In this post, I will discuss how I wash my diapers and some common problems people run into as they try to perfect their wash routines.
It took me a while to figure out our wash routine. We have 2 very common problems that I will address in this post.
-A high efficency washing machine (Maytag Bravos top-loading machine without an agitator circa 2011)
-and very hard well water
I'll start with the basic wash routine. These steps can be changed and customized based on your situation. Every diaper routine requires stripping to prepare for initial use, a rinse to remove pee/poo, a hot wash to really get things clean, and drying. Here's my routine...
The Basic Wash Routine
Before Use: Strip the Diapers
Before diapers can be used, they need to be washed well to remove any initial residue and help them better absorb fluids. Diapers usually come with stripping instructions, so follow the manufacturers recommendations. When I open a new package of diapers, I wash them on HOT 3 or more separate times without detergent.
Step 1: Remove Diaper
-Rinse (solid food or formula) poop off diapers. You don't need to rinse breastmilk poop, unless you want to! It's water soluble.
-Take inserts out of any all-in-one diapers & unsnap the inserts
-Toss into a wet bag until you have enough diapers to wash. I wash every 2-3 days. Don't wait longer than 3 days...ick! 20-24 diapers in a load is probably enough (depending on the size of your machine). Too many and you'll crowd the wash and not give enough room to work out those set in stains.
Step 2: Rinse
-Poor diapers in machine + pail liner/wet bags inside out
-Add 2 full-sized bath towels, soaked with water already, to this load (if you have an HE machine, you'll probably need more water)
-Do NOT add detergent to this cycle
-My (Maytag Bravos) Wash Settings: HAND WASH cycle + COLD wash temp + LOW spin + HEAVY soil level + EXTRA RINSE = 49 minutes
Step 3: Wash
-Pull diapers off the sides of machine and separate from one another
-Resoak towels in sink and add back in with diapers (or pour a pitcher of water in to resoak)
-Add 1 scoop (up to Line 2) of Original Tide Powder detergent to the container on the machine (this is what I use on our hard water, some people would never use Tide! Read on for more info...)
-My Wash Settings: HEAVY DUTY cycle + HOT wash temp + MAX EXTRACT spin + HEAVY soil level = 58 minutes
Step 4: Dry
-Hang diapers on a clothes line outside or on a drying rack. We line dry because it is gentler on the diapers (they will last longer), it helps to slightly humidify our living room, it is CHEAPER...read this post, and the sun bleaches them out helping to sanitize.
-If you need to dry diapers quickly, place diapers, covers, liners and bags in the dryer on the normal setting. Do NOT use a dryer sheet with cloth diapers.
After several months: It may be time to STRIP the diapers again to remove detergent buildup or any residue that has built up in the diapers. You will know you need to strip them if you smell pee through the diaper cover after baby pees or the diaper isn't as absorbent as it once was. I used a set of cloth diapers for 5+ months before I needed to strip them (but you could need to strip sooner, and that's ok). If you can't go more than 2 months without stripping your diapers, you may need to tweak your wash routine to improve absorbency. To strip the diapers, wash them on HOT at least 3 times (without detergent). There are lots of schools of thought on how to strip diapers, so feel free to do more research. If you have a washer that allows you to see in (or lift the lid midway), check to see if their are any suds. If there are, the diapers still have some buildup of detergent in them, so keep rinsing. Beware of detergents that say they help strip diapers. I don't have experience in this area, but do some research first. A friend of mine ruined a set of prefold diapers by using a bad detergent. :(
Cloth Diaper No-No's
-Too much detergent can build up (aka not wash out completely) in the diaper and make the diaper less absorbent.
-The wrong diaper rash creams can also build up in the diapers and get difficult to fully wash out (also affecting absorbency).
-Not all detergents are created equally for cloth. Some have too many chemicals and additives and can harm the cotton. Never use any scented products or products with softeners. Don't use dryer sheets if you plan to dry in the dryer.
Amount of Water
When washing cloth diapers, you need a lot of water to really clean the diapers and remove any pee/poo residue, detergent buildup, and diaper rash cream (if you use it). The HE machines today don't use as much water as you need to thoroughly clean a cloth diaper. Since a load of diapers is usually smaller (and therefore lighter in weight) than a normal load, the machine senses that and does not add as much water. Great for normal, less-soiled clothes, but not good for soiled diapers.
Solution: Find out what machine setting adds the most water. Use that for the rinse cycle at least. For my machine, that is the HAND WASH setting/heavy soil setting/low spin speed. (I discovered this by trial and error and by doing a little reading on other blogs, because unfortunately, on my machine, it wasn't clear).
If you are lucky to have a washer that has an "ADD WATER" setting, use it! If not, like mine, I add 2 soaking wet bath towels to the load. The wet towels make the washer think there is more laundry in the machine than there actually is, and it will add more water!
If you have hard water like I do, you'll need to tweak your wash routine to compensate. The minerals in the hard water build up in cloth diapers and over time, the diapers will become less absorbent and you'll probably notice they smell immediately after baby pees.
Solution: Some people may use an additive like Calgon their wash to soften the water. I have never done this and can't say whether or not it works. From my experience, what works with our hard water is a detergent with some chemical cleaner...AHHH, you might think! But they are designed to break up stains. We use regular Tide Powder. It works great! We haven't had to strip our diapers in over 5 months.
There are some detergents that cloth diaper users swear by. You can do a search to find lists of cloth diaper-safe detergents. I tried Ecos Free and Clear, a brand recommended by a friend, and I found that it didn't work at all. But my friend uses it and it works great for her. What works for you truly depends on your washer and your water. I've read that a powder works well on hard water for some reason. Maybe it gets in there to break up the stains differently than a liquid. In any case, you may use a different detergent than someone else, and that's fine! Just make sure that your diapers don't have any bad smell after washing! I also should mention that you may need to wash several times to figure out how much detergent works. Too much and it could build up in the diapers. Too little and they don't get clean. Maybe I didn't use enough of the Ecos. But Tide worked so well for us, and we could get it at any store with coupons, so that's what I went for.
Standard Washing Maching vs. HE Washing Machine
Some cloth diaper users prefer older machines that don't conserve the amount of water in each wash based on load weight. I've heard of people that have a separate standard washer dedicated to diapers. You can find them on Craigslist. I think a lot of people would agree that a standard top-loading washing machine is easier to use than an HE machine because they use more water and allow you to more easily adjust water levels.
If you have any questions, let me know. I'm happy to help troubleshoot problems with your routine. Please add a comment if you have any good washing advice!
You may have noticed that this post is out of order! Click below to read the first part in this 3-part Cloth Diaper series, The Cost Savings. Stay tuned for Part 2: What to Buy!