My Cloth Diaper Laundry Routine
Updated: May 27
This site contains affiliate links. I may receive a commission for purchases made through these links. To learn more please click HERE.
Before I started my cloth diapering journey I didn’t have a clue about cloth diapers. I didn’t realize there were multiple types of cloth diaper or that it was actually EASY!
A lot of people stop cloth diapering because they have issues with their cloth diaper laundry routine. It's so important that you are washing your cloth diapers properly. Cloth diapers should not stink, if they do there is likely an issue with your routine. A simple change in your routine can fix this. If the issue has been on going for a while it is likely you will need to strip your diapers before continuing with the correct laundry routine.
What You Need to Know Before You Get Started:
Testing Your Water
Before you get started with cloth diaper laundry you need to test your water hardness levels. This is a BIG deal! Hard water can really mess up your cloth diaper routine if you do not treat it properly.
Hard water can cause mineral build up in your diapers this can trap bacteria and lead to stinky diapers!
Remember: Extra rinses are a big NO when dealing with hard water!
If your test results are 120ppm or higher it is likely you will need to add a water softener to your main wash.
If your results are 250ppm or higher you will need to add a water softener to both your prewash and your main wash.
If your test results are 500ppm or higher plant based and free and clear detergents won't work for your diapers. Tide powder is recommended.
Luckily water softeners are easy to get and don't cost an arm and a leg.
The 2 most effective softeners are Borax and Calgon.
DO NOT add a water softener to already soft water !
Borax and Calgon can both be found in the same aisle as your laundry detergent. (Calgon is no longer sold in Canada )
If you are Canadian you can order Borax on amazon.ca !
Powdered and liquid Calgon is okay but do not use gel.
Use 1/2 a cup of your softener for each necessary load. Put it in the drum with the diapers.
Typically soft water means you can just follow a basic wash routine and you do not need to worry about softening your water. You need need to be aware of excess suds in your washer as this can prevent your diapers from getting properly cleaned. If the feel slimy or are still sudsy when they come out you have an issue. I recommend reading this post from Fluff Love University as I do not have any experience with soft water .
Fabric Softeners & Dryer Sheets
Both fabric softeners and dryer sheets are a big no for cloth diapers. They can coat your diapers and leave a water repelling residue. The residue may remain in your machine after use, for this reasons it is recommended to avoid using them even for your other laundry . Laundry detergents with fabric softener are also not recommended.
Not all laundry detergents are created equal. Remember you are not just dealing with dirty laundry you are dealing with human waste .
Homemade Laundry Soap
Homemade laundry soap is another NO for cloth diapers. They are typically made from water softeners and soaps. Soap is not recommended for your washing machine nor is it strong enough to clean poop , pee, and bacteria from your diapers.
There are tons of laundry detergents on the market and it can be overwhelming to pick one.
There are lots of great plant based and free and clear detergents that are completely cloth diaper safe! YAY!
Again you need to think about your water hardness level when selecting a detergent . If your water hardness comes back above 250 ppm a strong detergent such as Tide powder might benefit you but it is possible you will be able to get away with a more natural detergent. If your water is 500 ppm or more plant based detergents will not be strong enough to clean your diapers.
My water hardness is above 500pp. Our water is extremely hard so I use Tide powder.
Powdered detergents are your best choice for hard water.
As I hate the idea of using Tide I do use Tru Earth Laundry Strips for all my non cloth diaper laundry needs.
If you are unsure which detergents are safe for your diapers be sure to check out Fluff Love Universities Detergent Index. I would strongly discourage use of any detergent they do not recommend.
Storing Dirty Diapers
Exclusively breastfed babies poop does not need to be rinsed or removed from the diapers. It can go straight in your bin until laundry day.
If your babe has had any solid food or formula the poop needs to be removed before washing.
Diaper sprayers are also a great option. I love my Bumkins diaper sprayer it works amazing and I don't have to deal with any of the mess. I purchased mine on amazon.ca and they sell the same one on amazon.com.
You can also remove the poop by swishing it in the toilet.
