Cleaning Cloth Diapers

Baby cleaning cloth diapers

If you are trying to settle on a cloth diaper washing routine, you may have noticed that every manufacturer and every retailer seems to have different recommendations for washing cloth diapers. Your own water, washer, and detergent make a big difference. How do you decide how best to wash your diapers?

We keep telling you that washing cloth diapers is easy. It is! Let’s take it back to the basics.

Basic Cloth Diaper Washing

Remember this sequence: cold > hot > cold > medium.

  • COLD pre-wash
  • HOT regular wash, with enough water to cover diapers and maximum agitation
  • COLD rinse cycle
  • Machine dry on MEDIUM or hang to dry

The routine for cleaning cloth diapers expands on this with a few details, but these are the basics every parent needs to keep in mind.

Variables in Cleaning Cloth Diapers

There are five variables in every wash routine[1].

Water. When there are a lot of dissolved minerals in water, we call it “hard water.” Because detergent isn’t as effective in hard water, we need more or tougher detergents to get diapers clean. If you aren’t sure whether your water is hard, check this hard water map of Canada—the U.S. map is just below. One of the reasons we like Rockin’ Green cloth diaper detergent is the different formulations based on water hardness.

Agitation. We may not always consider agitation. I hadn’t understood the importance of this until recently. Diapers need to rub against one another to get properly clean. Too much water in your washer, and your diapers are just going for a leisurely swim. Too little water in your washer, and the diapers don’t get free flow of water and detergent. Like Goldilocks, you need to work out what is just right by experimenting.

Time. Give your wash cycle enough time. With cloth diapers, this usually means longer cycles, though more heat can mean you need less time.

Detergent. Too much detergent, and you are left with residue; too little detergent, and you still have stinky diapers. No one set of washing instructions can tell you how much detergent is enough to wash cloth diapers because the quality of your water and the type of detergent you use make so much difference. Again, like Golilocks, you need to experiment to find out what is just right for you. If you are traveling with cloth diapers, be prepared to adjust your washing routine temporarily since your detergent will work differently as water and washing machines vary.

Temperature. You will find the best results and cleanest cloth diapers if you adjust the water temperature at different points during the cycle. A cold rinse (or body temperature rinse) works best in the beginning because it doesn’t set stains. Diapers will be cleaner quicker with a hot wash, but you may be avoiding high temperatures to save energy. Washing at lower temperatures will take longer. A final hot rinse will flush detergent better as well, but a longer cold rinse will also do the job.

These variable matter with all of your washing. We only notice more when we don’t hit that washing sweet spot with cloth diapers because not washing well can mean diapers don’t work as well or they just plain stink.

Once you consider all of these variables, you can see why there are so many different suggestions for the ideal cloth diaper washing routine. As with the ideal cloth diaper system, you control most of the variables, so only you can figure out the ideal for yourself. When you figure out what works for diapers, you will probably notice a difference in your sheets, your towels, and in all of your laundry as you get everything cleaner.

Manufacturers’ Washing Instructions

If you have a washer full of one kind of diapers, follow the manufacturer’s washing instructions. Not only does the manufacturer have the most experience washing their diapers, but you may void the product warranty if you don’t follow their directions.

Resources for Cleaning Cloth Diapers

[1] Cloth diaper industry professionals learned about laundry variables at a recent trade association meeting presentation by Mt Hood Solutions. Very eye opening. I thought I knew how to wash diapers after doing it for years, but there are always new tricks to learn from pros.

Image © Adam Larsen |

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