Are you looking for instructions on how to wash diapers? You’re not alone in looking for a more sustainable diaper option, plus tips and advice on how to clean cloth diapers.
There are thousands of other parents around the world who also want to know how to wash cloth diapers, and more specifically how to clean reusable diapers.
So let’s dive in.
Below is a guide on how to launder cloth diapers. We also summarize the reasons why to use cloth diapers, how often to wash cloth diapers, and how many you’re likely to need.
Why Use Cloth Diapers
There are many benefits of using cloth diapers instead of disposables. Here are a few of the advantages that you may want to consider.
Cloth diapers are more kind to the planet
Disposable diapers get thrown away in the trash by the millions, clogging up landfills and taking lots of precious resources to make. It’s not surprising then that environmentally conscious parents are choosing cloth diapers as an alternative to disposables.
Not only do cloth diapers mean that you can avoid a throw-away culture, but you can do your bit for the environment by reusing your cloth diapers every day.
Cloth diapers are cost-effective
It can be quite expensive to buy everything you need for your baby and growing child. And diapers are one of those expenses.
The average child uses around 2700 diapers a year (and that many children are still in diapers at age 2 or even 3 years of age). Diapers can therefore quickly become one of the biggest costs for a growing family.
Cloth diapers can help you save costs on not having to buy new diapers regularly, as you buy a few and simply keep washing them clean and re-using them.
Cloth diapers are made with fewer chemicals
Another reason why parents like to opt for cloth diapers is because of all the many toxic chemicals that are used to make disposables.
That may include dioxins and other chemicals that can be skin irritants or may even have immune system effects. Some of these chemicals also have impacts on animals and ecosystems if the diapers are disposed of incorrectly.
By contrast, many cloth diapers are made from natural materials like bamboo, cotton or hemp.
Cloth diapers make potty training easier
Some parents say that their babies go through the potty training phase more easily and quickly when they use cloth diapers rather than disposables.
One of the reasons for this may be that cloth diapers aren't as absorbent, which means a baby will feel when they need a nappy change. That can help the baby know when to show its parents that it has a wet diaper and is feeling uncomfortable.
So when it’s time for using a potty, those children already have a good sense of knowing what it feels like to need the toilet.
How Do Cloth Diapers Work
Cloth diapers are different from disposables. They are made from cloth and meant to be washable and reusable.
There are different types of cloth diapers, but essentially they aim to help keep your baby clean and dry. Typically they have a waterproof outer layer, while the inner is made from absorbent material.
Cloth diapers come in different sizes, to suit newborns all the way up to toddlers. They also come in various colors and there are a wide range of different brands to choose from.
If you’re wondering ‘how do you wash cloth diapers’, the answer is simple: almost the same as how you use disposable diapers! The overriding difference is that because they’re made of cloth, they can be washed and used again and again.
Types of Cloth Diapers
Below we detail the different types of cloth diapers that you can choose between.
Prefolded Cloth Diapers
Prefolded cloth diapers are the more traditional type of cloth diaper. They are made from layers of folded cloth and you usually require your baby to wear a waterproof outer over the diaper.
To fit the pre-folded cloth diaper, you typically have to use safety pins or clips, as they don't come elasticated or with velcro or clips. These are quite low-cost cloth diaper options.
All–in-one Cloth Diapers
This type of diaper is really convenient and easy to use as it comes with all the diaper components (a waterproof outer, middle and absorbent inner) all in one.
That means you can wash the entire diaper and you don’t need any extra parts of clips. These diapers also come in various sizes to suit the age of your baby.
Pocket Cloth Diapers
Pocket cloth diapers are very similar to all-in-ones but they have a little pocket or pouch where you can insert the absorbent inner components.
This allows you to add an insert of your choice, such as a cotton or hemp reusable insert, or even a disposable insert.
Hybrid Cloth Diapers
As the name suggests, hybrid cloth diapers are a cross between a traditional cloth diaper and a disposable diaper. These are a popular choice for people who want to test out using cloth diapers.
Typically these ones have a waterproof outer layer and a disposable inner layer. When the inner layer is dirty, it can be thrown away and replaced by a new one.
How Do I Prepare to Wash Cloth Diapers
To prepare your cloth diapers for washing, you need to first remove any solids. The solids can be carefully removed and flushed down the toilet. This may require some scraping to get all the solids off the diaper.
Some people prefer to use diaper sprayers that you attach to the toilet to spray off the solids, so that you don’t ever have to touch them.
Another trick is to use disposable diaper liners which are a thin layer that catches the solids that can then be thrown away, leaving behind a relatively mess-free diaper for washing.
If the diaper is wet from urine, then there’s no need for any pre-rinsing, but you still can do so if you prefer.
Next, you’ll need to store the diaper if you’re not planning to wash it immediately. Some people like to store dirty diapers in a diaper pail or wet bags. It’s a good idea to allow the bag or pail air a bit to slow bacterial and mildew growth.
