Washing Cloth Diapers

The good news is it’s not as hard to wash cloth diapers as you may assume from an outsider’s perspective.  There is no need for dunking or sloshing in the toilet.  No reason to get your hands dirty at all!

Washing New Diapers:

All diapers should be washed at least once before used on baby.  Prefolds and hemp inserts it’s recommended 8-10 times to reach their full absorbency potential.  My theory is to wash and dry them 2-3 times with my normal clothes, use them on baby, and eventually they will have been washed 8-10 times.  Hemp inserts have natural oils and need to be washed separately from the rest of your diapers 2-3 times.

With a newborn washing is super easy!  Throw your dirty diapers into the wash for a pre-rinse then a wash with a scoop of your favorite all natural, water soluble detergent.  Follow with another rinse if you think it’s needed.  Put diapers in the dryer on low/no heat and you’re done!

Washing diapers with a newborn or breastfeeding infant:

1) Pre-rinse on cold

2) Hot wash with 1-3 tablespoons of natural detergent

3) Final rinse on cold (optional)

4) Dry on low heat


Once your baby starts eating solids things change a bit.  The stomach bacteria that helps babies digest their food comes out in their waste.  Water soluble, non-residue building detergents do not have anything in their formulas to kill bacteria.  So we need to add an extra step here.  You have 6 options to fight bacteria: bleach, hydrogen peroxide, sunlight, Thirsties Prewash, Biokleen Bac-Out, and Funk Rock.

    a)  Bleach is a carcinogen(causes cancer) and we do not recommend it.  Bleach is not only unsafe for baby but it will also diminish the life and quality of your diapers. 

    b)  Hydrogen peroxide is a safe alternative and I do a 50/50 ratio with water in my bathroom sink.  I let a handful of diapers soak in the mix for 20-40 minutes, then wring out and do another handful of diapers to soak.  Then I wash like normal.  1/2 cup in your wash for upkeep.

    c)  Sunlight is a powerful combatant for naturally killing bacteria.  Just lay your wet diapers in the sunlight to dry.

    d)  Thirsties Pre-Wash is a newer option for killing bacteria and treating stains.  Include in your prewash, then wash like normal.

    e)  Biokleen Bac-out is a natural culture enzyme- basically it’s good bacteria that eats the bad bacteria and washes out of your diapers.  You must spray this on your diapers and let it sit in the pail OR let it soak in your washer for a time(1/2-1 cup overnight).  This works really well and we have a lot of parents use this method.

    d)  Funk Rock is a new product recently released by Rockin Green in November 2010.  Soak your diapers to get the funk out.

Washing diapers when baby is eating solid food:

1) Pre-rinse on cold (option a is to add bleach, option d is to add Thirsties Pre-Wash)

2)  Soak overnight (option b is with hydrogen peroxide, option e is with Biokleen Bac-out)

3) Hot wash with 1-3 tablespoons of natural detergent

4) Final rinse on cold

5) Dry on low heat (or option c is to line dry to kill bacteria and whiten stains)

Now there are also several ways that you can prevent stink build up in the first place.  Disposing of the waste before you put it in your pail is a big help.  You can do this with a diaper sprayer(think of a kitchen sink sprayer that attaches to the back of your toilet), or you can use a rice paper liner(they look like a dryer sheet) and put the waste easily into the toilet.  Spray your poopy diapers with Biokleen Bac-Out so it kills bacteria while it’s in the pail.  Also don’t let your diapers sit in the pail between washes for more than 2 days, 3 days tops.  The longer they sit the bigger your bacteria issues.


Charlie’s Soap is our personal detergent of choice.  It’s got a bad rap in the cloth diaper world because it can react with hard water.  You can add a water softener if that is an issue for you.  Most people do not have hard water. Charlie’s gets my diapers and clothes super clean and I have not found any alternative that can hold up to it yet.

Rockin Green is another great detergent.  Beloved in the cloth diaper world and formulated especially for cloth diapers.  This detergent is water soluble and does not cause build up in the diapers.  #1 seller in cloth diaper detergent!

Thirsties Super Wash is also formulated for cloth diapers and the reviews by parents have been great for this system.  The bottle even has a built in measuring cup!

bumGenius Detergent is a trusted brand in cloth diapering (a close sibling with Country Save detergent ;) ).  We have many customers who are repeat users.

Soap Nuts is an all natural soap that gets raves from customers.  It’s something that I plan to restock soon in it’s liquid tea form.

Fighting Stains:

The yellow breast milk poop stains will wash out after a couple of washes.  If you don’t want to wait you can do a couple of things.  Put lemon juice into your wash to whiten diapers, or lay out in the sunlight to naturally bleach them.  I haven’t tested this but other online resources state that laying in the sunlight from your window works as well.  Biokleen Bac-out is also suppose to help fight stains.

Helpful Hints:

Use as much water as your machine will allow.

12-18 diapers at a time.  Don’t overload the machine or the diapers won’t get clean.

If you are using conventional detergent, only use a fourth of the recommended amount.

