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How to Wash Cloth Diapers

Washing is often considered the biggest frustration with cloth diapers, but it does not have to be!

Once all your diapers are prepped, there is no reason to not wash them all together on your regular laundry days. 

I recommend everyone start with the most basic of wash routines:

- cold wash
hot wash + correct amount of detergent
- extra rinse

The cold wash removes all of the nasties in the diapers (if you ever want to double check why this step is so important, take a peak inside the washer during the agitation process!). I usually set the washer to the longest agitation possible to give any hangers-on a run for their money. Cold water helps avoid any stains. 

The hot wash + detergent wash thoroughly cleans the already-rinsed-out diapers. A hot wash (versus a warm or cold wash) is important to help the detergent work the best it possibly can.

I recommend Rockin' Green Detergent, available in three formulations: Hard Rock (for hard water), Classic Rock (most common formulation) and Soft Rock (for sensitive skin and very soft water). For those with really hard water, Lulu's Extra-Glamorous formula is fantastic, getting high reviews from users who have tried many other options without success!

Country Save is also a great natural detergent (and my personal favorite).

For a detergent available at most retailers, powdered original Tide works well (be sure to rinse well as the enzymes in the residual detergent can mix with urine and irritate bums).

Other highly-rated cloth diaper detergents:
Allen's Naturally Powder/Liquid
bumGenius's detergent
Planet Ultra Powder/Liquid
Planet 2X
Mountain Green Free & Clear
Thirsties Washes
Tide Free (again, be sure to rinse well as this detergent contains enzymes)
Tiny Bubbles (from the GroVia folks)

For a complete detergent run-down, check out this database.

Unsure if your detergent will work? In general, the rule of thumb is to avoid detergents that contain: dyes, perfumes, enzymes, softeners, fabric enhancers and/or optical brighteners. The more that is unnecessarily added to the detergent just means more things that you have to work to rinse out. In addition, conventional softeners are designed to coat fibers to make them feel soft. All this does to diapers is block the fibers ability to absorb. Optical brighteners are designed to stick to fibers to make them appear brighter. Well, at the same time these brighteners cling together to create a tiny bridge across the top of the fabric - moisture then travels right along that bridge - and right out of your diaper. Enzymes are designed to eat away at any protein or other organic matter on the diaper. This is great for combating poop and such, but it also means, if not thoroughly rinsed, that the detergent will irritate baby's bottom. Consider - baby's skin is a protein and, when baby wets (aka reactivating any detergent residue), the enzymes then wake up and start to eat away at baby's bottom. 

To determine the correct amount of detergent, check your detergent's package.
You should then use:
1/4 of the recommended amount for Front Loaders (FL)
1/2 of the recommended amount for Top Loads (TL)
*Note - if you are using a detergent already formulated for cloth diapers (such as Rockin' Green, Lulus or Thirsties), then you don't need to quarter/halve it, and instead should follow the quantity on the package. 

Some like to add an extra rinse cycle to the end of this routine, which helps remove any last detergent residue from diapers. I like to use this extra rinse as a precaution since my daughter has such sensitive skin. If you would like to discuss whether an extra rinse is a good option for you, feel free to contact me!

Lastly, fabric softener...
A big no-no. Conventional fabric softeners coat fibers to make them feel soft, and will do the same to you diapers. So, rather than doing the absorbing, they now just are a slip n' slide.
If your natural fiber diapers are feeling a bit crunchy, you can add a splash of natural fabric softener (I like Ecover fabric softener) into your last rinse cycle. Note, it will decrease the absorbency slightly, but will also leave them buttery soft. To me, the softness is so great that it is a fair trade-off.

Other Tips & Tricks
  • Diapers smell funny, or don't seem to be working? Try stripping your diapers
  • Stains? Nope, stains do not mean you aren't getting your diapers clean. More on stains here
  • Water
    • Set your machine to the highest water level possible - the more water, the better!
    • See tons of bubbles in your extra rinse cycle? Try cutting back on the detergent quantity. 
  • Drying
    • Unless you live in a city that experiences frequent droughts and/or has high water prices, washing cloth diapers will likely not even be a noticeable bump in your water bill. Machine drying, on the other hand, can spike your electric or gas bill. If your budget allows, consider adding an extra days's worth of diapers to your stash. This will allow you to line-dry your diapers. The saved wear-and-tear on your diapers (meaning a higher resale value once you are done with them) plus the added savings from line drying will quickly off-set the price of the extra diapers. 
    • If diapers come off the line a bit crunchy - fluff them in the dryer for ten minutes. 
    • Machine taking forever? Try adding dryer balls and/or a dry towel into the dryer. 
  • Diapers leaking? It might be a result of your wash routine. More tips here

For more information
Rockin' Green FAQs
The Single Most Amazing Washing Resource I've Found
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