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How to Wash Cloth Diapers: A Full Guide for First Time Moms

How to Wash Cloth Diapers

Most parents get thrown off at the thought of washing cloth diapers.

It looks unappealing and gross at first, but trust us when we say it’s worth the ewww.

If you need more convincing, here’s a FUN FACT:

Buying cloth diapers instead of disposables can save $1,200 per year and prevent up to one ton of landfill waste.

That’s a lot of savings and a lot of prevented landfill waste!

Now, let’s get into the nitty-gritty of how to wash your baby’s cloth diapers.

Table of Contents
Table of Contents

How to Pre-Wash Cloth Diapers

Before getting into the actual washing, we first have to go through the proper pre-washing process.

You might be thinking, “The best way to prewash cloth diapers is to put them in a container filled with hot water, right?”

Well, let us stop you right there.

If you pre-wash with very hot water, it’s more likely to SET the stains, leaving your cloth diapers dirty in the process!

The proper prewash cycle is through a cold rinse:

  1. To get started, get your soiled diapers out from the diaper pail.
  2. Afterward, you want to properly pre-wash your cloth diapers by soaking the dirty cloth diapers in cold water.
  3. When you wash with cold water, you are getting rid of any poop and pee stains on your baby’s diaper.
  4. This wash cycle should go on for about 30-45 minutes, so pick the quick or speed rinse cycle setting if you have it.

How to Wash Cloth Diapers Properly in 4 Easy Steps

After completing the warm wash cycle, you can now move on to the MAIN wash.

When washing cloth diapers, you should follow these 4 easy steps.

Time to level up your wash routine!

Step 1: Remove Any Solid Waste From the Dirty Diaper

Father sniffing baby's butt

When you open up the cloth diaper, you’ll notice the consistency of your baby’s poo.

If your baby is solely breastfed and their poo is water-soluble, this means you can just toss it into a diaper pail or a waterproof bag until it’s time for your regular wash routine.

On the other hand, if your baby begins to eat solid food, their poo consistency is likely to be solid.

You’ll need to scrape these off the cloth diaper and dump it into the toilet before placing these dirty diapers into the diaper wet bag.

To make cleaning cloth diapers easier, you can use a diaper sprayer (this can be attached to the side of your toilet bowl) or a spray bottle.

Just be sure to spray the dirty diapers until the poo and pee are gone.

In this extra rinse step, you’ll notice there will be little to no stain left on your baby’s disposable diapers!

Step 2: Store the Dirty Diapers in a Diaper Pail

Diaper pail

If it isn’t wash day in your laundry schedule yet, you should store the dirty diaper in a container first (specifically a diaper pail) until it’s time for you to wash diapers.

Why? Because the secret to successfully washing diapers is to keep them damp or very wet.

So after profusely removing the poo from the cloth diaper with a diaper sprayer, STORE IT IN THE DIAPER PAIL.

Step 3: Wash the Cloth Diapers


The step you’ve all been waiting for! Cloth diapering 101 is in commence.

Dump the Cloth Diapers Into the Washing Machine

Begin with a speed wash cycle with cold water — NOT hot water and with NO laundry detergent.

This helps loosen up any stains or leftover poo from the cloth diaper.

Go for a Second Rinse Cycle

Your cloth diaper should go for an extra rinse with a hot wash cycle. In this hot cycle, you can use eco-friendly detergents to finally get those cloth diapers clean.

Make sure that there is no leftover detergent on the diapers!

NOTE: Do NOT use a fabric softener when cleaning cloth diapers. Fabric softeners can potentially damage the cloth diaper and harm your baby’s skin because of the added dyes and perfumes.

Also, fabric softeners coat the cloth diaper’s fabric, cause buildup, contain a harsh chemical, and prevent optimal fabric absorbency, which can also be harmful to your baby’s skin.

Instead, an alternative to consider is baking soda. You can add a small scoop of baking soda to help boost the cleaning.

Baking soda also helps remove acidic odors from the wet diapers and helps the disposable diapers smell fresh throughout the day!

Step 4: Air Dry the Cloth Diapers

Diapers on clothesline

The next step to your cloth diaper routine is drying cloth diapers.

You can hang the clean diapers outside under the sun. The sun helps remove any bacteria from the soaking diapers. It also helps any unwanted staining present in the clean reusable diapers.

This is a cloth diapering tip ALL parents should remember!

In addition to this, air drying has many benefits your diapers need to maintain their shape.

