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How to wash baby clothes: Here’s what you need to know

Do you really need baby detergent? What cycle do you wash baby clothes in? Here, experts answer top questions about how to wash baby clothes.

How to wash baby clothes: Here’s what you need to know

Part of becoming a parent means thinking about things that never previously occurred to you. Instead of wondering if you should do dinner before a movie or vice versa (oh, childless self!) thoughts like screen time limits, activities for preschoolers and how to wash baby clothes are more likely to plague you. 

While the first two may not enter the chat for a few years, questions about washing baby clothes will likely come up before baby’s even born (read: after you get a stack of adorable onesies at your baby shower).

Similar to most child care topics, there aren’t hard and fast rules when it comes to washing baby clothes, but experts do recommend a number of tips — the first one being washing before wearing. “If possible, you should wash new clothes before putting them on baby,” says Dr. Stephanie DeLeon, a pediatrician at Oklahoma Children’s Hospital in Oklahoma City. “The clothes may contain manufacturing chemicals, which could irritate a baby’s skin, and this is more likely to occur the younger the baby. However, life with a baby can be very busy, so it is OK to use clothes that haven’t been washed if that’s what needs to happen.”

“If possible, you should wash new clothes before putting them on baby. The clothes may contain manufacturing chemicals, which could irritate a baby’s skin, and this is more likely to occur the younger the baby.”

— DR. STEPHANIE DELEON, PEDIATRICIAN

From baby detergent advice to tips for washing baby clothes in a laundromat, here’s everything parents and caregivers need to know about laundering baby clothes. 

Can you wash baby clothes with regular detergent?

The scent of Dreft may invoke the image of cuddly newborns wrapped in fluffy blankies, but the truth is, “baby detergent” isn’t necessary. 

“Parents and caregivers can absolutely use regular detergent, including generic and store brands, for baby clothes,” DeLeon says. “There’s no need to spend extra money on detergent that is marketed for babies. However, it’s best to try and find a dye- and fragrance-free detergent, as these are more likely to prevent skin irritation in young babies.”    

Tips for choosing a detergent

Ultimately, most detergents will get the job done, but to reduce the chance of skin irritation, take the following into consideration:

  • Stay sensitive. Luis Zuñiga, a laundry expert with Mr Jeff, a multi-service app which includes home delivery of freshly laundered clothes, advises seeking out brands geared towards sensitive skin. “Choosing neutral detergents formulated for sensitive skin is a great choice,” Zuñiga says. “It helps maintain the fabric and is gentle on baby’s especially delicate skin.”
  • Stay “clean.” “If possible, find a regular detergent that’s made with clean, non-toxic ingredients, which is gentler on baby’s skin” says mom of two Katy Prushiek, who’s also the founder of the children’s pants line, Sock Bottoms. A detergent favorite brand of Prushiek’s is Attitude

“Choosing neutral detergents formulated for sensitive skin is a great choice.”

— LUIS ZUNIGA, LAUNDRY EXPERT

Is it OK to wash baby clothes in a public laundromat?

Not everyone has a washer and dryer in their home, and it’s “absolutely OK” to wash baby clothes in a public laundromat, according to DeLeon. If you’re doing the washing yourself, Prushiek says it’s best to BYOD —  “bring your own detergent.”

If you’re sending laundry out or dropping off, a good practice, according to Zuñiga, is asking if you can make “special requests for detergent preferences.” 

What cycle do you wash baby clothes in?

According to DeLeon, baby clothes can typically be washed in whatever the regular cycle is on your washer. “Unless the clothing item has specific directions, no extra care is needed.” 

And to that point, she adds, it “truly doesn’t matter” if baby’s clothes are washed on the hot or cold cycle. “However, baby clothes that are washed in cold water are less likely to shrink or have colors that bleed,” DeLeon notes. “And if the clothes are ‘fancy,’ read the label for cleaning instructions.”

For clothes with poop or vomit on them, Prushiek recommends using “using the sanitary cycle, if your washing machine has the option, as it ensures all germs are killed.”

Pro tip for stain removal

DeLeon advises popping baby clothes in the wash as soon as possible to increase the chances of getting out stains. “Babies often have a lot of stains — drool, food, urine, stool — and the sooner you can wash the item, the better,” she says, adding that it’s “OK to use regular stain sprays prior to washing.”

“Babies often have a lot of stains — drool, food, urine, stool — and the sooner you can wash the item, the better.”

— DR. STEPHANIE DELEON, PEDIATRICIAN

Is it OK to wash 6-month-old clothes with the rest of the family’s clothes?

If you’ve been washing baby clothes in their own detergent, the 6-month-old mark is the “perfect time to start integrating baby’s clothing in with the rest of the family’s laundry cycle,” says Zuñiga. “Before this, it’s important to test washing garments with common products to ensure that it does not cause any negative effects on the baby’s skin.”

If the whole family is using the same detergent, it’s fine to wash everything together, though, as DeLeon notes, “most babies go through enough clothes for families to have a ‘baby’ load that’s big enough by itself.”

On the chance that baby does get a rash from a new type of detergent, DeLeon assures that generally these types of reactions are “mild and go away with time.” That said, families should always reach out to their pediatrician to discuss concerns.

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