How to wash Cloth Diapers

Posted by Anna Apostolides-Fisher on

How to wash your cloth diapers

     Washing cloth diapers is a huge topic of debate. Everyone has favorite routines, tricks and detergent choices. The important thing to remember is that not everyone needs to use the exact same routine. So what works for some people may not work for others. 

Your wash routine will depend on several things. 

  1. Machine type- Depending on what washing machine you have, your chosen settings for your wash may be different from another persons. Generally, you want to choose a short cycle for a pre-wash, and a longer heavy-duty setting for your main wash. Both top and front loading washing machines need the correct amount of clothing items, water and detergent to effectively clean your cloth.
  2. Detergent choice- . Choose a detergent that is clean rinsing and does not contain fabric softeners. Softeners and certain additives can leave residue on diaper fibers which can cause absorbency issues or cause skin irritations.  A general guide for measuring detergent is to use the suggested amount of detergent for a small load of laundry in your pre-wash and the suggested amount of detergent for a large/heavily soiled load of laundry in your main wash. If your water is hard, you may need to add a water softener (NOT a fabric softener) in with your detergent. This will ensure your detergent is able to effectively clean your diapers. In general, whatever detergent you use for your regular laundry could be used to wash your cloth diapers, just make sure it does not contain fabric softeners! We do not recommend the use of home-made detergents for cleaning diapers. 
  3. Water temperature- You can wash in any water temperature unless you are using a plant based detergent, then you MUST wash in hot water. When opting to wash with cold water, detergents that are designed for use in cold water (ex: Cold water Tide) may provide better results because it is designed to dissolve better than non cold temperature formulas, but are not necessary. Using warm or hot water is fine too, but avoid using any "sanitize" settings, as these temperatures can compromise your diapers. An effective wash routine will keep your diapers clean with no need to worry about bleaching or extra sanitation steps.
  4. Water hardness -  If your water is hard or has a high mineral content, you may need to include a water softener (calgon/borax/etc) into your wash routine. If you have discoloration in your tubs, sinks, and toilets you probably have hard water.  If you aren't sure, you can buy water testing strips from the hardware store to check on your waters hardness and mineral content to best determine your wash routine and detergent choices. But chances are, if you are able to wash regular laundry without issue, adding a water softener may not really be necessary.


There are many factors that differ for each and every person, such as machine, water, detergent types as well as skin sensitivities. So feel free to change something that does not work for you. The general rules to follow for washing diapers is: RINSE, WASH, RINSE, RINSE How you do these steps will depend on your washer. Based on this general formula, you can create your wash routine. Don't freak out and think you need to run your machine 4 separate times! You can break this down into two simple cycles on your machine. If you are hand washing your diapers, you can follow the above steps of "rinse,wash, rinse x2" be sure to always rinse your diapers in clean water. Do not twist or "wring" diapers out, as this can relax elastic or otherwise compromise your diaper. Simply squeeze out excess water and hang item to dry.

  1. First machine cycle- RINSE! dirty diapers should be run through a quick rinse cycle to eliminate as much debris as possible before washing. Use a short setting your machine offers with WARM water. Look for quick wash, express wash, or anything similar. Avoid using "rinse and spin" settings, as these do not allow for enough time or agitation to rinse your diapers before the main wash. This cycle is done with a small amount of detergent, and possibly water softener, depending on your water hardness. 
  2. Second machine cycle- WASH! RINSE! RINSE! And this is where we get crazy! Instead of running your machine 3 more times, a heavy duty wash setting to knock out the last 3 parts of our wash formula. Most machines add a default rinse to a heavy duty wash routine. There should not be a need to add any more rinses. For this cycle, use the longest cycle with the highest agitation. If your machine has the options, select the highest setting for both spin speed and soil level. Use enough detergent as recommended by the manufacturer to clean a heavily soiled load of laundry. It is ideal to use a wash cycle that will agitate your diapers for around 40 minutes. Once this cycle has finished your diapers should be clean. You can dry them on low in a machine, or hang to dry in the sun.

     This is the most basic and general wash routine. This is a great back-to-basics routine if you feel like you've fallen so far down the wash routine rabbit hole that you can't find your way back to reality. You can alter these basic steps to your needs for successful washing. 

Still have questions?

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