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UPDATED "CD101 - Cloth Diaper Care & Laundering"

Forum: Cloth Diapering


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June 18th, 2012, 10:51 PM
Platinum Supermommy
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Here's the original:

This is my new version. Let me know what you think!!!!

Cloth Diaper Care & Laundering

What do you do with your dirty diapers? Everyone starts out a little clueless and lost. Here is some information to help you find your way.

Storing Dirty Diapers
You need a place to keep the dirty diapers until you are ready to wash them. There are basically 2 methods, with many variations.

Dry Pail
This is the only method recommended for pockets, AI2 shells, covers or AIO's with PUL or TPU waterproof fabric.

Basically, you just store the dirty diapers in a dry pail or bag. Remove the solids from a poopy diaper first, if the baby is not exclusively breastfed (a diaper sprayer may come in handy, or for an older baby it may just plop off into the toilet). Exclusively breastfed (EBF) babies who are not yet eating solid food have poop that is completely water soluble, so their poopy diapers can just go straight in the pail - just run a prewash before your main laundry cycle to rinse the poop out.

You can use whatever container you like :
  • a traditional diaper pail
  • a waterproof or plain cloth tote bag
  • a laundry basket
  • a trash bin
  • some people even use the washing machine itself, adding dirty diapers directly to it but not turning it on until it's full.

Liners A pail liner or tote bag saves you from having to wash out your container - a liner can be thrown in the wash with your diapers. Some people just use a plastic garbage bag. Large size pail liners fit a standard kitchen garbage bin.

Odor There are a few things you can add to your pail to combat odor if you find you need to. Baking Soda (cheap and is a built-in laundering aid), scented disks (usually available where cloth diapers are sold), a spray or two of Bac-Out (a natural enzyme cleaner that is very effective on poop and pee odors and stains), and bits of fabric soaked in essential oil (tea tree is popular), some liners even come with a tab for this purpose. Your container should not be airtight. Ventilation is beneficial for keeping odor to a minimum.

Wet Pail
Wet pails are okay to use on inserts or old-fashioned prefold or flat diapers containing no PUL or elastic. You NEED a pail with a locking lid, an unsecured wet pail is a drowning hazard! This method is no longer recommended because of the drowning hazard, extra trouble, and the fact it is not generally necessary. Synthetics such as fleece and suedecloth tend to hold on to odors and will be difficult to thoroughly clean if left to soak in what is essentially sewage. However, if you have to go long periods of time between washes and have an old-fashioned natural fiber stash, or you have certain diapers (like nighttime inserts) that could use a serious presoak before washing, you may find this method works for you.
Never leave your covers or pockets to soak in a wet pail!

Basic wet pail instructions:
  • Fill your pail half full of water.
  • Add baking soda, tea tree oil, Bac-Out, Oxyclean, or bleach as required to combat odor and aid laundering.
  • Put in dirty diapers (knock solids out of poopy diapers first).
  • When time to wash, dump contents in washer to launder and wash out pail.

On the Go
A small waterproof bag, such as one made for storing dirty diapers (called a wet bag) is all you need. Some people just reuse the plastic bags from grocery stores, or large plastic zipper bags.


