Basics of Washing Cloth Diapers

  1. Choose a good detergent.  Some detergent ingredients may coat diaper fabrics and impede absorbency.  Ingredients to avoid in detergents are:  natural soaps, dyes, perfumes, enzymes, softeners, fabric enhancers, optical brighteners.  Watch the final rinse for suds.  Suds may indicate that less detergent is necessary.  If the diapers smell, slightly increase the detergent and/or water level.
  2. Do not overload or underload your machine.  1/2 to 2/3 full is best.
  3. For best results, remove solids from diapers before storing in ventilated pail.
  4. Pre-wash cold with proper detergent to remove waste and fight stains.  Overnight soaking is not necessary for cotton diapers, because cotton is a plant it will break down faster if soaked overnight all the time.  Soaking for 10-30 minutes in your washer prior to the initial cold wash is very effective.
  5. Wash hot (120 F/60 C) using proper detergent.
  6. Extra rinse may be required to remove any lingering detergent.  Always rinse completely.  Complete rinsing prevents rashes.
  7. Hang dry or tumble dry on medium or high.  Overloading or underloading your dryer will increase drying time.  If you don’t have enough in your dryer try adding a clean old, non-linty towel.  Drying too hot can damage elastics and can make diapers stiff and wear out sooner.  For longest life, hang covers to dry.

Wool Products:

  1. Hand wash wools in lukewarm water with proper woolwash.  Regular woolwash will strip the lanonin from your wool cover and cause it to leak.  We recommend Imse Vimse woolwash and pure lanolin.  Place 1 inch of lanolin in the sink, and put about 2 inches of very hot water in to melt lanolin and then add woolwash.  Adding woolwash to the lanolin mixture helps to break up the lanolin and prevent it from glopping.
  2. Then fill the sink the rest of the way with warm water to reach a lukewarm temperature.
  3. Place wool items in bath and let sit for at least 15 minutes.
  4. Drain.  Gently but firmly squeeze excess water, do not wring. Place on a dry towel and roll the towel tightly to soak up excess water from wool items.
  5. Lay flat to dry, or line dry.  Gentle indirect air circulation helps if the air is humid.  It should take about 24 hours for your wool to dry.

When to wash wool: When the cover has a foul odor when it’s dry, its time to wash it, or when dampness comes right through the cover, it’s time to lanolize.  Wool is breathable which is cool and wonderful.  The lanolin on the wool is what is water resistant, the wool is actually absorbent.  You can test your wool by putting some water on it over the sink, if it beads up, its fine but if it soaks right in its time to lanolize.  Washing once every 2-4 weeks is common.  Some relanolize once a month and others at every washing, find what works best for you.

Spot cleaning wool: You can spot clean your wool cover if it gets pooped on with pure olive oil bar soap.  Just moisten the soiled area and rub with olive oil soap to remove the mess and air dry.

Washing PUL Covers:

One of the benefits to using a two part system is that you can care for your diaper covers separately.  You have several options for washing your PUL covers:

Spot Cleaning: You can spot clean your covers if they get poop on the binding or if the PUL starts to stink.  We love Charlie’s Soap spray for spot cleaning the binding on covers or wiping out the PUL.

Hand Washing: You can easily hand wash covers in a sink with a little Charlie’s Soap spray or other gentle soap, and line dry the covers.  They dry very quickly.

Machine Washing: You can machine wash your covers.  If you are using Velcro covers be sure the Velcro is attached to the safety tab.  You can wash your covers with your clothing or baby’s clothing to give them a gentler wash.  You can also wash covers with diapers, but hot temperatures and bleach are tough on elastics.

Things to consider when determining your washing routine:

Is your water hard or soft?
The hardness or softness of your water refers to minerals in your water.  If you have minerals in your water, usually calcium or magnesium, then you have hard water.  The more minerals dissolved in your water the harder the water.  Here in New Orleans we do have hard water.  The harder the water, the more detergent is needed.  Sometimes a lot more detergent is needed because hard water does not clean as effectively as soft.  The detergent is used up because it goes to work softening the water, so that’s why you need more detergent to do the job.   Vinegar rinsing usually helps in hard water.  CLR (the soap scum and rust cleaner) might help, or Calgon water softner.  Sometimes phosphates (TSP from a paint store) are used in moderate amounts to hold the minerals in suspension in the water so they don’t get deposited into the diapers.  Charlie’s Soap now offers a Laundry Booster and Hard Water treatment that we love.  Mineral build up from your water will tend to make your diapers feel stiffer than diapers washed in soft water.

Will you be using a high efficiency front loader or a top loader?
Front loaders use less water and are more gentle so your diapers will last longer.  Front loaders also spin faster and will dry diapers faster.  Low water machines may require additional cycles to get diapers clean.  Top loaders use more water so they usually get diapers cleaner more quickly and easily.

Will you be using shared laundry facilities or private?
If you are using shared laundry facilities you will need a mainstream detergent without optical brighteners.  Clean rinsing detergents are not a good choice for shared facilities, because when using a clean rinsing detergent it must be used full time to be effective.  If you are using shared laundry I would also strongly recommend the Potty Pail for pre rinsing diapers.  Prefolds are a good choice for shared laundry facilities because they are the easiest to clean in the least amount of cycles.

Read the section on choosing a detergent to find the right soap.

Read the section on Residues to learn how to prevent residue build ups from urine, minerals in hard water, detergents and diaper rash creams.