How to Wash Cloth Diapers

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As a brand new mom washing cloth diapers terrified me. I was afraid I would somehow get the process terribly wrong and end up giving my child a horrible rash or some sort of awful disease. One of those "paranoid new-mom" moments I guess.

Washing cloth diapers does not have to be complicated. After doing myriad loads of them I feel like I finally have my method down. 

This is what works for my family. What works for you might be slightly different. I would encourage you to not stress out over washing diapers. Diapers tend to let you know if they are not truly clean. (They will emit a nice odor if they are not....) And, your baby's bum will also let you know right away if you are doing something less than optimal. If you pay attention to both those signals, and change your method accordingly, you will be fine. Remember that baby's skin is very sensitive and you should act quickly if a rash does develop and change something about your washing process if necessary. 

Now, onto how to wash diapers...

There are two things to think about before you wash your diapers: rinsing and storing.


I never rinse wet diapers, and only past a certain age do I begin to rinse poopy ones. How you deal with poo on the diapers depends on two factors that are inter-related 1) the age of your baby and the kind of poo 2) the foods your baby eats and therefore the "texture" of the poo. Before you place your soiled diapers into your storage container you need to decide if they should be rinsed or not. 

For the first several months with Athena I never rinsed poopy diapers. (We also practiced EC so most of the poo went in a potty anyways...). As she got older and her poo changed, typically I can just "dump" it into the toilet without needing to heavily rinse or scrape to get the residue off. 

I know people swear by these diaper sprayers (and this looks awesome, too!), but as of yet I have never needed them. If you are not a super OCD person there is always the old "dunk-in-the toilet" method as well...

However you do it, just know that if the baby is old enough to eat solids... most likely you will have to take some measure to remove the waste product before you wash. After all, you want your washing machine to be used as a washing machine, not as an expensive flushing toilet . 


It's important to think about how your soiled diapers are stored. For one thing, they can start to smell quite lovely depending on where they are kept. For another, you don't want the diapers to sit and "ferment" (build up ammonia) while they are waiting so patiently to be washed... 

I have enough cloth diapers for Athena that I really only need to do a load of diapers once (maybe twice) a week. So, once a diaper is dirty I place it in a food-grade plastic bucket (that I will never, ever, ever use for anything else down the road except, perhaps to hold compost...). I keep the lid on the buckets slightly cracked if I am noticing that the smell is incredibly intense when I open it. This way the ammonia does not continue to build up. When I empty these buckets for washing I rinse them and allow them to air dry outside. 

As of yet (a year and a half into using cloth diapers) I have never had an issue with ammonia build up. Just be careful to not let your diaper sit for too long. Different kids eat different foods, have different bodies, etc. So the amount of ammonia will differ from child to child. (If you do have an issue with ammonia build up you can read this.)


Now, onto the washing. When I have a full load (remember I only do diapers about once a week now. My LO is 17 months.) I dump the diapers into the washing machine. (Can't you just taste the lovely aroma...? Mmmm. The scent of parenthood.)

When I first started washing diapers I would rinse them in cold water with a bit of vinegar, wash them in hot and then call it good. I realized after a while however, that Little Owl's skin was reacting to the laundry soap residue left on the diapers after washing, so I added another rinse after the wash cycle. Then, as she got older I added another rinse cycle before the wash cycle because her urine changed from sweet little baby pee that basically smells like water... to toddler "what-the-heck-did-you-eat-today"-hold-my-nose smell. 

This was my process for washing baby diapers:
  • Cold Rinse with 1/2 cup vinegar
  • Wash on Hot
  • Rinse on Hot 

My process for washing toddler diapers is: 

  • Cold Rinse
  • Hot Rinse with 1/2-1 cup vinegar (based on smell)
  • Wash on Hot
  • Rinse on Hot (to remove soap residue) 

Thus far, with these methods of washing at the different stages of babyhood I have never had an issue with my diapers smelling like ammonia, or giving my little girl a rash. (Note: I also use high-quality organic coconut oil at any sign of irritation on her sensitive skin as well as these simple, natural alternatives to baby care products.) 

I have a standard (as opposed to an HE) washing machine. For soap I either use a little more than the instructed amount of a gentle, organic unscented laundry detergent or 3/4-1 cup of my homemade laundry soap (which saves me a great deal of money).

I use this brand of diapers and these covers. I have used other brands in the past but these are definitely the winners as far as I'm concerned. 

And that's it. That's how I wash cloth diapers.  

Of course, actually folding the diapers after they are clean is entirely optional...


What's your method for washing cloth diapers? And what kind of cloth diapers do you use?


  1. I am not married and do not have any babies yet, but someday I hope to have a housefull and I'd like to do things as "crunchy" as possible! So I've saved this post on my computer! Thanks bunches!!!

  2. Reading through some of your posts for the first time tonight... love the info you have to share on opting out of shampoo, homemade detergent, etc. A side note on your diaper washing methods- our water is hard, and vinegar does not help our ammonia/odor problems, but is likely to make them worse. Also, vinegar killed the elastic on our first set of cloth diapers. :-( We have a front loader, so I don't want to dry out the rubber seal with repeated exposure to vinegar. I've found that Rockin' Green detergent (Funk Rock for ammonia w/ my first rinse) and Hard Rock detergent for our hard water seems to do the best. When they start to smell, a good extra-sanitary (i.e. extra HOT) rinse cycle usually takes care of the problem. I've got older babies, 1 and 2, both in cloth (we wash every 2-3 days as a result).

  3. I'm enjoying the info you're sharing through your blog about a natural life-style. Keep it up as long as your time allows (we have five- my time does not allow...).

    Cloth diapers- we have hard water, and vinegar can exacerbate any issues we have with stink/ammonia. I ruined our first set of cloth diapers w/ vinegar- it killed the elastic. I am wary of ruining the rubber seal in my front-loader as well with vinegar. Right now, what's working for our stink/ammonia issues is Rockin' Green detergent. I pre-rinse with Funk Rock, wash with Hard Rock, and then rinse again. An extra-sanitary (i.e. extra HOT) cycle has thus far taken care of any persistent issues beyond what the detergent handles. I'm curious to try your homemade detergent though. The only think I've noticed w/ castile soap is that it foams A LOT, so a little would probably go a long way in a front loading machine. Our diapered babies are ages 1 and 2- following in the footsteps of their older siblings who led the way into cloth territory!

  4. Thanks for all the tips. My first two children were disposable diapered. I started cloth diapering for my third little baby mike he is one month old now. I am happy with them.Pampers diapers are not healthier because they are not organic. Disposable diapers are plastic and have in its composition chemical that may harm your baby's health. Cloth diapers are environmentally friendly since it is not made of plastic.
    Baby cloth diapers

  5. My first two children were disposable diapered. I started cloth diapering and i am happy with that. Pampers diapers are not healthier because they are not organic. Disposable diapers are plastic and have in its composition chemical that may harm your baby's health. Cloth diapers are environmentally friendly since it is not made of plastic.
    Baby cloth diapers

  6. Found a new help for ammonia... even better than Rockin' Green's Funk Rock product. Our current wash routine is now: cold pre-rinse (still pre-rinsing w/ a tbsp. of Funk Rock, just because I still have some...), hot wash w/ Rockin' Green; warm wash with Tbsp or so of biokleen Bac-Out Stain and Odor Remover. No funky odor from diapers when removed from dryer, and ammonia in over-night pre-folds seems to be related to diet and hydration from the previous day (I have diapers from 1-yr old and 2-yr old to compare each AM).


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