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HomeCleaning & ChoresMy cloth diaper wash routine

My cloth diaper wash routine

(This is part 2 of a 5-part Cloth Diaper series. Scroll to the bottom for a link to part 1)

I don’t know why it is, but people have a fear of cleaning cloth diapers. Actually, I do know why, because I had the same fears at one point or another. They typically are –

  • They’re so expensive! Even if you buy used, you still don’t want to risk the chance of ruining a diaper.
  • What if they stain? Ew.
  • Don’t they require special detergent?
  • What if you have to add on a bunch of wash loads and your water bill goes through the roof?
  • You might have to touch poop?!?!??!

Let’s go through these fears point by point and, at the end, I’ll share my wash routine so you can see how simple cloth diaper cleaning really is.

What if I ruin my diapers by making the wrong choice with washing?

That, my friend, is impossible. Unless your wash routine involves a blow torch, there is no way you are going to ruin diapers by washing them. This is no different than tossing your clothes into the washer for a cycle – you don’t worry that you’ll ruin them, do you? No, you’re filled with happiness knowing that, in a few short hours (or less), you’ll have clean clothes to wear.

Even if you wash a diaper on the “wrong” cycle, meaning it doesn’t come out as clean as you would have liked, that’s fixable. There are no wrong choices, people. It actually just boils down to trial and error to figure out what combination of settings works best for your washer and your water situation (hard or soft).

The only instance I can think of where you might ruin your diapers is if you continuously bleach them in undiluted bleach. But, you wouldn’t do that with your clothes, would you? So don’t do that with your diapers! Some bleach here and there won’t hurt, but continuous soaking or washing in undiluted bleach will hurt them over time.

kenmore front loader he washerVia Sears

What if my diapers stain?

Newsflash. Diapers are poop catchers. They are going to get stains.

But, the good news is that stains are treatable! And, to be totally honest, most poop is not going to stain cloth diapers. The two poops you need to defend your diapers against are: breastfed baby poop (which is water soluble but tends to stain cloth really badly) and diarrhea.

Luckily, there are some really great defenses out there for those of us who love having sparkly white diapers. My favorites are:

  • Buncha Farmers Stain Stick – this is a 100% natural, biodegradable stain stick that smells amazing and takes out the stainiest of stains. You either get the stick wet or the stain, then rub the stick on the stain. The stain will – for me anyway – turn grey right away. Then you wash and it’s like it never happened. I have best results when I get the area wet and keep the stick dry.
  • RLR (aka washing soda) – RLR is a brightener (even though the link says it’s a “stripper,” I would not use RLR to strip…and I will explain stripping a little further down). It’s basically washing soda. I buy RLR so that I can have convenient, pre-measured packets. You empty the contents into your washer drum, directly onto the laundry to be washed. I use this when my diapers seem to be looking dingy, or I have a particularly tough stain. It can also be used on regular laundry. This stuff even got out food stains out on one of Ezra’s shirts, which had been washed with Oxiclean and Shout to no avail. It’s pretty amazing.
  • A diaper sprayer – Not everyone thinks a diaper sprayer is necessary when you’re cloth diapering, but I’m definitely in the camp that says it is. Some people swear by the dunk/swish method (dunking a diaper in the toilet or into a sink of water to rinse it) but I think spraying is much more efficient. Especially for those problem poops I mentioned. A diaper sprayer connects directly to the water line of your toilet. It usually has a switch to turn it “off” and “on,” meaning you either direct the flow of water to your toilet or to the sprayer. The link above takes you to the one I own, but there are many to choose from ranging from $30-60+.

diaper sprayer on toiletVia Sears

The only other key to keeping your diapers stain free is to use the proper amount of detergent when washing them. You can’t clean your diapers if you aren’t using enough soap – you wouldn’t clean your clothes with just a hint of soap, would you? I didn’t think so.

And that brings us to….

Don’t cloth diapers require special detergent?


That is a really common myth.

