Cloth diapers inarguably offer immense benefits compared to throw away diapers aka disposables in most areas. One area where cloth diapers might be a peeve is at the time of maintenance, because unlike disposables that can be easily thrown out after each use, cloth diapers need to be washed, and in the proper way both to ensure they are safe for your child and longevity. But before knowing how to clean cloth diapers, you need to have the best cloth diapers and best diaper detergent, because without either, you’re putting your child at risk of discomfort and irritation and rashes.
I’ve written two comprehensive guides on both the aforementioned key areas so that you make nothing but the best choice for your child.
Furthermore, cloth diapers need to be carefully washed to avoid ammonia buildup and the fact that their contained fabrics will get washed several times over, which also tends to increase their absorbency levels.
Adding to this, most cloth diapers and covers, feature some sort of waterproof material such as TPU and PUL, and a central highly absorbent core generally made of bamboo, cotton, hemp and several other blends.
This gives you yet another reason to not only consider the items you use to clean cloth diapers, but also the water you use and even best way to dry them.
In this article, I will get into the nitty-gritty of washing cloth diapers to help you make your cloth diapering life easier, and also ensure the diapers remain sanitary and your investment goes a long way!
First things First – Things that make Cloth Diapering Easier!
Diaper laundry can be your favorite laundry only if you use the right stuff, but you should also educate yourself on the things to avoid.
And keep in mind that everyone has their own system so feel free to use my practical tips until you find a system that works for you.
First thing you will need to wash cloth diapers is the right detergent. If you don’t have one picked out, my guide on the best cloth diaper detergent will help you make the right choice.
In brief, the cloth diaper detergent you use must be free of enzymes, fragrances, and other additives such as whitening and brightening products.
You can also use less expensive conventional detergents such as Dreft, Tide, All, Purex and Arm & Hammer rather than most cloth diaper manufacturer recommended “Green” detergents.
These conventional detergents are generally synthetic based and as such tend to contain chemical ingredients as the ones mentioned above and wax, stain guards, phosphates, natural oils and wax among others.
Some conventional detergents are free of fragrances and dyes that cause allergies and rashes, but do in most cases contain one or more of the aforementioned chemical additives, which aren’t great for the environment.
Cloth diaper manufacturers highly recommend using Green detergents because they do not contain fabric softener – a common cause of residue buildup.
And if you weren’t aware already, residue can accelerate ammonia and bacterial retention and consequently cause eye-tearing smell and odors.
Furthermore, you want to avoid using detergents that contain synthetic materials as they may cause rash when they come into contact with your baby’s skin.
And if you do use them, it is important to follow a good wash routine to ensure the detergent is thoroughly washed out of the cloth diaper.
In addition, clear steer of antistatic products and softeners as they can, not only irritate your baby’s skin, but also make the cloth diapers less absorbent.
Adding bleach to the mix might be necessary when fighting an infection such as yeast diaper rash, but it is best not to use it regularly.
Bleach has the tendency to break down the fibers in cloth diapers, resulting in diminished service life and can also ruin some diaper covers. You can add about half a cup of baking soda or white vinegar to the rinse water to help eliminate odors.
Vinegar also helps soften cloth diapers, but some manufacturers don’t recommend using it so check the instructions before you do so.
If you notice any detergent buildup or your diapers aren’t getting clean, you may need to test the water (more on water types below), and also ensure that you are using just the right amount of detergent and not too much.
Liners and Doublers
It is highly recommended that you use some sort of liner, whether re-usable or flushable for poop management. These inexpensive items not only greatly reduce the amount of cleanup time, but also help with minimizing stains and repelling issues.
Just like cloth diapers, washable liners entail a bit more dirty work, where you have to remove the poop and toss it into a dry pail.
Cloth safe diaper creams are great when using liners, but sometimes it may be necessary to use pasty, thick, white creams that contain zinc oxide and petroleum.
If you choose to take this route, it is best to re-usable liner because in most cases it is thicker than a disposable liner.
Diaper cream sometimes may be extremely difficult to get off cloth diapers, and might cause repelling or leakage, but using Dawn dish soap in most cases can truly help.
Please read my guide on the best diaper rash ointment in order to buy the right one.
You want to make your cloth diaper maintenance tasks as easy as possible, and a diaper sprayer definitely does just that. Considered a luxury for some, this handy tool makes it much easier to rinse solids from the cloth diaper rather than dunking and swirling in the toilet.
How to Install Diaper Sprayer
Things you will need:
- Diaper sprayer
- Mounting bracket and mounting bracket hardware (included in the package)
- Adjustable wrench
- 1/4 inch drill bit
- Fluffy rag
Let’s get started!
1. Place the rag under the water shutoff valve located under the tank of your toilet.
2. Turn off the water shutoff valve, typically done by turning it in clockwise direction.
3. Flush your toilet to completely drain the water from the water supply line.
4. Detach the water supply line that connects the tank to the water shutoff valve. This is easily done by unscrewing the large tank nut located under the flush tank in a clockwise direction.
