How to Wash Cloth Diapers: Everything You Need to Know
Here’s all about how to wash cloth diapers, so that you’d have an easier time when transiting to using cloth on baby. Over 2 years, I’ve experimented with different wash routines. Right now, I’m confident of getting Vee’s cloth diapers clean and long-lasting enough for future babies. Since I’m trying to share ALL I know about washing diapers with you, be prepared for a long post with lots of tips.
Before we start…
- Your ideal wash routine depends on many factors that would be discussed later
- Washing cloth diapers can be as simple or as complex as you’d like to
- Expect your preferred wash routine to change over time as your situation changes, baby grows and her output pattern changes
My Current Wash Routine
1. Who’s Baby’s Caregiver or Your Helper?
2. How Many Days Between Washes?
3. Machine Wash or Handwash?
4. Same or Different Load With Clothes?
5. Which Detergent to Use?
6. How Much Detergent to Use?
7. How to Remove Poo?
8. Need to Prewash Just Before the Real Wash?
9. What Water Temperature: Cold, Warm or Hot?
10. How to Dry Cloth Diapers?
- How to Store Cloth Diapers & Baby’s Laundry Until Wash Day.
- Remove poo from soiled diapers.
- Remove inserts from pocket diapers, unsnap soakers and remove any disposable diaper liners. Ensure all velcro laundry tabs are closed properly.
- Sort delicate items or those that would shed lint into different laundry nets
- Detergent: Pureen H-A-D 1/4 cup for full load (or any cloth diaper-friendly detergent recommended by other mums)
- Use washing machine’s Prewash function OR rinse once by hand in a pail (to dilute pee from diapers)
- Water temperature: Warm (If no choice, use Cold)
- Rinse 3 times (my High Efficiency washing machine automatically rinses 3 times). Otherwise, 2 rinses and check after laundry. If diapers smell of detergent or feel soapy, rinse again.
- Spin dry
- Line dry
- Once a month: wash in Hot for better sanitisation and remove possible detergent build-up (except diapers that can withstand only up to 40°C)
With a simple and clear wash routine, the washing can be easily delegated to the family helper or hubby when needed. Generally, only 5-10 minutes are needed to spray any poo and sort the items out, before letting the washing machine do the rest, except line drying.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) on Washing Cloth Diapers
Now, here are the various areas to tailor-make your own wash routine:
Part 1: Before You Start Washing
Increasingly, there’re many working mums who wish to cloth diaper baby too. If you delegate laundry work to the caregiver or a helper, you’d need to take her preferences and abilities into consideration. Some tips to consider:
- Use simple-to-wash cloth diapers such as All-in-Ones (AIOs) or those with inserts that agitate out during the wash. AIOs also mean no stuffing of inserts. Unless the caregiver or helper is willing to learn and keep up with the routine.
- Keep the wash routine very simple and systematic so that they can follow easily without constant monitoring. A simple routine also means a new caregiver or helper can take over the laundry easily.
- Write down your steps clearly on a whiteboard or piece of paper so that she can refer to it conveniently.
- Draw a marker line on the detergent cap so that she knows the amount of detergent to use.
If you get a full load every day (especially when washing clothes and diapers together), then simply wash daily. This way, you’d need a smaller diaper stash to rotate.
With a smaller load or if you prefer to wash cloth diapers separately, then wash every alternate day. In this case, consider removing the poo off soiled diapers even on the non-laundry day. This helps to prevent poo stains from setting in.
Tip: In a humid country such as Singapore and Malaysia, the MAXIMUM is 2 days. Stretch to 3 days and you’d risk having mildew growing on the precious diapers.
Personally, I’m all for using the washing machine. It’s one of the best inventions around, especially for people with hand eczema like my mum and myself.
I’ve used a 10-year old antique top-loader at my mum’s place and my High-Efficiency (HE) front loader with various functions. Both are able to clean diapers well. It’s a matter of knowing your washing machine and choosing the right functions, water level, amount of detergent, etc.
A High Efficiency washing machine uses very little water, so it’s important to use only 1/4 the recommended amount of detergent (unless you’re sure), else it could be hard to rinse the diapers sufficiently. There’s more on detergent later on.
And why would any mum want to handwash diapers? Reasons:
- No washing machine at home
- The washing machine is spoilt
- During travel
- Only a few pieces to wash
- Personal preference
Handwashing traditional square nappies can work fine because they open up to allow thorough cleaning. There’s also no stay-dry microfleece or suedecloth layer prone to detergent build-up.
But, handwashing modern cloth diapers with a stay-dry layer means you’d need to rinse the diapers VERY thoroughly, to avoid build-up and leaks.
Tip: To protect your delicate hands from detergents, invest in a pair of rubber gloves when handwashing.
