washing cloth diapers

washing cloth diapers

Ah, laundry day. Sadly, it has taken me way too long to get a good wash routine down, but I think I’ve finally gotten it. One of the hard parts about washing diapers is it’s really trial and error. There are so many variables when it comes to washing diapers that it’s definitely not a one-size-fits-all situation. This PDF has some great information about all the variables and how they affect your routine.

I’ll share my routine to give you an idea of what works for me.

Our water and synthetic fibers
I’ve complained about our water before. Our pipes are old and are disintegrating (common for their age and the type of pipes we have). There are lots of minerals and rust in our water. I don’t notice it in my normal laundry, but I have really run into problems with the synthetic materials in the diapers I was using. The pocket diapers I have are microfleece and microfiber inserts. Microfiber is a wonderfully thirsty fabric – it soaks up the liquid without the bulk. However, from my research it also tends to cling to minerals in water, causing smell and repelling issues. I experienced both after about a year of using the microfiber (more issues with smell than repelling). I stripped my diapers (more on this later), and that helped but it wasn’t too long before I had issues again. So, I have since replaced my entire stash with all cotton diapers and haven’t had any issues so far (5 months and counting).

Our washer and dryer

We bought our HE washer and dryer a few months before Savannah was born, HE Whirpool Duet Sports. I didn’t realize at the time that front loaders make washing diapers more difficult, or I probably would have opted for a regular washer/dryer. Front loaders are great in that they use less water, but with diapers that is actually a negative thing. Diapers are thirsty – yay! but it also means they soak up all the water the washer uses, not leaving much to actually wash with. I have heard of people trying to trick their washer into using more water, like putting in a wet towel or hooking up a hose to force more water in through the detergent dispenser. If I remember, I try to get all the diapers soaked using water from the bathtub faucet before I wash them. That seems to help, though I also wonder if switching from microfiber to cotton has also helped (less thirsty diapers?).

The detergent

The detergents you buy in grocery stores these days have all sorts of additives, fragrances, etc. that are great for regular clothes but tend to destroy diapers. They either leave residue, or break down fibers, etc. So you want to make sure to get a “natural” detergent. Hopefully you can find some in a local store, because shipping for detergent can be expensive! Here is a great website that breaks down different detergents to help you pick the best one for your diapers. I used to use Country Save, and liked it a lot. Then I kept hearing about Rockin Green, which actually has a special formula for Hard Water. I bought some, used it about two months, and then Savannah started getting horrible rashes from the detergent. Then I switched to BioKleen powder because I can get that locally, but I have since found out that the powder has mixed results when it comes to cloth diapers, and the liquid is better. I also recently found a place that sells Country Save, so I will probably switch back to that once I’m out of the BioKleen powder. See, it’s all trial and error. :-)

Oh and I also included OxiClean in the picture… I don’t use this regularly, but OxiClean is safe for cloth diapers. You might want to do some research if you’re interested in it for yourself.

My wash routine
What you’ve been waiting for, right? Well after a year and a half of trial and error, here is my current wash routine:
“heavy duty” load with 2/3 scoop of detergent – hot wash, cold rinse
extra rinse/spin (no detergent)

Not too difficult, eh? Much simpler than my old routine where I played around a lot with prewashes and extra rinses, and quick washes without detergent, etc. My washer has a setting for “heavy duty”. Not sure exactly how it’s different, but it’s really been working for me. The extra rinse/spin is 26 minutes long and just to make sure all the detergent is completely rinsed out of the diapers.

Drying the diapers
After washing, I hang all my covers on the retractable clothesline above the washer. I am not sure about my Thirsties covers, but the GroVia covers are not supposed to be put in the dryer, due to the heat breaking down the elastic.
Diaper covers drying

I throw all the inserts and prefolds into the dryer – normal heat. My microfiber inserts used to dry quickly, and I could also air dry them and they would stay soft. However, the cotton ones take a lot longer to dry. They also get “crunchy” when air dried, though I can throw them into the dryer for a little bit to soften them up. (I don’t have any problems with air drying the covers.)

