How To Wash a Cloth Diaper – Our Laundry Routine

Just beginning your cloth diapering journey and the laundry routine seems daunting?! Don’t worry it’s a fairly simple process once it becomes routine! This post will cover how to wash a cloth diaper and the three key elements to a basic cloth diaper laundry routine. It also covers some basic tips for cloth diapers related to laundry.

Updated 3/21/2024

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So many parents looking to cloth diaper get hung up and fear the whole laundry process. Truly, it’s not that bad and not too many extra steps! Cloth diapering is all about establishing a behavior and routine to keep up with the washing. So don’t worry, we’ve got you covered on all you need to know on how to wash a cloth diaper and your basic laundry routine!

Getting Started for Washing Cloth Diapers

Firstly, you have to have cloth diapers…duh haha! For pocket diapers, we love our Mama Koala ones and all the cute pattern options. Or the ALVABABY cloth diapers for older kids. For All-In-Ones (AIOs), we have really loved using the bumGenius Freetime as they were easy and great for daycare.

You will also need a few items to store cloth diapers and rinse bowel movements. Firstly, you need a diaper pail liner and some wet bags. We opted for a reusable diaper pail liner and put it in a tall trash can with a peddle. Then we have some reusable wet bags that we keep in our diaper bag or send to daycare to store the dirty cloth diapers when not at home. You can wash the reusable diaper pail liner and wet bags with the cloth diapers.

Exclusively breastfed babies’ bowel movements do not need to be rinsed/removed from diapers. So they can go straight into your diaper pail until it’s time for laundry.

When your child starts to have solid bowel movements, you’ll need to rinse/remove the waste. Sometimes you can just dump it easily and flush it. But sometimes you’ll need to rinse the diaper prior to putting it into the diaper pail. We use this diaper sprayer, which worked great for cleaning without a lot of mess (FYI also works great as a manual bidet). We always tried to rinse/remove bowel movements prior to putting it in the diaper pail as that was one less step at laundry time. Also, it would get really smelly and all over the other diapers if we didn’t!

Also, why not go zero waste and try cloth baby wipes too!? We had that epiphany over a year later after starting cloth diapering. Read about our conversion to cloth wipes and the ones we preferred in our other post.

Okay now that you know some of the basics for cloth diapers, let’s get to how to wash a cloth diaper.

how to wash a cloth diaper

How to Wash a Cloth Diaper

Learning how to wash a cloth diaper is key to being successful at cloth diapering.
A cloth diaper laundry routine has 3 key elements:

  • Good detergent
  • Ideal washing cycle
  • Preferred drying method.

Cloth Diaper Laundry Detergent

We’ve tried three different detergents with our cloth diapers. In our personal experience, all have been successful in getting the cloth diapers clean and without residue. The key with laundry detergent for cloth diapers is to avoid scents and softeners as they can deposit residue onto your cloth diaper. This will reduce the diaper’s absorbency…which is obviously bad as who wants a diaper that can’t absorb the liquid it’s supposed to?! Also, don’t use fabric softener as that has the same issue with creating residue and reducing absorbency.

Earth Breeze

We just recently made the switch to Earth Breeze’s eco-friendly laundry detergent sheets. They cut out all the unnecessary water and plastic jugs that traditional liquid detergent comes in. The laundry detergent sheets thoroughly clean the cloth diapers and are leaving a smaller footprint on our environment. Reducing our footprint by using an eco-friendly laundry detergent with our cloth diapers hits our family’s goals! We did a full review on Earth Breeze here.

Dreft: Stage 1 Newborn

So for the first six month of our cloth diapering journey, we used Dreft: Stage 1 Newborn. Dreft is known for being great for sensitive newborn skin and free of fragrances, phosphates, and dyes. This also makes it a great laundry detergent option for washing cloth diaper. We only stopped using it after the first six months because we wanted to just buy one laundry detergent and not have to wash our clothes with the baby detergent as well.

