Real Simple Mama

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My Cloth Diaper Wash Routine

I think one of the most terrifying and intimidating aspects of cloth diapering was “oh God how do I wash these things?!” There was no way I was going to use a good ole fashioned washboard and kneel by the freshwater creek in my knickers to scrub pee-soaked fabric. But I had to figure out a solution that would work for our family.

I had nightmares of baby poop smearing over all our work clothes, the utility room forever smelling of pee and regret. I did lots of research and have printed this routine out, proudly displaying it next to the washer. My hope is that it will shine some light into the mystery of “wait, you wash those… where? And with WHAT?!”

New and improved: updated January 2017 with two wash options, one for hard water and one for treated water!

Thanks to Elizabeth at Go Baby Go! shop, and my dear friend YouTube, for helping me perfect this process!

I do have affiliate links in this article. Hopefully my honest reviews of products I’ve bought will help you make the best choices for your family!

title image for real simple mama with a washer saying my cloth diaper wash routine

My Cloth Diaper Wash Routine

WHAT KIND OF WATER DO YOU HAVE?

It’s essential that you know if you have hard water, soft water, or other characteristics in your water. Check with your local Home Depot or other hardware store, as they often have free water tests for your house.

WHAT DOES THE DIAPER MANUFACTURER SAY?

It is also a really good idea to check the company who made the cloth diapers (even if they’re used) to see the recommended wash routine. I have tons of brands, from Sweet Pea prefolds to Applecheeks and Thirsties covers, but usually the prefolds win out since they absorb most of the damage.

PRODUCTS

I have a super old washer and dryer, but they’re super reliable (and I’ve read that lots of people prefer the old-school systems, in the days before “high efficiency”). My set is from the Kenmore Elite 80 series. It has a central agitator, which is the best part!

I recently got a water softener in my home, so I no longer have to do what’s in quotes below. It was nice to eliminate the Calgon since we went through it fairly quickly. Now all I use is Arm and Hammer powder, which was a (cheap) recommendation from the Fluff Love Detergent Index.

washer

In 2016: I have very hard water and so I have to be careful not to over-soap or over-rinse my diapers; I also have to add water softener. I like Country Save powder detergent (I’ve only found it on Amazon but it lasts FOREVER), and Calgon Water Softener (really cheap and I can get it on Amazon or at my awesome HEB).

I don’t use fabric softeners or dryer sheets – they both have crap in them I don’t want anyway, particularly not on my cloth diapers!

Once your baby starts eating solids (check with your pediatrician for the “okay”, but usually it’s around 5-6 months), the poop must be cleaned off before you drop the diaper into the washer. I bought the AquaNexis Diaper Sprayer bychance on Amazon and I love it! I also have a Spray Pal diaper spraying guard that I like. (Check out the YouTube video at the end of the post to see this stuff in action!).

It all sounds intimidating, I know, but just like anything in cloth diapering, once you get the hang of it, it’ll be a piece of cake.

they’re even fun to display!

MY CURRENT, SOFTENED WATER WASH ROUTINE

(Sweet Pea wash recommendations with a non-high efficiency washer with agitator)

PRE-WASH: COLD WATER

*Diaper-to-water ratio should be a stew (you want the diapers to rub together to get clean)

*Can add 1/2 cup baking soda

WASH: HOT/COLD, HEAVY DUTY SPEED (fast/fast), ULTRA CLEAN

*Arm and Hammer added once water is done filling up (use recommended amount for heavily soiled load)

OPTIONAL SECOND WASH: SAME SETTINGS

*If you do this step, add 1-2 tablespoons of detergent again

RINSE: HOT/COLD, HEAVY DUTY SPEED (fast/fast), ULTRA CLEAN

*Same settings, just no detergent

*Once the water has filled up for this rinse, open the lid and check: if you see any hint of detergent (i.e. bubbles), you need to do another rinse after this one. I usually do anyway.

OPTIONAL SECOND RINSE: SAME SETTINGS

DRY OUTSIDE IF POSSIBLE, IF NOT DRY ON LOW AND CHECK OFTEN

*remember that the sun not only bleaches stains, but it’s antimicrobial as well!

*I do like to toss my prefolds in the dryer when I bring them inside; just 10 minutes will agitate them and make them soft (be honest, you’d be agitated too if I threw you in the dryer for 10 minutes).

MY HARD WATER WASH ROUTINE

PRE-WASH: COLD WATER

*Diaper-to-water level should be a stew (you want diapers to rub together to get clean)

*Can add 1/2 cup baking soda

WASH: HOT/COLD, HEAVY DUTY SPEED (fast/fast), ULTRA CLEAN

*full cup of Country Save powder detergent

*1 cap Calgon liquid (for hard water)

what a beautiful sight!

what a beautiful sight!

