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Our 'In-House' Cloth Diaper Washing Routine
by Heather L. Sanders
August 2005

Our recipe for washing cloth diapers.  Easy as 1, 2, 3!  Washing cloth diapers - it seems to be the ONE thing, if any, that will cause the bravest soul to turn tail and run!  Well, don't.  Cloth still is the healthiest alternative for your child and you will easily get over your archaic ideas about how hard it is . . . because, quite honestly, it is SIMPLE! 

If you can wash your clothes - you can wash your diapers.  The washing machine will not leave residues of baby poo on your clothing and you don't have to worry about your clothes smelling like a diaper pail.  Our washing machines are much more effective cleansers than you could ever imagine!

Regardless of the diapering system you choose, the Wash-n-Care suggestion below will have you washing, on average, every 2 days.  Your diapers will remain stain free, smell fresh, and retain maximum absorbency!

Below is your recipe for our ‘In-House Washing Method’.  Gather your ingredients, take a deep breath and WASH THOSE DIAPERS!!! 


Detergent : Make sure the detergent is free of fragrances, dyes and fabric softeners (fabric softeners will create a waxy build-up on your cloth diapers that will, over time, cause them to repel your baby's urine instead of absorbing it).  Not a good thing!  For more information on the difference between the two and for recommendations on types of detergent to use., go to the Soap Vs Detergent page on the Diaper Hyena.

Baking Soda : It doesn't take much - only about 1/2 cup per load.  However, baking soda is priceless for whitening and neutralizing acidity levels in your diapers.  It is a natural odor and stain fighter and will help keep your diapers nice, white, and fresh smelling.

Distilled White Vinegar :  Vinegar will help to restore the pH balance in your diapers and neutralizes any bacteria or detergent residues, while helping to soften the diapers.  Vinegar can be especially effective with diapers that are to be dried on the line!  It will also help with color steadfastness. 

Our In-House Washing Method:

  • First run a Cold Wash/Cold rinse adding-in only 1/2 cup of baking soda with the water.  Make sure that all diapers are opened-up for easier cleaning.  Make sure that all AIOs or covers have the Velcro secured on their loop-backs to keep from developing a 'diaper chain' in the washer.  Make sure that all prefolds or inserts are pulled out from the pocket diapers.
  • Once this load finishes, run a Hot Wash/Cold rinse adding-in about 1/2 the amount of detergent as suggested on the side of the box.  For hard water areas or for those who line-dry, add some distilled white vinegar in the rinse cycle. In most cases, it will help prepare your diapers for line-drying or soften them against the hard water elements.
  • After the second wash, open the lid and take a whiff.  Does it smell fresh?  If not, run another cold wash/cold rinse with NO DETERGENT, NO BAKING SODA and NO VINEGAR!  This is just to rinse out the diapers.  Then, pull out your dipes and depending on your preference, line-dry or tumble dry.  If you tumble dry, do not leave your covers in - hang them on pegs or lay them out on towels to dry to extend their longevity. 

Special Note on Line Drying Prefolds:  

Line-dried prefold diapers can benefit from the natural bleaching and sterilization from the sun.  There are several ways to keep them from being 'crunchy' - which is one of the negatives attributed to line-dried diapers.

  • Make sure that you use vinegar in the wash for its fabric softening abilities.
  • Make sure that you double - or even triple - hang your prefolds back to back on really hot days/afternoons.  This will ensure a longer drying time.  Quick drying can make for crunchier diapers all together.  It is much better to dry in the earlier hours when it is less hot and the sun is less intense . . . drying your diapers slower.
  • Allow to dry until 'just dry' and then throw them in the dryer for the last 10 to 15 minutes to tumble dry on low or fluff.  This will loosen up the cotton fibers and give you the quilted look/feel most loved with prefolds - it also increases their absorbency.
  • Some will do this the exact opposite and allow their diapers to dry out in the sun only after drying them in the dryer until 'just' damp dry.

Special note:   Beware of line drying on particularly humid days.  Your diapers will come off the line smelling moldy or even just 'not so fresh.'  Also, be aware of the season - is it spring?  Is the ground covered in pollen?  If your regular clothesline is strung between a few pine trees (as ours are) you might discover that yellow pine pollen is just about as uninviting on freshly washed diapers as yellow poopy stains!

Vinegar in your cloth diaper wash.  Two sides of the coin:

You may be wondering if the use of distilled white vinegar is truly essential in your cloth diaper wash.  After all, there seems to be such a good amount to remember as it is, and if you can cut something out of the routine, vinegar seems to be the most viable option.

Well, let us give you some of the attributes of vinegar.  And, we are talking distilled white vinegar NOT apple cider vinegar or any other type of vinegar.  (Apple cider vinegar will cause your diapers to discolor and become dingy looking.)  If you use it at all, you must use distilled white vinegar.

''Heads-Up"': The reasons to use vinegar:

  • Vinegar will help neutralize the ammonia that forms over time in wet cloth diapers.
  • Vinegar lowers pH, helping detergents to function more effectively
  • Vinegar helps eliminate soap residue/film build-up.
  • Vinegar deters the setting-in of stains.
  • Vinegar can help keep colors from bleeding.
  • Vinegar can cut down on lint.
  • Vinegar is a natural fabric softener and static cling reducer.

"Tails": The reasons to NOT use vinegar:

  • In some areas with 'hard water,' there is a chance that vinegar can mix with trace minerals in your water supply, causing your diapers to smell acrid once urinated upon.  In which case, you would want to cease using vinegar in your diaper pail/wash.
  • If you notice a build-up of residue on your diapers or your diapers are not as absorbent AND  YOU HAVE NOT been using fabric softener sheets in the dryer or any detergent with fabric softeners built-in, temporarily cease your use of vinegar.  In this situation, vinegar might not be the culprit, but once there is a build-up on your diapers, they will need to be 'stripped' before you should continue regular usage of vinegar.
  • If you notice that your diaper covers are getting stinky, vinegar may be the culprit.  Many of today's diaper covers have some polyester in them and polyester easily holds in smells.  Vinegar's acidity can react to baby's acidic urine and together, they can release a very acrid smell.

Vinegar is usually the solution to a good amount of more unnatural substances used in your cloth diaper wash.  Just be aware that TOO MUCH of any good thing IS TOO MUCH.  We recommend that you use no more than 1/2 cup of distilled white vinegar in any wash cycle.  A good way to watch out for this is to get a fabric softener ball.  Fill it 1/2 to 3/4 full of vinegar and pull the top.  Throw this into your Hot Wash/Cold Rinse cycle and it will open up in the rinse cycle.  This ensures that you use it in the right cycle and also ensures that you don't use too much.

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