Pails & Wet Bags
Soiled cloth diapers should be stored in a pail or a wet bag until laundry day. They should not be in a water filled pail!! It is best to leave the bag open or the lid off your pail so they can breath. This reduces any smells.
Depending on your machine each routine might vary slightly.
Regardless of your machine you ALWAYS need to do 2 wash cycles.
A prewash and a main wash! The Prewash rinses everything and the main wash cleans everything!
If you understand all the above you are ready to wash your cloth diaper!
How to Wash Cloth Diapers
1. Throw all diapers and wet bags in your washing machine
You want to make sure you have removed all inserts from your pocket diapers and turned all your wet bags inside out. This way you ensure everything will get a proper clean..
2. Measure Tide Original Powder to Line 1 and put it in with your diapers
My washing machine is High-efficiency which means I need to be sure to use a HE safe detergent.
If you are unsure how much of your detergent to use in your prewash check out Fluff Love's Detergent Index
3. Measure 1/2 a cup of Water Softener and put it in with your diapers
If your water hardness level is below 250pp you do not need to add a water softener to your prewash. Skip this step
Laundry Detergents are not as effective in hard water because of mineral buildup. This can lead to a barnyard smell or your diapers repelling liquids.
It is very important to test for hard water! See above : What you Need to Know Before Getting Started
4. Start the PRE WASH cycle.
On my old machine I would I set it to SPEED wash, soil level SUPER, Speed FAST
On my current machine since I don't have a speed wash option I set it to NORMAL wash , soil level HIGH, Speed FAST
The temperature is up to you. If you are using a plant based detergent you always need to use HOT water.
Make sure all extra pre washes and rinses are turned off. If your Speed wash has an extra rinse use a different setting.
You want your prewash to be a shorter cycle (30-45 minutes) with the highest soil and spin levels.
The prewash removes most the waste so the main wash is done in clean water
5. Once the prewash is complete open up the washing machine and FLUFF all the diapers.
(Peel everything off the drum)
6. Add small items of laundry to the machine until it is 3/4 full
This might not be a necessary step for your machine. If you are unsure what type of machine you have and what the specifications are for your machine go to Fluff Love University's washing machine index.
Lots of HE washers do not have agitators so you need more clothes to rub together to get everything clean.
Front load washers (like mine) need to be 2/3-3/4 full for the main wash. I do not have enough diapers for that so I need to add extra laundry.
Do not add towels, sheets, or anything larger than a receiving blanket. You do not want anything wrapping around your diapers stopping them from getting cleaned.
7. Measure Tide Original Powder to line 5 and put it in the washing machine
Again if you are unsure how much of your detergent to use for the Main wash go back to the Detergent Index for reference.
8. Measure 1/2 a cup of Water Softener and put it in the washing machine.
If your water hardness test shows your water below 120pp you do not need a water softener / Skip this step.
If your water is 120pp or above you need to use a water softener .
9. Start the MAIN WASH.
On my old machine I set it to WHITES, soil level SUPER, Speed FAST,
On my current machine I set it to Normal , Soil level HIGH, Speed FAST
You want to pick your machines longest cycle as long as it doesn’t add any extra rinses or pre washes.
Stain Wash is the longest cycle on my machine. It adds a prewash that I cannot turn off. For that reason I do not use it.
If you are unsure which settings to use on your prewash or main wash look for your machine on Fluff Love University's Washing Machine Index.
10. Throw all the laundry and diapers in the dryer
If you are using the dryer do not use dryer sheets because it will cause reside to build up on your diapers making them repel liquids. Use Wool dryer balls instead
You can also hang dry. Hang drying in the sun helps to remove stains.
11. Stuff, Fold , and Put Away
I tend to avoid using pocket diapers so I don't have to stuff them. I find it very time consuming. Check out my blog post: My Favourite type of Cloth Diaper and Why It's Not Pocket Diapers
Once you have your routine down it is honestly a really simple process! It only took me a few washes to really get the hang of it!
Let me know below what your wash routine is!