Washing Cloth Diapers
A How To Guide
Wondering which detergent to use for your cloth diapers and which detergent is safe for your baby? Have you heard about cloth diaper safe detergents? We’re here to help!
At The Rebecca Foundation we have partnered with Fluff Love and CD Science to help guide you through the sea of endless information regarding detergents. We can get behind almost any detergent without fabric softener. However, many detergents contain specific ingredients, or use specific formulations, or even come with an oddly sized scoop! Because every detergent is a little different, we are working to compile a list of detergents so you will know exactly how much to use!
Keep in mind that detergent recommendations will vary based on your specific washing conditions. Don’t put two scoops of Tide in an apartment-sized washer! This is not a detergent Bible; it is only a guide so you have a place to start. We hope this is helpful! If you find our recommendations from this page are not working or you need specific help for a special circumstance, join the Fluff Love & CD Science Facebook page and one of their professors will be happy to help!
A detergent is not recommended if it meets any of the following criteria:
- does not contain a sufficient concentration of surfactant to clean human waste from multi-layered cloth diapers when used at up to three times the manufacturer’s recommended use amount
- uses a formula that is known to cause burns to users
- Uses a formula that will cause damage to cloth diapers or impede their function (as by coating fibers to trap soil or cause repelling of liquids)
- Homemade detergents shall not be used on ANY loan diapers from The Rebecca Foundation
How to Prep Synthetic Materials: Wash once with detergent. Dry. Use.
Synthetic materials include, but are not limited to: Microfiber, microfleece, microsuede, polyester, etc.
How to Prep Bamboo: Bamboo is actually rayon after it is heavily processed. Prep all bamboo, charcoal bamboo, and bamboo/microfiber blends just like synthetics: Wash once with detergent.
Please read the following article from the U.S. Federal Trade Commission regarding the processing of bamboo: www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0122-bamboo-fabrics.
It is only the manufacturer’s marketing that tries to bolster our opinion of bamboo as a natural fiber that leads us to think it has natural oils it does not. Any increase in absorbency you note with a second wash is due to the heavy processing, not natural oils. Please read this absorbency test explaining why more than two washes is unnecessary:http://clothdiapertesting.com/prepping-testing/
Note: Some brands of Charcoal Bamboo inserts may contain a light gray dye. Alva CBI have been known to bleed onto other parts of diapers during prep. It comes out of any affected parts after a few more washes with detergent, so don’t be alarmed if you notice this– it is not permanent. Some people may want to wash their CBI once separately prior to use for this reason.
How to Prep Hemp and Cotton: Wash twice with detergent, with hot water if possible. No need to dry until after both washes are complete. The drying process only fluffs up the fibers and changes the shape, it does not affect oil removal. Hemp and cotton DO have natural oils, but a good detergent will get them out sufficiently in two washes. Many find that using after one wash causes no issues with leaks.
How to Prep PRE-LOVED diapers: Some people like to do an RLR soak first, it’s optional. As long as you do the bleach soak, you can choose to do an RLR soak later if you run into problems. See How to Strip Your Cloth Diapers. You definitely want to make sure you bleach immediately to remove any bacteria and germs from the fabric. Even if you got them from a trusted friend. Different baby, different germs. See How to Bleach Your Cloth Diapers.
Then wash once. Dry. Use.
Q: Can I prep all my diapers together?
YES!!!!! DON’T WASTE WATER, JUST DO IT ALL TOGETHER!
Q: Can or should I BOIL my cloth diapers?
Boiling is not necessary for natural fabrics and can harm synthetics, melt snaps, etc. and can generally ruin modern cloth diapers. Boiling iis NOT advised.
Q: What about the natural oils coating synthetic fibers??
AS LONG AS YOU USE A GOOD MAINSTREAM DETERGENT, THE OILS WILL NOT REDEPOSIT ONTO OTHER FABRICS. The role of a detergent is to DETER oil transfer from one fabric to another. You will not have any repelling issues if you add the synthetics to the second prep wash for the natural fibers so that everything is done by the second wash cycle. Please see the above Cloth Diaper Testing link for further confirmation.
THERE IS NO REASON WHY YOU COULD NOT USE YOUR DIAPERS AFTER JUST ONE WASH. You may notice the absorbency may increase slightly after the first wash cycle, but it is not enough to waste water and time to continue washing them before their very first use. Manufacturer chemicals and any natural oils will be sufficiently out of the materials after a good wash with detergent.
KEEP IT SIMPLE.
There is a whole lot of wasted water these days, and a good portion of that is due to “prepping” our cloth diapers. It’s got to stop. We are wasting precious time that we as moms don’t have, not to mention the resources! It’s unnecessary and horribly wasteful.Wash your diapers like the laundry they are, and be on your way!
