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How to Wash Cloth Diapers

How to Wash Cloth Diapers

How to Wash Cloth Diapers

If you’re considering cloth diapers, probably your biggest fear is washing! Every cloth diaper mama seems to have a different opinion on the best washing routine. And, the horror stories about what can happen without a good process can make you too afraid to even start your diapering journey.

First, breathe. You can do this. It’s not nearly as difficult as it seems. And, once you’ve figured out you’re routine, that’s it! It’s good for every wash and every baby for years and years to come. It is intimidating at first, but we’re here to help you map out the perfect washing process. Here’s how to wash cloth diapers: 

How to Wash Cloth Diapers 

Step One: Test Your Water Hardness

The first step to developing a wash routine is to test your water hardness. Don’t skip this! It’s a vital first step that can make or break your cloth diapering experience. Washing cloth diapers in hard water without properly adjusting the pH can cause mineral build-up, ammonia build-up, and more! All these things can lead to stink, leaks, diaper rashes, or even chemical burn. 

Conversely, washing in soft water without adjusting detergent amounts can cause detergent build-up. This can be a real pain to fix! And, detergent accumulation can also lead to leaks, rashes, and burns. No thanks! Save yourself the headache and get your water tested. 

How to Test Your Water:

You can find water hardness test strips on Amazon or at your local pet stores. If you’d rather not test yourself, you can take water samples to a pet or pool supply store and get it tested there. Often, these places will do it free of charge!

Test the water directly from your washer on both hot and cold settings. This is important! Different filters used in each temperature mode can cause water hardness to differ. Once you get the results, this is what they mean:

Interpreting the Results:

0-180ppm is soft (or softish) water. It does not require any additional water softener as long as you are using the right detergent and the right amounts of detergents. Soft water suds up detergents more, especially in high efficiency front loading machines. This means your main battle with soft water will be detergent build-up. 

That being said, if you control the amount of detergent you use, you can decrease this problem! We have cloth safe detergents listed below, so keep reading!

180ppm and up is hard water. It will require additional water softener such as Calgon or Borax. This will ensure there is no mineral build-up, which can make your diapers stiff and less absorbent. For hard water, you have to be careful about adding extra rinses. But, luckily, detergent build-up shouldn’t be an issue with good agitation and a good detergent. (See below for cloth safe detergents.)

Comparrison chart between soft and hard water. Text reads: soft water, Less prone to mineral build-up, Prone to Detergent build-up no need for water softener, Needs less detergent, May need extra Rinses, Hot Water, prone to mineral build-up, Less Prone to Detergent build-up, need water softener, Needs Normal detergent, No need for extra Rinses

Step Two: Don’t Forget About Poop

We often see the question, “Why can’t I wash cloth diapers like I wash my clothes?” Well, when you’re washing human waste, you need to take extra measures to get out all the dangerous bacteria. You want clean diapers for your baby, of course! So, do that extra wash.  

There are a couple ways to deal with poop. You can either spray off the diapers or use the dunk/swish method. EBF (exclusively breast-fed) baby poo is water soluble, you don't actually have to do anything with the poop before washing. But, as soon as your child is consuming anything other than breastmilk, you’ll need to swish or spray. However, even if your baby is EBF, spraying or swishing doesn’t hurt. In fact, it’ll probably help with stains. 

Formula-fed babies or babies who eat solids, do require spraying or dunking/swishing to remove waste. Washers cannot clean solid fecal matter! And, the plumbing of a washing machine has too many twists and bends to properly dispose of poo. So, you’ll need to use one of the methods. 

Spray Method

The goal is to remove all the solid matter off of the diaper before it goes into the wash. Spray until the diaper looks free of particulates. (AKA, no 3D poop). But, it’s fine if there are still visible leftovers or streaks. Those should wash out in the machine!

With a sprayer, you need something to clip the diaper onto such as a Spray Pal* or DIY contraption. Once the diaper is clipped on, spray the diaper with the water angled down toward the toilet. Spray until all the solids are gone. Once done spraying, wring the diaper or leave it on the clips to dry overnight. Then, place it in your dirty wet bag or hamper.

Note: NEVER spray a diaper into a sink, tub, or shower drain. 

Dunk and Swish Method

The dunk and swish method may sound unappealing but it's budget friendly, easy, and effective in removing poop from your diapers. First, purchase some long dish gloves. Then, ensure that your toilet is clean and has been flushed. 