Every once in awhile it’s useful to dry diapers with PUL on high heat to reseal any tiny holes.

Tea Tree or Lavender oil can help defuse the smell from your diaper pail.

A dryer ball in the dryer will help with static and dry your diapers and clothes faster!

A water softener gets diapers cleaner.

Don’t Do List:

Do not use fabric softener.

Do not use dryer sheets.

Do not use bleach.

Do not use conventional diaper rash creams.

Do not dry diapers with PUL and elastic on high heat every time.  This dramatically shortens the life of your diapers.

Do not mess with vinegar and baking soda.  It can throw off the PH in your diapers and is not worth dabbling in.  Some people have success with it but I have heard too many unhappy stories that involve the use of these.  It’s better to prevent and fix the problem than to try to treat the symptom.


Been using conventional detergent and have major build up?  A sign of build up is when your diapers are not absorbing, you have a stink problem, or baby is getting rashes. To strip your diapers do the normal wash cycle with detergent, then follow with another wash cycle using Dawn dish soap(yes it needs to be Dawn).  Depending on your machine it will determine the amount you use.  In my top loader I use about a quarter size amount of Dawn.  It may be 1/4 of that for a front loader.  Once the cycle is done you are going to rinse, and rinse, and rinse until the suds are gone.  Fresh diapers again!

Washing wool will be in a separate post in the near future.

Please post replies below.  My story may help some but your story may help others.  Please share your washing routine!  Have great details?  Share and you could win a free bottle of Bac-out or Thirsties Pre-Wash!

About Brookie-Lee

Brookie-Lee is the mother of four wonderful children and wife to her best friend. She is a La Leche League Leader, Hypnobabies instructor, and previous owner of Happybottomus. She gives birth at home, breastfeeds, co-sleeps, cloth diapers, baby-wears, non-vax, eats organically, uses natural remedies, does yoga, and now homeschools. She lives in Historic Northeast Kansas City and has an urban farm with a garden and chickens.
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10 Responses to Washing Cloth Diapers

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention Washing Cloth Diapers | Live Happybottomus -- Topsy.com

  2. Alicia Kueny says:

    I have searched all over the internet for tips about washing my cloth diapers. We moved a few months ago, and I think the change to well water is affecting my diapers. Having these problems caused me to question my very basic knowledge about how to wash cloth diapers. Your post was refreshingly simple, yet comprehensive. Thank you so much. After reading this I feel like I can take the first step back towards getting my diaper washing routine back under control!

  3. Alycia Fuller says:

    This is my first try at posting comments, so I’m not sure this will go where I want-it may be lost in web space somewhere.
    When I began CDing, it was with the hope of early potty training. My daughter was 18mo old, and I used Gerber burp rag style “cloth diapers”. Which were not diapers, therefore absorbency was horrible. I didn’t use CD safe detergent, used a 5 gal bucket of water with 2oz bleach and washed every other day. Imagine the water bill, and all the heaving into a top loader. I must add, bleached wet pails made for very stinky loads, and did nothing for stains. So I then tried whatever off brand “colorsafe bleach” was cheap in place of bleach, and that did better for odors and stains, but still the absorbency was awful. Who knows what else I did “wrong” too that would have affected the outcome. And my baby’s skin-she had quite a few yeast infections, and poor baby had the moisture next to her skin all day long. =( I guess we just don’t know what we don’t know til we learn.
    One day while shopping in the Lee’s Summit store, I was picking Kevin’s brain about different ways to disinfect. He explained the effects of bleach, and told me about Bac-Out, and other alternatives. He seemed to genuinely care about encouraging me to get away from bleach, instead of just proposing another disinfecting option. Being new to CD, and natural parenting in general, I was skeptical about “good bacteria” actually killing the bad. So, after much research, and I must say personal wrestling with the idea of bleach (we all want to kill all the germs, but short of a medical necessity most of us cannot lead a completely sterilized life), I tried Bac-Out. It was fine, but it was a little expensive for me. And with the nondiapers, I quickly gave up CDing.
    So, fast forward to my son, who is now 8mo. When he was 2mo, I began using fitted diapers (oh the absorbency!), and decided to try the “good bacteria” idea. Thirsties Prewash and Superwash seemed the cheapest and frankly easiest option with the squeeze bottle that pre-measures for you, and I was very happily surprised. There were very few yellow stains from breastfed poop, and when there were I put them in the sun for an afternoon and they were gone. Since he’s grown, we now use the Flip system, and Thirsties still is awesome. There is no “prewash” cycle on my washer (the top loader gave out, so we got a front loader, and there is no quick wash on mine), so I do a full heavy duty cycle with Prewash in cold, followed by a normal cycle with Superwash in hot. I don’t soak (should I if he has no rashes or odors-not a rhetorical question, I really would like to know). I do wash diapers every day as the thought of bacteria -and the smell – is too much for me to let sit. After going thru the whole yeast infection ordeal with my daughter, I change him probably more often than I need to. And I use cloth wipes, so by the end of the day my diaper load is pretty large. Minimal staining (I think blueberries and prunes just might make for unavoidable stains), but it seems to fade as I continue to wash, and I do put them in the sun every now and then. No bleach for my little guy, and his skin looks awesome. We only need a swipe with Magic Stick every now and then. Sometimes DD’s are handy for when we’re out and about ( I have become very dependent on my sprayer, and don’t want to rinse a poop out in a public toilet or let it sit in the wetbag til we get home), but mostly I prefer CD now. My washing system is simple, and has just become a part of my daily routine. This is not only doable, but I feel happy about doing something good for my baby, and my environment.