You must use a true HE safe, low-sudsing detergent in your high-efficiency washer. These detergents are formulated to create fewer suds while maintaining cleaning power. Because HE washers use less water, they need a lower-sudsing detergent that can rinse away with less water and to keep excess suds from overwhelming and possibly breaking the pump on the machine HE washers are cleaning the same amount of dirty laundry, so they need the same amount of detergent (or in the case of high-capacity HE machines, maybe even more!)
Many detergent companies are moving toward labeling that says “safe for all machines, including HE.” As long as the detergent does not direct you to use less in a HE machine, it is probably fine for your HE machine. The exception is the “safe for all machines” Gain powder, which is very sudsy and has broken HE machines. As of this writing (July 2016), the problem with Gain’s powder formula has not been corrected and we do not recommend that it be used at all in HE washers. Please take a look at our detergent index to see our recommended amounts for many detergents, and make sure to double (and triple!) check that your detergent bottle or box is labeled as HE safe, as some brands do have separate formulas for HE and non-HE.
PREWASH: for front loaders and horizontal axis machines, choose “speed wash,” “quick wash,” or “express wash.” You want a shorter cycle that is at least 30-45 minutes long to remove the surface soil so the main wash can be done with clean water. In the absence of a “speed” cycle, use the shortest normal cycle. Many HE top loaders need a “normal” or “cottons” cycle for the prewash because heavy soiled diapers do not agitate as easily without the tumbling action of a front loader. Always choose the highest soil and spin that you can select for the cycle, and turn off any extra rinses or prewash buttons that may come on. Generally speaking, for your prewash we recommend adding a small amount of detergent and water softener if your water hardness calls for it. Your prewash can be just dirty diapers.
MAIN WASH: Your main wash cycle is the cycle that deep cleans the diapers, getting to all of the layers of the fabric. Before starting your main wash cycle, be sure to open up the washer, peel everything off the drum and fluff it up. Add other smaller laundry until the washer is 2/3-3/4 full of laundry for front loaders and horizontal axis machines. For HE top loading machines be sure to check the washing machine index for the optimal loading level for your specific machine. Avoid adding anything larger than a flat or a receiving blanket, as large items can wrap around the diapers and prevent agitation.
You want to choose your washer’s longest cycle with the strongest agitation. “Heavy duty,” “whites,” and “power wash” are the most commonly recommended options. In the absence of a heavy duty or intensive cycle, choose the longest “normal” or “cottons” cycle. Some “whites” cycles add an extra rinse that cannot be turned off, so be sure to consult your owner’s manual or the washing machine index. Some machines also offer a “cottons/towels” cycle. This should be avoided as it is most similar to a “bulky” or “sheets” cycle, which means a lot of water and not a lot of agitation. Always choose the highest soil and spin, and turn off any automatically selected extra rinse and prewash settings. If you have a stain treatment or other “boost” button, you may want to select it, again as long as it doesn’t add extra rinses. Usually, the stain treatment option adds a short soak and some extra agitation, which is beneficial. For your main wash, add the recommended full amount of detergent, and water softener if your water hardness calls for it.
Choosing a Detergent
Almost any mainstream detergent without fabric softener is just fine for cloth diapers. Often you can use the same detergent you use for your regular laundry – no need to buy special, expensive, “cloth safe” detergents. Ironically, many detergents marketed as “cloth safe” are often too weak to effectively clean diapers. Remember that cloth diapers are the dirtiest laundry you’ll ever wash, so you will need at least as much detergent as you use in your regular laundry, if not more. Be aware that some brands of standard washers, such as Speed Queen, recommend HE detergents, as do many models of hybrid washers that allow you to set load size. Always consult your owner’s manual to make sure you protect your washer and don’t void any warranties. Check out our extensive detergent index to choose a detergent that meets your needs and budget.
Properly cleaning your cloth diapers is simple and easy! It’s all about ratios – the right amount of water, diapers and detergent! Properly cleaned diapers will never smell after washing, will not repel liquids, and will not cause rashes or burns on your baby. If you find yourself needing to strip or bleach your diapers due to any of these issues, it is an indicator that they are not properly cleaned and you need to change your wash routine. Properly cleaned diapers will not require stripping or bleaching.
Should you decide to hang dry, do so in a way that puts less stress on the elastics, as the weight of a heavy wet diaper pulling them down can also cause premature relaxation (especially if drying in the heat, i.e., in direct sunlight). Hanging by the middle or by the sides will help relieve the elastics from the full weight of the wet diaper. If your diapers feel stiff after hanging to dry, you can throw them in the dryer for 10-15 minutes to fluff them.