This is mainly a consideration when using the machine washine. I’m a cleanliness freak, and initially thought that washing diapers with clothes seems a bit gross. After baby arrived, and I saw poo and pee countless times a day, I became desensitised to the perceived grossness. Ha!
Same Load: For 1+ years, I washed Vee’s cloth diapers together with his clothes, including bibs and face cloths. Hubby’s and my home clothes and towels go into the same load too. This way, I’d a full load of laundry every day. After washing, everything smells clean. So bravo to washing all in the same load!
Different Load: Recently, Vee’a eczema patches got infected by fungal (yeast), and spread to his genitals. To kill the yeast, I washed his cloth diapers and wipes separate from everyone’s clothes in Hot for a few weeks, until the fungal infection went away. Now I’m back to washing in the same load again.
- Machine wash: Run the cloth diapers on Prewash function, then add clothes to the load after the prewash is completed. This means you’d need to watch the washing machine, or
- Machine wash: Rinse the diapers by hand once, then throw diapers and clothes into the washing machine, or
- Just wash them together like I usually do. They do turn out clean! The exception is during a yeast infection.
Washing diapers and clothes together or separately depends a lot on your personal preference, and your choice may change over time.
Cloth diapering made me learn a lot more about detergent within these 2 years. With the right detergent, cloth diapering becomes so much easier.
Learn to read the ingredients stated on the detergent packaging. If nothing is stated or they sound dubious, then simply avoid it.
Also, avoid these detergent ingredients:
- Fabric softener: This leads to build-up and repelling.
- Enzymes: This is commonly present in the more expensive detergents. When enzymes come into contact with baby’s pee, they start to break it down and could attack baby’s skin too, leading to diaper rash.
- Chlorine bleach: This is very harsh to the cloth fibres and could reduce the lifespan of the diapers. Also, they can be harsh to baby’s sensitive skin too. If you really need to use it once in a blue moon, then rinse it away very thoroughly. On the other hand, oxygen bleach is fine.
- Essential oils: Over time, these could lead to build-up issues too.
- Laundry soap: Well, this isn’t really an ingredient. Anyway, soap may leave a waxy residue on the diapers, so isn’t appropriate.
- Artificial fragrance: Fragrance may mask any smell from the washed diapers. Avoiding it means you’d know whether the diapers are truly clean or not. Also, some babies’ skin are sensitive to fragrance.
Are you asking, “Why don’t you simply tell me what to use?” Well, here are some pointers instead:
- Choose a detergent proven to work with MODERN cloth diapers. Some packaging states that the detergent is suitable for cloth diapers when it’s referring to traditional square nappies, not the modern invention.
- Get recommendations from other mums living in the same region as you, where water conditions are similar. What works in Singapore may not work in New York.
- Check baby’s reaction to your chosen detergent. What works for others may not work for your baby’s skin.
- If you’ve a top loader, you may consider using laundry balls proven to clean modern cloth diapers. See an example here.
You’d also need to consider Water Hardness.
Water hardness refers to the amount of calcium and magnesium ions in water. The higher the mineral content, the harder the water.
In areas where water is “soft”, such as in Singapore and Kuala Lumpur, it’s easy to rinse detergent off clothes and diapers. On the other hand, water in the limestone caves in Batu Caves would be really hard.
If you happen to live in an area with hard water, then you may try the following:
- Add a water softener to detergent during the wash
- Use a detergent designed for hard water and is proven to be cloth diaper friendly
In Singapore and Malaysia, Pureen H-A-D is a popular and value-f0r-money detergent among cloth diapering mums. I’ve also tried out Nellie’s All-Natural Laundry Soda (a review sample), which has reached Singapore shores. It works well too. The detailed review is here.
Part 2: The Actual Wash
To prevent detergent build-up, start with 1/4 to 1/2 of the recommended amount.
- If the diapers smell of pee after the wash, do an extra rinse and check if the smell disappears. On the next laundry day, use slightly more detergent.
- If the diapers smell of detergent or feels soapy after the wash, also do extra rinses until the smell disappears and the soapy sensation disappears. In future, use slightly less detergent.
Clean diapers should smell of nothing. Within a few days, you’d be able to find the optimal amount.
Newborns (especially breastfed ones) can poo many times a day, so it’s important to master this area. Vee used to poo up to 11 times in a day. Then he’d diarrhoea due to gastric flu virus recently and I faced poopy diapers 5 times a night!
Poo belongs to the toilet and sewage system, not the garbage system. If you read the disposable diapers packaging carefully, it states that poo should be dumped into the toilet before disposing the diaper. But very, very few parents know of this, let alone practise this.
