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How to Wash Cloth Diapers: The Different Methods and Steps

How to Wash Cloth Diapers The Different Methods and Steps

Maintenance is always necessary when you have cloth diapers.

It is dirty work and a skill new parents would have a long journey to master.

However, there are ways for a more efficient cleaning, or at least less dirty cloth diapering wash.

This guide will show your options to find the best method on how to wash cloth diapers for a more enjoyable washing experience.

What Are the Different Methods for Drying Cloth Diapers?

What Are the Different Methods for Drying Cloth Diapers?

Maintenance is needed to preserve the quality of any product, even great cloth diapers, given their role and purpose.

Fortunately, there are ways to launder cloth diapers to lessen the bad smell and mess.

Dry-Pail System

The Dry-pail System would go as follows:

1. Fill Up the Pail

Any solid and wet waste in the dirty diaper should be deposited onto a dry pail with a waterproof cloth.

You can minimize any smell by sprinkling baking soda onto the diapers and using a deodorant disc at the bottom of the pail.

Be sure to wash your hands thoroughly whenever you come in contact with waste for your baby and your health.

2. Empty Line Onto a Washer

You gather enough dirty diapers to occupy either halfway or three-quarters of your washing machine.

Next, remove the liner from the pail, empty it onto the washer, and throw it into the wash.

Make sure to fill the washing machine after every other day.

3. Rinse

You would need to run the diapers through a default or quick cycle of your washer. Use either warm or cold water and mix with a small to medium amount of detergent.

The cycle can remove any stain or dirt from the diaper, allowing a second cycle to remove further and stronger dirt.

4. Wash

After the first cycle, wash the cloth diapers in hot water at the heaviest setting possible.

This thorough cleaning is due to the heavy or large solid load being washed with enough detergent to fit such a load.

You can even add another rinse cycle after the second to be safe.

5. Hang to Dry

Line drying is not only an environmentally-friendly method, but it can even extend the life of your cloth diaper.

Should you not have the space for your line to dry, you can tumble dry the diapers per a brand’s instructions.

Wet-Pail System

In this diaper-washing method, you soak the diaper in a pail of water before washing them in a washer.

You follow up using a cold water rinse and a hot wash. However, there are many ways to do this important cycle of washing.

The cold water can reduce staining, while the hot water wash removes diaper waste.

The routine typically goes as follows within the washing machine:

  1. Speed wash with cold water with a pinch of detergent and other products.
  2. After the was complete, search for cloth diaper inserts from any pocket diapers. Make sure the fold-back tabs are secured.
  3. Repeat another wash with hot water, a normal detergent, and baking soda to boost the cleaning. 

IMPORTANT NOTE: When using the hot wash, set it to maximum water with an extra rinse for a thorough clean without any residues or repelling. 

Other Washing Methods

When you can’t set two different wash cycles, just use a hot water wash and add a pre-wash or stain cycle with an extra rinse.

The pre-wash and stain cycle comes with cold water for those not experienced in washing diapers.

Some machines have this method with less rinsing. Most first-time parents prefer the two cycles method because of this benefit.

However, the pre-wash setting is good for those very short on time.

The exact washing routine is different for every person, as it’s the basic strategy with enough room for personal changes as long as the cloth diapers get clean.

Prep Diapers for Washing

New parents don’t put much effort into preparing their cloth diapers before inserting them into the diaper pail or wet bag.

Some parents swish them along in a toilet or use the bidet sprayer to hose the mess off.

To assuage any fear of stains and deal with waste, consider using thin porous strips or diaper liners.

These liners are set in the diaper’s “containment” zone to catch any disposable solids.

I also recommend using liners with petroleum or zinc-based diaper cream. Doing so will prevent these products from damaging the diapers.

Parents recommend laundering your cloth diapers every few days to prevent mildew stains.

One of the biggest advantages of cloth diapering is that you can design your diapering system or routine for your needs.

