How To Properly Wash Cloth Diapers: A Step-by-Step Guide

Apr 19, 2024

How To Properly Wash Cloth Diapers: A Step-by-Step Guide

Undoubtedly, properly washing cloth diapers is crucial for maintaining hygiene and preventing skin complications caused by diapers. Cloth diapers are clean reusable diapers and easy to use which means they require thorough cleaning to remove bacteria, odors, and other residues. It is important to understand, how to wash cloth diapers efficiently to avoid an inadequate washing process. 

The right way to clean cloth diapers requires multiple factors and steps to follow: it includes the pre-washing cycle, storing dirty diapers, using diaper-friendly detergents, and of course, checking the care instructions as recommended by the manufacturer. 

Understanding Different Types of Cloth Diapers

Cloth diapers are easier to use than you think and they come in various forms and types. Most of them are adjustable in size and absorbency and people prefer them according to their needs. However, the major types of cloth diapers are listed below:

  • Prefold cloth diapers

  • All-in-one cloth diapers

  • Pocket cloth diapers

  • Hybrid cloth diaper

Pre Folded, All-in-One, Pocket, And Hybrid Diapers

  1. Prefold Cloth Diapers

Prefold cloth diapers are quite similar to flat diapers but the best thing about them is they can be pre-folded into three panels. The middle panel is designed to be the most absorbent. It also requires safety pins or clips for fastening and a diaper cover to help stop leaks. It’s the best option if you are looking for an inexpensive cloth diaper. 

  1. All-in-one Cloth Diapers

All-in-one (AIO) cloth diapers are one-piece diapers as it defines in its name, it can do all the work on its own without extra accessories or separate inserts. The absorbent layers are sewn into the waterproof cover, removing extra steps from putting the diaper onto the baby.

  1. Pocket Cloth Diapers

Don’t worry if folding is not your thing, pocket diapers are at your service. It is specifically shaped like a disposable diaper, these cloth diapers have elastic waist and leg openings for effective mess containment. These pocket-size cloth diapers have a pocket inside to be stuffed with absorbent inserts. 

Many pocket cloth diapers are lined with stay-dry material, so the baby feels dry even wet because the urine passes through the diaper lining and is absorbed inside the insert.

  1. Hybrid Cloth Diaper

Hybrid cloth diapers are easier to use as compared to other diapers and, they are water-friendly. They are a cross between cloth diapers and disposable diapers. It consists of an outer reusable cover and a disposable insert inside, the disposable insert is placed inside the diaper against the baby’s skin so once it becomes wet or soiled, all you have to do is discard it in the trash. 

Advantages of Each Type

  1. Prefold Cloth Diapers

  • Relatively inexpensive than flat diapers.

  • Already layered so can be a faster alternative to a flat diaper.

  • Easily adjustable as the baby grows. 

  1. All-in-one Cloth Diapers

  • Easy to fit on the baby with built-in fasteners.

  • One piece - no need for separate inserts or covers.

  • Good choice for daycares or babysitters, since it’s one piece.

  1. Pocket Cloth Diapers

  • Easy to fasten on baby, No folding is required.

  • Versatile and highly customizable, It is easy to increase absorbency by adding extra inserts. This is a Good option for overnight especially.

  • The absorbent insert is separate, which makes washing and drying easier than with all-in-one cloth diapers.

  • The insert can also go on top of the diaper lining, which might help reuse the pocket cover before washing

  • Some pocket diapers can be used with disposable inserts for traveling and on the go, Also a good option for babysitters and daycares as well.

  1. Hybrid Cloth Diapers

  • Covers can be reused if only the disposable insert is wet.

  • Fewer poopy messes to launder - disposable inserts can be tossed in the trash

  • Super easy for daycares and babysitters

  • Great for traveling or on-the-go, when you don’t want to run around with soiled diapers. 

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Preparing To Wash Cloth Diapers

To ensure that your cloth diapers clean thoroughly, and free of any bacteria, it is essential to know how to wash cloth diapers properly. Gather all the supplies and follow the step-by-step guidelines mentioned below to help you achieve the best results. 

Before You Begin: Initial Consideration

Before you begin, follow the care instructions printed or mentioned by the manufacturer of cloth diapers for better handling. Or in case it is not readable, we prefer you to visit their website to avoid complications. 

First thing first, gather all the necessary supplies and start planning your laundry schedule, remember to prepare to store a lot of wet cloth diapers. Use a dirty diaper or diaper pail to put them in a washer. 

STEP 1: Remove Solids

If your baby is breastfeeding, there is no need to remove the solid waste from the cloth diaper. As it is mainly water soluble and does not contain solid wastes. Washing newborn cloth diapers is super easy.

