Washing cloth diapers is probably the reason most people do not cloth diaper. The thought of sticking dirty diapers in the washing machine leaves people thinking that their machine will forever be contaminated and never truly clean again. Thankfully, laundry machines are perfectly efficient and do a great job of keeping diapers and the machine itself clean. Besides, odds are that people everywhere have washed some pretty gross clothes in the laundry just due to accidents or illnesses.
The real concern about washing cloth diapers is just how to do it. If you ask 10 different families how they wash their diapers, you will get 10 different answers. There does not seem to be a standard when it comes to cleaning cloth diapers.
I will give you the general method that most people loosely follow.
First: Do not store your diapers in a wet pail. A wet pail (aka bucket of water) was the method of the past but it doesn’t work any better in my opinion, you have to deal with all that dirty water, and it’s a drowning hazard. Skip the wet pail. Instead, use a pail with a diaper liner or a hanging wet bag to store your diapers in.
Secondly: If your baby is exclusively breastfed then diapers can be washed poop and all since breastmilk poop is water soluble. If baby is on formula or solids, then poop must be dunked, swished, scraped, or sprayed off first.
Third: There are a few washing "don'ts" when it comes to washing cloth diapers. Do not use bleach, Do not use fabric softeners. Do not use detergent that is not safe for cloth diapers. If you are unsure about what detergent to use, check out this chart.
Here is the general washing method people use when washing cloth diapers
Step 1: After a diaper change, store the dirty diapers in a pail with a diaper liner or in a hanging wet bag.
Step 2: Cloth diapers need to be washed every 2-3 days. You really don’t want to go longer then 3 days usually as you then run the risk of mildew and stink issues.
Step 3: On wash day, toss all the dirty diapers along with your pail liner or wet bag into the laundry machine.
Step 4: Do a rinse load (just a rinse, not a wash) on cold.
Step 5: Do a wash load on hot with ¼- ½ the amount of detergent. (if you would normally do a ½ capful of detergent for your clothes, use ¼ capful for your diapers.)
Step 6: Do one extra rinse load. (some machines have an extra rinse built in, some do not and you must manually re-rinse) This is to remove all the detergent.
Step 7: Shells and diaper covers are best line dried to preserve their waterproof qualities. Inserts, wet bags, and any other cloth products can be dried in the dryer.
To sum up: Store the diapers in a bag or pail and wash every 2-3 days. Washing routine would be rinse on cold, normal wash on hot, extra rinse and then dry.
However, as I said everyone does their laundry differently. Here is what I do. It might not work for you but it is what we do.
My washing method
Steps 1-3: Same as above.
Step 4: Wash on cold with 1/2 the amount of detergent that I would normally use.
Step 5: One extra rinse on cold
Step 6: Separate shells and line dry. Dry everything else in dryer with two full size dry towels and a bunch of wool dryer balls (this is to decrease my drying time)
To sum up: Store the diapers in a bag or pail and wash every 2-3 days. My washing routine is normal wash on cold, extra rinse on cold, and then dry.
As you can see, I do not do a pre-rinse and I wash only in cold. I do use an all temperature laundry detergent so that my diapers/laundry gets just as clean on cold as it would on hot. I personally, have never had a problem getting my diapers clean this way and I like that I save time and money by cutting out a pre-rinse and washing on cold.
Not all wash routines are a like and I do not think they should be. Everyone has different types of water, washers, diapers and so forth. I did want to give the general idea of washing diapers however. Washing diapers is not some time consuming task, nor a dirty one. It really is not an extra effort at all; you just need to find the routine that works best for you.
This post is a part of the Cloth Diapers 101 series.