We include products we think are useful for our readers. If you buy through links on this page, we may earn a small commission. Here’s our process.
Healthline only shows you brands and products that we stand behind.Our team thoroughly researches and evaluates the recommendations we make on our site. To establish that the product manufacturers addressed safety and efficacy standards, we:
- Evaluate ingredients and composition: Do they have the potential to cause harm?
- Fact-check all health claims: Do they align with the current body of scientific evidence?
- Assess the brand: Does it operate with integrity and adhere to industry best practices?
Sure, washing cloth diapers may sound gross at first, but there are benefits that make a little ewww worth it.
Approximately 3.3 million tons of disposable diapers are added to the country’s landfills each year. It estimated to take up to 500 years for just one diaper to decompose in a landfill. That’s 500 years of infecting the ecosystem with toxic gases and hazardous chemicals for every diaper thrown into the trash.
Cloth diapers make a difference. You are making a difference.
Follow the advice and tips outlined below and let all squeamish thoughts go. You’ll see, it’s safe to wash your favorite white T-shirt (the lone stain-free one) in the same machine that launders loads of your baby’s soiled diapers. We promise: Your clothes, sheets, and towels won’t smell like poo forevermore.
You can do this.
First things first. Check the product packaging or look at the company’s website for a recommended washing guideline. Many cloth diaper companies provide precise instructions, which must be followed in order to receive any given warranties if things go awry.
You also need to decide how to store the dirty diapers until you’re ready to wash them. Many containers are designed specifically for cloth diapering, or you can add liners to other laundry pails. When you’re on the go, a zippered and waterproof wet bag will come in handy.
If you’re worried about the smell (because who wouldn’t worry about that?) there are deodorizers meant for reducing diaper smell.
Step 1: Remove any solid waste
If your baby is solely breastfed, their poop is water soluble and technically doesn’t require any special removal. Some moms may opt to simply toss these soiled diapers into the pail or bag they’re using for storage as is, and that’s okay.
For formula-fed babies, or for babies who have had solids introduced into their diets, you’ll need to dump, drop, scrape, or spray the solid poops into the toilet before storing the diaper with the other dirties.
Some parents use a diaper sprayer (sprayers that attach to your toilet like mini-showerheads) while others swish the diaper around in the toilet’s bowl. Even using a spray bottle full of tap water will work. Just be sure to spray or swish until the poop is removed.
Step 2: Put the dirty diaper into a pail or bag, until you’re ready to wash it
Okay, so you already know where you’re storing all dirty diapers in between washings, and you’ve removed the poop from this particular diaper using the toilet bowl or a water sprayer.
If you’ve gone to the trouble of rinsing, make sure the diaper is still wet, so wet that it’s nearly dripping when you put it in with the other dirty diapers that have yet to be washed. The diaper remaining damp until washing is the secret to your baby’s poop effortlessly washing out with little to no staining.
Pee diapers can go straight into the pail with no prep work.
Step 3: It’s time to wash the dirty diapers
Plan to wash dirty diapers every day, or every other day
Yes, you read that correctly. This may feel excessive, but you’re dealing with water-logged, stinky diapers. You could maybe get away with 3 days, but waiting longer than a day or two can lead to mildew stains and often requires extra wash cycles just to get the diapers clean.
Wash no more than 12 to 18 cloth diapers at a time
Your baby will go through 8 to 10 diapers in per day. (Newborns will often go through more!) This means stocking up on at least twice as many cloth diapers as you’ll use in a day, especially if you already know that running a load of diapers through the wash on a daily basis is just Not. Going. To. Happen.
You don’t have to purchase 36 cloth diapers, but you may want to stock up on at least 16 of them.
Start by dumping the dirties into the washing machine and running a cold cycle
Use a pre-rinse or “speed wash” cycle with cold water and NO detergent. This will help to loosen up any lingering muck. This also reduces the potential for staining. (Some people use a small scoop of OxiClean, others swear by opting for no detergent during cold, pre-rinse cycle method.)
Run the dirties through a second, warm or hot cycle
Use a regular warm to very hot cycle and cloth-friendly detergent to get the diapers officially clean. Feel free to add a little scoop of baking soda to the detergent for a power boost. Baking soda will also neutralize acidic odors and remove protein-based stains.
Adding 1/2 cup of lemon juice to the wash will help whiten the fabric.
