Lesson 52: Caring for your cloth diapers (cloth diaper tutorial, part 3)

It was easy to reach the decision to cloth diaper. It was a little more challenging to choose the type of diaper we would use. But the hardest part was actually learning how to care for our diapers. I knew that we should wash them separately from other clothes and I knew that we had to use a special detergent. What I did not realize was that we couldn’t use any type of petroleum-based diaper cream on our child’s diapers. Oops.

I don’t know about all cloth diapers, but I do know that my gDiapers had zero care instructions in the package. Cloth diaperers are pretty much left to their own devices to go ahead and figure out how to care for their diapers. There are blogs and forums and message boards devoted to the care of cloth diapers. But if you’re totally new to cloth diapering, why would you even consider Googling “Vaseline and cloth diapers” if you have no suspicion that it might be bad?

And yes, in hindsight, I can see where of course a petroleum-based product used on cloth is bad. But that’s hindsight for ya…

But there’s so much information on cloth diapering. And so many opinions. And so many tricks of the trade. It’s meant to be helpful, but it’s overwhelming! Or, it was for me at least. All I wanted was simple, straightforward, step-by-step, talk-to-me-like-I’m-stupid directions. Do this. Do not do that.

Now that I’ve got this damn cloth diapering thing figured out, here is your simple, straightforward, step-by-step, talk-to-you-like-you’re-stupid directions. You’re welcome.

(Let me preface this by saying it does matter what type of material your diapers are made off. My variety of diapers are made up of microfiber terry, microfleece, hemp, and cotton.)

Prep your diapers before you use them.Of course you know you need to wash any new material before it goes on your baby’s gentle skin. But it’s imperative to follow your manufacturer’s instructions and fully prep cloth diapers so that they become fully absorbent. I recommend reading your manufacturer’s instructions to make sure you’re not missing an important step. Then, follow these directions instead:

1. If you purchased all diapers made out of natural materials (such as hemp) or all diapers made out of synthetic materials (such as microfiber terry), skip to #2. You should not prep natural materials and synthetic materials together (don’t worry, it’s just this once–you can wash them together in the future). So, just divide your diapers into two piles to wash: natural vs. synthetic. You can, however, dry them together.

2. Cloth diaperers everywhere are going to gasp, but I’m going to say it anyway: use OxiClean. Follow the directions on the box. There is some controversy over whether or not Oxi should be used on cloth diapers. However, a cloth-diapering friend of mine recommended it to me and now we both use it religiously. If you want to research it and make your own decision, that’s never a bad idea.

3. Use a cloth diaper safe detergent (i.e. detergents free of scents, dyes, enzymes, brighteners and bleach). I prefer Ecos because it’s inexpensive and works really well (depending on your water type). Read up on it and choose what works for you here, here, or here.

4. Do not use fabric softener (ever!!).

5. Set your washing machine on the shortest cycle possible (on my HE, I use the cycle called Quick Wash). Set your soil level to light, spin speed to low, and wash temp to hot. If you do not have an HE machine, make sure to set your water level high enough because you need the extra water to help wash out any extra detergent.

6. After the cycle is complete, set your washing machine on the shortest cycle again. But this time, set your soil level to light, spin speed to low, and wash temp to cold. Do not add more Oxy or detergent. Run the diapers through this cycle twice.

7. Next, run them through one last cycle. Set  your washing machine on the shortest cycle again. Now set your soil level to low, spin cycle to high, and wash temp to hot. Again, do not add more Oxy or detergent.

8. After they’re washed, you can hang the diapers to dry or throw them in the dryer. Lots of people swear by air-drying their diapers; I’m not one of them (because I’m lazy). If you choose to machine dry them, put them on high heat for about 80 minutes (depending on the size of your load). Do not use dryer sheets (ever!!).

Caring for your diapers while in use. Really, the only thing you need to know is this: never, ever use any type of petroleum-based cream on your baby’s bottom while using cloth diapers. In fact, be very careful of any type of diaper cream you use. Always use a cloth diaper safe cream (I use Baby Bee Diaper Ointment). And as an added bonus? Consider using a liner when you use diaper cream.

