Let’s Talk about Cloth, Baby: The Wash Routine

May 24th, 2012 | Posted by Bryn in SF

Before I was a mother, few things scared me more than having to change a #2 diaper. My gross-out threshold has gone way up since having children, even more so since I started cloth diapering. More on that later.

Probably the most important thing about using cloth diapers is being able to get them clean. REALLY clean. If you don’t, your baby can end up with rashes or infections or just general smelliness.

When I first started with cloth, I thought that any old “free & clear” detergent would be fine — like Dreft, because that’s what we use for newborn babies’ clothes, right? WRONG!

I washed my first set of pocket diapers in Greenworks free & clear detergent from Wal-Mart, and my daughter proceeded to get horrendous rashes after only a few hours. So I researched. And researched. And researched. (This is something I’m good at… or I just waste a lot of time reading the same stuff over and over. Whatever.)

I came across Rockin’ Green detergent at the suggestion of a friend (Thanks Amber!). First I had to strip all the old detergent buildup out of the diapers by washing them on hot several times with some dawn dish soap. After “rockin’ a soak” or two, diaper rash was no longer an issue for my little gal. Phew!

That was my experience, but what are the “rules” for washing cloth diapers? There are more than you think.

Choosing the Right Detergent

As you can tell from my story above, it is extremely important to choose the right detergent for your cloth diapers. You can avoid diaper rashes and help your diapers last as long as possible.

So far, I’ve only tried two different cloth diaper detergents (besides the horrible Wal-Mart one):

  1. Rockin’ Green – This is a dry detergent (most liquid detergents aren’t good for cloth diapers) that is made from only biodegradable ingredients and are scented naturally. They have several different types to choose from depending on where you live and what type of water you have–Hard Rock for hard water, Soft Rock for soft water, and Classic Rock for in-between water. They also have a product called Funk Rock that is supposed to battle ammonia smells (which happen sometimes after you’ve used your diapers for awhile – it’s a result storing urine soaked diapers in too tight of a container for too long… or at least that’s what happened to me!).
  2. Soap Nuts– Yes, that’s right – soap nuts. There are a few different brands, but they are all the same thing. These “nuts” are from the Chinese soapberry tree and are completely natural and biodegradable. They have worked extremely well on my stinky ammonia diapers and get all of the stink and stains out every time. “But Bryn, really? You put nuts in your washing machine?” Yes! They look kind of like giant raisins except with a bit harder texture and you put them in the included canvas bag and throw it in with your wash cycle. It doesn’t have any suds, but it works!

Other cloth diaper detergents that friend have recommended include:

  • Bac-out
  • Country Save
  • Charlie’s Soap
  • Powdered Tide

The other good news is that you can use your cloth diaper detergent on regular clothes as well. They are especially great for getting super soft newborn clothes super clean with a natural detergent that won’t irritate that teeny baby velvety skin.

The Wash Routine

Now that you have your cloth diapers and your detergent, the first step is prepping (pre-washing)–which may consist of one hot wash or boiling your cotton diapers. Click here for more info on prepping.

I have a top load washing machine, which is much easier to get diapers clean than a front loader. If you already have a front loader, you can still use and wash cloth diapers in your own machine, but you may have to follow a slightly different routine. If you are thinking of purchasing a new washing machine and want to cloth diaper, a top loader is the way to go. My high efficiency top loader is still able to soak diapers when needed and use the Super size even with only a few items, but a low H2O washer may have trouble with this. But don’t take my word for it, do your research and figure out what’s best for you!

Here is my regular wash routine:

  1. Rinse out #2 diapers in the toilet as needed before putting in the wet bag (You DO NOT need to rinse out #2 diapers of babies who are exclusively breastfed, it will all come out in the washing machine.)
  2. Put all diapers, covers, inserts, and the wet bag in the washer.
  3. Full wash cycle on COLD with no detergent on largest load size possible so that there is a LOT of water (this gets out any remaining particles from soiled diapers)
  4. Add detergent and do another full wash cycle on HOT with a cold rinse and an extra cold rinse.
  5. Now that it’s summer time, I do ANOTHER quick rinse with no detergent (I take out the Soap Nuts bag) just to make sure they are good and clean. This really seems to help with any stinkiness going on.
  6. Dry microfiber inserts and cotton flats in the dryer on medium for an hour.
  7. Hang dry covers, pocket diapers, and wet bag. Drying PUL (the waterproof material) in the dryer on a regular basis will wear them out quickly.

From time to time (like once every two months), I “strip” my diapers, meaning scrubbing clean diapers with a drop or two of dawn dish soap and washing and rinsing on the hottest setting possible over and over and over until there are no more bubbles.

An alternative to stripping is doing an overnight soak with Rockin’ Green. See the instructions here.

See? It’s not so bad! You can do it!


Stay tuned for more posts on cloth diapers. There is so much to know, and any cloth diapering mom loves talking about it! If you have any questions that you’d like to see answered in future posts, please contact me.

For more information on which diaper is right for you, see Let’s Talk about Cloth, Baby: Getting Started
For information on prepping your new cloth diapers, see Let’s Talk about Cloth, Baby: Prepping

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