  4. Kelly says:

    Thank you for the posts on how to properly clean and disifect CDs. I was hoping to get some insight on making your own detergent. I have researched this and have found that the ingredients are very inexpensive and it is suppose to be easy to do. However, I haven’t been able to find some of the products that are listed in many of the “recipes” for homemade detergent. Does anyone know where you can purchase washing soda (this is different than baking soda)? Fels-Naptha is another product I can’t seem to find on the store shelves. Is this a safe way to clean diapers? I have hard water and feel that my diapers need some help in the cleaning and disinfecting area. How can you soften water without buying an entire house water softener? so many questions….can you help????
    thank you

    • Kelly says:

      oh, one more thing. I am wanting to try making my own felted wool dryer balls. I am hoping this cuts down on the static in all of my laundry. has anyone tried this? Also, what is the proper way to use essential oils in laundry care…I assume that you don’t want to get the oils on your clothes or diapers…I am so confused on this one!

  5. Elizabeth says:

    My wash routine (for Bum Genius pockets):
    ~cold rinse
    ~hot wash with Tide Free & Clear up to the 1 line, 1/2 scoop of OxiClean
    ~2 cold rinses with vinegar in the fabric softener portion of the washer

    I don’t have any stinkies or leaking!

    This thread on Diaper Swappers is incredible. It’s everything you could ever wish to know about detergent and washing diapers.

  6. Tara says:

    Kelly, I struggled with stink from detergent buildup due to hard water as well. I’ve been using a product called RLR. It’s safe (and recommended!) for cloth diapers. It’s a water softener that breaks down the detergent buildup and then rinses away clean. I use it about once a month, preventitively and it saves me from having to strip every 3 months or so which I find takes MANY more washes/rinses!

    My wash routine:
    Cold rinse to help with stains & to rinse the pee out (detergent can’t clean when there’s a layer of pee!)
    Heavy duty wash on hot, deep clean, with extra rinse. I use Dropps detergent which is also safe for cloth dipes.

    When I’ve stripped in the past:
    Normal washing routine but I do 8-10 HOT rinses with the RLR.
    Sun to kill yeast and get stains out.

    Hope this helps someone!

  7. Bradley says:

    I am kind of surprised no one mentioned using Sanitize Mode on a NSF certified washing machine. ( http://www.nsf.org/consumer/residential_appliances/washer.asp?program=ResidentialApp ). We just wash ours on Sanitze Mode (takes about 2 hours) with All Free & Clear HE. Been doing it for 4 months with no staining. We can’t tell the difference between the diapers we just bought and the ones we have had since she was born (Flips).

    I’ve also never read on any non-sales based diaper site that additional chemicals are required to deal with bacteria once baby starts eating solids. The wife and I are new at this, but I am having a hard time buying in to this particular concept. Seems to me that the high heat of washing/drying would take care of this.

  8. Elizabeth says:

    I am extremely new to CD. Does it matter that I make my laundry soap? I also have a sanitize mode on my washer and will be using that faithfully. I will definitely be coming down to the store for shopping advice. My baby is due the beginning of April and I just want to have a handle on things before she comes.

    • Mateus says:

      I started cloth dipaers with my daughter when she was about a year old. If you want to go cheap use plain prefolds. You simply fold them in half twice, and place them inside a velcro wrap. For wraps, my favourite with the prefolds is the Bummi Super Whisper Wrap.My all-time favourite diaper is from a Canadian company called Mother-Ease. They have a one-size-fits-all diaper, that supposedly fits babies from 10 35lbs. My daughter has been wearing them since she was about 18lbs, and is now 22lbs and they are awesome. They are the best in terms of leakage. When used with the snap-in liner, her clothes are never wet in the morning like she is with almost every other diaper, including disposables. They also have great wraps. For a newborn, I would suggest going with one of their packages to save money, if money is an issue. Keep in mind that cloth dipaers are a big initial cost, but will save you tons in the long run, especially if you wash them yourself. Here is my recomendation:-20 mother-ease one-size dipaers (you probably won’t need liners yet as they don’t pee that much yet anyway) if your budget allows it, the stay-dry ones are really nice!)-6 wraps (either the airflow or Rikki wrap is great)Just a hint I purhcased two all-in-one Fuzzy Bunz pocket dipaers, and although they look cute and are fairly compact, they are terrible. My daughter soaks through them in about an hour, even during the day. Mother-ease makes really nice all-in-one dipaers if you are looking for them.Good luck!