Cleaning cloth diapers at this stage requires tossing the solids from the diaper directly into the toilet bowl. Use a spray bottle full of water or a diaper sprayer to rinse away as many residues as you can. Then rinse the diaper with warm water to help stains come out easily. 

STEP 2: Store Dirty Diapers Correctly

It is better to collect a small amount of load than washing dirty diapers separately. It will not only waste your time, water, or energy but also affect the efficiency of your washing machine. The important part of dirty cloth diapers is to store them correctly. 

After you rinse the dirty diaper, store them in a diaper pail or wet bag that would be a first step towards storage. It is recommended to keep the pail or bag slightly open for the airflow, which will inhibit the growth of bacteria and mildew. 

Another way of storing cloth diapers is to soak them in a bucket of water. In this way, the messes will wash away and it becomes easier to wash them thoroughly. 

The Washing Process

The washing process of cloth diapers is quite easy and you can follow these simple steps to make it easier. When you are about to wash, fill the washing machine 70% with a load of unwashed diapers. This enables the diapers to move around the washer freely, if there are too many diapers in one load then it won’t make it move freely hence, it won’t get cleaned properly. 

STEP 3: Pre-Washing Tips

Start by separating the diaper covers from the inserts, and wash your diapers in cold water. The pre-wash cycle enables the elimination of any poop stains or residues on cloth diapers. If you wash in hot water during this pre-wash cycle then it’s more likely to set the stains. 

STEP 4: Washing Cloth Diapers

For washing dirty diapers, insert the reusable wipes and wet bags in warm water with a full load of cloth diapers. Using diaper-friendly detergent make sure detergent doesn’t contain any element of fabric softener. There is no need to run an extra washing cycle as you have already done the pre-wash process. 

Don’t wash in hard water or else it will introduce the minerals that will build up the coating later on. Avoid using fabric softeners and liquids or powders that contain fabric softeners, instead use a detergent that suits the cloth diapers most. 

STEP 5: Rinsing and Checking for Residues<

Rinsing and checking for residues is also an important part of cloth diapers. Always use cold water when you rinse it last time, as you are already done with the washing process. This will wash away the remaining residues and leftovers of detergent if any. 

It’s your choice to rinse the cloth diapers once or twice to make sure the detergent is out completely. That's how to wash cloth diapers step-by-step.

STEP 6: Drying Cloth Diapers (Air Dry vs. Machine Dry)

Now comes the drying step: the best way to dry your cloth diapers is to air dry them. Hanging your cloth diapers outside on a clothesline extends the life of the cloth diapers. And also exposed to the sun - a natural bacteria inhibitor, which passes away the air through it and gives a fresh scent. Moreover, UV exposure will help to remove light stains in any weather or season. 

However, if you can’t dry cloth diapers outside, you can still hang them inside on a clothesline. But drying them in a washing machine is not suitable for cloth diapers, high temperatures can damage the diaper’s waterproof layer which may cause leaks. 

Note: Read the care instructions before passing them through any stage of the washing process. 

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Special Washing Instructions

The special washing instructions require extra washing care of your baby’s cloth diapers. We recommend washing in warm water, with the maximum temperature, and line-drying or tumble-drying on low. Avoid fabric softener and use diaper-friendly detergent. Below mentioned are some washing instructions regarding how to wash cloth diapers:

First-Time Washing

Pondering about how to wash cloth diapers for the first time? Well, it needs special washing instructions, as it helps to prepare the absorbent fabrics and maximize the tendency of being absorbed. Put them in your washing machine along with other regular clothes, wash them in hot water (104°F/40°C) using diaper-friendly detergent, and let them dry.  

Handling Diapers with Poop (Breastfed Babies vs. Formula-fed Babies)

Handling diapers with poop is different when the child is breastfed as compared to the formula-fed babies. As breastfed babies tend to have less solid waste, which means more water-soluble poop. And you don’t need to rinse as much before washing dirty diapers. Toss the soiled diapers into the pail or mesh bag and put them in a washing machine. 

While formula-fed babies tend to have more solid feces which makes them harder to wash anyway. But you can use the same technique for it but before putting them in a washing machine, pre-soak or rinse them thoroughly as recommended.

Safe Detergents and Fabric Softeners

Choosing the right detergent for your newborn is a crucial decision, as the skin of your baby is prone to allergies and complications. You can choose whatever detergent suits you the most just make sure it is free from fabric softener. Use a full dose recommended by the manufacturer to ensure plenty of agitation during the wash cycle. 

