How to Clean Cloth Diapers in the Washing Machine

If you’re using any type of cloth diaper for your baby, you’ll be glad to discover you can easily wash them in the washing machine! In fact, using your washing machine to wash cloth diapers will both save you time and energy – if you do it the right way. So how do you clean cloth diapers in a washing machine to get the best results?

Here are a few things you need to keep in mind when you’re washing cloth diapers in the washing machine, as well as a step-by-step guide.  

Before Washing Cloth Diapers, Check the Care Labels

The most important advice to follow when it comes to cleaning cloth diapers is to make sure you consult the manufacturer’s washing instructions before you start. These days there’s quite a lot of choice when it comes to cloth diapers: traditional langots, terry toweling, pre-folds in organic hemp and bamboo.

All these different fabrics need different care. Using certain cleaning products on some branded pre-folds can also invalidate their warranty, so it’s best to check the manufacturer’s recommendations first.  

Absorbency Issues & Cloth Diapers

It’s always a good idea to wash any new fabric items that will be close to your baby’s skin before first use. This means washing diapers as well as clothes. In some cases – particularly diapers made from natural fabrics like hemp – manufacturers recommend several washes before first use, in order to increase absorbency.

How you continue to wash your diapers will also affect their absorbency. Since no one wants to be changing sheets in the middle of the night, here are our top tips for keeping detergent build-up on your diapers low, and absorbency high:

  • Consider using less detergent than a normal wash (consult manufacturer’s instructions)
  • Don’t use soap flakes (these can easily clump together the fibres of many diapers)
  • Regularly ‘strip’ the diapers – wash clean diapers two or three times in a row, every couple of weeks.

Storing Dirty Diapers

No mother has the time to wash diapers one-by-one, so storing dirty diapers for a full washing load (approximately 24 diapers) can become a bit of a challenge. Soaking diapers in a pail of water (with or without a sanitizer) has long been a favoured solution, because stains stay wet and are less likely to set. But dirty water is unhygienic, may be unsafe for little ones, and does have a tendency to smell! You’d also have to find another way to store wrappers separately, as their prolonged exposure to water could be damaging. A better solution would be to:

  • Use a dry bucket or waterproof bag to store diapers
  • Lightly rinse each diaper before placing in the pail
  • Lather damp muslin with a drop of nice-smelling scented oil (like lavender) on top of the diapers before closing the lid – other odour improving and stain removal agents, like baking powder or vinegar, could be harmful to fabrics.

How to Wash Diapers in a Washing Machine: A Step-by-Step Guide

Cloth diaper cleaning should generally be done separately to your family’s main wash for reasons of hygiene, and so that you can keep a better handle on temperatures, type of detergent (gentle detergents are best), and stain removal techniques. The process itself is fairly simple and the same for all types of diaper. Here’s what to do:

  • Remove any liner and shake off any waste material into the toilet.
  • Separate the diaper from any wrapper you may be using.
  • Fasten Velcro tabs together if using pre-folds (so the diapers don’t stick together).
  • Put the diapers in the washing machine
  • Add Surf excel detergent and set the machine’s temperature and cycle according to manufacturer’s instructions. A general rule of thumb would be a cold pre-wash followed by a hot main wash, followed by a long rinse, and a medium-high spin. Washing machines like this model by IFB and this one by Electrolux allow you to personalise your wash with a soak programme or pre-wash programme, as well as other settings.
  • Once the cycle has finished, check the diapers are free of any detergent residue and that they smell clean and fresh. Suds will lead to detergent build-up, and lingering smells indicate bacteria are still present. If so, wash the diapers again.
  • Line dry or tumble dry, according to the care label.

Washing Waterproof Covers and Wrappers

Many diapers are used with wrappers that can be made from a different fabric. In general, wrappers should be washed separately on a lower temperature wash. But be sure to check the care label, since polyester wrappers can often be washed with diapers, and natural fabrics, like wool, may need to be hand washed.  

Stain Removal on Cloth Diapers

With the preparation (rinsing stains), detergent and washing cycle, you should have no problems with stains at all. Make sure you optimise the amount of water in your machine to agitate and rinse your diapers – if you can’t increase the water in your machine, but the diapers are still coming out stained, consider doing smaller loads. Most diaper and washing machine manufacturers do not recommend using bleach, or traditional stain removers like vinegar to get diapers clean. You can also read more about how to wash baby clothes from Surf excel.  

Tips from Matic Mums about Washing Cloth Diapers

Our Matic Mums have experience in washing diapers in the washing machine! Here are some of their tips: Dipali Singh : "Firstly, separate all diapers from clothes. Use less detergent. Make sure you optimise the amount of water in your machine to agitate and rinse your diapers."

Hansa Parmar: "Always clean baby's diapers separately and do not mix it with other clothes."

How do you wash cloth diapers? Let us know any tips you have in the comments box below.