Next, dip your diaper and swish it in the toilet bowl of water. Swish around, flush, swish around, and flush until all loose waste is gone. Keep a firm grip on your diaper at all times to avoid accidental flushing. When finished wringing out the diaper, place it in dirty storage. You can see a video of this process here

Step Three: Choose Your Detergent and Products

Cloth Safe Detergent

There are lots of cloth diaper detergent options! Here are the best rated cloth diaper detergents. They are safe for cloth fibers, effective for cleaning human waste, and not prone to build-up. 

Plant-Based Cloth Safe Detergents

These options are not as effective in eliminating human waste but are a more environmentally friendly option. They can also be better for babies with lots of allergies or sensitive skin. They are, of course, cloth diaper approved. 

Detergent Tips and Tricks

  • NEVER use homemade detergents. Homemade detergents do not mix well in water and do not effectively eliminate human waste.
  • NEVER use vinegar. Vinegar can cause your diaper elastics to break down and completely relax.
  • NEVER use fabric softener with your cloth diapers. It will cause build-up and repelling, which could then lead to an array of issues including chemical burns, and ammonia accumulation.

Cloth Safe Scent Boosters

Scent booster beads are safe for cloth diapers as long as they contain no fabric softener. They’re, of course, not necessary for your wash routine. But, if you prefer to use them, here are a few scent beads that are safe for cloth:

Cloth Safe Stain Removers

Cloth diapers will probably get stained but have no fear! Most stains will fade with a little work and time. There are a few cloth safe stain removers, but the best remedy for stains is the sun! 

Simply hang or place a damp, stained diaper outside under the direct sun. Careful not to leave them out for too long in hot temperatures. This can melt the PUL on your covers. 

If you still need a stain remover after sunning, try OxiClean Powder or Spray or Shout Spray. 

Step Four: Wash Your Diapers

Now that the poop is gone and you know your water hardness, it’s time to wash! Below, we have a few wash routines that should work for you. Modifications aren’t uncommon, but start with these, and if you have issues, let us know in our Alaskan Wildlings community group. We can help troubleshoot and find the perfect routine for you! First, here’s a few tips before we get into our example routines: 

Cloth diaper tips chart with cloth diaper products framing the text. Text reads: Cloth Diaper Washing Tips: Add softener for hard water, use less detergent with soft water, fill machine 1/2-2/3 full, always unstuff diapers, add wipes to the wash too, hand dry covers, machine dry inserts.

  • Don’t forget the softener if you have hard water. 
  • Remember, soft water needs less detergent. 
  • HE machines work best when they are ⅔ to ¾ full. If you don’t have enough diapers to achieve this, bulk the machine with extra diapers, small towels, or other clothes. 
  • Always unstuff your diapers completely. 
  • Wipes can go in too! 

Starter Wash Routine:

  1. Short Cold Pre-Wash with a little detergent. (Add borax too, if you have hard water.)
  2. After the pre-wash, peel the diapers that are stuck to the drum and arrange in a ring around the agitator or impeller. (Or, at the bottom for a front load washer.)
  3. Turn off any extra rinse options (you just need one rinse after the main wash.)
  4. Long Hot Main Wash with detergent (and borax for hard water.)
  5. Tumble Dry the inserts and Hang Dry the covers.
Washing machine in background, text in the foreground, "Starter Wash Routine: 1. Short Cold Pre-Wash with a little detergent. (Add borax too, if you have hard water.) 2. After the pre-wash, peel the diapers that are stuck to the drum and arrange in a ring around the agitator or impeller. (Or, at the bottom for a front loader) 3. Turn off any extra rinse options (you just  need one rinse after the main wash.) 4. Long Hot Main Wash with detergent  (and borax for hard water.) 5. Tumble Dry the inserts and Hang Dry the covers."
You shouldn’t take diaper wash lightly, but no need to stress about your wash routine! 

There are few reasons not to cloth diaper. There are so many benefits to using these reusable, sustainable, and ADORABLE diapers. But, something that gives people pause is the laundry demands. We’re here to tell you that it doesn’t have to be hard, and we’re here to help every step of the way! Follow this starter wash routine, and adjust as needed. Though, you’ll probably find this routine works great for you! So, what are you waiting for? Let’s get to washing!

And, don’t forget to browse our blog for all things cloth diaper related. Our blog acts as a masterclass in the cloth diapering lifestyle. Plus, if you need more diapers, build your stash with Alaskan Wildlings! Our pocket diapers and baby products are a favorite in the community. Cute, original prints. Absorbent, high-quality inserts. Great customer service. And, a huge variety of baby and diapering products. What’s not to love? Check us out

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