The main benefit is an extended lifetime for the cloth diapers. Another benefit is that it doesn’t harm the waterproof linings of the diapers.

(We’ll dive deeper into the drying process in the next section.)

IMPORTANT NOTE: Some cloth diapers can go into the dryer on a low setting, but some can be damaged in the process of it. Using a dryer may also cause damage to the waterproof diaper liners or diaper inserts.

Aaaand you’re done.

Congratulations on washing your baby’s cloth diapers!

How to Dry Cloth Diapers

For more details on the last step of washing cloth diapers, here are additional things to know when drying your cloth diapering product:

  • Hang your cloth diapers to dry or use a dryer on a low setting. Inserts, flats, and prefolds may be dried on higher settings.
  • Add a dry towel or wool dryer balls to the dryer to speed the drying process.
  • A hot, 15-minute dryer cycle once a month is beneficial to lamination.
  • Drying in direct sunlight is the best method for drying, disinfecting, and getting rid of stains.

CAUTION: Don’t leave diapers out longer than necessary. UV rays and high temperatures can also have an ill effect on diapering products.

Cotton and hemp diapers will be somewhat stiff when hung to dry. One option to soften sun-dried textiles made from natural fibers is to use the dryer while still slightly damp.

Additional Reminders and Tips to Properly Clean a Cloth Diaper

Pile of cloth diapers

#1 Clean Cloth Diapers ASAP

If you don’t get your hands on those smelly diapers and soiled diapers as soon as possible, they’ll end up having mildew stains.

Not even a hot water wash and a washing machine can save it! (You might even have to bleach your diapers as a last resort.)

Having said this, you should try to wash the diapers at least every day or every other day if possible to make cloth diapering clean and easy.

#2 Toss Into the Pail Until Laundry Day

Believe it or not, babies can go through a heap ton of diapers.

For first-time cloth diapering parents out there, know that you ideally need to stock up on 16-18 diapers.

In cloth diapering, that’s a lot of diapers to wash!

The solution? Toss them into a dry pail first, then wash them every day or every other day, depending on your laundry schedule.

This will make your life easier, especially if you don’t always have the time to pop them into the washing machine.

#3 Opt for Diaper Cleaning Services

If you don’t have time to use the washing machine, you can try dry cleaning services. They have multiple washing machines to get the job done!

You can look around town for a laundry station to clean the diapers on top of your baby clothes.

They’ll definitely make sure that there is no detergent buildup, which is great for your baby’s health!

#4 Try Diaper Liners

Diaper liners look like dryer sheets and provide additional protection inside the diapers.

The cleanup is faster, and most diaper liners are biodegradable, flushable, and contain natural fibers.

BONUS: How to Hand-Wash Cloth Diapers

Mother holding baby

If you prefer to wash the diapers manually instead of putting them into the front load machine, here are steps you can follow:

  1. Plug your sink and add the hottest water possible.
  2. Get rid of any poo and toss them into the toilet bowl.
  3. Add the diapers and some detergent or grab a bar soap and switch them around until they’re all wet and soapy.
  4. Knead the diapers as if it was dough, then unplug the sink and let the water drain out.
  5. Rinse each diaper in hot water until the water runs clear.
  6. Wring out your diapers and hang them up to air dry.

You can handwash the diapers in several ways, like with a bathtub, sink, bucket, plunger, washbasin, and washing board. (Pretty much the same as you would with handwashing baby clothes.)

Remember that there is no best way to wash these kinds of diapers, so it’s just a matter of choosing the one that works for you!

Why You Should Make the Switch to Cloth Diapers

After going through the different steps, reminders, and guidelines, you might be thinking:

“Cloth diapers can be a handful… are they even worth it?”

YES, cloth diapers are VERY worth it for you and your baby, and here’s why:

1. Less Harmful Chemicals

Chemical icon

Many parents opt for cloth diapers due to the chemical content in disposable diapers, including dioxins, sodium polyacrylate, and VOCs.

While these chemicals are used to sterilize products and create better absorbency, they can also pose harmful effects on babies and the environment.

Prolonged exposure to dioxins may cause skin irritation and negatively impact the immune system.

You can choose among prefolds, all-in-ones, or hybrid diapers to minimize exposure to harmful chemicals!

2. Easier Potty Training

Baby potty training icon

Some parents have found that babies who are cloth diapered have an easier time adjusting to potty training.

