“Cloth Diapers” The Series – Part 5: Washing & Drying

The biggest difference between cloth and disposable diapers is obviously not being able to just throw your poopy troubles away.  It’s also one of the biggest “Am i doing it right?” worries, so this is probably going to be one of the biggest entries in the series. Ready?

Where do I put the dirty diaper until I’m ready to do a load of laundry?

Wet Pail (aka Soaker Pail) This method is what people having been using for decades.
Pros:
- Soaking the diapers in a bucket of water until it’s ready to be washed eliminates having to soak diapers in your machine.
- Stains aren’t allowed to dry and set in
- Lift lid, toss diaper in, lock lid
Cons:
- Curious babies can drown in the water if you don’t use a locking lid
- A pail full of water and diapers is very heavy to lift to drain or transport to the machine
- Waterproof fabrics (such as PUL) can deteriorate from sitting water for long periods of time
- You might create “poop soup” and can breed bacteria & smell if not cleaned properly

Dry Pail The most common method these days. To avoid having to wash out your pail every time you empty it, use a washable pail liner or large wet bag – just like you use a plastic bag in your garbage can. When the liner gets dirty or stinky, wash it along with your diapers.
Pros:
- Safer, lighter, easier on diaper fabrics
- Lift lid, toss diaper in, close lid (or don’t use a lid at all)
Cons:
- Can be slightly stinkier.
- You should soak diapers in the machine at the beginning of the cycle for at least 20 minutes

Dry Bag Basically the “dry pail” method, without the can. Just a bag sitting on the floor, or hanging on a hook.
Pros:
- Not purchasing the can
Cons:
- Having to open the bag’s elastic closure every time rather then just lifting a lid

The Machine If you don’t wash other laundry (like adult clothes) often, you can store your dirty diapers right in your washing machine, this could be similar to the “dry pail” or “wet pail” methods.
Pros:
- When it’s time to wash diapers, they’re already in there waiting for the cycle to start.
Cons:
- If there are diapers in the machine and you want to wash other laundry, you have to either remove the diapers, or wash all the laundry according to your diaper routine.

Should I Swish it in the Toilet?
Many parents cringe at the thought of having to rinse soiled diapers before washing them, who wants to stick their hand in there? Dunking them in the toilet is not necessary. Breastfed baby bombs are basically like pulpy orange juice or butterscotch pudding and by 2 months it’s usually only once a day. It’s only once they start solid foods around the age of 6 months that you have to deal with “real” poop.
- Lightly shake any excess clumps into the toilet, and then throw the diaper into your diaper pail.
- If you want to rinse them, you could get a diaper sprayer (aka a mini-shower head) that attaches to the tank of your toilet, and lightly spray your diapers before putting them in the pail.
- Another option is disposable liners, a thick tissue much like a roll of toilet paper that you lay on top of the inside of the diaper so it’s the layer touching the baby’s bum. Once dirtied on you simply gather it up like a wanton and toss it in the garbage (flushable and compostable liners are also available).

Detergents
What to avoid: Any of these additives can decrease the absorbency of your cloth diapers causing them to leak, because they will leave a film or oil on the fabric. Whiteners and bleach will destroy the strength of your fabrics, creating holes or fraying.
Other then price, there’s no reason to not use your “diaper” detergent for all of your household laundry.
- Enzymes
- Dyes
- Heavy Fragrances
- Built-in fabric softeners
- Optical Whiteners
- Long lists of ingredients you can’t pronounce or no listed ingredients at all
- “Free & Clear” is usually a trick
- Pure Soaps
This list (although seemingly overwhelming and difficult to read) has an extensive amount of different brands. It’s best to go to your regular grocery store with a few different brand names from the list, if you can’t find any, write down some brands the store does stock and see if they’re on the list. If all else fails, use common sense.
FYI – “Nature Clean” and “Attitude” can be found at most Sobeys.