These are the options you can choose from:
- Use a toilet sprayer to spray poo off the diaper and into the toilet. Do this once a day or straight after a poo, if you’ve time. Use the medium “strength”; if water shoots out too forcefully, you risk getting poo all over yourself! (Limitation: Cost of diaper sprayer)
- Use a toilet hose, cover part of the opening and spray poo off the diaper. (Limitation: harder to control water power, so practice makes perfect)
- Roll solids off the poopy diaper. Wet the diaper. Use an old soft toothbrush to scrub remaining poo bits off. (Limitation: takes a long time for newborn explosive poo)
- Use a disposable and flushable diaper liner. Simply throw the liner with poo into the toilet. (Limitations: #1 – poo may not be confined to diaper liner only, so some spraying may still be needed. #2 – Cost of diaper liners.)
- Breastfed-baby poo is water soluble, so simply throw diapers with poo into washing machine. (Limitation: Erm… not my cup of tea!)
This is optional depending on the circumstances. Some options:
- No prewash: For newborn stage and before baby starts eating solid food. Diapers were easy to clean in the early months, so I skipped prewashing.
- Use Prewash function (if available): When baby starts eating solid food, poo is no longer water soluble, and total pee volume increases significantly. I recommend prewashing at this stage.
- Prewash by hand: Put diapers and inserts / soakers into a pail. Fill pail with enough water to cover the items. Agitate the items by hand (I wear gloves), then pour away the water. Repeat once more if preferred. Put items into the washing machine or handwash with detergent this time round.
Prewashing to remove pee and poo is done in Cold, to prevent stains from setting in.
Using the appropriate water temperature can make or break the cloth diapers, especially those made of PUL (polyurethane laminate). The PUL layer can delaminate from the diaper fabric, when the wash temperature is too high and for too many times. Delamination can lead to leakage. See an example of delaminated PUL below:
Also, PUL quality defers vastly depending on where the diaper manufacturer sources its fabric from. The most resilient ones can withstand regular hot washes. The weakest that I tried started delaminating after 3 hot washes!
Strangely, there seems to be no universal definition of what “cold”, “warm” and “hot” washes mean. It’s much clearer if the exact wash temperature is stated on the laundry label, but this isn’t widely practised.
After 2 years of trial and error, here’s my own definition:
- Cold: Maximum 30°C
- Warm: Maximum 40°C
- Hot: Maximum 60°C (i.e. highest quality PUL)
Usually, the lowest-priced cloth diapers can only withstand cold washes because high quality PUL is expensive.
How Do I Know the Recommended Wash Temperature?
- Before buying the cloth diaper, check the recommended temperature on the manufacturer’s website. If it’s not clearly stated, ask the manufacturer before buying.
- If you missed the above, read the laundry label of every new cloth diaper before washing it. This prevents using a water temperature that’s too high, and voiding any warranty.
Are Hot Washes Necessary?
I’ve washed our diapers on Cold at my mum’s place for almost 2 months, and they turned out clean. Washing diapers regularly on hot tends to break them down faster. Even the highest quality PUL can delaminate after being washed in hot for hundreds of times. If you plan to use the diapers for future babies, then don’t wash on hot every time. Schedule it for once a month or so.
Also, if you plan to wash clothes together with cloth diapers, then the hot washes will damage the clothes much faster. For instance, the collars of my home clothes started tearing apart after months of hot washes.
Hot washes also use up more electricity than warm or cold wash, which will rake up the electricity bill.
The exception: When baby has a yeast infection, then wash on Hot until the yeast clears up.
Because of the occasional hot washes that may be necessary, I still prefer buying cloth diapers that can withstand hot washes. This means paying a little more while not risking damages. Again, this is a personal preference.
Part 3: After The Wash
Finally, we’re left with drying the diapers! Some options:
- Line drying under the sun
- Line drying indoors, catching as much sunshine as possible
- Line drying indoors, using a fan to blow at the items
I’ve tried all 4 methods and love drying under the hot sun because this is a great way to bleach away poo stains naturally. It’s simply amazing! Usually, the diapers take 4 hours to dry on a sunny day, and 2 days to dry on rainy days. Thick inserts / soakers, fitted diapers and All-in-Ones (AIOs) take the longest to dry.
During rainy days, using a fan or the dryer would help to speed things up.
Tip: Once you’re comfortable with cloth diapering, have enough diapers to rotate. This reduces the “stress level” on rainy days or when baby uses more diapers than normal.
More Tip: Covers dry faster than inserts / soakers, so have several traditional square nappies or prefolds as back-up inserts / soakers for rainy days. They’re low cost and are quite absorbent.
By now, this post should have answered almost all your queries related to washing cloth diapers. As said in the beginning, washing cloth diapers can be as simple or as complex as you’d like. Once you’ve chosen your preferred routine, washing should soon become second nature.
Any questions? Any more laundry tips? Please share them in the comments box.
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