How to Wash Cloth Diaper Covers

How to Wash Cloth Diaper Covers

Cloth diaper covers need less washing than their diaper counterparts. However, you still need to wash them if they begin to smell or there is a blowout.

You must follow the washing instructions on the diaper covers’ labels (NOTE: The instructions will vary on the fabric and diaper brand.).

Some cover fabrics and brands can join diapers in being washed or dried.

Washing them in lukewarm water with a wool washcloth containing lanolin is the most effective method.

Lanolin is a natural substance within wool that wicks water away.

After washing the covers, you should be able to wring out any excess water and hang them up to dry.

What Detergent Is Best for Cloth Diapers

What Detergent Is Best for Cloth Diapers

Different brands and covers must pair with different detergents to single out what works best with your machine AND is safe for your baby’s skin.

Detergents can be narrowed down as the following;

  • Clean-rinsing Detergent: Detergents with fabric softeners and optical brighteners can shorten the diaper’s lifespan. Ammonia from urine can bind dirt and bury them into the fabric.
  • Fragrance-free: Fragrances and dyes are known irritants and causes of diaper rash to babies’ sensitive skin. 
  • Read Labels: Always check the ingredients list for anything harmful, such as whitening enzymes or phosphates.

Water and Detergent

Besides detergents, you must check what kind of water is used (NOTE: Hard water does not mesh well with other detergents.).

Hard water is formed from a build-up of metals from heavier detergents, so consider how many additives are within the product.

These additives can also require you to thoroughly wash and rinse your cloth diapers more intensely.

Detergents with fewer additives and optical brighteners are ideal. This is because additive enzymes can irritate a baby’s skin.

Bleach and Vinegar

We recommend using the occasional bleach session to keep your baby’s diapers fresh.

Vinegar is also effective as a fabric softener while refreshing your diapers from smells.

However, using these two cleaning agents on certain clothes and diapers can be risky. This is because some diapers would have their warranties voided due to the bleach.

Parents recommend using bleach and other strong acids sparingly. The harsh chemicals can damage fabrics.

No Softeners

Fabric softeners and drying sheets should not be used with cloth diapers. Their fragrances and chemicals can be rubbed off into the diapers as irritants.

Fabric softeners can also leave excess residue and moisture within the fabric of the diapers. This will require you to wash and rinse more.

You can add dryer balls into the dryer to soften diaper inserts and reduce static with felted wool.

Drying Methods

Drying Methods

The best method for drying cloth diapers would be to leave them on the line and outside under the sun as it kills bacteria and prevents further stains.

You can clothesline within the house for those who can’t dry with a clothesline.

When you air-dry, you may prevent extra wear on the diapers, but the issue is that it takes longer to dry.

A faster method would be to use the air-dry setting or low heat on the dryer, as high heat can not only damage the fabric.

It can also damage the diaper’s elastics, snaps, and waterproof linings, holding everything together.

Washing Routine

Washing Routine

Like raising your child, setting a routine for cleaning cloth diapers is essential. Each stage of child development would mirror the number of diaper changes needed.

A newborn would need a wash every one and a half to two days. However, the amount of diapers used will lessen as your baby becomes a toddler.

The same can also be said about how many diaper changes your child will need as they grow up and develop.

Manage your time on a predictable monthly timetable. Never leave at most three days between washes to ensure you still have a supply of reusable diapers.

A timetable prevents any lingering odors caused by older dirty diapers. It allows you time to pre-wash any newly-bought cloth diapers to maximize absorption.

The number of washing cycles required before reusing your diapers will vary between the type and material of the diaper.

As a rule of thumb, all types of cloth diapers will need at least one wash before use to avoid leaks.

Frequently Asked Questions

Here are some additional information and answers to help you in your cloth diapering journey.

Can You Hand-Wash Cloth Diapers?

YES! You can hand wash cloth diapers.

