How Do You Wash Cloth Diapers?

Do you have a complex system of soaking and pre-washing, or are you cloth diaper slackers like Rebecca and me?  How do you handle smells and stains?  Do you use hot or cold water?  What’s your favorite detergent?

Cloth diapers were a total mystery to me in those early days of parenting–as was cloth diaper laundering.  I didn’t have a copy of our book, The Eco-nomical Baby Guide, to help me with selecting and caring for cloth diapers, so I was lost!  I have to confess that I even bleached our pre-folds a few times at first before a friend taught me that it’s unnecessary and also very tough on the fabric.

These days we are incredibly lax about our diaper washing system and are quite happy with the results. We use a dry pail and when it fills up, we simply toss them in the washer.  We use cold water most of the time and throw in a little Bac Out to help freshen them up.  We don’t hang up our diapers at this point, although summer is a different story.  Our diapers are no more complex than any other load of laundry and come out smelling great!

Please feel free to share your cloth diaper laundry struggles and victories!


  1. I just follow the directions on our bumgenius diapers and use the washing machine for 1 full cold w/ soap, 1 full hot w/ soap, then 2 rinses w/o soap.

  2. Oh, sheesh, I’ve been meaning to post about this forever. So I just did:

    Short version: no pre-rinse; wash warm/rinse cold on normal cycle with Charlie’s Soap; no extra rinse; dry in dryer or line dry (always line dry covers and synthetic inserts).

    No pre-rinse, no post-rinse, wash in warm instead of hot all inspired by Green Baby Guide!

  3. I like to soak ’em! On diaper laundry day, I throw the whole mess into the wash, run a cold cycle and stop it when the water has filled the washer. I let them soak for a good couple hours, then I let the cold cycle finish. After that I run them on a long hot wash with Country Save detergent (about 2 tablespoons). I try to peek in there when that cycle is on it’s rinse to see if there are any suds (i.e. I put too much detergent in and must rinse them again). I find the soak gets any stains out pretty consistently.

    For drying, I’m usually lazy and dry them in the machine on medium heat, taking all the PUL covers out first to air dry. BUT I do have a line and pins to hang them if I have time (IF, strongly emphasized). I do try to line dry them in the sun once a month to naturally bleach them.

    Thanks for posting about cloth diapers! I think so many people are afraid of them. I also have a post about our cloth diapering experience, if I could share with your readers:

    Love the blog, thanks!

  4. Prewash or rinse. Hot wash with extra rinse.

    I will hang them to dry when it gets warmer.

  5. I still have not found my ideal wash solution. I have tried the lazy solution and they smell awful. I have tried the cold soak, pre-rinse, hot, cold, multiple post-rinses and yet my diapers still smell. Just the smallest amount of pee and it’s awful. I have tried 4 different soaps. Any advice is greatly appreciated. 😀
    Although I have looked it up multiple times. So far nothing has helped.

  6. Kamber, have you tried stripping your diapers? Often oils in detergent build up in the fabric which makes them hold onto smells much longer. To strip them, wash them four or five times in hot water without soap. (I do throw some Bac Out in as well to help with odor when stripping.)

    Do you have cotton pre-folds or a diaper made of a synthetic fabric? I find my fuzzibunz have to be stripped more frequently than my cotton prefolds.

    Let me know if any of this helps or if you’ve already tried it!

  7. I have always ran a whole cycle on hot to rinse the diapers, no soap. Ran a second cycle on hot, with our regular laundry soap (what ever brand happens to be on sale that week), then usually at least one more hot rinse depending if there are suds in the first rinse. Machine dry (in winter) on low or line dry in the summer.
    I’ve never had what I read others describe as ” a stink problem”

  8. Thanks for this post. I’ve done a reply on my blog too.
    Please check it out on:

  9. We always hand-wash and line dry the covers, but the prefolds are a different matter! Wet ones go straight into the daily dry pail in the bathroom; poopy ones get scraped/dunked/rinsed off before going into the pail; cloth wipes go there too. At the end of the day, the small pail gets emptied into the soaking bucket 2 floors down in the basement (we have a private stair to the shared basement area where laundry & recycling for the building are). We used to soak with castle soap & borax but it just wasn’t getting the poopy diapers clean, so now we use Bac-Out for soaking. After 1.5-2 days we’ve got a very full bucket and 2 loads of diapers (which we don’t have to carry down 2 flights of stairs, splashing through our whole apartment). We wash once on hot and tumble dry. It seems complex but it works for renters in a multi-floor unit like this.

