How to Wash Baby Clothes: The Safest Approach

By: Julia Layton  | 
A baby smiling on the floor surrounded by clothes and towels.
It's easy for a baby to go through a few changes of clothes (not to mention diapers). But is it safe to toss everything in the wash?

If you're a new or soon-to-be parent, you've hopefully been exposed to many safety concerns regarding babies, from "back is best" to avoiding toys that can fit in their teeny-tiny throats. But what about laundry? Your mesh laundry bag may seem like the most dangerous thing about this aspect of raising a child, but it's important to reconsider how to wash baby clothes.

If ever there were a seemingly harmless process, it's washing clothes. Water, laundry detergent, some effective drying method -- what can go wrong? Most of the time, nothing. Washing baby clothes is not a complicated process, but it may require a different approach from washing your own clothes.


Babies, and especially newborns, have some specific needs that can affect the way you do their laundry. In this article, we'll explain how to wash baby clothes to protect your baby's delicate skin and promote their good health.

Ground Rules for Cleaning Baby Clothes

Is the washing machine safe for baby stuff? Ask a seasoned mom or dad who knows how to wash newborn clothes, and you'll likely get a very clear response in the affirmative. You'll find very few parents who don't shudder at the idea of hand-washing, say, cloth diapers. You don't need to hand wash baby clothes.

Happily, yes, it's perfectly safe to throw your baby's clothing, linens, cloth diapers, and blankets into the wash cycle. The washing machine itself will not do any harm (as long as the clothing isn't, say, a hand-sewn, silk Christening gown). However, what you put in the machine along with that clothing can matter quite a bit, especially when it comes to laundry detergent.


It should come as no surprise to hear that the detergents that remove blood from a white shirt might contain some harsh chemicals. Those chemicals might be perfectly fine for you, but they can be pretty tough on your brand new baby's skin, which is very sensitive to additives like dyes and scents and strong cleansers that can cause irritation.

Choosing the Right Baby Laundry Detergent

To ensure your baby's comfort and safety, look for a gentle detergent formulated with infants in mind. From hypoallergenic detergent to fragrance free detergent options, you're trying to limit the amount of detergent residue that remains on your baby's clothes. Even when confronted with excess mess, too much detergent isn't the answer here.

Seek out a laundry detergent that advertises how mild it is, or commits to being free of dyes and perfumes. Some experts also recommend choosing liquid over powder, since it may dissolve and rinse out more easily. As a side-note, you should skip the fabric softener and dryer sheets entirely, since they, too, can contain harsh chemicals.


Wash Baby Clothes Separately

The other major baby-clothes concern is the unique type of deposits you'll find on their garments — yes, poop, and not just on the diapers — which should always be washed separately. In the event of an unfortunate blow-out, even pants and dresses can end up stinky. And then, of course, there's the spit-up.

Clothing (and diapers) soiled with bodily fluids need extra care due to the potential for illness-causing bacteria and germs, which can not only resist being washed away, but can also end up deposited on other clothing items. So in addition to washing vomit- and poop-soiled items separately, you also want to be sure to wash everything in hotter temperatures (above 140 degrees Fahrenheit/60 degrees Celsius).


Add a mild disinfectant as well, since your mild detergent probably doesn't contain bleach. If you typically use lower wash temperatures for efficiency and color-saving, run an empty wash on hot and add bleach once a week or so. This should kill any germs or bacteria (or even dust mites) that may have collected in the machine.

Baby Clothes Washing Tips

Ready to toss those onesies in the machine with hot water and mild detergent? Great — now consider a few of these tips:

Don't Wash Baby Clothes With All Your Clothes

Baby's unique stains should be kept away from other items, and you probably want to use a more effective (and, by extension, harsher) cleanser on your own dirty stuff, since your skin is a lot tougher. So make sure you separate baby clothes from your load.


Measure the Detergent

Adding too little detergent will make clothes less clean, and adding too much won't get clothes any cleaner. The latter will, however, increase the likelihood that some of the detergent won't completely rinse out.

Consider a Double Rinse

For newborn clothes especially, you might want to turn on an extra rinse cycle to be sure all of the detergent is removed from the clothes. Alternately, you can pre wash baby clothes for the same effect.

Dry Baby Clothes Immediately

Wet clothing left for hours (or days!) in the washing machine can grow mildew or mold, which can cause health problems. Tumble drying is a great option here.


Don't Stress About Baby Clothing

With all the things new parents need to worry about — and the things they don't need to worry about but do anyway — washing baby clothes might threaten to push you over the edge. It needn't.

It's easy enough to locate the bottle of baby laundry detergent in the cleaner aisle. (Hint: it's the one with the adorable baby on the label.) Save your sanity for the 2 a.m., 4 a.m., and 6 a.m. feedings.


For more information on laundry and baby safety, check the links on the next page.

Lots More Information

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More Great Links

  • Duffy, Fiona. "How washing machines can put your family's health at risk." DailyMail Online. Oct. 17, 2011. (April 3, 2012)
  • How to Wash Baby Clothes. HowToCleanStuff. (April 3, 2012)
  • Q&A: Wash baby's clothes before delivery? The Bump. (April 3, 2012)