How to Clean Cloth Diapers

You can use the sink to clean a dirty diaper if you want, but we suggest taking them off the baby first.
You can use the sink to clean a dirty diaper if you want, but we suggest taking them off the baby first.
Mark Gibson/Photolibrary/Getty Images

Car seats, baby strollers, nursery furniture, swaddle blankets and bath products are all things you must buy as you prepare for your baby's arrival. One additional thing you need to consider, though, is whether you're going to use cloth or disposable diapers on your babe. Of course, you want the best care for your little one, but you also probably want to save a bundle and make things easier on yourself and the environment. But if you're getting hung up on the idea of cleaning cloth diapers, don't decide on disposables just yet. Cloth diapers are easier to clean than you might think.

There are two main ways to clean cloth diapers: the wet-pail and the dry-pail methods. With the wet-pail method, all soiled diapers are placed in a pail of water to soak before washing. The pail does not need a liner and should only be filled a quarter of the way with water. You can add a small amount of baking soda or essential oils to combat odors. However, even with a small amount of water, the wet-pail method can be a drowning hazard for small children, so be sure to purchase one with a sealable lid that closes tight. The FuzziBunz Hanging Diaper Pail Wet Bag, for example, has a bottom that unzips to dump soiled diapers right into the washing machine.

With the dry-pail method, all soiled diapers are placed in a pail without water. The dry-pail is the simplest and most common way to store cloth diapers. You can use a plain old trashcan and a pail liner, such as the Planet Wise Diaper Pail Liner, to make clean up easy. If you have a smaller space, check out a doorknob diaper pail, which can hang on the door of your bathroom or nursery. You may also want to look into getting a diaper sprayer, which hooks directly to your toilet so you can spray the solid waste off the diaper and into the commode.

Want to know the nitty gritty details on how to wash cloth diapers and what baking soda has to do with it? Continue to the next page to find out!

Washing Routine for Cloth Diapers

When you first purchase cloth diapers, you'll want to wash them a few times in hot water -- this helps remove some of the chemicals and increases the absorbency of the material. If you have polyester diapers or microfiber inserts, you only need to wash those once. Cotton and hemp diapers need to be washed about five or six times.

Whether you use the wet- or dry-pail method, store your diapers accordingly between washes. Don't forget to use the diaper sprayer as needed before storing. If you don't have a diaper sprayer, you can just shake the solid waste into the toilet. Also be sure to stick the Velcro tabs to the sides of the diapers. This will be helpful when it's washing day, as it will prevent them from sticking together during the cycle.

When it's time to do the laundry, just dump the dirty diapers into the washing machine. By using a pail liner, you don't even have to touch them -- you can just push it all into the machine from the bottom of the bag. It's best to wash a load of diapers every two to three days to prevent odors.

Detergent can cause a buildup of residue and decrease the absorbency of the diapers, so use about a quarter to half of the amount you would use for a regular load of laundry. Also be sure to choose a brand that's free of dyes and other additives like bleach that could cause rashes in babies with sensitive skin. If you prefer, soak the diapers for 20 minutes or send them through a cold prewash to ensure everything is loosened up. If you need a little extra washing power, add some baking soda or vinegar to the prewash to eliminate odors. Wash diapers in hot water with a cold rinse, then send them through an extra rinse cycle to ensure all of the detergent is gone. If you still see suds in your machine, run the diapers through another rinse cycle. Depending on your preference, you can line dry them or put them in the dryer for 60 minutes or so.

Remember that all cloth diapers are different and that you should pay attention to the care label before cleaning. Depending on the fabric of the diapers, you may have to use a different method. With a little research, however, you'll find the best fit for you and your family!

Related Articles

  • Solve the Diaper Dilemma: Safer Disposables
  • Solve the Diaper Dilemma: The Cloth Option
  • DIY Cloth Diapers
  • Make Your Own Cloth Diapers and Baby Wipes

More Great Links


  • Cloth Diapers Made Easy. "Cleaning Cloth Diapers." 2011. (April 24, 2012)
  • Cloth Diapers Made Easy. "Stripping Cloth Diapers-Here is How to do it." 2011. (April 24, 2012)
  • Green Mountain Diapers. "Washing Cloth Diapers." 2012. (April 24, 2012)
  • Kelly's Closet. "Cloth Diaper Information." 2012. (April 25, 2012)
  • Nogar, Amy S. "Wash Cloth Diapers." Zany Zebra Designs. 2011. (April 23, 2012)
  • Real Diaper Industry Association. "Guide to Washing Cloth Diapers." 2012. (April 23, 2012)