Everyone has their own method of washing their diapers, usually the result of plenty of trial and error in the beginning. Different types of washers, different cities or water supplies that have different water chemistry, different types of diapers, and different babies at different stages all demand different wash routines. In time you will find the wash method that works best for you. Here are some tips to get you started:
  • If you know how to wash dirty clothes and towels, you know how to wash diapers. The only thing that is different is that they are REALLY dirty, every time! Also, stay-dry fabrics can start to repel rather than absorb moisture if they get too much detergent or mineral buildup.
  • You can use any laundry detergent. It is best to avoid is one without a built-in fabric softener, which causes buildup (the softener’s presence is usually advertised on the product label). If you do use the “wrong” detergent, after some time you will have to switch to another kind and possibly strip your diapers to get rid of residues (see below) - it’s not the end of the world. Don’t worry too much about “ruining” your diapers by washing them the wrong way, just focus on getting them clean!
  • If your family has skin sensitivities, you will want to be cautious about using detergents containing allergenic or irritating ingredients. Depending on your family, this may include dyes, scents, essential oils like lavender, coconut-derived saponins/surfactants, brighteners, or enzymes (end in -ase, i.e. lipase, protease). Generally, if a detergent is fine for your family’s clothing, it will be fine for the diapers. Read ingredient labels if you have concerns, or search the manufacturer’s website.
  • Tide ~ Many cloth diaperers use Tide without issue and find it to be the best all around for cleaning their diapers.
  • Do pre-wash or rinse in COLD or WARM. (This step may be skipped if you are thorough about rinsing off poopy diapers before they go into the pail.)
  • Do use a high water level (as appropriate for your load size and amount of detergent being used), long or heavy duty cycle, and very hot water for your main wash.
  • Do an extra rinse, or quick wash with nothing added at the end, to get all residues well rinsed out. Warm rinses are especially effective.
  • Front-loading high efficiency (FL HE) washers may need special attention as they use less water and agitation. Look for a “Whitest Whites” or “Heavy Duty” cycle setting. Some diaper manufacturers warn against use of “extra hot” or “Sanitary” settings, which can be near-boiling depending on your washer and may cause damage, particularly to nylon or TPU; however, many cloth diaperers have success using such settings regularly.
  • Do use enough detergent for you. If you have hard water, you will most likely need the full amount recommended by the detergent manufacturer for a large and heavily soiled load. If you have soft water, you may only need half that. Generally, if you know how much is good to use on your clothes and towels, just use the amount you would normally use on a very dirty load of laundry of similar size. As for any laundry, make sure you are using an HE compatible detergent if you have an HE washer.
  • Too much detergent won't rinse out completely, causing a residue buildup. If you are not sure whether your detergent is rinsing properly, check for suds in your final rinse. If the water is not clear and suds free, rinse again, and use less next time.
  • Don't be afraid to use bleach if and when necessary. It is the most effective way to kill bacteria that cause stink and rashes, or viruses or yeast from illness or thrush. If you use a modest amount (generally not more than about 1/2 cup for TLer, ¼ cup for FLer), add it to the prewash or main hot wash, and do an extra rinse, it should all rinse out well. Oxy-Clean and similar oxygen bleach products are very safe to use on a regular basis, as well. Oxygen bleach works similarly to chlorine bleach but is less powerful and breaks down to only oxygen and water. Whenever you use bleach, add it to your wash water before adding the diapers to make sure it gets properly diluted, or use the bleach dispenser if your washer has one.
  • Vinegar deodorizes, sanitizes and neutralizes detergent residues for better rinsing. If you choose to use it, do so sparingly (~1/4 cup), and add it to your first rinse cycle. An easy way to do this is with a Downy Ball. Vinegar works for some people, and not for others, depending on your water chemistry. More info on using vinegar in your diaper wash here:Vinegar in the diaper wash. 2 sides of the coin.
  • Avoid soaking pocket diapers, covers, and AIO's for long periods (more than overnight), over time it can impair their waterproof qualities and break down elastic.
  • If you have hard water, you may want to use a water softener such as Calgon (from the laundry aisle, not the bath soak), washing soda, or Borax. This will help your detergent rinse out properly and prevent buildup from the minerals in hard water.
  • Be careful when using diaper rash ointments, especially those containing fish oils. They can stain your diapers and/or leave a residue. Try flushable liners if and when you need to use a diaper cream. Some online cloth diaper retailers will also sell cloth-friendly bottom care products.
  • Don't use fabric softener liquid or dryer sheets, it will leave a waxy residue on your diapers (particularly on stay-dry fabrics) and lead to repelling and leaks. If you have only natural fibers, however, using a plant-based liquid softener like Ecover as directed will not noticeably affect absorbency.
  • Don't stuff your pocket diapers while hot from the dryer, it will ruin the elastic. Try not to stretch any elastic when it is hot and dry.
  • Do add a clean dry light-colored towel to your dryer load, especially if the load is small - it helps speed up the drying time!
  • If your dryer has a “sensor dry” cycle, it will probably not work very well for diapers, which are much thicker and more absorbent than other laundry - the sensor will think they are dry when they are still damp. Timed/manual cycles work better.
  • Dryer Balls - nubbly balls, often blue - are great for speeding up drying time and act as natural "fabric softeners". They are available in the laundry aisle. You can also find non-PVC and wool dryer balls online.
  • Sun! ~ You may have heard of "sunning" diapers - it means letting your diapers dry out in the sun to disinfect, brighten and fade stains. Lay your clean wet diaper stain side up in the sun - the sunlight should "bleach" the stain right out or at the very least fade it! The sun is magic for EBF stains! A little lemon juice is helpful too.