ALL Free & Clear – Liquid or Powder 

We had used ALL Free and Clear liquid detergent until just recently for the environmental reasons mentioned above. It was a great cloth diaper laundry detergent and cleaning them thoroughly. I’ve heard that the powder is better with even less likelihood of any residue/buildup on the cloth diaper. Also, the powder doesn’t have a lot of unnecessary water like the liquid detergent if you want to consider that environmental aspect.

how to wash a cloth diaper using eco-friendly laundry detergent sheets
Loving using these eco-friendly laundry detergent sheets for our cloth diapers

Stripping Cloth Diapers

Stripping your cloth diapers is an important step to do. We had actually never heard of it/read about it when we originally started cloth diapering. Then after more than six months of constant use, the ammonia build-up and smell got so bad and didn’t seem healthy to be using on our little one. So we did a little more research. So there are two stripping methods we have in our cloth diapering wash routine to help with this now.

Every month or so, you can run your diapers with a small amount of color-safe bleach to strip away the strong ammonia smell. Make sure to run the rinse cycle a second time to ensure all the bleach is completely washed out.

When the ammonia smell and build-up become really bad, you can do a full on stripping process. It’s where you throw all your diapers into a bathtub/large container of water, and then add a dish soap to strip away all the ammonia build-up. We only did this once or twice in a full year period. 

Quick guidelines on this process:

  1. Fill bathtub or container with hot water
  2. Add dish soap (enough to have some bubbles)
  3. Agitate (mix around) in the tub hour or so for 8 hours
  4. After soaking for 8 hours, drain and rinse out cloth diapers with showerhead.
  5. Throw cloth diapers into the washer for a normal wash routine and add tiny squirt of dish soap. Only a TINY amount to help finish stripping the cloth diapers, but not fill your washer with suds.

Again it’s not every time you wash your diapers, but set an alarm on your calendar to strip them, so you don’t forget!

Ideal Cloth Diaper Washing Cycle

Now every machine varies so your washing routine might vary slightly as well. Regardless you will always need to do two wash cycles: a pre-wash and main wash. 

  1. Toss all your cloth diapers into the washing machine – You will want to turn your wet bags inside out and remove all the inserts from your pockets if you have pocket cloth diapers. This way all the dirty items are exposed and will get properly cleaned. Also, make sure all the bowel movements have been rinsed off too if needed!
  2. Add your cloth diaper laundry detergent – Measure out what you need or just add the Earth Breeze eco-sheet like we do to your washer/washer’s dispenser. If you have a high-efficiency (HE) washer, make sure you know your detergent is HE safe detergent first. Both the ones we used and suggested above are HE safe.
  1. Set your settings for your washer and begin wash – now this is where it might vary from washer to washer. However, the key is to ensure you do a prewash and main wash on high soil and spin levels.
    Temperature is up to you. We use hot water; however the detergent is cold water safe if you prefer to wash with cold water.
    • Prewash – Set with high soil level and spin level to remove all the waste. That way the main wash is done with clean water.
    • Main wash – Set high soil and spin levels for this as well. Our prewash is just a button so we only set the soil and spin settings once.
    • Extra Rinse – Some people don’t do a second rinse, but we prefer to do an extra rinse to ensure the cloth diapers are completely clean.
Washer Settings – Prewash, Hot Wash Temp., High Spin Speed, Heavy Soil Level, and Extra Rinse
We set our wash cycle to Cotton/Normal setting and then adjust the settings as needed
  1. Fluff the cloth diapers or add other laundry items – Some HE washers don’t have agitators so you need to fluff the diapers or add other laundry items as more clothes rubbing together achieves a better clean. So it’s important to peel the diapers from the washer’s drum after the prewash and add some more laundry items to achieve a better overall clean.

    We almost always have other laundry items in our cloth diaper laundry as our child’s clothes are usually also dirty from a diaper leak, covered in drool/spit-up, or just regular dirty. It’s not hard to find dirty clothes in a house with kids!

Preferred Drying Method

Now that your wash cycle is complete, it’s time to dry the cloth diapers! You have three drying options: dry everything in the dryer, hang it to air-dry or hybrid method

We do a hybrid drying method of hanging all the cloth diapers and wet bags to air dry and put all the clothes and pocket diaper inserts into the dryer. We do this for a couple of reasons. The main reason we hang the cloth diapers is because many cloth diaper manufacturers don’t recommend using a dryer. It can wear out and stretch the elastic in the diapers. Over time this can allow for looser diapers that could leak.

