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  • Writer's pictureLaundry Care

Everything You Need to Know About Washing Cloth Diapers

Stack ok disposable diapers next to a colorful stack of cloth diapers

Cleaning cloth diapers is one of the biggest issues holding some parents back from making the switch. We’ve broken down the process step-by-step and included our expert tips and tricks. As parents, we all base a lot of our parenting decisions on what’s best for our kids, as well as our family as a whole.

4 Main Reasons We Chose Cloth Diapers Over Disposables

1. Cost

This was, perhaps, the most convincing reason for our family. After running the numbers, our estimated savings per year comes to over $250! This INCLUDES the cost of utilities for the washer and dryer. Extra money in the bank? Yes Please!

2. Comfort

Obviously cloth feels better than paper. In addition, many disposable diaper brands use chemical concoctions in the diaper production process. While these chemicals help with absorption, odor, etc, they can also irritate baby’s’ delicate skin. No thanks!

3. Convenience

Cloth diapers have come a long way over the years. Today’s parents have all kinds of options to choose from. There are even entire companies dedicated to cloth diaper “technology” (← Yes…Really!) and production.

4. Conservation

Before choosing the cloth diaper route, we did a TON of research. What we learned certainly helped us decide. Did you know, in the US alone, an estimated 20 billion diapers per year make their way to landfills? Twenty. Freakin’. Billion…Per YEAR. We didn’t.

How to Store Dirty Diapers Between Laundry Days

What should you do with dirty diapers between wash days? The most popular ways to deal with diaper storage are the Wet Pail and Dry Pail Methods.

Wet Pail Method

With the Wet Pail method, dirty diapers soak in a bucket of water until laundry day. Baking soda, essential oils or distilled cleaning vinegar can be added for extra stain and odor fighting.


  1. Pretreats tough stains and strong odors

  2. Can wait longer before washing

  3. Reduced odor between washes


  1. Full pail can be heavy and difficult to empty into the washer

  2. Potential drowning hazard *Be sure to keep out child’s reach or get a pail with a locking lid!

  3. Some diaper makers recommend against this method claiming it can reduce absorbency

Helpful Tips:

• Choose a sturdy, watertight container with a lid • Use cold water to fill your container about ½ way or so • Add baking soda OR vinegar AND/ OR 2-3 drops of essential oil (tea tree, mint and lavender are my favs) • Submerge unrolled diapers in water mixture • Before washing, empty the entire pail into the washer and run the rinse cycle or drain the water first and empty into your machine, then wash as usual

Dry Pail Method

With the Dry Pail method, diapers are tossed into lined container similar to a trashcan. To reduce odor, baking soda can be sprinkled inside the liner along with a few drops of essential oil.


•Lighter, easier to manage pail •Safer- No drowning hazard


•Can get stinky (like a waste basket with disposables) •Some stains may remain after washing

Helpful Tips:

•Choose a sturdy container with a lid •Place a washable liner inside the container •Sprinkle a generous amount of baking soda into the liner •Add 2-3 drops of essential oil if desired •Place unrolled diapers into container and replace lid •Empty entire container, liner and all into the washer, then launder as usual.

How to Pre-Treat Diaper Stains

It goes without saying, you want as little, um…solid waste as possible going into your washer. Right? But don’t panic! There are at least 4 tried and true ways to reduce the potential “ick factor” of cloth diapers before washing.


Pun intended? Perhaps obvious, simply dump any solid waste into the toilet and flush. This is, by far the easiest method and your first line of defense whenever possible.

Disposable Liners

Disposable liners are available at retailers nationwide. They make cleanup a cinch and keep diapers protected from the majority of stains, smells and similar soilings. On the other hand, disposable liners aren’t particularly cost effective or environmentally friendly. Nevertheless, if they make the cloth diaper process easier they still beat disposable diapers.

