How to wash cloth diapers…. is there only one way to do it? What if I mess it up? Whose advice can I trust?

Washing cloth diapers is something that stresses out many parents new to cloth.

I know when I first became intrigued by using cloth diapers, I didn’t think too much about how to wash them at first. It wasn’t until I was doing research and reading that I discovered washing them was a much bigger deal than I realized.

The fear of screwing it all up was paralyzing.

The drama surrounding cloth diaper washing advice is something that drives me crazy. People can grow quite firm & arrogant in how they think it should be done and get fiesty with others who have contradictory advice.

So what’s the deal? Why would people recommend something if it’s “wrong”?

So Much Controversy

washing machineThere are a lot of controversies out there regarding washing advice. Here are some of the biggest points of contention:

  • Detergent build-up — myth or not?
  • Detergent choice — Can you only use Tide? What about Rockin’ Green, Charlie’s Soap, Homemade Detergents, etc.
  • Pre-wash or rinse?
  • How to Handle Hard Water
  • Detergent Amounts

I’m a member of several Facebook wash groups that get very particular about what people recommend to others to help with their wash routine. Some of them have even gone so far as to only allow admins to reply to wash routine posts to avoid conflicting advice.

Sounds great in theory…but avoiding conflicting advice is only good when the person who is allowed to give advice gives GOOD advice. 😉 That isn’t always the case in some Facebook groups, unfortunately. Some people are SO rigid in what they believe works that they don’t realize it may not be right for every situation.

I’m a member of a different cloth diaper care group that says that members are not allowed to give wash advice from the prior group mentioned (where admins are the only ones allowed to comment) because they are (apparently) notorious for bad advice.

Fluff Love University is one of the most popular cloth diaper washing resources out there, but they certainly have a lot of controversy surrounding them.

So how do you know whose advice to follow? This is what makes it so stressful for many people wanting to try using cloth diapers, but don’t know where to start.

Who Is Correct?

how-to-wash-cloth-diapersHonestly… most of these groups have helped many people figure out what was wrong with their wash routine and make a fix.

So how could they all make claims that the other groups don’t know what they’re talking about if they all successfully helped many people get a good routine?

The truth is that most people will have a relatively uncomplicated cloth diaper washing experience once they work out the kinks in their washing routine, and they may follow advice from either group and not have a huge issue.

I believe people’s opinions start to get distorted because Facebook groups tend to be the place people go for troubleshooting advice, which means that the groups are disproportionately filled with people with problems and not the people that are cloth diapering without issue. When you’re talking only to the people that are having problems, it starts to make it seem like everyone who takes a certain group’s washing advice has issues. But the people that the advice worked for aren’t seeking out other groups for advice, so they never hear from those people.

It is possible people could take advice from either group and be okay because there are some generally agreed-upon principles (which I will go over later) that can often be what someone needs to fix their routine.

The problem comes more in rigid thinking and firm beliefs that they’re unwilling to sway from. Detergent build-up is one issue that comes to mind. Sites & sources like Fluff Love University say detergent build-up is a myth and usually recommend heavy amounts of detergent for diaper washing. Other sources say it is very real and recommend more moderate amounts of detergent.

I will be honest that I have always used less detergent than what Fluff Love recommends. I didn’t even know what their recommendations were when I started cloth diapering, and I never had any major issues that caused me to seek their help. I can’t remember where I got my detergent amount recommendations to start, but it was probably a forum of some kind. I successfully used half the amount of Tide that Fluff Love recommends. Once I learned they recommended more, for a brief moment it got me all worried that I had been doing it wrong…. but then I remembered that I had been washing cloth diapers 2-3 times a week for four years with no issues. 😉 I think I was in the clear.

There are some weird places out there that recommend things like a teaspoon of detergent because of how afraid of detergent build-up they are.

Others argue over what type of first wash is best (an express/short wash, or a regular wash?). I think this is such a silly thing to argue about. There is no one right answer for this as it will entirely depend on your specific washing machine and what your options are.

