Washing and Caring Cloth Diapers: A to Z You Wanted To Know

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You might have read what modern cloth diapers are and the frequently asked questions on cloth diapers vs disposables.

Today, let’s discuss how to take care of these cloth diapers – how to prep them before first use, how to store the used diapers, how to wash and dry them, how to deal with any odor issues etc.

washing and caring cloth diapers

Let’s start with some do’s and don’t’s.

#1. What are the Do’s and Don’ts of cloth diapers?

When we wash baby laundry, we always have to take care of factors such as hygiene, not using harsh detergents etc. Caring for cloth diapers is very similar to that.

We have to remember a few additional points to make sure that the diapers last long and do their job well.

Dos of washing cloth diapers:

  • Research

Do your research on which types of cloth diapers will work best for which activities (like sleeping, daycare, outing etc). Try a few brands or models before you buy more of them.

  • Follow the instructions

Follow the instructions that come with your cloth diapers. This will make sure your diapers work well and in case there is a problem, it is covered by the manufacturer warranty.

  • Prepping

Prep your diapers before first use. The method is described in a below section.

  • Mild detergents

Use a mild detergent that is free of additives like enzymes, fabric softeners and optical brighteners. You can also buy a cloth diaper specific detergent to be sure (More in the washing routine section below).

  • Washing out the pee

Make sure the pee is washed out well and the detergent is rinsed out well with additional water.

  • Usage of warm or hot water

Use hot or warm water for washing if possible. Do only use water that is hot to the touch. Extremely hot water can melt diaper cover lining, plastic snaps etc.

  • Usage of rash creams

Use only a rash cream that is cloth diaper friendly. If not, add a separate stay dry layer in between and make sure they are washed separately.

Coconut oil is a great diaper rash cream that is also very cloth diaper friendly.

  • Change the diapers regularly

Do change your cloth diapers regularly. Remember that even cloth diapers can cause rashes if baby is left in wetness or poop for too long.

Don’ts of washing cloth diapers:

  • No harsh detergents

Don’t use a harsh detergent (the regular ones we use for our clothes). If you insist on using them, use a smaller quantity and take extra care in rinsing.

  • No fabric softeners

Don’t use fabric softeners like comfort. Don’t use chlorine beach, dettol etc.

  • No more piling up of unwashed diapers

Don’t leave the diapers unwashed for more than three days.

  • No hot water for fresh stains

Don’t wash freshly stained diapers in hot water. The poop has to be rinsed off before using hot water, as hot water will set stains.

  • No too much of detergent

Don’t’ add too much detergent to the wash, as it may not get fully rinsed.

  • No microfiber in touch with baby’s skin

Don’t use a microfiber insert directly against baby’s skin as it can dry baby skin too much (Please don’t confuse this with microfleece stay dry layer, which a great reusable layer to sit next to your baby skin).

#2. What is meant by prepping cloth diapers?

Cloth diapers need to be washed before first use, to remove any residual chemicals. This is called prepping.

With natural materials such as cotton, hemp or bamboo in cloth diapers, we need to remove their natural oils to attain full absorbency. Hence the wash-dry cycle has to be repeated 4-5 times before first use.

Always prep your natural materials separately from the synthetics. This is so that you don’t pass on the natural oils to the synthetic fabrics which will reduce absorbency.

#3. How to prep cloth diapers?

Soak your new cloth diapers in a little detergent in preferably hot water. Rinse them well preferably in warm water. You can do the prepping by hand or in a washing machine.

If you don’t want to wash your natural material diapers so many times, it’s ok to use them after first wash. But remember they may not be fully absorbent and may leak. So avoid for naps and night time.

#4. How to store used diapers before washing?

The simple solution is to use a dustbin with a lid for closing. You can use a old pillow cover as a liner for the dustbin so that you can wash it along with the cloth diapers. If not, you can simply rinse the dustbin each time you do laundry.

Sprinkling a little baking soda in your dustbin will help reduce odors coming from the urine. It is best to wash your cloth diapers every other day, or every day according to your convenience.

#5. What if baby pooped in the cloth diaper?

Breastfed poop is water soluble and hence you can simply toss it in your dustbin (called diaper pail) and wash it with other cloth diapers. However, I prefer to rinse them into the toilet before storing.

