Quick Tips for Washing Cloth Diapers

Lauren B. Stevens
April 29, 2015

Simplify your cloth diaper-laundering routine with this how-to.

If you're new to cloth diapering, you'll find an abundance of conflicting and varied advice about washing cloth diapers. You can demystify washing cloth diapers by keeping your routine simple.

Here's what you need to know about storing and laundering your dirty diapers:

How Do You Store Dirty Cloth Diapers Before Washing?
Carolyn Russell, owner of the cloth diaper reference site Padded Tush Stats, says, "The two most common methods of storing dirty diapers are either a wet bag or a diaper pail." Wet bags are waterproof, featuring a loop -- so you can hang the bag while in use -- and a zippered opening, which allows you to drop dirty diapers in with ease (and zip it closed to keep odors at bay!). The other method of storing cloth diapers before washing is to use a diaper pail or trash can with a pail liner. "When you're ready to do your laundry," says Russell, "you empty the wet bag or pail liner into the washing receptacle and then toss in the wet bag or pail liner to be washed along with the diapers."

Another less common method of storing dirty diapers is soaking them in a wet pail full of water. Wet pails are more often used with flat and prefold diaper users, as soaking diapers can prematurely wear out elastics and polyurethane laminate coatings. If you decide to use a wet pail to store your dirty diapers, make sure that your pail has a lid that secures tightly to keep your curious tot out.

Suzi Satterfield, owner of the cloth diapering site Cloth Diaper Addicts, uses a hanging wet bag to store her dirty diapers, saying, "The added airflow around the bag means that my diapers are less likely to develop issues with smells or mold."

Some parents use sprayers that attach to the toilet to spray any poop off the diapers before storing them. While this is usually less of an issue with newborns' diapers, as your child moves beyond breastmilk or formula you'll definitely want to knock off any solids into the toilet before storing and washing your diapers.

How Do You Wash Them?
How you go about washing cloth diapers -- and what detergent you use -- varies depending upon several factors, including water hardness, hot water temperature, "what kind of machine you use or if you're washing by hand and how many diapers you are washing at a time," says Russell.

Jennifer Reinhardt, the owner of the reference site All About Cloth Diapers, says, "When you first start out with cloth diapers, I recommend that you just use the detergent that you're already using on your clothing." Russell concurs, suggesting, "You should use whatever you are comfortable with and that you feel does a good job getting your diapers clean."

As for how much detergent to use, Reinhardt recommends using "the same amount of detergent for cloth diapers that you would use for a same size load of heavily soiled clothing."

No matter what detergent you use, be sure to avoid fabric softeners, either in your detergent or added separately. Fabric softener can coat the fibers, reducing the absorbency of the diapers.

While it is best to wash diapers with each other instead of with your regular laundry, you don't need to wash out your washing machine between diapers and regular clothes.

How Should You Dry and Store Them?
Once you've found the laundering routine that works for your cloth diapers, follow the instructions accompanying your diapers for drying. Most diapers dry well on a low heat setting in your dryer for about an hour, but if you want to treat your diapers with the utmost care and with less wear and tear, hanging your cloth diapers -- indoors or out -- and air drying them is the best method. In addition, sunlight can fade any stains.

Once your cloth diapers are clean and dry, how you store them is up to you and the space that you've created for storage. Russell's changing table is a built-in desk, so she stores her clean diapers in the desk drawers. Dressers make great changing stations and cloth diaper storage areas. Reinhardt, who uses a dresser, says, "I store the clean cloth diapers in the top drawers of that dresser. I use a hanging wet bag on the side of the changing table to store the soiled diapers."

If washing cloth diapers seems overwhelming to you, don't let it stop you from using cloth! Search your local area for a diaper service to launder your cloth diapers for you each week. Reinhardt reminds parents, "Simplicity is key. Go with what works best for you and your family."

For more on cloth diapering, read How to Use Cloth Diapers.

Cloth diapering for three years, Lauren prefers a fuss-free and simplified approach to cloth diapering. With the free time a simple cloth diapering routine provides, Lauren writes on a freelance basis, and her work can be found on sites such as The Huffington Post and Scary Mommy. When she's not writing for others, Lauren blogs about parenting and women's issues at lo-wren.

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