DRY OUTSIDE IF POSSIBLE, IF NOT DRY ON LOW AND CHECK OFTEN

*remember that the sun not only bleaches stains, but it’s antimicrobial as well!

*I do like to toss my prefolds in the dryer when I bring them inside; just 10 minutes will agitate them and make them soft (be honest, you’d be agitated too if I threw you in the dryer for 10 minutes).

OTHER TIPS

*No extra rinses – with hard water this will only cause more issues.

*Keep the diaper-to-water ratio at a stew (don’t use too much water).

*No fabric softener or dryer sheets.

*Vinegar can be added occasionally as a deodorizer (I’ve not done this yet).

*If washing pocket diapers, separate the insert first.

*Breastfed baby poop can go right in! (plop out any solid poop into the toilet). And look for my video below to show you how I spray solid poop!

If you’re not sure where to start on a wash routine for your fluff, don’t hesitate to contact the manufacturer of your cloth, your local cloth diaper vendor, or one of the groups from my Links I Love. Please don’t let this be the reason that you don’t do cloth! It’s a lot easier to navigate than you think, and it’s totally worth climbing that learning curve!

my reminder!

my reminder!

5 Comments

  1. I was given about 15 cloths diapers from a friend and I really wanted to use them, but I was so intimidated by the washing/drying method. The first couple weeks of baby’s life I used the disposable diapers we received from our baby shower. Then my husband read up about cloth diapering, taught me a few things about them, and we realized how great they were.
    We mostly use all in one diapers, so we don’t have to touch so many inserts before tossing them in the washer.
    I prewash in cold water first, and then a second hot cycle. I use free and clear detergent most of the time, and every few washes we use the bum genius liquid detergent to get out the stains that happen.
    Thanks for the baking soda tip, that helps with the odor right? I do notice some odor sometimes, so that would be great if I could eliminate that.

    • The Mama

      June 1, 2016 at 6:45 pm

      Wow that’s great! AIOs are fantastic, but they’re the most expensive – I’m glad you got some for free!
      YES whenever I think about it, I add some baking soda to the pre wash. It helps a lot with odor (and theoretically with stains too).
      The sun is the best at making the diapers look brand new! My husband made us a “drying rack” with some PVC pipe and elbow joints, I think it cost us like $11 to make. I use clothespins and just leave them out for a few hours, and then throw them in the dryer for 10 min. They’re soft and bright again!

  2. We have 2 in diapers right now, and I’m usually the one handling the diapers. It’s really not a big deal, just a load of wash every 2-3 days. I like using Rock’n Green wash made for diapers, which has a Hard Rock variety with water softener built in. We take a bag of their hard rock detergent and a bag of their funk rock (stripping agent) and mixing it – then using that mix in the wash. Just to simplify things, one scoop in and ready to go. Our water is hard by design, the HOA adds in gunk to “coat the pipes” just in case someone has lead in their pipes. We have one of the HE machines, so getting enough water in there is actually an issue. We have best results using it on heavy wash with water plus and a high spin speed to get the water back out of them.

    Doing this, our diapers stay fresh and clean with no odors and no diaper rash issues. We haven’t had to strip our diapers once since we started this.

    I’m one of the owners of Mockingbird Baby near Houston, so I get to talk about this a lot haha. From those conversations, I would say the #1 most asked question is “But what about the poo? That’s gross right? I don’t know if I could do that…”

    It really isn’t a big deal though. Back when we started cloth diapering I got a diaper sprayer and a 2 gallon bucket. I cut a hole in the bottom of the bucket and installed the sprayer on our toilet. Every time a baby poos (or we come home with a full wet bag) I just spray them off. It takes less than a minute to whip the kit out, spray off a diaper, and be on my way. The bucket fits into the toilet seat and prevents any splatter.

    I have used disposables before too. It’s honestly just as much work to go with disposables as cloth. You have to constantly buy more from the store, change the bag in the diaper pail and take the trash out, deal with more diaper rash on your baby’s bottom, and deal with more poopy blowouts (from my experience, disposables are much more prone to exploding from a big poo – which is just not a fun experience).

    You do want to get good cloth diapers though. We had some china cheapies back when we were first starting and broke, and those were awful. There are a lot of good brands, I suggest finding a local store that sells them and having a look at them in person.

    • The Mama

      May 12, 2016 at 11:43 am

      Yes! My local attachment parenting store – Go Baby Go – it’s who I credited at the beginning of the article. Elizabeth is the owner and she has given me lots of help!

      • Yes, having a good local store is a real boon when you’re cloth diapering. Back when we started we didn’t have access to one. That’s actually why we opened one, haha. People assume I’m passionate about cloth diapers because I own a store and we do cloth diaper classes and stuff, but it’s the other way around. I wouldn’t have mortgaged my house to open a store if I wasn’t passionate about it! And definitely support your local store if you’ve got one. As someone from the other side, it can be a struggle – a few slow months can put you out of business.

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