Then do the same to the water shutoff valve. You might need to use your adjustable wrench to do this, but in most cases your hands should be enough. You will notice a small amount of water that will come out, but this is normal.
5. Then connect the 1 inch nut located on the diaper sprayer to the underside of the tank. Ensure that it is screwed on tight or it will start to leak eventually.
6. Attach the smaller nut to the other end of the diaper sprayer to the water shutoff valve on the wall.
You will need to use your adjustable wrench to tighten it. Ensure it is nice and snug, and tighten it further if you notice any leaks.
7. Now that you’re all done with the hard task, it’s time to attach the diaper sprayer to the tank or wall.
This is done by using the included wall anchors and screws or the double sided tape.
8. For anchor screws, mark the area where you want the bracket by using a pencil or drill bit to poke through the screw holes on the bracket.
9, Now that you know exactly where the screws need to go, drill the holes using the ¼ inch drill bit, and then simply tap the wall anchors in with a hammer where you drilled the holes.
Lastly, use the provided screws, and with the help of the screwdriver fit the wall bracket into the wall.
10. Hang the diaper sprayer on the wall bracket, turn the water supply on and voila, you’re all set!
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How to use Diaper Sprayer
Now that you’ve setup your diaper sprayer, using it is pretty simple. You can adjust the water level using the adjustable flow valve on the diaper sprayer counter.
Remember, the more you turn it, the water will flow through the sprayer so adjust accordingly.
It is best to turn off the water when you are done using the sprayer to prevent any bathroom water fights between your kids. The whole purpose of a diaper sprayer is to direct the poop right into the toilet, but this may not always be the case.
My solution and one that work really well is a splatter shield such as the SprayMate cloth diaper sprayer splatter shield.
This works great to rinse out messy items directly into the toilet, and is not only handy for rinsing cloth diapers, but also food bibs, under garments and even muddy shoes.
In addition to prevent messes from getting out of hand, the SprayMate shield with its unique design also prevents bacteria and germs from spreading as you rinse soiled and contaminated items.
Most cloth diaper manufacturers recommend using a diaper pail to store cloth diapers when awaiting laundry. Considering that most cloth diapers do not need soaking simply because they promote stink and wear, you can simply toss them after each use in a diaper pail.
One handy tip when using an enclosed dry pail or bag is to either prop the lid or open the zipper for additional airflow as this will reduce ammonia buildup especially in the summer months.
Prepping Cloth Diapers
Regardless of the type of cloth diaper you use, it is important to prep them before putting them on your baby.
Manufacturers often provide prepping instructions right on the package, but if they don’t, here’s a quick rundown for optimal care of your cloth diapers.
Prepping short for preparing cloth diapers is quite simply washing them several times before first use, and is an easy and crucial step that will help your baby enjoy leak-free success.
The guidelines provided below are for diapers and covers, but both should not be prepped together.
Start by inspecting the cloth diapers to ensure you have received exactly what you paid for. Check for any manufacturer defects and if present, report to the manufacturer.
1. Whether you’re using gauze and birdseye fabric, doublers made of prefold fabric, or any types of prefolds, start by doing a single cold or warm cycle with just water.
This initial cycle with no detergent will get rid of any residual stuff that may have come about from the manufacturing process. It also helps get rid of the residual stuff that may have accumulated in the machine as well from previous wash cycles.
You do not need to dry the cloth diapers after this very first cycle, but you must perform it in before starting the hot water prepping cycles.
2. You can use detergent during the hot water prepping cycles and then dry on normal. Then simply repeat the process up to 4-6 times or according to manufacturer recommendations.
3. Drying cloth diapers is crucial for break-in and shrinkage and you must use detergent.
Adding to this, both unbleached and white items do need to be prepped, and it is best to use normal cycles and not super heated or sanitary cycles especially for the first two times.
Unbleached items may require more than 2-3 cycles, while whitened items should be prepped within 4 cycles. To check if your diapers are prepped, simply put some water on the dry cloth diaper.
If the diaper absorbs the water instantly, it is ready for use. If not, rewash and repeat the process. Sometimes rewashing may not always work so ensure the machine has hot water, check the water level and add more detergent.
But do not add too much detergent because except for the cloth diapers, there’s no other laundry to use up the detergent.
You may notice pilling, which is normal, and is the accumulation of fuzzy balls on the surface caused by constantly washing cloth diapers.
Remember that doublers and cloth diapers do need to go through 4 or more hot wash cycles before they can be used on your baby regardless of the brand you use.
Refrain from using washing soda additives or oxygen bleaches when prepping so that your diapers stay soft and don’t turn rough and repel pilling.
If pilling does occur, good news is that they will eventually wash off or you can remove them manually. Unbleached cotton is pampered with a natural water resistant coating aka cotton oils or cotton wax.
This includes unbleached organic cotton, prefold, fitted diapers, or unbleached hemp or cotton including stay-dry doublers. It may take several wash cycles to get rid of all these oils so be patient.
When prepping cloth diapers, it is best to clean your lint tray halfway through the drying cycle because they will shed a lot initially.
And lastly remember that not all washers and dryers are built alike, where some might not be as effective with small load sizes as others.