Perpetuated by…………. manufacturers of cloth diapers! Of course they want you to buy their “special soap.” They get more money from you that way. Another group you’ll see saying you need special soap are companies who make the special soap – Charlie’s and Rockin’ Green come to mind.

But please hear me: there is nothing wrong with using a “cloth diaper formulated soap” if that’s what you would like to do. I am simply saying that it isn’t absolutely necessary.

I’ve used a wide variety of detergents and have not noticed many differences in terms of cleaning power among any of them with one exception – Ecos. It did a terrible job of cleaning diapers. My favorite detergents are:

  • Tide Original HE Powder
  • Gain (powder)
  • All Free & Clear (liquid)

I have noticed lately that Tide seems to have changed their formula; there are more blue “crystals” and I find myself having to use more to get the same result. Because of that, I’ve been using Gain a lot more. There is no formulaic difference between Tide and Gain (at least there wasn’t but, as I said, Tide seems to have changed something); scent is the only thing that sets them apart.

There is a big debate in the cloth diaper world about how much detergent to use per load. I don’t think there is a quick and decisive answer to this question because it depends on your washer, your load size and whether you have soft or hard water. But, I think a good rule of thumb is to start with your load size and use the amount of detergent that corresponds to it. You can go by the detergent’s box for that recommendation or you can consult your washer’s manual to see what they define as a small, medium and large load.

The only bit I will add on this is that if you’ve been taught to use a teaspoon or other small amount of detergent for a load of diapers, please reconsider your wash routine. Would you wash dirty clothes with only a teaspoon of detergent? I don’t think so. The same principle is true for diapers. They’re dirty and they need soap to get clean. Don’t deprive them of soap! gain detergent powdertide detergent powder



Won’t my water bill go through the roof now that I’m washing all of these diapers?


That has not been the case in this house, anyway. Did we see an increase? Yes. Our water bill comes every three months and we saw a $12.00 increase, which means our bill went up by $4.00 a month. I can’t buy disposables to cover an entire month’s worth of diaper needs for $4.00 so I’m still coming out ahead. Win.

Don’t you have to touch poop??????

Yes but…

Won’t you touch poop anyway, whether your child is wearing a disposable or cloth diaper? Disposable diapers don’t magically make poop disappear the second it comes out. I wish they did. But, sadly, that is not the case.

And, might I add, won’t you touch a host of other gross things since you have a child? It’s just part of the territory, amiright?? Vomit. Pee. Snot. Half chewed food. I could go on, but you get the idea.

This takes us back to the diaper sprayer. Another reason it’s amazing is that it makes cleaning a poop diaper 100 times easier. Plop what you can into the toilet, spray the rest off, roll up the diaper and toss it in the pail. Voila! You’re done.

Well, what’s your wash routine then since you’ve got all the answers?!

I thought you’d never ask! It’s so long and involved, though, I’m not sure if you’ll be able to keep up. Keep in mind that I have a Kenmore Front Loader HE washer/dryer. I have water that seems fairly balanced and my load size is usually 12-15 diapers (large). Here’s my routine:

  • Express Wash cycle with cold water, heavy soil, high agitation. I spray Bac-Out Stain and Odor Eliminator into the pre-wash compartment to treat against – you guessed it – stains and odors. This is about a 26 minute cycle.
  • Whitest Whites cycle with hot/cold water (I just keep it on whatever presets go with that cycle) and a second rinse. One scoop of Tide or Gain powder to the appropriate load level (usually 3). This is usually an hour and 15 minute cycle.
  • I line dry covers and tumble dry everything else on medium.

I wash diapers every 3 days. In between wash days, I store soiled diapers in the laundry room, in our utility sink. They don’t smell because they’re kept in open air so ammonia doesn’t become trapped in the fibers. It is really just that simple.

Hopefully this post proves helpful! Please let me know any questions you might have. If you cloth diaper, what’s your routine? Favorite detergent? Favorite stain treatments? Tell me!

Part 1 – From Disposables to Cloth Diapers: Why (and How) We Made the Switch