Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Cloth Diapering: Wash Routine

As a follow-up to my recent post about what I wish I had known before beginning to cloth diaper my son, I wanted to write a bit about my wash routine. I've had lots of questions about this from friends and readers, so I wanted to share a bit about what I do here.

There are lots of different ways to wash diapers. Hobo Mama wrote a very thorough post a while back about various cloth diaper washing options that you should definitely check out (especially if you don't have your own washer and dryer). She outlines lots of different washing options with tips for each special situation, including using communal laundry facilities and laundromats, using non-standard washing machines, and washing diapers by hand.

We have a stacked washer/dryer unit in our rental, so I haven't had to navigate washing diapers in a laundromat or shared laundry room. However, the machine we have is a high-efficiency (HE) machine, which saves water, but makes diaper laundry a little tricky. We use a dry pail method. In terms of pre-washing steps, I should mention that we're currently using flushable liners for poops, so that cuts down fairly significantly on the solid waste that gets on the diapers.We also spray down any poop that has gotten on the diapers with Bac Out before the dirty diaper goes in the diaper pail (so there's already a healthy dose of enzymatic cleaner on the dirtiest diapers before they even get into the washer).

This is the washing routine that works for us right now:
  • On wash day (about every three days) I begin by putting all my diapers and my washable pail liner into the washer.
  • Next, I soak three old hand towels (that we've designated just for this purpose—you could get a couple at a thrift store or use a couple of ratty old t-shirts instead) in cold water and throw those in on top of the diapers. I do this step to "fake-out" the weighing mechanism in the high-efficiency washer so it will add more water to the wash load. If you're using a standard washer/dryer, you can skip this step.
  • I run a quick cold/cold wash with no spin and no detergent, so the diapers are really wet and heavy for the main wash cycle.
  • Finally, I run a hot/cold wash with an extra cold rinse. I use 1/2 Tablespoon or less of Charlie's Soap powder, and a bit of white vinegar in the fabric softener dispenser with a couple drops of lavender oil and a couple drops of tea tree oil. I also add a shake or two of baking soda or borax as a laundry booster in approximately every other load. (I add this component directly on top of the diapers inside the washer, but it works equally well to add it with the detergent.)
  • When all of the washing steps are completed, I throw all of my pocket diapers and inserts in the dryer for a fairly hot dry cycle.* (The dryer has an automatic shut-off when it deems everything to be dry.) I don't dry PUL covers (that would go over prefolds or fitteds) in the dryer; I hang those to dry. Anything that needs to be sunned goes on the drying rack also.
  • I put several wool dryer balls in there with the diapers, wipes, and towels to help speed up the drying process and naturally soften everything and remove static.

When I get the diapers out of the dryer, I go ahead and pre-stuff all of the pocket diapers so that I can just grab them out of the drawer ready-to-go when it's time for a diaper change. I've stopped using the snaps on any inserts that have them (like the Bumgenius one size insert), and instead I just fold the insert down to where I would normally snap it and stuff it in that way. It saves a couple steps: snapping before stuffing, and un-snapping before putting the dirty diaper in the pail. I haven't noticed that omitting the snaps has any effect on the inserts at all (they perform just like other snap-less inserts like the Fuzzibunz or Knickernappies that I have).

We use cloth wipes when changing wet diapers (we still use flushable or disposable wipes for poops). I thought using cloth wipes would be a huge pain, but it's really not difficult at all. I fold them together after they get out of the washer so that I can put them in a pop-up wipes container (a reused one that I got from a friend which used to have disposable wipes in it). I fold the wipes and put them in the container like this photograph tutorial from The Feminist Breeder, or this video from Kim of Dirty Diaper Laundry:

After folding my wipes and putting them in the container, I make some wipes solution, which I then pour over the stack of wipes before threading the top one through the pop-up top. I put about 15 wipes in the box at a time (they are double-layered cotton flannel wipes, about 7" square, for reference about absorbency) to one batch of wipes solution. You can buy wipes solution, but I just make my own because it's really easy. I use a couple drops of lavender oil and a couple drops of tea tree oil per two cups of hot water. I put the oils in the bottom of the measuring cup before filling with water, so the oil will be dispersed throughout the water as evenly as possible without me having to stir it. The wipes stay fresh for at least a week (probably longer than it will take you to go through all of them), and they smell so good with the oils in there! Some people use a little bit of mild baby soap (like Dr. Bronner's or those little soap chunks) in their wipes solution, but I've never done that. I've also never experimented with grapefruit seed extract, though I hear that stuff is incredible.

I'm afraid I made this all sound a lot more complicated than it is. Once you establish a wash routine that works for you, it becomes just another easy task you don't have to think about at all to complete.

What secrets have you discovered about washing cloth diapers? Do you have any tips or tricks to share? I'd love to hear them! 

*Edited 6/2/11 to add: In an effort to further reduce our environmental impact (and prolong the life of our diapers), I've stopped putting the diapers in the dryer. Instead, I've been hanging almost everything in the diaper laundry to dry outside on our line. If it's too rainy, I hang it all up inside on our drying rack (but this rarely happens, even in the drizzly Pacific Northwest). I love seeing my diapers outside blowing in the breeze!


  1. I use cloth wipes (baby face cloths from the dollar store) and just wet them with water. Easiest system ever. They live in a little canister by my bed with a tiny spray bottle with water. I thought I'd make a solution, but saw on twwly that she doesn't bother, and I thought, yeah, by the time I have more kids I won't want the fuss. And I don't *think* it's made a difference for us. Do you add oils because you find Daniel's skin gets irritated otherwise?

  2. @Amy: I put the oils in for several reasons, but not because Daniel's skin gets irritated if I don't. I do it mostly because, 1. the tea tree oil seems to keep the wipes from getting musty, and 2. it smells good! I like having my wipes ready to go (without having to spray them) because it's easier for me and my husband. I know lots of people like the spray bottle/peri bottle method, though. =)

  3. Our system sounds remarkably similar to yours, except for the added wet towel to fake-out the HE washing machine. I've never noticed a big problem without the towel, but I can't get rid of the nagging, "we need more WATER in this washer" feeling I have.

    Love new ideas like this!

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