The mineral content of water varies across areas, and this difference could mean changing your washing styles.
But first, you will have to get familiar with the water in your area, and know if it’s hard or soft water.
If you don’t know the type of water your area is receiving, you can buy water quality test strips to check the total water hardness. Basically, you will fall into any of the two water zones – hard water or soft water.
Hard water just as the name suggests simply implies that your water is rich in minerals. If you notice soap scum easily in your bathtub, then great chances are that you have water issues.
And in terms of diapers, this simply means that you will have to use more detergent and a few more rinses in order to prevent mineral buildup.
Start by adding the softener to the water and let it dissolve, then add your detergent and your diapers. If you experience detergent buildup, just run a few more hot wash cycles aka stripping.
And if you choose the right cloth diaper detergent, and refrain from using fabric softeners or dryer sheets, you will most likely never have to strip.
Soft water works contrarily to hard water, and does not require extra detergent to clean cloth diapers. Just use the normal amount of detergent, and it should do the trick.
Front Loading HE (High Efficiency) Machines vs. Top Loading Machines
Front loading and top loading washing machines don’t just look different, they perform differently as well.
Top loading machines tend to clean cloth diapers better than their front loading counterparts because it is easy to adjust the level of water, and the central axis of the machine tends to agitate cloth diapers better to get them clean.
Contrariwise, High Efficiency front loading washing machines are more gentle on cloth diapers and great for water conservation as well.
Adding to this, they often need a smaller amount of detergent for regular laundry, but you will need to add more when washing super dirty cloth diapers.
Before getting started with either top loading or front loading, you must remove the entire poop and dispose into the toilet and not rinse into the sink or bathtub.
Front Loading Washing Machines
One of the common myths of front loading washing machines is that they aren’t a good choice owing to the fact they use less water than traditional washing machines.
But this not entirely true, as this range of washers not only save you money on water and utility bills, but also offer longer cycle times resulting in cleaner diapers.
Also keep in mind that you must use compatible detergent with HE machines, which are basically low-sudsing detergents that maintain cleaning power while rinsing away with less water.
Nellie’s NLS-100T All Natural Laundry soda is a great detergent for HE front loading machines, and is super concentrated yet contains all natural ingredients, making it safe to use for cloth diapers.
Washing Cloth Diapers using Front Loading HE Machines
Now that you’re well educated on using HE machines for cloth diaper laundry, let’s talk typical wash routines. I use a two cycle wash routine and this works for most of the HE washing machines available today.
The two cycle routine consists of first running a prewash cycle to get rid of most of the soil and then the main cycle to deep clean the diapers so that they are thoroughly clean each time they come out of the washing machine.
Start by choosing quick wash, sped wash, or express wash or a short cycle that lasts at least 30-45 minutes to get rid of the surface dirt so the main wash can be done with clean water.
If you’re using a high efficiency front loading machine, you will need to select a normal or cottons cycle for prewashing because heavily soiled diapers do not agitate as easily without the tumbling action of the front loader.
Remember to select the highest spin you can for the cycle and turn off any extra prewash or rinse cycles that may pop up. I recommend adding a small amount of water softener (if you have hard water) and detergent for prewashing.
1. This is the cycle that deep cleans your cloth diapers, by getting into the inner layers of your fabric. Before initiating your main wash cycle, you first need to clean the drum and fluff up the diapers.
In this cycle, you can add other small laundry as well until it is ¾ full. Refrain from putting large items such as blankets or any laundry that will cover the cloth diapers and prevent them from agitating.
2. Next, select the longest cycle of your washing machine with the strongest agitation such as power wash or heavy duty or if any if these are missing, select the longest cottons or normal cycle.
Top Loading Washing Machines (Non HE)
These traditional washing machines provide great agitation and are compatible with any mainstream cloth diaper friendly detergent.
Top loading machines also have two cycles – prewash and main cycle, where the former is used to remove the surface soil and latter to deep clean.
If you’re going to be using plant based detergents in the main wash cycle, then ensure you use hot water owing to their chemical structure.
Unlike front loading washing machines, you can use extra rinses as needed especially if your diapers come out slimy.
The extra rinses may not work well if you’re washing cloth diapers in hard water as they will diminish their longevity, so make sure you use some type of hard water treatment if you’re going to go this route.
Drying Cloth Diapers
Just like cleaning cloth diapers, drying strategies vary across manufacturers. The two options it boils down to is machine drying or line drying.
Machine drying cloth diapers generally keeps them clean by eliminating bacterial buildup.
Sunlight drying also help kill odor causing bacteria, but UV rays may take a toll to the waterproof lining and elastic so read the manufacturer’s instructions.
Just like every other thing you buy, it is important to maintain them in order to accelerate their longevity. And with regards to cloth diapers, this means washing them the right way. Furthermore and contrary to popular belief, washing cloth is not the same as regular laundry and before getting started it is very important that you pay attention to the manufacturer’s instructions if any.
Also it is important to use the right detergent in order prevent diaper rash and other types of infections that may result from getting in contact with the soap.