The Complete Cloth Diaper Washing Guide

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The world of cloth diapering can be very confusing in the beginning, but luckily we have broken it all down for you. You want to keep your diapers not only clean, but in good shape so that you can use them for the next child and so forth. We have broken down routines to help you with:

  • prepping your diapers
  • washing your diapers
  • drying your diapers
  • Sanitizing your diapers
  • Stripping your diapers

Are you ready? Let’s go!

An introduction to cloth diapers - here are all the basics you need to know.:

Prepping Your Cloth Diapers

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If you are new to cloth diapering, then the most important thing to know is that before the initial use, you MUST prep your diapers. By prepping, I simply mean washing them. Some diapers, however, require more than one wash. Read on to find out how to prep your brand new cloth diapers!

If you use microfiber or microfleece, you may only need to wash 2-3 times before they are good to know. For natural fibers such as bamboo, organic cotton, or hemp, you may need to wash them up to 5 times due to the natural oils in them.  The more you wash, the more absorbent the diapers become which is better for you and baby.
Here is a standard and easy prepping routine.
  1. Separate pastel colors from dark colors.
  2. Wash on hot water using small amount of detergent.  Hold it right there. Don’t use just any detergent as most detergents will clog the pores of your inserts and ruin your cloth diapers!
  3. Rinse cycle cold.
  4. Tumble dry inserts on low or hang them outside to dry.
  5. Repeat the number amount of times needed. Each company out there will have their own magic number. Honestly, you cannot go wrong with 3 wash cycles.

Washing Your Cloth Diapers

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When it comes to cloth diapering, parents tend to stress about a routine when it comes to washing & drying. When I was new to cloth diapering, I was so nervous that if I had washed them the wrong way, it would ruin my whole stash! However, as I learned a simple routine, I stuck with it and everything has been simple and fabulous ever since. The main thing to know when washing and drying cloth diapers is to treat them with lots of care. If you treat them well, they could possible last to your next child!

Caring for cloth diapers also means washing them with the right detergent. Unfortunately, when it comes to cloth diapering, not all detergents are made equally. Some detergents can clog the pores on your diaper’s inserts which could potentially ruin the diapers, if not decrease the lifespan of them. Who wants to risk that? Luckily, there are specially made laundry detergents out there for cloth diapers! We sell Charlie’s soap, which can be found on our website and that you may purchase here. It is gentle, chemical free, and all natural. Do not use bleach or fabric softeners on your diapers during the wash.

Here is the easiest & most widely used method to washing your cloth diapers after each use:

  1. Cold rinse without detergent.
  2. Hot wash with detergent. NO BLEACH or FABRIC SOFTENERS. For a complete list of safe detergents, click here.
    Second cold rinse after wash.
  3. After wash, tumble dry on LOW in the dryer or hang them outside to dry.

Drying Your Cloth Diapers

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When it comes to drying your cloth diapers, there are generally two ways to do so: indoors or outdoors and with a machine or without a machine. Most parents prefer air drying their cloth diapers to extend the lifetime of them and to prevent any damage to the diaper cover itself.

Yes, you CAN reduce the lifetime and effectiveness of your cloth diapers by excessively drying them on the dryer. My personal advice? Do not dry the diaper covers or wet bags in the dryer! This can delaminate the PUL liners & tear the zippers off of your wetbags as well as possibly loosen or tear the snaps off of your cloth diapers.

I actually do both ways: air drying and using a dryer mashine! I only use the dryer for the diaper inserts-not the actual cloth diaper cover as this can cause wear and tear on the diaper cover itself. Instead of throwing the covers in the dryer, I lay them out on my washer and dryer and they are dry within a few hours!

Instead, lay your cloth diaper covers over your machines to dry or hang them on a rack. As mentioned earlier, you may even line dry them to naturally bleach them to keep them looking their best!

As previously stated, I only use the dryer for my inserts and, when I do, I tumble dry low on the LOWEST setting possible to avoid any mishaps.

