prefold diapers

The Real Scoop on Diaper Laundry

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On the fence about using #clothdiapers because you think the washing will be too time-consuming or too difficult. Don't worry! Cloth diaper laundry is super easy!

I have so many friends who are prepping to be first-time mamas, and so many questions coming in about cloth from those who are interested but a bit hesitant.  The one thing everyone always wants to know is:

How the heck do you wash your diapers?  What do you do with the poop?!  Isn’t it gross?!!

The short answer is this:

Diaper laundry is super easy and you can do it too!

I like to keep everything in my life as simple as possible.  We both work full time as educators (any of you who are teachers KNOW how much time that really is). We’re also performing musicians, which means we’re really busy all the time. If WE have time for diaper laundry, so do you.

Typically, you only have 2-4 extra loads of laundry a week, and unless you’re washing everything by hand, it isn’t like you’re spending all your time washing. You’re putting diapers in the washer and then walking away.  It’s just like washing your clothes!!

Dealing with the poop isn’t hard either. If you have a baby, you’re going to deal with poop no matter what kind of diapers you use. I’d venture to say I actually touch less poop using cloth than the times I’ve had to use disposables, but your experience may vary here.

Let’s dive in!


The short version of this story is this:

  1. Use a simple detergent free of softeners and fragrances that can work for your clothes AND diapers.
  2. Choose a hot wash cycle and cold rinse with enough water to really clean your diapers, regardless of whether you have a top loader or front loader.
  3. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions as best as you can. 

Let’s break down the long story:

  1. Keep your diapers in a DRY PAIL until wash day!

This is important, because a lot of “old school” advice you’ll get from people who cloth diapered in the generations before us will be to put your diapers in a wet pail with bleach. Most manufacturers do not recommend this now because it will break down the fibers over time. Depending on the type(s) of diapers you have as well, using a wet pail can also cause damage to the elastics or other components. Not to mention, keeping a pail full of bleach water around is inconvenient AND can pose a danger to little ones. Keep it simple with a dry pail!

I use a garbage can with a PlanetWise pail liner like this (and no, it never smells):


Note: If you are breastfeeding exclusively, both wet AND dirty diapers can go straight into the pail. No rinsing required!  If baby has started solids, shake or spray out solids into the toilet and then put the diaper in the pail. 

2. On wash day, dump the diapers AND the pail liner into the washer.

3. Choose a detergent and use enough of it.  

There’s a lovely chart breaking down the best and worst detergents here.

My favorites so far have been Ecos, Sun Free and Clear, and Nellie’s All Natural Washing Soda, but there are LOTS to choose from. Some make their own. Some people prefer plain Tide. Others head for specialty soaps like Rockin’ Green. Whatever you choose, as long as it doesn’t contain softeners or harsh fragrances you’re probably fine. People make a big fuss about detergents but honestly, just pick what works for you.

As far as how MUCH detergent to use, you’ll get a lot of people saying to use less than you would for regular clothes to avoid build-up issues. If you have complicated diapers with more unnatural fibers, I can see how this miiiiiight be true since most of my experience has been with unbleached cotton prefolds. HOWEVER, you are cleaning diapers that have been pooped and peed in. You need to use enough soap to get them clean. I tend to follow the manufacturer’s instructions on this one anymore. Early on, I tried the advice to use less soap, and for me it ended up creating more build-up and rash issues until I started using enough soap to get the job done. Just follow the directions and tweak the amounts when necessary.

4. Choose your favorite wash cycle and stick with it.

This is highly dependent on the washer you have, the water where you live, the detergent you use, etc.  Our old house had an old top loader and our current washer is an HE front loader. Here are the routines we have used:

Top Loader:  Cold Rinse or Pre-wash —- Longest Hot Wash —- Two Cold Rinses

HE Front Loader:  Extra Long Hot Wash on Stain Cycle —- Two Cold Rinses

Note: Do not use the sanitize cycle if you have one! The water can get too hot and do damage to your diapers!

5. Dry your diapers.

I’ll be honest here and say that I throw everything in the dryer on regular. Yes, even my covers and liners with PUL. I know my machine and have a good track record of not burning or melting anything, so I feel comfortable with it.  That being said, I had a few items get burned in a dryer where we stayed on vacation, so if you’re unsure, don’t chance it. Just air dry!

I prefer to line dry when I can. Bonus points for a very sunny day that can bleach any stains out!



Viola! Clean diapers ready to go!  Depending on the size of your stash, you should only have to wash every 2-3 days. By the time you’re potty training, the amount of laundry really diminishes. Plus, cloth diapered babies typically train a bit earlier (mine still struggles with knowing when he’s going to poop, but completely trained to pee on the potty just before his second birthday).

Hopefully any of you on the fence about cloth diapering because of having to wash your diapers can see that it really is pretty simple. Is it a bit more work than tossing a diaper into the trash? Yes. Is it worth it for the cost-savings, waste reduction, and the fact that your house or garage won’t smell of diapers? You bet it is!









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  1. May 17, 2016

    If you use a dryer, use the lowest temperature that successfully dries your diapers. Drying at high temps reduces the life of any fabric or component.

    1. Emily
      May 18, 2016

      This is very true. As we get ready to move to our off-grid property, I have a feeling we’ll be doing a lot more line/rack drying (especially since we’re starting without a dryer). I grew up in a house where drying on max heat was a regular occurrence, so breaking the habit while being back at home while we build has been pretty hard. I miss my big clothesline and plan to build another one as soon as we have the house up!

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