Can you put baby clothes in the washing machine?

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?
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?
©iStockphoto.com/JackF

If you're a new or soon-to-be parent, you've (hopefully) been exposed to the many safety concerns regarding babies, and you know what to do: Back is best, bumpers are questionable, no blankets for the first year, no toys that can fit in a teeny-tiny throat.

But laundry? If ever there were a seemingly harmless process, it's washing clothes. Water, cleanser, some effective drying method -- what can go wrong?

Most of the time, nothing. Washing baby clothes is not a complicated process. It may not, however, be the exact same process you use to wash your clothes. Babies, and especially newborns, have some specific needs that can affect the way you do their laundry.

First, let's be clear: This is not something to lose sleep over. All it takes to ensure a baby-friendly wash is a bit of knowledge, an eye to labels and perhaps a few extra minutes.

To begin with, the basic question of technique: Is it OK to just throw those onesies in the machine?

Baby-specific Laundry Concerns

Is the washing machine safe for baby stuff? Ask a seasoned mom or dad this question, 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.

Happily, yes, it's perfectly safe to throw your baby's clothing, linens, cloth diapers and blankets in your trusty washing machine. The 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 detergents.

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 your skin, but they can be pretty tough on your brand new baby's, which is very sensitive to additives like dyes and scents and strong cleansers that can cause irritation.

To make sure your detergent is safe for baby, look for one that's very mild. This could mean one made specifically for infants (they usually say it right on the front of the container) or a regular detergent that is free of dyes and perfumes and states it is hypoallergenic. Some experts also recommend choosing liquid over powder, since it may dissolve and rinse out more easily.

You should probably skip the fabric softener and dryer sheets entirely, since they, too, can contain harsh chemicals.

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 since your mild detergent probably doesn't contain bleach, and, ironically, wash your washing machine. Especially 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.

Pretty simple, overall. And for even greater safety and efficacy, you can follow a few additional tips ...

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 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.

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.

Dry everything immediately. Wet clothing left for hours (or days!) in the washing machine can grow mildew or mold, which can cause health problems.

With all the things new parents need to worry about -- and the things they don't need to worry about but do anyway -- this laundry thing might threaten to push you over the edge. It needn't. It's easy enough to locate the bottle of detergent with the adorable baby on the label. Save your sanity for the 2 a.m. (and 4 a.m. and 6 a.m.) feedings.

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

Related Articles

More Great Links

Sources

  • Duffy, Fiona. "How washing machines can put your family's health at risk." DailyMail Online. Oct. 17, 2011. (April 3, 2012) http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-2050239/How-washing-machines-familys-health-risk-Low-temperatures-mixed-loads-spreading-dangerous-bugs.html
  • How to Eliminate Stains. Martha Stewart. (April 3, 2012) http://www.marthastewart.com/275491/how-to-wash-and-remove-stains/@center/277000/homekeeping-solutions
  • How to Wash Baby Clothes. HowToCleanStuff. (April 3, 2012) http://www.howtocleanstuff.net/how-to-wash-baby-clothes/
  • How to Wash Baby Clothes in the Washing Machine. Baby Detergents. (April 3, 2012) http://www.babydetergents.com/how-to-wash-baby-clothes-in-the-washing-machine/
  • Keeping White Clothes White. Baby Detergents. Nov. 19, 2010. (April 3, 2012) http://www.babydetergents.com/keeping-white-clothes-white/
  • Q&A: Wash baby's clothes before delivery? The Bump. (April 3, 2012) http://pregnant.thebump.com/pregnancy/third-trimester/qa/wash-babys-clothes-before-delivery.aspx