Buying the diapers is the fun part. Now what? Laundering them is the nitty gritty of cloth diapering, but that doesn’t mean you need to be a slave to your washing routine. Depending on your diapers, your water or your washing machine, you may need to switch detergents, turn up your hot water heater, or change your washer settings. Here is the basic formula for getting clean diapers every time.
Prewash to prepare diapers--Just like you wash your baby’s clothes before first use, diapers need to be washed before they are worn. Most man-made fibers (e.g. fleece, PUL) are ready to go after one wash, but cotton, hemp, and other natural fibers need about 3 washes before they can absorb properly. Natural fibers have natural oils that need to be stripped. Separate man-made and natural fibers initially to keep natural oils from depositing on your man-made fibers.
Place diapers in a dry pail between washings--Stow soiled diapers in a dry pail until ready to wash. Washing every 2-3 days is optimal and there is usually no need for a long soaking. Use a waterproof bag called a pail liner inside a small trash can or 5-6 gallon bucket to contain diapers and make the move to the washer easy. Throw the pail liner right in with the diapers to wash.
Dump solids--Breastfed baby poop is water soluble and does not need to be rinsed prior to washing. Formula and solid food poop should be dumped in the toilet before washing. Liners or a diaper sprayer make this process quick and painless, but a simple drop or swish in the sink or toilet is fine too.
Initial rinse in warm water—Poop is best removed in a warm water Pre-rinse. This helps remove any remaining solids and ensures the wash cycle happens in the cleanest water possible. For best results, wait for a full load of 12-24 diapers and use as much water as possible. Because HE machines use less water, trick your machine by adding a wet towel or, if you have a “Water Plus” setting on your machine, use that instead.
A long wash in hot water--Set your cycle for Heavy Soil and/or Cotton Sturdy. You want the longest, hottest wash your machine can manage (though no hotter than 140 degrees). Agitation works with heat and detergent to get your diapers really clean. The best detergents leave no residue and will contain no brighteners, softeners, or artificial fragrances (e.g. Rockin’ Green). Use a normal amount of soap for a regular load of laundry. Too much soap will leave a residue and too little will not get your diapers clean.
One last rinse--Include an Extra Rinse to remove all detergent from your diapers. A Warm Water Rinse helps break down as much detergent as possible and helps your spin cycle get diapers as dry as possible.
Time to dry--Most diapers can be dried in the dryer on low or medium heat, but drying times will vary based on the type of diaper. All-in-ones usually require the most time in the dryer but a wool dryer ball or dry hand towel can cut back on time in the dryer. If you can hang your diapers out to dry, you get the added bonus of the sun’s odor and stain eliminating power. A line dried diaper is the happiest diaper of all!
So to summarize: Dump, Rinse, Wash, Rinse, Dry. That’s it! When diapers come out of the dryer or off the line they should smell like nothing. No ammonia smell or eau de barnyard. If you have lingering smells you need to tweak your routine until you get a nice neutral scent. Our next article will address troubleshooting for lingering odors, hard stains and frustrating leaks. Happy Diapering!