There is a lot to be said for hanging your diapers outside in the sun to dry, if your neighborhood allows it. For one, it saves on utility costs for running the dryer. It’s more earth-friendly. Also, the sun acts as a natural bleach and is a safe way to get stains out as well as sanitizing your diapers without destroying the fibers or using any harmful chemicals. You don’t have to sun-dry your diapers every time, but even just a few times a year will make a difference in the life of your diapers.
Diapers hanging out to dry

Some people have gotten around HOA rules of no clotheslines by sunning their diapers on the top of their car. (Lay an old sheet or blanket down first to keep the diapers clean.)

Stripping diapers
I am not sure how often you’re “supposed” to strip diapers. Some people never strip them, and some people seem to strip all the time. Mostly you hear of stripping when you start to have issues with your diapers – that’s when I did it. There are many ways you can go about doing it (definitely worth Googling it!), but here is how I stripped my diapers when I needed to.

First, I boiled all the microfiber inserts in a big pot on the stove. I put 3-4 inserts in the water for 10-15 minutes, using tongs to lift them out. If your inserts have snaps, make sure they don’t touch the sides of your pot. Warning, this will really, really stink but it works fabulously at getting them clean. When I boiled my inserts, I noticed immediately detergent rising to the surface of the water – that’s how I knew the detergent was the culprit (it obviously wasn’t being rinsed well enough).

For stripping in the washing machine, I decided to use Calgon, which is a water softener (I found it at Walmart – it was about $4 for a bottle). I’ve heard people who use it with every wash, and I’ve heard other people say it’s bad to use it with every wash. I only use it when I’m stripping. I use it in place of detergent and wash my diapers on a normal cycle. Then I wash them again about 4 more times without either Calgon or detergent. You’re supposed to watch for bubbles (using a flashlight if needed) – when you don’t see any more bubbles then you know the diapers are done. This seems like a horrible waste of water, I know! And it takes a lot of time, so I prefer to not strip that frequently.

You can also use Dawn to strip – some people swear by it. I read not to use Dawn in a front loader (too many bubbles), which is why I’ve never attempted it. There are a few other products out there. This site has a lot of useful information, including a how-to for stripping diapers.

Has anyone else had trouble finding a good wash routine for yourself? What works for you?

9 thoughts on “washing cloth diapers

  1. We, like you guys, bought a HE front loader just before Penelope was born because we knew I was going to be doing a lot more wash. I must say, I LOVE it! The main thing I love about it is there’s a sanitary cycle. It super heats the water to 170F to kill off 95%+ of bacteria. Since we only have prefolds (and a few AIOs, but we have problems with them leaking), I use regular or Free Tide. I haven’t had any issues with residue and have never had to strip my diapers. Here’s my routine: cold rinse, sanitary cycle, extra rinse. Then I throw everything (covers, wipes, liners, everything) in the dryer on regular for an hour. I’ve never had any issues with my Thirsties (or any cover for that matter) plastic pulling away. I have noticed on my pail liners that the laminate has pulled away in the corner, buts nothing I worry about right now.

  2. Absolutely FABULOUS post! I’ve only had top loader washing machines and am glad you pointed that out…I won’t go for a front loader now :) My wash cycle is cold rinse then hot wash. It’s worked for us…but it took me a while to figure out what did. I also use biokleen and love it! :) Stripping, I have yet to try and when I do, I’ll likely be calling you for support! :p

  3. Is it just that I am sleepy or does it all seem like way too much work and very intimidating? Trial and error with all the dipaers and inserts and prefolds and washing and stripping and staining and boiling and washing 4 times?? I have to admire you girl. How do you find the time? I can barely keep my head above water what with cooking, and cleaning, and work. And with all this stash replacement in the end, do you save a lot of money especially compared to someone who uses coupons for diapers and gets great deals on disposable diapers?

