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Parenting 101: How to Wash Cloth Diapers

Wash routine for home laundry of cloth diapers

Washing cloth diapers at home is a simple, cost-effective solution for today's modern green parents.

Choosing cloth diapers used to mean selecting a local diaper service to deliver, pickup, wash and return 70-80 prefold diapers (rectangular diapers you fold and pin underneath a waterproof vinyl pant) to your doorstep each week.  Diaper services in the Metro Denver area cost an average of $20 per week, and are a great way to try out cloth diapers without the large initial investment of purchasing diapers.  While diaper services are still a viable option for many parents, most cloth diaper gurus decide washing an extra couple of loads of laundry each week at home is a simple change that can save them money and enable them to incorporate modern cloth diapers into their diapering options.

Each manufacturer of cloth diapers and cloth diaper accessories provides washing instructions to the consumer.  For many parents, half the fun of cloth diapering is mixing and matching styles, patterns, colors and brands of cloth diapers.  Different sets of washing instructions can be time consuming and cumbersome to follow, so at the inaugural meeting of the Real Diaper Industry Association during the ABC Kids Expo in Las Vegas, NY during September 2009, the major diaper manufacturers joined together to provide general washing instructions for cloth diapers.  This collaborative effort simplified the lives the cloth diapering parents, making it easier than ever to launder reusable diapers at home.

Cloth diapers should be pre-washed (or prepped) before first use.  Natural fibers such as a cotton, hemp or bamboo should be pre-washed separately 3-5 times in hot water to allow the fibers to fluff up for maximum absorbency, much like a big fluffy bath towel does.  Synthetic fibers need to be washed only once, and wool products should be handwashed once and dried flat.  Once pre-washing has been completed, most cloth diapers can be washed together.

Choosing the right detergent is important to extend the life of the diaper, as well as prevent skin irritations and leaks.  The following ingredients should be avoided when laundering cloth diapers:

  • Natural Soaps
  • Dyes
  • Perfumes
  • Enzymes
  • Fabric Softeners
  • Fabric Enhancers
  • Bleach
  • Optical Brighteners

The following detergents perform exceptionally well on cloth diapers:  Allen's Naturally, Country Save, Planet, and Mountain Green.  Rockin' Green, Charlie's Soap, and Soap Nuts are fan favorites.

When a soiled cloth diaper is removed from baby, it can be stored for up to three days in a dry diaper pail.  Soaking or dunking is no longer recommended.  For exclusively breastfed babies, the soiled diaper can be deposited directly into the pail until wash day.  Once solids are introduced, shake the solid waste into the toilet before depositing the dirty diaper into a ventilated dry pail.  Remove pocket diaper inserts and attach Velcro to the laundry tabs before placing 18-24 diapers into washing machine. Wash once in cold water without detergent to remove waste and fight stains.  Wash once in hot with half the recommended amount of detergent to clean diapers, then do an extra cold rinse to ensure all detergent is rinsed away.  In sunny Colorado, hanging diapers to dry is a great option to save electricity.  On a cold, rainy or snowy day, tumble dry on warm/medium.  

There are a number of accessories available to make cloth diapering easier and less messy.  Consider a diaper sprayer, a tool similar to the kitchen sink sprayer that connects to your toilet to rinse of soiled diapers over the toilet.  Flushable diaper liners are biodegradable liners (similar to a dryer sheet) that are positioned between the baby and the diaper to scoop up solid waste and flush down the toilet.  Diaper pail liners are waterproof laundry bags that go inside a standard kitchen trash pail that keep your diaper pail clean and make transporting dirty diapers down to the laundry room easier.

Laundering cloth diapers at home is easy to do and has less impact on your monthly water bill than watering your lawn during the summer.

For more info about cloth diapers: Visit the Real Diaper Association or sign up for an Intro to Cloth Diapering Class at eco•POLITAN.