Now that you’ve prepared your cloth diapers for the wash, it’s time to explore how to wash reusable diapers.
How to Clean Cloth Diapers: Thorough Step-By-Step Guide
Here’s a step-by-step guide for how to clean cloth diapers (i.e. how to clean washable diapers).
Step 1: Separate diaper outers and inserts
If you’re using diapers that have different parts (like hybrid diapers, pre-folded cloth diapers, or pocket cloth diapers), then you need to first separate the different components like waterproofs and inner linings.
Some of the waterproof outers can’t be washed on high temperature, so check the care instructions for your diapers.
Also remember that any disposable part of the diaper should be thrown away before washing. And, consider that only around 12 to 18 diapers can be washed at one time in most washing machines.
Step 2: Wash diapers, inserts and fabric wet bags
So you’re probably wondering how to wash cloth diapers after separating the components.
For soiled diapers, you need to put them on a cold pre-wash first, before putting them on the main cycle. But if you’ve already rinsed and soaked them, then you can skip the pre-wash. That’s part of how to properly wash cloth diapers.
If you do a pre-wash, use a diaper laundry detergent that’s suited to babies’ sensitive skin and that doesn’t contain toxic substances. Ideally choose a hypoallergenic, all-natural laundry detergent sheet. After all, you wouldn’t want your baby to suffer from a laundry detergent allergy. And, after reading about all the toxins in some detergents, you’ll likely want to steer clear of anything that could harm your baby.
For the main cycle (depending on your exact care instructions) you’ll probably be able to wash the diapers, inserts, and wet bags on a 104°F wash (around 40°C). Choose the longest wash cycle you can.
As babies’ skin is sensitive, use a mild laundry detergent sheet that is natural and free from harmful toxins. Avoid using any softeners. It’s also generally best to avoid chlorine bleach as it can damage certain fabrics or fade colors, and has environmental impacts too.
Step: Dry the diapers
When it comes to drying your cloth diapers, the best way to do that is to air dry them outside in sunlight.
Sun helps to kill bacteria and fresh air helps to dry the diapers more quickly. In addition, it saves energy by drying your diapers naturally (which is more eco-friendly), making it a popular choice for an environmentally conscious lifestyle.
But, we know that it’s not practical or possible for everyone to do that. So the next best thing is to use an indoor line to dry diapers at home. If possible, position it in some sunlight.
Not all diapers can go in the dryer, so check the care instructions. Quite often the outers can’t be put in the dryer, but the inners can (usually at a low heat to avoid shrinking them). Watch out for velcro, elastics, and buttons in the dryer, as they could be damaged by heat.
If you do use a dryer, using natural wool dryer balls can help to speed up drying time, thus reducing energy use and reducing the risk of anything shrinking.
How to Wash Cloth Diapers for The First Time
Washing your cloth diapers for the first time requires some special care. That’s probably why so many search for “how to wash cloth diapers for the first time”.
If the diapers are new and have never been washed before then it’s best to clean them before use. Not only does that ensure they’re clean for your baby, but it can also help to make them more absorbable.
Simply put them in the wash using warm water and a mild, natural laundry detergent that will be kind to your baby and the planet.
How Often to Wash Cloth Diapers
Are you wondering how often to wash cloth diapers? The answer is partly a personal preference (some parents prefer to do diaper washing daily), and partly based on how many soiled nappies your baby produces each day.
Most babies that wear cloth diapers will need to be changed every 2 hours, or each time their diapers are wet.
Most people wash their cloth diapers every day or two. While they’re waiting to be washed, you can keep them in a diaper pail. Although beware that dirty diapers can get quite stinky and can also breed bacteria, fungi, etc. so you don’t want to leave them unwashed for long.
How Many Cloth Diapers Do I Need
Now that we’ve covered “how to clean reusable diapers”, you’re probably wondering how many cloth diapers you need
Choosing how many diapers to buy depends on how often you want to wash and dry diapers, and how often your child dirties their diapers each day.
For some families, having around 24 diapers will be sufficient. But others prefer to have around 40 diapers so that there’s a steady flow of new ones that come out of the wash every day or two.
Considering that most babies use around 8 or 10 diapers every day, having 20 is sufficient if you’ll be doing a wash load daily and are able to dry them quite quickly.
Here are some useful tips for anyone interested in using cloth diapers (or if you’re wondering how to wash cloth diapers):
- Start out slow: you can start off buying around 14 cloth diapers and then see if that’s sufficient or if you need more.
- Always keep a waterproof bag with you where you can store dirty diapers.
- It can help to store all your cloth diapers in water while you’re waiting to wash them, so that they pre-soak (making dirty ones easier to wash). But beware of storing dirty diapers for more than 3 days for sanitary reasons. In more humid environments, you may need to wash immediately.
- Always look at the care instructions on your diapers! That will give you a lot of information to answer your search for “how to clean cloth diapers”, including what temperature you can use for the washer and whether or not you can use chlorine bleach or a dryer.