When I had an old-school top loader with agitator, washing diapers was SO EASY. I’m sure it wasn’t easy for everyone, but I pretty much had no issues ever. I really only needed to make one tweak a couple of years into it, and that was it. It didn’t really matter whose advice I decided to follow because that agitator was a miracle worker. I had a very simple routine.

The machine I have now is a 20-year-old HE front loader and let me tell you…. it is NOT a forgiving machine. My wash routine had to get a LOT more particular when we moved into this house. I am sitting here hoping it dies soon so I can buy a regular machine again.

I give these examples to say that there is no one right way to wash your diapers. If your routine ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

You may have a very easy time and can take almost anyone’s advice and be okay… OR you may need to seek out some expertise from people that are familiar with how to handle the nuances of your situation.

What Does All Of This Mean?

Honestly, when it comes to most of this stuff, understand your washing machine options and use common sense. If it doesn’t seem logical to you, it probably isn’t.

Would you trust a teaspoon of detergent to clean a whole load of soiled diapers? Common sense says NO.

Does it make sense to you that using too much detergent could cause some build-up on diapers? To me, common sense says yes, especially with modern HE machines that are stingy with water usage.

However, with my old washing machine where I could control the water level, I never worried about detergent build-up. To get build-up, you are either using a TON of detergent with little water or you have other factors that are contributing (like very soft water). But I do think it’s entirely logical that it is possible. Too much of ANYTHING can be a problem.

Generally Agreed Upon Principles

Generally speaking, most people agree on the following ideas:

  • Avoid fabric softeners on your diapers
  • Do not use homemade detergents (IE laundry soaps)
  • You should do some sort of pre-wash or first wash cycle before your main wash
    • Purpose: remove the worst of the nastiness so that you aren’t washing your diapers in dirty water.
    • The type of first wash recommended varies upon who is giving you advice. You will need to find what is right for your machine. Believe me…you will know pretty quickly if your pre-wash isn’t cutting it. 😉tide-for-diapers
  • Water that is too hard may give you some issues. Moderately hard water is usually fine without adding softeners if you use powdered detergent.
    • (ex: Tide or Gain–powdered detergent usually has water softeners added). You may want to consider adding a water softener like Calgon to your laundry if your water is very hard.
    • MOST PEOPLE do not need to add water softeners, especially if you are using a mainstream powder detergent. The only way to know if you need to do that or not is to test your water. You can order test strips on Amazon, or bring a sample to a pet store and ask them to test. Remember, people used cloth diapers for a long time without worrying about water hardness (though they handwashed, too, which helps). However, people that overthink water hardness and start adding things like Calgon and Borax to their laundry have more issues getting their routine down than most. Do not just start adding Calgon thinking “it couldn’t hurt” because it most definitely can cause problems. I would only use additives like this if you have severe water hardness concerns. If you aren’t sure, I would honestly err on the side of not using them. Should you get mineral build up…oh well. Stripping diapers isn’t really that difficult.
  • Agitation is one of the most important elements for washing diapers. This is where non-HE washing machines have an advantage, as they usually have agitators and they do help a ton. (I miss my old washer… *sigh*) However, you can achieve adequate agitation in a HE washer, too. That may require some experimenting to find the exact level of fullness that your machine cleans best at.
    • Top loader HE machines usually do best somewhere between 1/2 and 2/3 full, while front-loaders usually do best between 2/3 and 3/4 full. Machines vary, so you can only know how yours responds by tracking how full your loads are & the results. My machine has a king-size capacity and does better at 3/4 full than it does at 2/3.

Give It A Try!

It might require some trial and error to get your perfect wash routine nailed down. If you want to know where to start, sign up for my mailing list to receive a FREE wash routine PDF.

Note: My wash routine is what works for ME. You may have factors different from me that require a change to this routine. Use this routine as a starting point, and feel free to seek out help if something isn’t working.

Do you have any questions or issues with your wash routine? Let me know in the comments!