Storing soiled diapers.

1. I store my son’s soiled diapers in a garbage can like this one. Line it with a large diaper pail liner.

2. For an exclusively breastfed baby, you don’t have to rinse poopy diapers before throwing them in the pail. For formula-fed babies or babies/toddlers who eat more than breastmilk, you’ll need to rinse out the poop in the toilet before putting them in your pail.

3. As you throw your diapers into the dirty pail, make sure to go ahead and fasten any velcro tabs to make washing easier (and more gentle on the diapers).

Routine washing.

1. Dump the diapers in the washing machine.

2. Add cloth diaper safe detergent. Use OxyClean or not, your choice. Do not use fabric softener (ever!).

3. Set your washing machine on a cycle similar to the whites cycle (it’s okay to use the whites cycle as long as it doesn’t sanitize on this cycle–the water shouldn’t get above 160 degrees). Set your soil level to heavy, spin speed to high, and wash temp to hot. Make sure to the extra rinse setting is on. As mentioned before, if you do not have an HE machine, make sure to set your water level high enough.

4.While the diapers are washing, wash out your diaper pail.

5. Again, you can hang your diapers to dry or machine dry them. If you machine dry them, set them on high heat for about 80 minutes.

Stripping.I usually strip my diapers every few months because I’m anal. I’m not sure you have to do this. I suppose you’ll know if you have to strip them (if they seem to be less resistant to leaks or have an odor to them). The only time I’ve ever had to strip them was when I used Vaseline with my cloth diapers. But you can have buildups from hard water or detergents (if you use too much or the wrong kind).

1. Follow steps 1-4 under routine washing.

2. If you haven’t had any problems with leaking, skip to step 3. If you’ve noticed frequent leaking lately, you can use Dawn dish liquid on your diapers. If you have a regular machine, I’ve read that you can just squirt some in there and run a regular load with an extra rinse (also, I’ve done it when I had a regular washing machine and never had a problem). But if you have an HE, you’ll need to scrub them with the Dawn by hand. The purpose of the Dawn is to break down any oily residue, perhaps left behind by diaper creams.

3. Now, put your machine on the shortest cycle possible. Set your soil level to light, spin speed to low, and wash temp to hot. Wash the diapers on this cycle 3 times.

4. Dry using your method of choice.

Keep your washing machine clean.Make sure to follow the recommendations of your washing machine’s manufacturer and keep your machine clean. Residue from detergents used on other laundry can build up in your machine and have a negative impact on your cloth diapers. I use Affresh once every other month.

Finally, if you’re not sure–Google it.Or call you diaper manufacturer. Opinions on the best way to care for cloth diapers are like belly buttons–everybody’s got one and they all look a little different. If you receive advice you’re not sure of, Google it! Or, ask a friend who has some experience with it (chances are, she’s already Googled it and/or tried it herself). This is an excellent resource that addresses some controversial agents for cleaning cloth diapers.

This post contains affiliate links, which means I get a small percentage of commission.

Lesson 42: Diaper rash is a pain in the butt (cabernetandbreastmilk.com)

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12 comments on “Lesson 52: Caring for your cloth diapers (cloth diaper tutorial, part 3)

  1. […] ← Lesson 50: The benefits of cloth diapering (cloth diaper tutorial, part 1) Lesson 52: Caring for your cloth diapers (cloth diaper tutorial, part 3) → […]

  2. […] If you choose to use cloth diapers, see my posts on choosing the right cloth diapers for your family and caring for your cloth diapers. […]

  3. Don’t use a cloth diaper safe detergent. It makes diapers stay dirty and that’s why you have to strip so often. Mainstream detergent works way better. Also you strip with bleach not dawn. Dawn ruins washing machines. And voids warranties. I’ve been using tide for 13 months. No stink. No stains. Never have I had to strip. Hrmmmmmmmm.