Parents generally follow this routine in hand-washing the cloth capers;

  1. You can start with a half-hour pre-soaking the diapers in water-filled buckets with a few drops of detergent. 
  2. Fill your bathtub with lukewarm water and add enough detergent for a standard wash cycle.
  3. Place the dirty diapers onto the tub and agitate with a stick, plunger, or even your hands in rubber gloves for three to five minutes.
  4. Repeat this process with hot water and a scrubbing brush for any staining.
  5. Rinse the diapers in cooler water and squeeze out any excess water before drying on a clothesline or rack.

IMPORTANT NOTE: You should never dry cloth diapers directly on the dryer. Doing so will shorten the lifespan of your diapers.

How Do I Go About Storing Cloth Diapers?

You can store clean cloth diapers within a drawer or changing stand, close for any diaper changes.

Parents recommend using a separate diaper pail or a mesh laundry bag as a trash bin to save money.

Should you have more cash, consider buying more specialized products such as a wet bag or even heavier diaper hampers.

You have two methods for long-term storage post-potty training: keep them cool or dry.

New parents should avoid attics exposed to high levels of heat or basements exposed to high moisture levels.

What Can I Do About Bed Bugs In Diapers?

You can deal with bed bugs within your diapers by isolating the diaper and identifying the source.

The most likely culprit would be the bed, car seat, or daycare.

Once the source has been identified, you can take appropriate action to eliminate all traces of the bed bugs.

  • Vacuum the floors, carpets, mattress, and other surfaces.
  • Wash all the clothing, bedding, and over where possible.
  • Check your family or roommates’ rooms, beds, and other living spaces.
  • Lastly, wash the bites you or another has with soap and water.
  • Speak with your doctor if there is a need for any medication.

How Do I Fold Cloth Diapers?

It all depends on what kind of cloth diapers you are folding between flats and pre-folds.

Flats are the traditional diapers most people would think of. On the other hand, pre-folds are pieces of diaper cloth that come in pre-folded.

Parents have noted that any technique used to fold pre-folds can be applied to flat cloth diapers. 

However, not all techniques for flat diapers can be applied.

Flat diapers tend to be bigger and require more folding due to their absorbency.

There are many folds with the best ways to fold cloth diapers available, as our examples show here:

Angel Wing Fold

The Angel Wing fold is one of the most popular diaper folds for prefold and flat cloth diapers.

You can create an angel fold and lay the diaper on the changing surface. Then, fold the front half into thirds and leave the back half flat.

Next, fold the front of the diaper upward over your baby and wrap the wings around your baby’s sides until they meet the front.

Finally, attach the wing to the front with a diaper pin and put it on the cover on top of the diaper.

Diaper Bag Fold

This flat cloth diaper fold got its name because it’s so simple to fold and is compact enough to be placed easily within the diaper bag.

You start by laying the diaper flat on its rectangle shape and position its longer end facing you.

Next, you would need to fold the front part of your diaper into thirds at an angle so the two sides sit on top of each other.

Then, fold the back of the diaper down a few inches. This will create wings and a little pocket that prevents diapers from leaking and creating potential blowbacks.

Lastly, you can lay your baby on the diaper and pull the front to wrap the wings around your baby’s waist. Make sure to do this before fastening it with a Snappi.


Cloth diapering maintenance is easier as long as you understand your timetable and energy.

There should be no stains and smells, regardless of which method you apply.

Cloth diapering and washing are skills you must master to keep your baby clean, healthy, and happy.

Sky Bustillo
Sky Bustillo

Hi, I’m Sky!
As a Filipina in her mid-20s, a sister to young ones, and a tita to my nieces and nephews, I somehow share the same sentiment as other parents. I have a growing aspiration of becoming a mom someday!
But there also comes a worry that you won’t be able to give the best to your children, especially with the food they eat, the products they use, and the new habits and hobbies we introduce to them.
Your kid’s safety and welfare are your top priority, that’s why I always make it to a point to learn from the stories and experiences of other moms.
It’s a delight to share what I learned and know to help the moms close to my heart, and this time, I’m writing to relay advice to you from the insights of other moms and my experience around kids, too.
I’d love to be a part of your journey, and I hope you find these tips and tricks helpful for you and your young one!