Rub-A-Dub-Dub, Cloth Diapers In The Tub

how to wash cloth diapers

You’ve decided to cloth diaper your little one but don’t know where to begin? The first step is to learn how to prep and wash your cloth diapers.

These five tips will help you get started and keep your reusable diapers in prime condition to do their job well.

How To Prep Your Cloth Diapers

Cloth diapers need plenty of washing to get primed and ready to absorb to their fullest potential. Give them a chance to show you their stuff!

Prepping cloth diapers remove natural oils and any residues left over from the manufacturing process which can inhibit their ability to hold pee.
Getting your diapers ready for use is easy.

Separate your cloth diapers and inserts into natural fibers (hemp, bamboo, cotton) and everything else (microfibre, suede cloth, fleece). Wash each set with hot water several times to build absorbency.

There are differing opinions on whether you need to dry the diapers between washings. The dryer does help cotton prefold fluff up nicely.

How I prepped my cloth diapers: I washed each set of cloth diapers (natural fibres and synthetics) four times and used the dryer on the first and last wash.

Handling The Poo

A big question around cloth diapering is, “How do I handle the poo?” It’s not complicated.

If your baby is exclusively breastfed, the poop is water-soluble and will come out easily in the wash. It may leave a mustard coloured stain but that will fade out if you leave the diaper in the sun.

Formula-feed babies poo comes out in the wash, too. Once your baby begins to eat food you’ll want to do one of three things before tossing the diaper into your wet bag:

  1. Use a flushable liner (it’s like a piece of toilet paper but thicker) to protect the diaper. Dump the liner and the poop right into the toilet.
  2. Get a cloth diaper sprayer to attach to your toilet. Hose off the diaper into the toilet. You can also dunk the diaper in the toilet to clean it off!
  3. Shake the poop off into the toilet and scrap with toilet paper/use a diaper sprayer/dunk.

By the way, if all this talk about poo is making you feel hesitant about reusable diapering, you should know that all diapers (including disposable ones) are supposed to be emptied into the toilet but few people do it with disposables.

How I handled the poop: Once my son reached the eating stage, I mostly used flushable liners as this felt the least messy to me.

How To Store Your Cloth Diapers

Using a wet pail for storing cloth diapers is no longer the status quo because of the danger of having water near your little one as well as the damage it can do to your diapers.

A wet bag (simply a bag that holds wet contents) or a diaper pail works well. We’ve explained everything you need to know, including the science behind it all, in this post how to store dirty cloth diapers.

How I stored my reusable diapers: I used a pail lined with a wet pail liner as well as a small zippered wet bag for on-the-go to store our dirty cloth diapers.

How To Wash Your Cloth Diapers

Establishing a good wash routine leads to happy cloth diapering. Without a good clean, your diapers may smell, cause rashes, or lose their absorbing capabilities.

Reusable diapers need lots of water and agitation to get cleaned as well as just the right amount of detergent. It can take some experimentation to find just the right washing routine for your diapers.

High-efficiency, front loading washers can be the most difficult to use with cloth diapers; they use less water and agitation than their less energy-efficient counterparts.

You’ll also want to be sure you are washing your cloth diapers on a regular schedule such as every 2-3 days, using a cold pre-rinse, and a hot wash, followed by another cold rinse.

How I washed my cloth diapers: I used a high-efficiency, front-loading washer and had to experiment to get the diapers thoroughly clean.

In the early days of cloth diapering, my son was going through lots of diapers so each load was full which made washing better as the machine was heavy and thus full of water.

If I found, I needed to add more weight to the washer, I wet a towel and threw it in with the diapers.

As my son began to eat food and go through fewer diapers a day, I found that a quick prewash with no detergent and low spin, prior to the regular load, helped to make them heavier which added more water to the front-loader.

the simple guide to washing cloth diapers

Choosing A Cloth Diaper Friendly Detergent

Your best option is to look for a detergent that identifies itself as a cloth diaper safe; these are becoming more widely available.

You will want to read the label on any detergent you purchase to be sure it does not include pure soap, enzymes, brighteners or fragrance or dye.

These ingredients may cause a reaction on your baby or impair the absorbance of your diaper.

Following the proper wash routine is key to successful cloth diapering otherwise, you risk the Four R’s: residue, rashes, reduced absorbency, and the very real possibility that you will need to “strip” all your diapers of residues so that they can be used. Stripping diapers is a lot more work.

What detergent I used: My go-to cloth diaper laundry detergent was Canadian-made The Laundry Tarts.

Do you have a question or tip about how to wash cloth diapers?


  • Jenn @YouPinspireMe says:

    Yes! Flushable liners for the win. 😀 Also, IMHO a diaper sprayer is a MUST HAVE. I hated my front loader for diapers – I did add a jug or two of water to each diaper load, but still wasn’t happy. I used Rockin’ Green deterg. 🙂
    SO glad I’m done the diapering days, but, I’ll admit, I do kinda miss my pretty cloth diapers. 🙂

    • Sara Vartanian says:

      I so miss the cute cloth diapers-I kept a few just because! We hooked up the sprayer but I didn’t really use it but know so many who say it’s a must 🙂 Thanks for commenting!