We also hang our wet bags to air dry as drying in a drying machine can damage their waterproofing just like some sportswear.

Tip – Do not use dryer sheets with cloth diapers as it causes residue to build up and repel liquids. 

cloth diapers hanging on hangers with wooden clothes pins
We just use wooden clothes pins and hang the cloth diapers on a hanger hung on a rod in our laundry room

Tip – Hang drying a cloth diaper in the sun can remove stains. Sunshine is a great natural bleach!

The full wash cycle with our washer takes about 2 hours. Then air drying our cloth diapers takes about 8 hours. So we typically do our laundry routine at the end of the day where we hang up the cloth diapers to dry right before going to bed. This allows them to dry overnight and be ready for the next day.

Now just stuff your diapers if needed, fold and put them away. Cloth Diaper Laundry Routine Complete! Once you have this routine down, it’s a fairly simple process that you can do even when you’re sleep deprived!

More Sustainable Living

Cloth diapering was one of our first major steps into living a more sustainable lifestyle. From reducing waste related to our child to improving our home to be more sustainable, we strive to do our best. Check out more of our Sustainable Living posts and get inspired to make your own changes (big or small!).

So that’s our how to wash a cloth diaper and our typical cloth diaper laundry routine! Let us know what your cloth diaper wash routine is like in the comments below!

Disclaimer: This post includes affiliate links, and I will earn a commission if you purchase through these links. Please note that I’ve linked to these products purely because I recommend them and they are from companies I trust. There is no additional cost to you.

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  1. Some of my fellow cloth diapering families advised me to avoid detergent sheets because it’s difficult to determine the amount of detergent that’s going into the cycle, especially since the the washing method we follow is based on precisely coordinating the amount of detergent used with the weight of the load, particularly for HE machines.

    My question is, do you put in an entire sheet every time you wash a load of diapers? If you’re trimming the sheets to size, how do you determine how large of a piece to use? I’m very interested in switching to a detergent sheet but my diaper loads are getting smaller and smaller these days since my son is almost potty trained, and I wouldn’t want to get buildup from using too much detergent.

    1. Hi! Thanks for the question, and excited to hear you want to make the switch to detergent sheets! That’s very interesting to hear as I haven’t heard of others weighing their loads before, so I don’t have experience with coordinating the detergent amount precisely. We didn’t weigh our diaper loads but used a pre-rinse and post-rinse cycle to ensure all the detergent got washed out and that helped reduce build-up in our experience. As we transitioned to potty-training, we included other clothes in the diaper loads to balance it and absorb detergent as well. So most of the time we still had a full load using a full detergent sheet, but the load consisted of a few diapers, lots of potty-training underwear and soiled clothes instead of diapers alone. If we had a smaller/half load, we’d just cut the sheet in half to use, and always have the extra rinses to ensure the detergent is cleaned off. Hope that makes sense. It was also important to still strip the diapers every so often to reduce build-up.

      Each liquid detergent has a different cleaning concentration level (80-95% being water), so I’m not sure how you currently determine the amount needed. But possibly you could come up with a ratio to divide up the sheet based on the size of the load. Reaching out to Earth Breeze directly could help too as they’d likely know the equivalent of what 1 detergent sheet equals to an amount of liquid detergent.

      I’d personally just use a little less if you’re worried. Or try it for a little bit and if you notice too much build-up, stop using it or adjust your ratio. Sorry, I don’t have an exact solution, but hope that helps!

      1. Hi, this is very helpful for me! Did you try using the scented Earth Breeze to your cloth diapers? Are they ok?
        Or should I use the fragrance free strictly?

        1. Hi! Glad this was helpful to you! We personally used the fragrance free strictly as a baby’s skin can be sensitive to fragrances and fragrances can build up over time on fabrics (cloth diapers) both leading to the possibility of rashes, which we didn’t want. So we just steered clear of fragrance detergent when it came to washing cloth diapers and baby clothes.

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