How to  Wash Cloth Diapers: Tips & Time-Savers

When it comes to cloth diapers, there are as many opinions on proper care as there are adorable patterns and colors. Wading through all the information can be overwhelming and confusing, but don’t despair. Once you understand the basics of proper laundering, you can customize your routine to fit your individual needs. Read on for tips & time-savers that will teach you how to wash cloth diapers effectively & efficiently!

Timeline for Washing Cloth Diapers

The sheer volume of laundry is likely to be your biggest obstacle with cloth diapers. To avoid a build-up and ensure you always have enough clean diapers on hand, it’s best to wash a load every two or three days. This timing also lets you find a balance between the wear and tear that comes with too frequent washings, with staining, mildew and residual odor issues that can occur if you wait too long before washing a load.

How to Wash Cloth Diapers

Proper laundering is essential for keeping your cloth diapers sanitary, absorbent and long-lasting. Getting them optimally clean means avoiding ammonia build-up. This build-up can harm the material, cause odors and lead to more frequent diaper rashes, too.

You can’t treat cloth diapers like a standard load of laundry for two reasons. First, they are likely the dirtiest thing you’ll ever put in your washer. Second, they contain a variety of special-care materials like laminates for waterproofing in the cover, hemp or other natural materials in the absorptive core and a top wicking layer designed to keep baby dry.

Step 1: Pre-wash or prep according to manufacturer’s instructions.

This is an important step prior to baby’s first use, so follow the instructions closely. If you’re using more than one brand, note how their initial care may differ depending on whether they are synthetic-based or made of natural fibers.

Step 2: Prepare for wash after baby’s use.

After your baby has put the diaper to good use, there are a few different ways to deal with the initial mess. If you’re using disposable cloth diaper liners, simply lift the liner out of the diaper to remove all solids and place it in the toilet for flushing. When there are no solids, the liner can go in a trash can. If you’re not using a liner, remove solids or excessive urine with a diaper sprayer or using the “dunk and swirl” method in the toilet.

Then, the soiled cloth diapers can be placed in a dry diaper pail or bag. It’s a good idea to close any snaps, Velcro or hook-and-loop closures; this will protect them from accidentally breaking in the washer.

Step 3: Machine wash 20-30 diapers at a time.

Let’s face it, soiled cloth diapers are likely to be the single dirtiest item you ever place in your washer. For this reason, you need to ensure the washer drum is two-thirds to three-fourths full in order to get maximum agitation for cleaning. For a standard size washer, this means about 20-30 diapers.

Once you fill the washer, start with a cold-water rinse. This greatly reduces staining. Next, you’ll run them through a very hot water wash cycle, which does a better job of cleaning and sanitizing the diapers. Opt for a “heavily soiled” or “high spin” setting if you have one.

If you have hard water, you’ll likely need to use more detergent to get optimal cleanliness results. In this case, it’s best to end with an extra cold-water rinse to remove any excess detergent deposits. If you have soft water or a water softener system, you can use less detergent and skip the post-wash rinse.

Using the above method, your cloth diapers should come out of the wash fresh and clean, with no odors or residue. If that isn’t the case, you may need to try a different brand or amount of detergent. Many cloth diaper manufacturers recommend plant-based or cloth-based detergents, but conventional detergents can be used, too, if you don’t overdo it.

One important note to remember: don’t use fabric softener. It can lead to deposits that propagate bacterial growth and ammonia retention.

Step 4: Use proper drying methods.

Each brand of cloth diapers has its own set of specifications related to drying. For instance, some will advise letting the diaper covers air dry, while others will encourage placing them in the dryer. High heat settings will degrade materials faster, so opt for cooler drying temperatures to make your cloth diapers last longer.

Once the dryer cycle is complete, let each diaper component cool before folding or stretching them in any way. This ensures you maintain the integrity of the waterproof laminate and the elastic with each cleaning cycle.

Tips and Tricks

If you want to make your washing process a bit easier, keep these tips in mind:

  • Don’t use diaper rash creams that contain petroleum or zinc. If you must, add a disposable diaper liner to protect the diaper material from the harsh chemicals.
  • If you’re using an enclosed diaper pail or sealed bag for soiled diapers, leave the lid partly open or the zipper unzipped to maximize airflow. This will lessen ammonia build-up and make the diapers easier to clean.
  • To really boost cleaning, add a small scoop of baking soda to your detergent. Click here for an eco-friendly option!

Time-Savers for Busy Parents

While there are many benefits to using cloth diapers, the amount of laundry and the required two-step washing process can make it feel like you’re doing laundry non-stop. Here are two time-saving tips to help you stay ahead of the game:

  • Add a wool dryer ball to the dryer. They can cut the dry time down by 25 percent! means time saved and less wear and tear on the diaper material.
  • For troublesome stains, don’t waste time pre-treating them with harsh chemicals or washing loads more than once. Simply put clean wet diapers out in the sunlight for a few hours and let the UV rays bleach stains and kill bacteria. It works like magic!


Cloth diaper care can take some getting used to, but you’ll soon master proper washing techniques and develop a system that works for your family. Plus, you will feel secure in making a decision that is better for both the Earth and your baby. 


If you have any questions about cloth diapers, feel free to leave them in the comments below or head over to our Rookie Moms Facebook Group!


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