Easy Methods for Washing Cloth Diapers

Ah all the different methods for washing cloth diapers! Everyone has their own method that works the best for them. All the diaper websites have their own version of the "correct" way to wash.

After listening to a lot of different cloth diapering mamas, I have decided-- Do what works for you! Other than a few major no-nos (like using bleach) find the method that seems to get your diapers the cleanest and doesn't bother your baby's bum.

My Favorite Washing Methods

Method 1: Cold rinse, Hot wash/cold rinse with liquid Tide original (use the smallest amount recommended), then an extra cold rinse. Dry on highest setting for 60 minutes or line dry in the sun. (The heat from the dryer or the sun will help to sanitize your diapers.)

Method 2: Cold rinse, Hot wash/cold rinse with 1/4 to 1/2 cup baking soda and your favorite free and clear detergent (use the smallest amount recommended), then an extra cold rinse with 1/4 to 1/2 cup of vinegar. The vinegar can be added manually, or it can be put in a downy fabric softener ball and tossed right in with the wash cycle. Dry on highest setting for 60 minutes or line dry in the sun.

These are the washing methods I've used with prefolds and nylon covers, and I've never had any issues with leaking, absorbency, odors, or rashes. Even the staining has been very minimal.

Detergents and Soaps

Again, many opinions exist on this issue. Detergents do seem to work better than soaps on cloth diapers. Detergents contain stronger ingredients, which clean better, but can also be more irritating to sensitive skin. Soap tends to build up on diapers and can cause leaking and absorbency issues.

Allen's Naturally, Charlie's Soap, or Sensi-clean (also known as Sport Wash), are reported to have good results, but I have also heard of Charlie's Soap and Sensi-clean causing very bad chemical-like rashes. Because of this, and since I have not used them, I cannot recommend them.

From reading several of the different diaper websites, it seems that the most recommended detergent is Tide liquid original. Tide seems to cause the least amount of problems with build up on the diapers. It does of course have scents and dyes. If you are concerned about this, you can use your favorite free and clear detergent, but use the baking soda and vinegar method as listed above.

The reason for this, is that the vinegar helps the detergent to rinse out better. Free and clear detergents for some reason tend to be waxier and adhere to diapers. This causes the diapers to repel moisture instead of absorb it and baby's pee will just run right out of the diaper!

Special Considerations

For other diapers besides prefolds, such as all-in-ones, pockets, or fitteds, and for diaper covers, follow the manufacturers recommendations for washing. Some of the materials cannot be rinsed with vinegar or must be washed in a certain water temperature. Some cannot be dried in the dryer.

Hang drying will make any diaper or cover last longer.

From time to time you can add a couple of drops of tea tree oil to the diaper wash to further disinfect the diapers.

DO NOT use fabric softener--it will cause build-up on your diapers that will cause leakage! Fabric softener can also cause PUL covers to disintegrate.

Wool covers must be hand washed with a very gentle soap and then re-lanolized with liquid or solid lanolin and hung to dry. But, wool only needs to be washed maybe once a month, when you think it smells dirty, or when it is soiled. If it is damp, simply hang it to dry. Wool naturally repels dirt and moisture and doesn't absorb odors so it can go a long time without needing to be washed.


You should never bleach your cloth diapers. It breaks down the fabric and will shorten their life as well as reduce absorbency.

The easiest way to "bleach" your diapers is to place them in the sun for a few hours. You can also use baking soda when you wash, but you then need to use vinegar during the rinse to balance the PH level to protect your baby's bum. There are also other cleansers like Bio-Kleen and Oxo-Brite which will help to lift stains from your diapers.

But, stains don't affect the performance of the diapers--it is just an aesthetic concern.

If your diapers smell fresh when they come out of the wash, they are clean!

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