What cycle(s) on my machine do I use?
There are a million and one different routines and steps, so I doubt any two people do it the exact same way. I’ll try to explain the most common ways, but it’s best to just find what works for you depending on your schedule, water, home, detergent, diapers and child’s mess. A great article about cloth diapering in apartments or laundromats can be found here.
You’ll know that you’re washing routine is working if your diapers smell like nothing when they come out of the washing machine and that they’re absorbing for at least two hours of wear.

All cold water wash: (this is the routine I use)
- If using a wet pail, dump your entire pail (water & diapers) into the machine and select the spin cycle to get rid of all the pail water.
- If not using a wet pail, fill machine with enough cold water to cover the diapers (it’s unnecessary to fill it to he top of the barrel) soak diapers without detergent for a minimum of 20 minutes, soaking overnight eliminates having to wait (because you’re sleeping!) Let the machine agitate a few times to make sure all diapers are effected.
- Drain water (it may be yellowish now) by using the “spin” or cold “rinse” setting.
- Fill machine with cold water on a “regular” or “casual” setting, add 1/2 of the amount of detergent as recommended on the label – unless it has a diaper specific amount. Let the machine run it’s course – it should fill, agitate, drain, spin, & repeat.
- Select an extra/additional cold rinse (some machines have an option, others you’ll have to turn the dial to the right spot in the cycle)

Hot/cold water wash:
- If using a wet pail, dump your entire pail (water & diapers) into the machine and select the spin cycle to get rid of all the pail water.
- If not using a wet pail, fill machine with enough cold water to cover the diapers (it’s unnecessary to fill it to he top of the barrel) soak diapers without detergent for a minimum of 20 minutes, soaking overnight eliminates having to wait (because you’re sleeping!) Let the machine agitate a few times to make sure all diapers are effected. The cold rinse will prevent stains from setting.
- Drain water (it may be yellowish now) by using the “spin” or cold “rinse” setting.
- Fill machine with hot water on a “regular” or “casual” setting, add 1/2 of the amount of detergent as recommended on the label – unless it has a diaper specific amount. Let the machine run it’s course – it should fill with hot, agitate, drain, spin, fill with cold, agitate, drain, & spin.
- Select an extra/additional cold rinse (some machines have an option, others you’ll have to turn the dial to the right spot in the cycle)

Stains
Sun:
The best way to get rid of stains is to let your diapers dry out in the sunshine. Sunlight will “bleach” your diapers and will sanitize at the same time. I know, sounds like magic doesn’t it?! And, drying your diapers this way will save on the wear and tear that using the dryer may cause. Even drying your diapers inside by a sunny window will get the stains out.
- You can also put a squirt of lemon juice on the stain prior to leaving the diaper out in the sun, stains react with the acids in lemon juice & convert the stains into substances that are soluble. This method may remove particularly stubborn stains more quickly than sunning alone.

No Sun:
- Apply a little bit of hydrogen peroxide to the stain. However, first test a small inconspicuous area to make sure the fabric won’t yellow.
- Use Bac-Out (by Bio-Kleen). Either in your wash once in a while, or dilute some in a spray bottle and treat dirty diapers before tossing them in your pail.  It greatly reduced stains and helped deodorize the diaper pail.
- “Oxygen bleach” like Oxy-Clean or Chlorine-free bleach from companies like Seventh Generation can be used once a month.

Line Drying VS Machine Drying
If you would like to skip the dryer all together there are ways to line dry in your home with a variety of drying racks, like this selection from Ikea. Pockets will dry within a couple of hours, while AIO and fitteds can take a hell of a long time – consider this when buying your diapers and deciding how to dry them. One more note regarding the elastic, the key is to allow the diapers to fully cool off from the dryer before stretching them out to avoid prematurely wearing it out.