Dunk and Swish

A quick dunk in the toilet used to be considered an effective method to prepare diapers to be washed that cloth diapers were dunked in the toilet in order to prep them for the washer. This isn’t necessarily needed anymore.

Diaper Sprayer

Attach this bad boy to your toilet’s water valve and voila! It looks similar to a kitchen spray hose and is relatively easy to install If you’ve tried “The Dump” (see above) and the diaper’s still a mess, hold the it over the toilet and rinse the mess downward into the bowl. To avoid splatter and over spray, hold the diaper at a downward angle close the water.

How to Choose a Detergent

You don’t necessarily need to purchase any special detergents made for washing cloth diapers. Generally speaking, you can use the same detergent you’ve been using…just use less. Cloth diapers require gentle cleaning methods to retain their shape and maximum absorption qualities. Using too much detergent can clog the fibers and prevent absorption. No bueno! Cut the detergent “dose” by at least ½ to keep soap residue from building up. Whatever you do, use a product with limited dyes and perfumes to reduce the risk of any adverse skin reaction.

If you’d prefer to use a product designed to work well with cloth diapers, we’d recommend Purex Free Clear, Dreft or Soap Nuts. You’ll have to decide which type works best for you, gets you the best results and easily accessible.

How to Wash Diapers


Choose how often you wash a load of cloth diapers based on how many diapers your child goes thru daily, your soiled diaper storage and your odor tolerance. Running a load each day or every other day is ideal, not to mention least stinky option. Obviously, that’s not always possible. Not to worry. You can certainly get away with going 3-5 days if you’d like. Try the Wet Pail Method (see above) if you prefer to wash less frequently.

Load Size

For best results, consider washing about 8-15 diapers (1-3 days) per load. Many manufacturers suggest washing no more than 24 diapers (3-5 days) at a time.

Washer Settings

It’s best to run each load of diapers through the washer TWICE. Start with a cold rinse or soak setting and follow with a hot wash. If odor is an issue, use a few drops of tea tree oil and about a cup of distilled vinegar during one or both cycles. You can pour the mixture right into your machine’s fabric softener dispenser so it will disperse properly.

How to Dry Diapers

Air Drying

Cloth diapers can be air dried on the line, a dryer rack or tumble-dry on the low or warm setting. Line drying is arguably the most popular way to dry cloth diapers as sunlight can be especially helpful in getting those pesky stains out.

Dryer Settings

If you prefer using the dryer, as always, read the manufacturer’s instructions. Some cloths diapers need to be dried on medium or low.

Other Tips to Keep in Mind

Stubborn Stains

Don’t worry if you can still see faint stains after washing. Diaper stains are tough to completely eliminate just like stains on other garments. To reduce staining, add a drop of Dawn dishwashing liquid, a scoop of oxiclean or washing soda and ¼ cup hydrogen peroxide to the wash.

Products to Avoid:

Chlorine Bleach

Bleach will eat away at the fibers and can leave holes in your diapers. If you need some extra whitening power, use baking soda, washing soda and/ or oxygen bleach instead.

Fabric Softener

Fabric softeners will leave a liquid-blocking layer of residue on your diapers. This will leave the diapers unable to properly absorb resulting in leaking and potentially messy clean-ups.

Heavy Duty Cleaners

You may be tempted to bring out the big guns when it comes to getting the diapers clean. DON’T! Stick with gentle cleansers to keep them clean and make them last longer.

“Stripping” Diapers

Every so often you may need to press RESET on your cloth diapers to keep them in tip-top shape. Detergent and diaper creams can leave build-up. If you notice the diapers are less effective, less absorbent or down right STANKY, you need to strip them. Strip the diapers by giving them a rinse in the washer on the HOTTEST setting. Add vinegar, a drop of Dawn, washing soda and/ or Borax for best results… I use the entire arsenal! Repeat if necessary.


Do you have any other tips or product suggestions for cleaning cloth diapers? We’d love to hear so be sure to tell us in the comment section!


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