This could be because cloth diapers are less absorbent than disposable ones, which allow babies to feel dry even if they have a wet diaper.

When babies wet a cloth diaper, on the other hand, they’re more likely to let you know they need a change.

Wet diaper = fussy baby

This helps a baby learn how to tell mom or dad that they need to use the bathroom when it’s time to use the toilet!

3. Saves Money

Piggy bank icon

One of the first things you learn as a new parent is that caring for your little one requires a LOT of supplies.

From food to toys, baby furniture, and other accessories, there are a lot of expenses associated with parenthood

And disposable diapers are one of the largest costs for parents of infants.

With cloth diapers, you just need to buy around 16-18, and you’re good for their entire toddlerhood.

They’re reusable and grow alongside your baby, so don’t worry about buying hundreds of diapers every month!

Conveniently, I have a list of the most affordable cloth diaper brands to choose from!

4. Comfortable

Leaf icon

Cloth diapers are constructed from materials that are more lightweight and breathable than disposable ones.

Plus, the fibers feel softer on a baby’s skin!

Frequently Asked Questions About Washing Cloth Diapers

Baby's cloth diapers

What Is the Best Way to Wash Cloth Diapers?

There is no best way to wash a cloth diaper.

You just have to choose one that works best for you, such as washing machines, dry cleaning services, or by hand washing them yourself.

How Often Do You Need to Wash Cloth Diapers?

Ideally, you should wash your cloth diapering products every day or every other day.

This ensures that there won’t be any mildew stains as this often requires extra wash cycles just to get the diapers clean.

Plus, they’re more likely to get stinky and hold onto unpleasant odor, which is not ideal when you’re reusing them!

At most, you can hold off for 3-4 more days of not washing to align it with your laundry schedule (as long as you store them properly in a diaper pail).

Obviously, how often you need to wash could also depend on how many cloth diapers you have, so that’s something to consider as well.

But our best tip is to wash them as often as you can regardless of how many diapers you have in store.

Is It Gross to Wash Cloth Diapers?

Not necessarily because you’ll be flushing out all the poo into the toilet.

It’s worth all the trouble because you’re doing your child and the environment a favor by switching to cloth diapering!

So don’t worry about putting dirty diapers in your washer since you flush solid waste before washing.

And soon enough, you’re going to be potty training your baby, so no more cloth diapers to wash in the near future!

How Long Can Cloth Diapers Sit Before Washing?

These can’t be stored for very long.

Depending on what storage method you choose, cloth diapers should be washed either every 1-2 days or every 3-4 days to keep bacteria and mildew/mold from growing.

Staining, residual stinkiness, and diaper wear and tear can be reduced by how often you do laundry. So if you want your diaper to last long, you should clean them IMMEDIATELY.

Do You Need to Rinse Cloth Diapers Before Washing?

You wouldn’t want poo floating around in your wash, do you? So you MUST rinse them.

But don’t just get right into it. You should follow the pre-wash steps above to ensure that the diaper is prepped for the wash.

Do Cloth Diapers Need to Be Washed Twice?

If you’re low on cloth diapering products, then you’re going to have to wash them twice a day. But if you have enough stock, then washing them once is enough.

So remember to stock up and prepare for the number of diapers your baby needs in a day because it can be a lot!

Should You Wash Cloth Diapers Before Using Them?

Yes, absolutely yes.

 Unlike disposable diapers, cloth diapers do not come ready to wear.

Right out of the package, most cloth diapers are not at their full absorbency, especially diapers made out of fibers.

That’s because these types of cloth diapers hold oils within the fibers. These oils can also deposit onto other diapers, making them repel as well.

Giving an initial wash takes away any dirt and grime that got on your diapers during manufacturing or shipping. It also opens up the fibers so that they become more absorbent.

Final Word

If you’re still wondering if these are for you, all we can say is there’s no harm in trying. You can test it out first and see if it works for you and your child.

If it does, then great! This guide has all the information you need to wash and dry them properly.

But if it doesn’t, then no harm done!

It really comes down to your needs and lifestyle. But who knows, once you’ve tried the switch, you might even end up loving it!

FINAL TIP: For the best prefold diapers and best swim diapers, you can check out my buying guides for those as well!

About the author

Angelica Graham

A few years ago, Angelica found out about all the plastic and toxic ingredients that got into most children’s products. And this worried her to no end. Because of this, she began to research what the best ingredients and materials were for children and made it her mission to share this information with other mothers.