worry I’m going to somehow accidentally ruin them while washing.

    Reply

  5. Sandra Caballero Says:

    Amazing tips! I never cloth diaper cause of fear changing a dirty diaper in public. But I really want to start some time soon to give it a try with my toddler.

    Reply

  6. Kelly Says:

    Thank you so much for the info! I am unfortunately not a mommy yet, but i keep switching from wanting disposable to cloth. I think its my apprehension with washing them, so this definitely helps. I was wondering, could something be sprayed on be diapers before washing or even before tossing in the dirty pile? If so, is there a homemade solution that could help or is a store bought one “better”? Thank again!

    Reply

    • Jennifer Reinhardt Says:

      Do you mean as a stain treater? If so it isn’t really necessary. Any of the commercially availabe ones are safe. Although I prefer Buncha Farmers or Bac out myself.

      Reply

  7. Roberta Says:

    This was decades ago, but I used “liners” in the cloth diapers which were almost thinner than tissues. I’d wash and fold the cloth diapers, put the liner in, and then safety pin it on the baby. The liner would catch BM’s which then could be flushed down the toilet. Cloth diapers wouldn’t stain. If I had no liners, I’d swish the dirty diaper around in the toilet to get the “chunks” off.

    Reply

    • Jennifer Reinhardt Says:

      Thanks for sharing your experience Roberta! It’s always good to read that things don’t always have to be hard.

      Reply

  8. Jin Tran Says:

    Great! Thanks for your sharing, these are very useful information.

    Reply

  9. stephanie o'day Says:

    Thank you for these wonderful tips! I’ve been researching all the information I can find on cloth diapering for my first! Any little bit helps!

    Reply

  10. Lena Tatum Says:

    money saver

    Reply

  11. Madison Mann Says:

    Thank you so much for sharing this! All of this is great information! I have so much to learn still!! ?

    Reply

  12. Karyn Says:

    Going to wash my first load of cloth this weekend, wish me luck! We are ditching our diaper service and using our own stash now that we have our own washer!

    Reply

  13. Amy Hall Says:

    The keep it simple part is key, I think. I just learned all this time (2 years) I’d been using a prewash that supposedly is useless b/c it was too short and didn’t agitate enough. Oops. Never had any stink issues, though.

    Reply

  14. helen banner Says:

    I’m sharing this with my friend who is reluctant to try CD!

    Reply

  15. Jessica C. Says:

    These are great tips! I’ve read that natural fibers come clean easier, and flats are best of all (they’re quick drying, too).

    Reply

  16. Rebeca k Says:

    Thank you for the straight forward directions!

    Reply

  17. Allyson Bossie Says:

    I am printing this to share with my neighbor. SHe just had a baby and I have shared cloth with her. However, I forgot she likely has no idea how to properly wash them. Lord knows I didn’t the first go round

    Reply

  18. Amber Ludwig Says:

    #1 Made me laugh lol!! So so true!! And Im all for #3, simplicity really is the best!!

    Reply

  19. Deborah D Says:

    I will have to tell my sister about this post. I learned a lot as I am sure she will.

    Reply

  20. Joan Flores Says:

    I need advice from other moms! I have been using a cloth diaper service since my 9 month old daughter was born. For reasons I won’t go into, I plan to stop using the service soon. I’m looking into getting a supply of reusable cloth inserts vs disposable inserts for my daughter (I’d rather go with the reusable inserts). I work full-time and realistically can’t do laundry more than once per week, plus I live in CA where there is a major drought, so I need to be water-conscious…will I end up with permanently stinky inserts if I’m only able to wash once per week? Seems like most people wash several times per week when using their own cloth diapers.
    Any advice would be appreciated!!

    Reply

    • Jennifer Reinhardt Says:

      Will you also be using disposables to supplement because you will need A LOT of diapers to last a whole week. An yes, the longer they sit the harder they are to get clean. It’s not impossible, just not as easy. You might look into flats or prefolds. They wash and dry easier and can take more of a beating.

      Reply

    • Michelle Says:

      I would stick with natural fibers (cotton, hemp, bamboo..) Ideally prefolds and covers would be the most simple to clean and dry. Synthetics definitely hold stink much easier!

      Reply

  21. Jane Dee Says:

    I’m using cloth diaper for 5 mos already for my 5 mos old baby girl name Candace. It’s a great stuff, envi friendly, low cost (if your on tight budget). Just labor intense to wash it, but its fine as long as my baby dnt hve diaper rash. Thanks for the tips :)

    Reply

  22. Amy Vanstraaten Says:

    THANK YOU. Oh my gosh it’s not that complicated people !

    I LOVE LOVE LOVE all the wonderful things Fluff love & CD science has done as far as making sure people use REAL detergents with REAL soap to clean their dirtiest laundry, diapers – but they have made it a little too complicated for the full on newbies.

    Your list is basically what I tell people who ask:

    1) use a detergent with no softeners & do not use any softeners
    2) use detergent. whatever you already use is probably fine
    3) prewash your diapers – pre WASH not pre rinse or pre soak. pre WASH. Use detergent, but not much. A dash is my technical term.
    4) main wash on heady duty, heavily soiled, heavy whatever your machine has – using its default settings (warm or hot wash) with the max amount of detergent your machine allows.
    5) dry in dryer on medium or hang to dry.

    if things smell – it’s not working…..

    Keep it simple! “wash routine” doesn’t have to be a novel!

    when something works – write or type it out and put it beside your machine. then SO/ grnadmas/ well meaning friends can’t “mess it up” because they will just follow the clear and concise SIMPLE posted instructions.

    Oh – and you can wash clothes with diapers. duh! Yet so many people are afraid to do so. If your diapers come out clean, so will your clothes.

    Reply

    • Jennifer Reinhardt Says:

      Glad you found this useful! AACD has been saying that about detergents and washing since 2012. So it’s not really anything new. We also troubleshoot right in the AACD Chat group. It’s linked in the post if you want to check it out! Thanks for commenting :)

      Reply

      • Lisa Says:

        I was beginning to think I had imagined that there were groups that advised using “normal” amounts of detergent back in the 2012-2013 period when I was pg and considering cd. I seem to recall the group I started cloth diapering with recommended washing like any other laundry after doing the pre-wash step to start and adjusting from there based on results, but many of their old wash advice posts were deleted so I can’t verify.

        Reply

    • Kathryn W Says:

      I pretty much use the same wash routine as Amy V outlines. I just wanted to add one piece of info that might help other parents. I live in a city that has slightly hard water (not hard enough to have a water softener installed but hard enough to cause a bit of a problem washing cloth diapers). I started having a problem with stinky diapers (they would come out of the wash smelling fine but as soon as my son peed in them they would just reek!). After much experimenting I found that a scoop of Borax in the pre-wash cycle really helped. I also switched from Purex to Tide and found that helped too.

      Good luck with CD! Your child’s heiny thanks you for your efforts!

      Reply

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