    • Sorry, but I’m going to have to go ahead and disagree with your entire comment. Some mainstream detergents are cloth diaper safe. A cloth diaper safe detergent doesn’t refer to one made by a particular brand, but rather what it does not contain. Tide is actually listed as a cloth diaper safe detergent.

      I do not have to “strip so often.” I strip because I’m anal and want to take the extra steps to keep my diapers extra clean. The only time I’ve ever had to strip was when I goofed and used Vaseline on my diapers. Rookie mistake!

      Also, I would be very wary of using bleach on cloth diapers. It eats away at the fibers in your diapers, which can leave holes. It can also have a negative impact on their absorbency, as it can damage the waterproofing on certain brands of diapers. I have read where it can be used in extreme circumstances—but never use more than ¼ c in a machine that is full of water. HE machines don’t get full of water, so that’s way more risk than I would care to take.

      As for me? I would never use bleach on my diapers under any circumstances (okay, I hate to say never, because that tends to come back to bite me in the butt—but I highly doubt I would ever use bleach on my diapers). Baking soda is a safer alternative.

      Remember, like most things in parenting, there aren’t many universal rights or wrongs on these things. Everybody has different experiences and people living in different parts of the country have different types of water, which can have varying impacts on diapers. Other than the big Vaseline Oopsy of 2012, in the 17 months I’ve used cloth diapers, I’ve never had a single issue with buildup or felt that I had to strip my diapers.

  4. Wow. You are making so much extra work for yourself. All you really need to do is rinse once, then wash in the right amount of water with the appropriate amount of detergent. Then add an extra rinse at the end. You can use any detergent you want as long as it doesn’t have synthetic fabric softeners in it. You should never use Dawn in the washing machine, no matter what kind of machine it is. It can damage it. Dawn would only be good for oily residue. It will not strip your diapers. I hope you find a good routine that isnt so complicated. I have been cloth diapering for many years and have never had to do this much. I don’t have any stink, ammonia, repelling, buildup, etc. I have never once used Dawn on my diapers. Good luck.

    • I’m not sure where the extra work comes in? Prepping them is a bit of extra work, but necessary and recommended—not to mention, a one-time thing.

      If you’ll look under Routine Washing, you’ll find that I’m doing just exactly what you’re doing (actually, one less step since I don’t do a pre-rinse). You don’t actually get to pick the water level in an HE machine, so while that’s off the table for me, it’s also never been an issue.

      There are things to look for your detergent to not have, other than synthetic fabric softeners (such as scents, dyes, enzymes, brighteners and bleach). It’s not about the brand, but what’s in the detergent. The type of water you have also is an important factor to consider. So while you can certainly use any detergent you want, some are better than others—and still others will ruin your diapers (or at least cause the need for extra stripping).

      I used Dawn in my machine before I bought an HE and never had any issues. And you’re correct—Dawn is used to strip oily residue—hence its use to strip diaper cream build up from cloth diapers.

      I do have a good routine and it’s no effort at all. But thanks for your input!

  5. Love the step by step! I use Oxiclean too, but never thought to sprinkle it in the washer directly. (I also have and HE machine) Is there a reason you do that rather than just in the detergent drawer?

    • You know what? I’m pretty sure I’m following the directions on the box correctly, but now I’m starting to second-guess myself?? I have a top-loading HE and upon doing some Googling, I’m a little worried I’ve been doing it incorrectly. I’m away from home right now, so I can’t look at my box, but I’ll check as soon as I get home. Either way, that needed to be updated in my post to reflect the fact that folks have different types of washing machines other than just regular vs. HE. Thanks for calling that to my attention!

      • For a traditional top loader you’d definitely want to put it in before the diapers so it gets dissolved & diluted in the water. I don’t know how your HE top loader works but maybe that’s why! My front loader adds water to the detergent tray so the oxyclean us being diluted before it hits the diaps.

  6. […] Lesson 52: Caring for your cloth diapers (cloth diaper tutorial, part 3) […]

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