If your machine has the option for an extra rinse, go for it! The more water running through the diaper, the better. More water means a cleaner diaper with less staining and potential residue.
Avoid using bleach, which by the way, can cancel any manufacturer warranties. Bleach is a harsh chemical and easily damages fabrics if used too often. Vinegar, like bleach, has a strong cleaning acid naturally and is sometimes added to laundry loads for the value of softer, fresh fabrics; but the cleaning acids are strong, so the smallest amount of vinegar, if any, should be used.
Don’t use fabric softeners (this includes many well-known baby detergents, like Dreft). Fabric softeners coat the cloth diaper’s fabric, cause buildup, and prevent optimal fabric absorbency.
Step 4: Air or line dry the cloth diapers
The best method for drying cloth diapers is outside, on a line, in the sun. Returning to the pioneering days isn’t always possible for everyone, but it is optimal. The sun defeats bacteria with freshness and gives your baby’s bottom the very best results. It also reduces staining.
If you can’t line dry outside, use a clothesline to dry the diapers inside your home! You won’t get that same sunny fresh scent, but you can still reap the benefits of line drying. The main benefit is an extended lifetime for the cloth diapers. Just be sure to hang the diapers in a way that supports the elastic, so the weight of the wetness doesn’t compromise the elastic stretch.
Some cloth diapers are able to go into the dryer on low settings, but this will cause more wear and tear as time goes on. Using a dryer may also cause damage to waterproof linings, as well as any Velcro, buttons, and snaps.
Be sure to check the drying instructions given on the product or brand’s website, before putting your cloth diapers in the dryer. Keep in mind that higher heat settings on the dryer often cause the fabric to lose some of its softness.
Carry waterproof bags on the go
When you’re on-the-go and have one or two soppy, smelly diapers (alongside the adorable, soft onesie that was explosively attacked up the backside) to carry around, zippered and waterproof wet bags are your best friend.
Try disposable diaper liners
Diaper liners, which look like dryer sheets, can provide additional stain protection to your cloth diapering. They just pop into your cloth diapers much like a maxi pad. The faster cleanup is appealing, and most diaper liners are biodegradable and flushable.
Use baking soda
Add baking soda directly to your diaper bag or pail to keep it smelling fresh throughout the day.
Consider a diaper cleaning service
If you’re shaking your head nope as you read through these tips, you can always look into the local diaper cleaning services available in your area.
Even if you tried cloth diapering to lower your weekly expenses, many moms say the cost of a cleaning service is still less than the cost of disposable diapers. Some diaper cleaning services also provide a diaper stripping service. (Keep reading!)
Stripping is just a specific type of wash treatment designed to remove build up from the fabric of the diapers. And, yes, at some point in the life of a cloth diaper it’s likely you’ll need to do this.
If you feel your detergent isn’t working, stripping the diapers can help get them back to their original state. If the diapers start to smell right after they’ve been washed, or smell strongly after one pee, you may need to strip. If your baby’s diaper leaks and you’ve already checked the fit and it’s good, you may need to strip.
Stripping the diapers can remove any build up caused by leftover detergent and hard water minerals, which can create more suds during the washing cycles and prevent the diapers from rubbing together properly for ideal results. Stripping also helps prevent smelly baby clothes and potential baby rashes.
Put your washed, clean cloth diapers into the washing machine, set the temperature to very hot water, and use a laundry treatment meant for stripping diapers (or a few drops of original blue Dawn dish soap). Do not add other detergent or any other extras.
If the smell persists, or if your baby continues to get rashes, repeat this laundry treatment up to three times. Dry the diapers. This can be repeated monthly.
To effectively strip your diapers, you don’t need to try anything fancy — no soaking or prewashes necessary. You only need clean diapers, a good laundry treatment, and patience.
If you have soft water and think the problem is detergent buildup, run the diapers through the wash on a very hot water cycle — no additive and no detergent. Just hot water and clean diapers until there are no suds seen in the water during the wash.
You can always start small. Begin this adventure with only two to three cloth diapers and see how you feel.
Cloth diapering isn’t for everyone, and that’s okay. If you decide to stick with disposable diapers, don’t feel bad about it. The benefits of cloth diapering can impact the environment both more and less than disposable diapers, depending on the laundering methods used.
When it comes to cloth diapering, remaining patient and staying determined are key as you refine and establish a routine that works best for you.
You can do this.