Now that we know what to do with the poop on the diapers, we are ready to look at the actual washing routine!
Washing instructions for cleaning cloth diapers are not as different from washing clothes as you might think. Diapers are just soiled laundry! There are a few things you will want to consider when washing your diapers.
Type of Water
Sometimes when people have issues with diaper washing, it’s because their water is far too hard.
The minerals and deposits in hard water can sometimes cause issues with odors and repelling (the liquid not soaking into the inserts properly).
If you have a water softener, keeping it stocked with salt is a great idea. If you don’t have a water softener, do not fret–you can still wash diapers. You can buy water softener powders, such as Calgon or Borax, to add directly to your load.
I recommend doing one of two things: test your water using test strips (can easily order online) to know if your water is hard or not, or you can bring a water sample to a pet store and ask them to test it for you. (To be honest, I never tested my water hardness before I started. I just chose to use Tide powder–it has softeners added that can cover up to 180 ppm, which is moderately hard water. If you would like to be certain you are doing things correctly or want to use liquid detergent, then testing is a great idea).
If your water is too soft, that could cause issues, too. Do not oversoften your water thinking that will avoid issues. I believe sometimes people get a little carried away with thinking their water hardness is an issue. Over softening your water can cause issues with getting your washer way too sudsy.
The water you currently have in your home is probably just fine. 85% of Americans have hard water, and no, 85% of cloth diaper users do not have to treat their water when washing diapers.
Just keep the idea of water softeners in the back of your head as you plan your routine. The only way to know if you need to use one is to test your water, consider if your detergent has any water softeners, and go from there.
You can read more about navigating hard water with cloth diapers here.
Load Size and Water to Diaper Ratio
You will need to pay a little more attention to your load size than you maybe have for other loads of laundry. Your load size is dependent upon the size of your washer, but here are some general guidelines for a regular, non-HE washer:
Small Load: Around 10 diapers (or whatever number will fill your machine full about 1/3 of the way)
Medium Load: Around 12-14 diapers (or whatever will fill your machine about 1/2 of the way)
Large Load: 15+ diapers (or whatever amount makes your machine about 2/3 to 3/4 full–do not overstuff your washer)
As for the water to diaper ratio, you need enough water that they get plenty clean, but not so much that they don’t agitate or scrub against each other.
One temptation people have is to do a small or medium load with the washer set to use the amount of water needed for a large load. Please don’t do this! Not only is it a waste of water, but it actually won’t get your diapers as clean.
I know that seems counter-intuitive, but the most important factor in whether diapers get clean or not (assuming you use enough of a quality detergent) is if they agitated properly. They need enough water so that they get properly cleaned, but not so much that they float around and don’t agitate against each other.
Using the correct amount of water for your load size is essential.
A great analogy I heard many years ago is this: you want diaper stew, not diaper chili OR diaper soup! Think about the difference between stew, soup, and chili. Soup has lots of liquid and is much thinner than chili. Chili has less liquid and is very thick. Stew has some liquid, but the bulk of the recipe is the good stuff. That is what you want to aim for with your diapers.
What about HE Machines?
There is a myth going around that you can’t cloth diaper with a HE washer, and that is not true.
A HE machine can sometimes pose a challenge with getting enough water and agitation for your load to properly clean the diapers, but there are workarounds for this and many people successfully cloth diaper with a HE washer.
The trick is to make sure your load size is appropriate. Small loads are not recommended because the diapers will not agitate against each other properly. Somewhere between 2/3 and 3/4 full is usually recommended for a front loader HE, and somewhere between 1/2 and 2/3 full for a top loader HE. It may require some experimentation to find the best load size for your particular machine. My HE machine does best at 3/4 full.
That said, I recommend you don’t overthink this. You will likely wash your diapers with no issue. If you do start to have issues getting them completely clean, at that point you can start to analyze and note take about your load size, detergent amounts, etc.
There are many schools of thought about what laundry detergent is right for cloth diapers. Some diaper manufacturers also say in their washing instructions that you need to buy their detergent for best results. That simply isn’t true (and usually does more harm than good).
I personally preferred to buy detergent that was a bit more cost-effective and could be used on all of my clothes to keep things simple.
You can use almost any mainstream detergent on cloth diapers! There are just a couple guidelines you want to follow to protect the quality of your diapers.
- Do not buy detergents with fabric softeners (and do not use fabric softener on your diapers). Fabric softeners will negatively affect the absorbency of your diapers.
- Pick a laundry detergent, not a laundry soap. Laundry soaps can leave a residue that negatively impacts the absorbency.
- Avoid homemade detergents. The reason homemade detergents aren’t recommended is that most homemade detergent recipes are actually soaps, not detergents. Laundry soaps (as described in number 2) can be harmful to your diapers. Surfactants are necessary to clean diapers properly, and you can’t really make those at home.
Now I’m going to share with you what has worked for me for almost six years of continuous cloth diapering without a single issue.
Yep–just Tide Original Powder. It’s served me well.
Some other popular detergents that people have loved to use with their diapers are Tide Free & Gentle, Gain, All, All Free & Clear, Cheer….etc. Here are some tried and true recommended detergents.
If you have a HE machine, make sure you use a detergent meant for a HE machine.
I hope you are gathering from this that most detergents are okay! You may be able to use your current detergent as long as it meets the guidelines above.
As far as the amount of detergent you need to use: It will depend on your load size, but typically, somewhere between lines 2 & 3 for powder detergents, and a capful for liquid is what is appropriate to use for an average load size for a non-HE machine.
Some people feel that is too much detergent, but since we are dealing with soiled laundry, I prefer to use an appropriate amount.
What about green detergents?
Some green detergents work well for cloth diapers, but not all. Check out this post if you’re interested in finding a good quality, plant-based detergent.
It’s also important to note that you may need to use a little more detergent in your diaper loads than what a typical load would require. Plant-based detergents are just not as powerful as mainstream detergents.
My own experience with green detergents is that I was able to get them to work well in my regular washer, but now that I have a HE washer, I have struggled to get the same results. Be open to the idea that a green detergent may not work out, but feel free to try. Just don’t put all your eggs in that basket.
What about the Dryer?
Whether or not you use the dryer is up to you.
If you are using natural fiber diapers, I would dry without hesitation (unless you want to save energy!) If your diapers have an outer layer of PUL, you may consider hang drying or using the dryer on the delicate option/LOW heat. You do not want to use high heat on PUL as it may damage it.
I dry my diapers (most of them have PUL) on low and haven’t had an issue.
Simplified Step-by-Step Routine
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I hope you have enjoyed this post on washing instructions for your cloth diapers! There is one more post in this series about cloth diaper accessories.
Leave a comment below–what are you still wondering about? Do you have your own routine you’d like to share?