Line Drying:

Pros:
- Energy efficient (because air is free!)
- Prolongs the life of your diapers
- Natural sunshine is the best stain remover and disinfectant
- All your neighbours get to marvel at how “green” you are and colourful your line is!
Cons:
- Can tend to be crunchy
- Takes more then an hour to dry
- Takes up space in your yard or home
- Rain…

Machine Drying:
Pros:
- Weather doesn’t effect your laundry days
- Fast drying
- You don’t need a yard or drying rack
- No one sees your laundry (because fancy babies don’t poop?)
Cons:
- Dries out & cracks waterproof fabrics
- Can set in stains
- Can shrink parts of your diaper

Do’s and Don’ts
Do:

- Pre-wash newly purchased diapers, just like you would wash a new shirt before you wear it. Some fabrics have natural oils in them and have not been washed out by the manufacturers, washing 2-5 times in warm water without detergent will remove these oils. Also, washing a couple times in cold water will help strong colours (like black, red, navy) from fading.
- Remove inserts from pocket diapers before washing. pinch the end of the insert sticking out of the pocket slit and shake the diaper off over the pail or machine. Some brands (such as Thirsties) don’t require you to remove the inserts and guarantee to agitate out by themselves in the machine.
- Sprinkle baking soda into the can to eliminate odors, some prefer to allow airflow (no lid, holes in can) but I find this just makes the whole room stinky. You can also try placing a cloth with a little essential oil (like lavender or tea tree oil) in the pail.
- Feel free to add a half cup of baking soda during the first part of the wash if you like, but don’t bother if you use a powdered detergent. If you use baking soda in the wash or soak, make sure to use vinegar in the rinse, this will help restore the neutral pH level.
- Try vinegar as a fabric softener replacement. Pour 1/2 a cup of distilled white vinegar into a clean dispenser compartment (you don’t want old fabric softener left in there) or use a “Downy” ball. Any vinegar smell will go away once the diapers are dry.
- Remember to secure any “laundry tabs” on the diapers made with velcro. If you don’t, they’ll catch on other items or diapers in the wash, creating a big chain or wrecking delicate materials. If you find that your laundry tabs are opening or coming undone, flip the diaper and secure the velcro to the the tummy part of the diaper as if you’re putting it on the baby inside out.
- Wash your hands after changing a diaper or loading the machine!
- Make sure when you stuff your pocket diapers that the insert is completely flat and smooth from one side and end to the other. Don’t let it bunch up – this would be uncomfortable for babe and cause leaks.

Don’t:
- Don’t use Fabric Softeners or dryer sheets, “whatever” detergents or too much detergent, it can build up on diapers and create a film that will repel liquids rather then absorb them. Of course it makes clothes super soft and fresh smelling, so it is only natural that you would want to use it on your cloth diapers… but this would be a mistake! *palm to forehead* Fabric softener, either in liquid or sheet form, leaves a water-repelling residue on your diapers, making them less absorbent and useless in pretty much the only purpose that they serve. It also can deteriorate the covers water-proof laminate.
- Don’t use bleach to remove stains or disinfect! It will actually eat away at the fibers in your diapers – decreasing their durability, waterproofing and absorbency.
- Pure soaps are the more natural choice in the world of cleaners, but will leave a residue on your diapers and covers similar to the soap scum you find in your tub. Soap scum on diapers makes them repel moisture rather than absorb it. It is also harsh on the laminates used in your diaper covers, making them absorb rather than repel water. There actually is a difference between “soap” and “detergent”!
- Don’t expect others to obsess about diapers as much as you do, and don’t get mad at your partner when they use the wrong combination or insert… It’s just a shit catcher after all.

Next up in this series: Part 6 – What Do I Need & Where Do I Get It?

See other entries in this series here.


3 Responses

  • blindcavefish Says:

    I do the hot wash method, and add a kettle of boiling water to the hot wash water…reduces the # of times I have to strip the diapers

    Good post!!

  • TMae Says:

    Great series! I wanted to add that making sure the diapers are rinsed well (especially with front loaders that don’t give a lot of water swish) will help keep the funky smells away. Detergent residue can trap smell, and bring on the ammonia stink! We’ve had to fiddle with the amount of detergent we use in order to get a complete rinse, and even then, sometimes I need a 3rd rinse to get rid of all the bubbles.

  • Ashley.paramor Says:

    Excellent point! When in doubt, rinse it out!