  10. We use YoreGanic soap nuts and they are wonderful! Natural and easy to use and travel with. I haven’t had a big problem with smell (wash in cold as I don’t have hot water in my washing machine), but I always dry mine outside.

  11. We are on our 4 th year of cloth diapering and I am ashamed to admit that I have only just now figured out how to get our diapers really clean. Like Kamber, I was having problems with our prefolds coming out of the laundry stills melling bad, and they were often kind of crunchy too. Line drying helped air the smell out, and I tried stripping them a number of times like Joy suggested above, including vinegar rinses.

    We have used both Charlie’s soap and Country Save powdered detergent, in varying quantities, trying to figure out the dingy diaper problem. And then Bernice from Terra Tots (our local natural parenting store) said that we have really hard water in our town, and she suggested adding a lot of borax (or Charlie’s Hard Water Treatment) to the wash.

    So I did, and the results are fantastic. I have been adding 2 tablespoons borax to each load (we have a front load, so I just put the borax in the try along with the powdered detergent). The diapers ahve been coming out incredibly clean, soft, and the whitest I have seen them since we bought them new.

  12. I have a mixture of Fuzzibunz and prefolds. Everything goes into the dry pail (DD is only 2 months old so BF poo doesn’t need to be scraped). We pay for our laundry so we can’t “stop” halfway through a rinse cycle. We do one cycle with cold water and Country Save detergent. Then we do a hot cycle with not detergent. We line dry everything (PUL covers, prefolds, FBs). Sun bleaches out the stains. We did have a stink problem with the Fuzzibunz but we threw in some vinegar into the cold cycle and that seemed to help.

  13. I love the Borax tip! Ours periodically get a funk to them, so I usually combat that by cranking up the hot water heater and doing a super hot wash. The rest of the time we keep the “hot” setting to a minimum. Borax might be a better solution.

  14. Solumel from Melaleuca works great to keep stinks away!!! If your interested let me know and I can tell you where to find it. Shannon ‘olson’ warlop on FB

  15. I’m so glad I found this site! We use fuzzibunz and I have been battling stink and soap build up for a year! Almost ready to quit. All the cloth diapering parents I know say they just throw them in a regular load and forget about it. It is so refreshing to hear others have to do a bit more TLC with theirs. I thought I was alone! I am going to try a few of these suggestions as well as what I do now.
    THANK YOU!!!

  16. I’ve been cloth diapering (1st time mom/11 week old baby) for two months. I think it’s great…so much better than using disposables & no blowouts! I think people that think I’m crazy are off their rocker! haha. My wash regime:
    Collect dirty inserts in a dry pail (my pail is an old kitty litter bucket!), wash every three days. I dump the diapers/cloth wipes/and poopy covers right into the front loader (I hand wash the urine covers as needed & hang dry). I hit hot, high soil level, and 2nd rinse which totals 71minutes. I put in 3 small spoonful’s of Nellie’s Laundry Detergent in and make sure you have it on the powder setting not the liquid setting where you put your detergent it if you use powder like me. I originally only put 2 spoonful’s b/c I read so much on how too much soap is not good for diapers but they came out smelling like urine so I upped the anti a tad and that did the trick! BTW you can get a 2 gallon pail of Nellie’s here: $140, it will last you for 2 years or more!! Then I dry for a cycle and a half but I remove any covers or wipes (PL bamboo wipes get soaked and put into my Prince Lionheart wipe warmer (love that thing and so does baby! Highly recommended). I dry for so long because I have 3 bumGenious AIO’s that take forever to dry (These diapers are $$ and I personally don’t like them as much but they are easy for someone who’s not used to cloth like a babysitter/mother-in-law etc.)
    The only issue I’ve had which I don’t even know if it’s an issue is the orangey poop color never it totally gone from my diapers. It’s not like anyone see’s it…but I’m just wondering if others insert come out as white as new or if they just put them on the line to bleach that out. Thanks! Healthy baby=happy mama.

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