Stripping is the term used for the process of removing buildup from detergents, ointments, or hard water from your diapers. You may want to try stripping if you notice a decrease in the functionality of your diapers. Liquid may be beading on the surface or simply not absorbing well (repelling). You may want to do it when you buy used because you don't know what the previous owner's laundering practices were or how much buildup the diapers have acquired. You may even want to do it periodically just as a preventative measure.

There are many ways of stripping diapers. Here are a few methods: (remember to always start with “clean” diapers)

  • Repeat the following process twice:
    • Run your covers and diapers through a wash with only extra hot water (if allowed by manufacturer's washing instructions).
    • Run a second wash using 1/2 cup baking soda and 1/2 cup vinegar, or a full scoop of Oxy-Clean, in the wash - and 1/2 cup vinegar again in first rinse cycle.
    • Run a second rinse cycle with plain water.

  • Do the following:
    • First, run a cold rinse or soak cycle with no detergent.
    • Second, run a hot cycle with 1/2 your usual detergent.
    • Third, run another cold rinse cycle.
    • Continue washing on hot and rinsing on cold with nothing added, until all the suds run clear.

  • Hand wash your diapers with regular dish lqiuid (this gets the oils out). Dawn original, not the Ultra, the regular blue stuff, is what most mamas recommend.
    • Add a bit of dish liquid to the stay-dry inner fabric, and either rub the fabric vigorously together or use a medium bristle dish brush or hard bristle tooth brush to scrub it in.
    • Turn inside out and repeat on the other side.
    • Rinse very well, making sure that the water runs clear.

If you are still having problems, special cleaning agents may be used to strip diapers, such as RLR, a product that removes mineral build-up and detergent residue from fabrics, then keeps the particles suspended in the water so they don't re-deposit and your dipes rinse clean. It can be found online and sometimes with the specialty laundry products in your local store.

Clean Diapers

You can store your clean diapers anywhere! You can fold them or leave them in a heap. Stuff the pockets ahead or not, just don't stuff them hot from the dryer. Whatever works for you. Storage ideas are:
  • the change table shelves
  • a diaper stacker
  • a chest of drawers
  • a big basket
  • the laundry basket
  • You may even find your diapers end up being stored in the dryer

Questions, suggestions, or a broken link to report? Ask on the board, or PM a host please! Thank you!
bettyearl, Ecosole and NinjaCakes like this.

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June 19th, 2012, 01:01 AM
jojo2bee's Avatar Mega Super Mommy
Join Date: Sep 2011
Location: Colorado
Posts: 2,775
Ilike it! it was very informative! I'm going to be a first time cloth diapering mom and I have been doing a lot of research on cloth diapering and this was very helpful for me!

on a side note though, maybe add something in there about cloth wipes to...I havent seen much information on cloth wipes

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June 19th, 2012, 03:10 PM
Gaby&Emmy'sMama's Avatar aka NZ-Emma
Join Date: Aug 2005
Location: Christchurch, NZ
Posts: 56,618
great work! very informative

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June 28th, 2012, 07:11 PM
tyggrlili25's Avatar Platinum Supermommy
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Love it!

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March 22nd, 2014, 01:03 PM
Super Mommy
Join Date: Jan 2014
Location: Rochester, NY
Posts: 911
As a total cloth diapering newbie, these "101" type posts would be FAR more helpful if they weren't full of acronyms, or at least had the full term / brand typed out the first time. As written, it's nearly impossible to follow, and going back and forth to the abbreviation list gets a bit tedious.

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