For formula fed or solid fed babies, the poop should be rinsed off as much as possible into the toilet. The health faucet in our toilet is a wonderful tool for this, as it will force water into the diaper. Then the diaper can be stored along with other cloth diapers and washed as usual.

#6. How to wash cloth diapers?

In general, baby’s clothes need to be washed with a mild detergent as their skin is very sensitive. With cloth diapers, we also need to make sure that they don’t lose their absorbency or leak. Hence a little extra care is required.

It’s better to avoid regular detergents like surf , rin or any other detergents that we use for our clothes.

In India, Amway SA8 delicate, surf excel gentle and pigeon baby detergent are said to be good for cloth diapers. I have always used Rustic Art’s little laundry detergent with no issues as it does not have additives. Soap nuts can be used for washing if you are familiar with it.

Remember to take out the inserts from the diapers for better washing. Of course, they can all be washed together.

#7. How to wash cloth diapers by hand?

Rinse the diapers well in cold water (hot water can set poop stains) and pour it down the toilet. Add some detergent to hot water and let the cloth diapers soak for 20 minutes to 1 hour. Wash well.

Do not use the brush we use for washing clothes and do not use too much force on the washing stone.

Rinse thoroughly in warm or cold water till there are no visible suds (3-4 times). Remove the water as much as possible and sun-dry.

#8. How to wash cloth diapers in washing machine?

You can first rinse all the cloth diapers in water and pour it down the toilet. If you don’t want to do that manually, you can simply put them in washing machine with no detergent and run just the rinse cycle.

Now add the detergent and run the wash, rinse and spin cycles. If your washing machine has option to add extra rinse, use that to make sure the detergent and urine is rinsed out well.

If your washing machine has hot water option, use that. Else, normal water will do.

#9. How to wash diaper covers?

  • Wool:

If you are using wool diaper covers like me, the good news is that they don’t have to be washed every day (Infact, they should not be).

Simply hang them to dry so that all urine gets evaporated. Once they are smelling fresh again, they are ready to use.

Wool has special anti-bacterial properties, so we don’t have to worry about hygiene. Tell everyone in your family and your maid not to put the wool pant for washing with other diapers. It will damage the wool.

  • Regular diaper covers:

If your diaper cover manufacturer says it can just be wiped and reused, you can do that a few times before washing. If it is soiled by poop, rinse the poop as said above and wash it as usual.

Diaper covers can be washed along with other cloth diapers. Put on the velcro tabs etc before putting them in washing machine.

#10. How to dry cloth diapers and covers?

Cloth diapers have a lot of layers and hence will take more time to dry.

In case you are hand washing, you can use the spin dry in your washing machine to take out the excess water before hanging it to dry. This will reduce drying time.

It is always better to dry cloth diapers in the sun as it will remove stains very well and also sanitize the diapers. Put them in direct sun when possible rather than in shade.

In case you are using a heat based dryer (tumble dry), better to avoid them on diaper covers as the heat may damage the waterproof layer. The usual spin dry in our washing machines is ok.

Sun drying is best for diaper covers.

#11. How to deal with occasional odors and leaks in cloth diapers?

Let’s face it. Cloth diapers absorb urine. And urine smells. It’s important to wash them properly.

But still, they may smell sometimes. This can also lead to leaks. The reason can be detergent residues, mineral buildup from hard water or simply urine not washed properly.

Here are some tips to deal with it.

Always use enough detergent to wash cloth diapers well. But remember that too much detergent is bad, as it can stay on the diapers even after rinsing and will also lead to problems.

Always rinse well. Do not underestimate the power of hot water and sun.

You may sometimes find that your cloth diapers smell even after washing and drying. Or they may smell unusually once your child pees on it. Then it is time for stripping.

Stripping is basically rinsing the (already washed) diapers in hot water for many times so that any detergent residue, hard water minerals, urine, bacteria etc are removed. You can optionally soak them in detergent for some time before stripping. Then put them to dry in the sun.

If stripping with the above method does not help, you can try some recommendations like RLR laundry treatment, liquid dawn (blue formula). As a last resort, you can try bleach or oxybleach. But make sure to rinse it properly, as it can irritate baby skin.