Many cloth diaper parents prefer to use powder detergents but liquid detergents are also well-suited for cloth diapers as they are hypoallergenic and don’t leave residues on them. Avoid using fabric softeners that may coat the diaper’s materials and decrease the tendency of absorbency.

Hand-Washing Tips

In case you are traveling or you don’t have a machine at your home, the next thing you would be wondering is how to wash cloth diapers by hand. Fill up your tub with water and plunge the diapers in the soapy water for a while. 

Rinse them in cold water, refill them with cold water, and wash them with diaper-friendly detergent. Hang dry diapers or better yet, sun them. The sun will act to kill bacteria and get out the stains. If you have access to a dryer, you can always throw your diapers in there as well.

Troubleshooting Common Issues

When it comes to diapering, cloth diapers are considered to be the easiest option to use. But accidents occur, right? It may make you question your abilities regarding how to wash cloth diapers and the counter-steps against this troubleshooting. These are manageable with a little care and guidance! Let's inspect:

Dealing with Unwashed Diapers

A lot of you might be questioning how to wash cloth diapers, especially when dealing with unwashed diapers, right? Well, the answer is simple. Follow these steps to learn to wash cloth diapers:

  • Remove the dirty diaper without contaminating the fabric with waste etc. 

  • Use fresh wipes to clean the baby’s skin, and make sure they are non-alcohol wipes. 

  • If you want to discard the cloth diapers, place it on a diaper pail.

  • If you want to wash the cloth diapers, pre-soak them.

  • After soaking, wash them in hot water and rinse them twice.

  • Clean the private areas of your baby thoroughly and slide a fresh piece of cloth diaper.

Removing Stubborn Stains

One of the main reasons why a baby’s diaper gets stained is due to natural wear and tear. However, if you want to remove stubborn stains there are some natural hacks you can try for cleaning cloth diapers:

  • Hang it in sunlight: prefer hanging cloth diapers in sunlight for a while as sunning them can naturally bleach stains as well as eliminate odors.

  • Strip washing: another effective way to get rid of stubborn stains is strip washing. It helps to take off the bacterial build-up or residues of laundry detergent. Simple rinse them, use a moderate temperature cycle for load i.e.60°, and rinse the cycle again. 

Sanitizing Diapers and Washing Machines

Irrespective of how frequently and efficiently you wash the cloth diapers, it will remain septic. So to brief it, sanitizing cloth diapers is not effective. All you need to do is read the washing instructions: that means using an ECO-Friendly laundry detergent that does not have fabric softener. 

For removing stains and getting it extra clean, use non-chlorine bleach (only if the care label allows you to use it). You can get rid of stubborn stains or even odors by doing so, to clean cloth diapers.

Other than that, sanitizing your washing machine is also a good idea! Even if you do not sanitize cloth diapers. Sanitizing the washing machine helps to prevent any build-up of detergent residues or hard water minerals. 

To sanitize, pour the washing machine cleaner into the machine and run a hot cycle. Plus you can even use vinegar or baking soda for better results, 2 cups of vinegar, and run the empty cycle on hot temperature.  

Quick & Frequently Asked Questions About How to Wash Cloth Diapers?

What is the best way to wash cloth diapers?

The best way to wash cloth diapers is to run them through a hot wash cycle with Dreft detergent and an extra rinse cycle. For that, you have to follow 3 simple steps:

  1. Prepare a cloth diaper for washing.

  2. The right time to wash a load of cloth diapers.

  3. Air or line dry the cloth diapers.

Can you wash cloth diapers with regular detergent?

Opting for a regular detergent for cloth diapers is one of the crucial things to set yourself up for success. Mostly recommend using ECO-Friendly detergents, and not using fabric softeners or any ingredients that may consist of harsh chemicals. If your detergent possesses such characteristics, then you are good to go!

Name of some of the regular detergents for cloth diapers:

  • Tide original liquid/powder.

  • Arm and Hammer Plus Oxi.

  • Gain Liquid.

  • Dreft.

  • Persil.

Do cloth diapers need to be washed separately?

It is not recommended to wash dirty diapers along with your laundry. In some cases prefer to use diaper covers in the washing machine but don't put on other clothes. This means you will need to run additional loads to wash cloth diapers separately. Ensure that you do not overload the washing machine when laundering diapers.


Summing it all up, how to wash cloth diapers would be easier for you just following these techniques and steps would help you maintain hygiene and prolong the lifespan of the cloth diapers. Moreover, it also helps to contribute to the sustainability of the environment by reducing waste. 

Therefore, understanding the importance of correct washing techniques is crucial for ensuring the health and comfort of both babies and caregivers, as well as the longevity of cloth diaper investments.