Here are a few ways to dry your diapers indoors with some peace of mind:

Use an indoor drying rack. There are a few drying racks out on the market that work well for this! Some are even 3 or 4 tiered! However, if space is at a premium in your home, I’ve been told the 2 tier version fits nicely in most bathtubs. Hang your cloth diapers to dry during the day or overnight and collapse the rack and store it for bath time.

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Toss them over a shower rod. This is another great way to keep clean diapers up and away from toddler hands while drying. Maximize your space by using plastic clothes hangers along the shower rod if you have a larger cloth diaper collection.
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String a line or hang them indoors. If you have a basement or other area, you can install a retractible clothesline. They are found at many home improvement stores. Just be sure to follow all safety recommendations and find a safe place that is away from little hands.

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To dry your cloth diapers outside, you don’t need a traditional clothesline and clothespins. You can use a folding drying rack or set your diapers over a deck rail (we do not recommend this if there are high winds in your area). You can even just lay your diapers across an outdoor chair or table if you can’t find a place to hang a clothesline or don’t have enough space for a drying rack. You can even use a fence-if you have one! Options are truly endless.

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When air drying your cloth diapers, there are a few things you will want to keep in mind:

  • Don’t leave your cloth diapers outside for too long. High temperatures can be just as harmful to your cloth diapers as dryer heat.
  • We only recommend keeping your diapers outside until they are dry. There is no need to keep your diapers out any longer.
  • Check your diapers frequently because you never know when a bird may want to try out your baby’s Lil Bums!

Sanitizing Your Cloth Diapers

Got smelly diapers, but you are afraid to strip them using the bleach method? Don’t worry I feel your pain! Having spent hundreds of dollars on cloth diapers, I am sometimes afraid to strip mine, too. Bleach can be so harsh and should only be used in bad cases of odor, staining, and build up.

Here is a better and less invasive way to sanitize your diapers! I like to sanitize mine every season-so about every 3 months or so.

How do I sanitize my diapers safely with peace of mind?

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I use baking soda and vinegar!

Here’s how:

  • Do a cold rinse.
  • Use your regular amount of detergent.
  • Add 1/2 cup baking soda and a Downy ball filled to the top with distilled white vinegar.  Start your washer’s hot cycle.
  • After the diapers have agitated, but before the hot water has drained, stop the cycle (this can be done on some washers by leaving the lid up).
  • Let the diapers soak overnight.
  • Close the lid in the morning to complete the cycle.

Stripping Your Cloth Diapers

Over time, your cloth diapers will steadily accumulate build up after being subjected to so many changes. This is only natural! There is certainly nothing wrong with your cloth diapers; however, it is important to fix this problem as soon as you notice it in order to help extend your cloth diaper’s lifespan of usage.

How do you know if your cloth diapers need stripping? Here are a few clues I have learned:

  • “Barnyard smell”: Your diapers start smelling like a wet dog pretty much-or worse! Even after they come out of the wash.
  • Leaks: Your diapers will start leaking regularly if the pores become too clogged.
  • Discoloration: Discoloration will happen more often as your diapers are unable to clean as well as they once did while in the washer.

So, now we know what to look for, why do these things happen? Some common causes are:

  • Using too much detergent: Causes detergent to build up in the diaper.
  • Using too little detergent: Causes poop and pee to build up in the diaper.
  • You’re using the wrong detergent.
  • You’ve used diaper cream not specifically made for cloth diapers.
  • Not using hot water for the wash.
  • Not using the rinse cycle before and after your hot wash.


Now, here is what to do about it. Proper stripping instructions will vary from site to site, but there is one clear method that is the most popular to use. You will need:

  • 1 tablespoon Dawn liquid dish detergent (the BLUE kind) for regular or top loading machines OR 1 teaspoon Dawn liquid dish detergent (the BLUE kind) for high efficiency or front loading machines.
  • 1/2 cup of bleach

**Note: You do NOT want to strip your diapers too often as it will wear them down. Bleach is abrasive and should only be used for bad cases of build up and barnyard stink!**

Now that you have your ingredients, wash your cloth diapers on a hot wash using the Dawn and bleach. After that wash, wash for TWO more times on hot with no detergent or Dawn or anything at all!

Dry as you normally would and there you have it! When in doubt, please check with the manufacturer of your brand cloth diapers.

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