Washing Cloth Diapers

One of the most frequent questions anyone new to cloth diapering asks is:
How do you wash them?

My answer to that is: It depends on a few different things.

1. Your water.
If you have hard water, you may find that detergent doesnt rinse out well. That will pose a problem with diapers because any residue left on them will make them less absorbant and in some cases they will actually repell liquid. Adding a detergent booster like Borax, Washing Soda or Baking Soda will remedy this.

2. Frequency of washing.
This will depend on how big your stash is, what kind of access you have to a washer/dryer/line and of course preference. You may want to wash every day or every 2/3 days. Or you may have to use a laundromat and wash once a week. You will find the less often you wash the more steps you may have to take against stinkiness and bacteria. Using baking soda or tea tree oil and even distilled white vinegar in the wash/rinse are very helpful in eliminating that problem.

3. Preference in detergents.
You will want to take a peek at one of the detergent listings to find the one that is right for you. Remember that what works for one person may not work for you and some trial and error is involved.

4. Type of diapers.
Over the years I have found that different types of diapers often require completely different washing routines. AIO’s, AI2’s and fitteds usually need heavy washing and very long dry times due to the sewn in thickness. Prefolds, microfiber towels/inserts and pockets – high or low quality – are a breeze to wash and dry and take up the least amount time. Most covers need very little washing and can easily be rinsed out by hand.

So how do I wash mine?
First of all, at the moment we live in an apartment building that does not provide any laundry facilities whatsoever. So I am left with driving 3 towns over to the closest laundromat, usually with a few kiddos in tow. This means I only do laundry once or twice a week at the mat, but occasionally I use my mothers/friends washer when visiting.

Second of all, I keep my dirty dipes in a dry pail – or rather a large wetbag that hangs in the bathroom. In that ‘pail’ I throw my prefolds, microfiber towels, pockets, the occasional cover that got something ookie on it and my rinsed out mama cloth. Poo gets shaken or swished into the toilet, anything left behind gets sprayed off with the shower head.

Every night after bathtime I toss the covers into the bathwater. If they are stinky I add a drop of tea tree oil and about a 1/4 cup of baking soda (or washing soda or borax – whatever is on hand) and let them soak for a bit before washing. If not I add a squirt of Sun & Earth Deep Cleaning Laundry Detergent (my new fav, I used to use plain powdered Tide), scrub em up then rinse. I hang them all up on small pants hangers (the ones that come with the kids clothes) on the shower curtain rod to dry. They are dry by morning, unless it is unusually humid or raining out. About once every other month or so I take all the covers to the laundromat with everything else.

So other than that, once or twice a week I cart the laundry over to the mat. I toss all my dipes in a double load washer on the whites cycle because it does a cold soak then prewash, a pretty long hot wash, 3 long cold rinses and a double spin cycle. In the soak and prewash I add a 1/4 cup of borax/soda, in the hot wash a half cap of Sun & Earth and in the rinse about a cup’s worth of my vinegar rinse.

My vinegar rinse consists of a gallon of distilled white vinegar (any brand), 10 – 15 drops tea tree oil and 10 – 15 drops lavander essential oil.

Everything gets tossed evenly into 2 or 3 dryers with tennis/dryer balls, and that’s it! I always have clean, bright and fresh dipes!
ETA 6/14/09: This since has changed as I now have a home washer to use! You can find my new wash routine here!!

What about stripping/sanitizing?
Every so often I have to strip my stash for one reason or another. Maybe a dipe got left in the car, someone made an extra stinky surprise or the inevitable: buildup! Whatever the case, I have 2 remedies.

1. Dawn dish detergent.
I run the culprit (or entire stash) through the normal wash routine. Then run it again with a squirt of Dawn in the wash and rinse rinse rinse till the suds are gone.

2. Bleach.
Bleck! I hate bleach, I’m allergic to it and don’t keep it in the house. BUT I have used a capful or two here and there to sanitize something that seemed impervious to anything else.

WARNING: Do NOT mix Bleach with Tea Tree Oil, tis bad alchemy.

It seems bleach is good for stripping or sanitizing pockets though and a lot of people have had good results doing so about once a month.

Happy Diaper Washing!

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