    I guess once you have it down it gets easier? I have thought many times about switching to cloth for #2, but sometimes all the reading overwhelms me.

  4. Annie: It’s less complicated than it sounds. :-) I’ve only stripped my diapers twice, and don’t intend to do it again unless I have issues. As for washing, it’s not like I’d spend all day washing diapers. I would run one load, do a sniff test, and run another one if I didn’t think it cleaned well enough. The next time I would do diapers (2 or 3 days later) I would try a different setting to see if that helped. I was doing two normal loads until I realized I could do one heavy duty load, and that is much simpler. Again, it depends on your diapers, too. Prefolds are very forgiving, whereas in the more fancy diapers also need more care.

    As for replacing my stash, I would have to figure out how much I’ve spent all total, and compare with someone who has done disposable diapers with coupons. I don’t bother with coupons, so I wouldn’t know. The dozen prefolds I bought to replace the 12 Baby Kangas equaled to only like $35 I think. (Would be even cheaper if you bought used.) I already had the covers and snappis I needed. Technically, I could sell all my Baby Kangas and replace that initial investment. I could make over $140 if I sold all of them (I’m hesitating because I’m sentimentally attached).

    And I think it definitely does get easier. Keep in mind I’ve been doing this for almost 19 months now. So it’s not like I’ve had to learn all this in one month. :-) And seriously, diapers are the *one* thing I’m on top of. Getting dinner on the table every night is a rare accomplishment for me. Dishes sit dirty in the sink waaaay too long. So don’t think I have everything together AND do diapers on top of that. ;-)

  5. I use cloth diapers, and I too felt exhausted reading this! Hehe.

    I’m very familiar with the trial and error, though I haven’t been disappointed with the performance of our front-loader. There has only been one incident that made washing cloth diapers a huge chore, and that was due to a defective piece in the machine that needed replacing (I kept having to check on the loads throughout the day and couldn’t go anywhere in case the washer leaked).

    My wash “routine” is pretty simple. As soon as the wetbag is full, I dump the contents into the washer and do a cold rinse cycle. Then I do a heavy cycle on hot with detergent. I usually use one cover per day, and if it doesn’t get dirty, I handwash (a quick soak in soapy water while watching the 18-month-old on the potty); all coveres get air-dried. I’ve noticed peeling on one of my covers, but I think this is because I didn’t rinse off all the poop and let it sit in the wetbag. Everything else (inserts, prefolds, washcloths, etc.) gets put in the dryer. If it’s a nice day, I’ll line-dry – which does wonders for stains! I had icky stains on the leg gussets of a cover the other day, and they’re all gone!

    I don’t think I’ve ever intentionally “stripped” my diapers before. I’ve tried another cycle, or different detergents – even a few drops of dish detergent – but never boiling on the stove. I’ve used a couple homemade concoctions, one of them containing Oxyclean. I’m currently using Charlie’s and really like it.

  6. I hope our next apt. has a top-loader. My front-loader isn’t the best for washing these diapers. Also I am looking forward to having access to sunshine to hang our dipes!

    Yours are so adorable :)

  7. Aww I tried to make it not overwhelming. :-) But I wanted to include some info for people who may be having issues with their diapers. I think that’s when it gets complicated… when your diapers even after being washed, or your kid is breaking out in rashes, or they are repelling (leaking).

  8. Thanks, this was really helpful and I like to hear about all the different routines!

    I’ve been doing
    cold rinse (sometimes with vinegar)
    hot wash cycle
    cold wash cycle

    It seems to work well, maybe it’s overkill. My bummis covers seem to do great with this routine, but the thirsties are getting a little worn and the elastic is kind of gross looking.

  9. MaryEliz: That sounds like my old routine. I say, if it works for you, don’t fix what isn’t broken! :-) You could try pulling out the Thirsties covers after the first wash if you wanted, and see if that makes a difference. I don’t know enough about it to know if that would make any difference. :-)

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