#12. How to take care of wool diaper covers?

Wool is a great breathable option for diaper cover. Wool can keep your baby warm in cold weather and cool in warm weather.

I used to think that wool is meant for cold climates, but after reading about them and using them for a while, I am comfortable using them in Chennai.

Right now, I don’t find these covers in India. I bought it from US.

Remember to buy only wool pants meant to be used for diaper covers and buy some lanolin with them (I will explain why)

Caring for wool is different from caring for regular diaper covers, but not the least difficult.

#13. How to wash wool pants?

Wool pants need to be washed once a month or whenever they leak. Sometimes even after air drying they may not smell fresh. This also indicates it’s time for washing.

Simply rinse them in warm water once. Soak them in a small amount of mild detergent for 5 to 10 minutes in room temperature water. Rinse in cold water. Do not soak too long.

#14. What is meant by lanolizing wool pants?

The special property of wool comes from the natural fat found in it called lanolin. This goes off with use and washing.

We need to lanolize it after each washing to make sure they do not leak.

Take a teaspoon of lanolin in half a cup of water and put it on the stove till the lanolin melts. Add a drop or extremely small amount of baby soap or detergent to it and stir or shake well. This is a process called emulsification.

Emulsification makes the water immiscible lanolin get mixed well with water. Add this hot water to a tub of water and make sure it is back to room temperature.

Add the rinsed wool pant(s) to it and let it soak for half an hour to two hours. This way the wool gets a chance to absorb the lanolin.

Don’t be worried if some yellow patches seem to be forming on the pant. They will go off after drying.

Remove the pants and remove the excess water mildly without wringing too much. Spread an absorbent towel on a table and put the pant to dry on that. Do not hang dry as the heaviness of the water will stretch the fabric.

Things to be noted:

  • Don’t wash the wool cover with regular laundry or in washing machine
  • Never use hot or too cold water on wool pants as it will shock the fabric and cause it to shrink
  • Wash and lanolize before first use. In my experience, even pants that claim to be pre-lanolized need lanolizing before first use.

#15. My personal favorites of cloth diapers:

My personal favorites are thristies duo fab fitted which I got from US.

Though they are fitted diapers, they come with an attached stay dry layer and that makes life easy. They even have place for extra inserts to increase absorbency.

It comes in just two sizes- the size 1 can be used upto 8 Kgs, and the size 2 can be used from 8 to 18 Kgs(practically till potty training).

I bought some thirsties hemp inserts to insert into these additional pockets. This combined with a wool diaper cover makes our nights so easy.

I  alternante between Disana Organic Merino Wool Cover and woolybottoms wool soakers.

A special thanks to my friend Preethi Sivakumar for sharing her cloth diaper experiences for the article.

She ordered her pocket diapers from shopdiaper and alvababy websites. She likes the customer service of shopdiaper. The brand she likes best is alvababy pocket diapers, which is available in both these websites.

Summary:

I guess we have covered all the information you need to start off on your cloth diapering journey including washing and caring cloth diapers as well.

They may seem difficult at first, but I promise it will get easy and you will even get addicted to this stuff.

Do let us know if you have more questions. I’ll be happy to assist you in going green and choosing a healthier alternative for your baby.

Kindly share this informative article in Facebook and Twitter.

About Author

Vandana quit her software career because she found her mother brain lost capability to process anything beyond her child's needs. She lives in Chennai with her husband and two year old Vihaan Krishna. Becoming a parent has helped her understand life in a much better way. She wants to share her new found wisdom to the benefit of other judicious parents who are constantly wanting to give the best to their kids.

5 Comments

  1. Thank you so much for the informative article. I browsed through this because I use cloth diapers for my child and have nearly stopped using them because they turn slightly moist and start smelling from the first pee itself.
    Would this be a problem with the detergent? And is it normal for the surface of the diaper to be somewhat moist, even when the diaper is a feel dry one?

  2. Thank you sooooo much… Very informative… Many other articles I read online do not comply with the Indian traditions and point of views… I’m planning on cloth diapering my soon -to-arrive second baby…

  3. Well researched and nicely written article Vandana.

    am almost out of the diaper struggle for my younger one 🙂

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