Laundering Cloth Diapers

Parent Q&A

Select any title to view the full question and replies.

  • Do you wash your own cloth diapers in an HE machine? If so, what is your routine?

    I'm having some trouble with my HE frontloader despite lots of online research and making different adjustments (including pre-rise and extra post-wash rinse cycles, extra towels to boost water and friction, more detergent, less detergent, changing detergent, vinegar in the rinse).

    I would love to hear specific routines that worked for people. Especially if you live in Berkeley / Emeryville / Albany / NW Oakland, which share the same mildly hard water source.


    This is our regime for cotton prefolds and covers:

    First, do a speed wash with very little or no detergent, high soil level, with just the dirty diapers and covers.

    Then, throw in your other laundry and do an extra hot "sanitary" wash, high soil level, w/ lots of detergent, and an extra rinse if needed.

    Good for you for doing cloth diapers!  

    I had pretty good results with doing a vinegar cold-water rinse cycle before the wash cycle.  Our machine didn't have a pre-rinse option, so I just ran a short wash (30 min?) cycle on cold and dumped a lot of vinegar in.  Then just regular wash with detergent.  I also aired them in the sun occasionally.

    We use the bumgenius flip system (covers and inserts). We're on our second round of cloth diapering and now follow the routine recommended specifically for our HE machine and detergent type (country save powder and biokleen liquid) by fluff love University. We had some stink issues the first time around, even though we dried the diapers in the sun all the time. I think we weren't getting enough water in the machine. So now we do a quick cold wash with little bit of detergent, peel the diapers of the sides of the drum and add other laundry til 1/2-2/3 full, then heavy duty hot wash with lots of detergent. So far so good but it's only been a month... I'm a little worried about detergent build up because fluff love recommends using so much more than country save does, but we shall see... I'm also going to try treating with grovia mighty bubbles every so often.

    We use cotton diapers (prefolds and some workhorses. For detergent we use Country Save. Mostly we don't have any problems. If we notice that there's still a smell after the wash we just run them again and occasionally will put a scoop of oxygen bleach in. We live in Berkeley and run on the heavy duty cycle. Cotton diapers are just so easy to wash!

    Yes, I can answer this! We used cloth diapers which we washed at home (in San Francisco). At first I had an old washing machine but we eventually upgraded to a HE front-loader, which made our lives SO much easier because of its programmable cycles. We had enough diapers to do a big load about once per week. All the dirty, separated diapers would go in; we'd load the detergent, and simply push the "My Cycle" button to start. We programmed My Cycle to consist of 1) cold pre-wash, 2) hot normal cycle, 3) medium spin, and 4) extra cold rinse. The whole thing would take about 2.5 hours. As for detergent, we tried a bunch of different things, including the one recommended by the diaper manufacturer (BumGenius), but the type we liked the best in the end was Rockin' Green in combination with its cousin Funk Rock (for the pre-wash). We hang-dried the covers, since they're hydrophobic and don't need the heat. We used to air-dry the inserts too, but figured out that the low-heat setting in the dryer made them fluffier and possibly more absorbent. It was obviously much faster, too, but it does degrade the fabric. Anyway the inserts pretty much need to be composted after two years (when one child is finished with it). Air-drying the covers will make them last a long, long time.

    BTW, good for you for using cloth diapers! SO many benefits to the environment, to your children, and your wallet. The biggest advantage to us was the ease with which our daughter potty-trained at 22 months. I tell anyone who will listen that cloth diapers are the way to go. It's not that hard and kind of fun! Plus you get to stick it to Big Diaper... haha

Archived Q&A and Reviews


Problem washing cloth diapers with a HE machine

May 2007

A few months ago, we got a new (LG Tromm) high efficiency washer and dryer. But, since then, I've noticed a big difference in my baby's cloth diapers- they are definitely not as soft and some are beginning to pill! They were purchased from a diaper service- they weren't new, but they were very soft when they arrived. My older child had diapers from the same diaper service and those were washed in our old, beat-up washer and never seemed to lose softness! I've tried drying them on lower heat settings, til just slightly damp, and have experimented with putting a small amount of vinegar in with the wash, and with using a little less detergent...with no results. I have also test-washed another kind of cloth diaper (organic cotton, used but purchased new) which also came out not as soft! Has anyone else had this problem with a HE machine? Missing Those Soft Diapers!

Try putting fewer diapers in the load. Front-loaders use less water. This causes detergent buildup, according to what I've read on the internet. we have a Miele front-loading washer and are using hemp diapers without a dryer. Reducing load size and adding vinegar has made a difference in softness. Bethany

We've had a Miele HE washer and dryer for the last 4 years and have been using cloth diapers for just as long. I've never had a problem with the diapers being 'not soft.' After I change the baby, I put the dirty diapers in a plastic box with lid (from Ikea) and wash them every 1-3 days. If there is poop, I scrap off as much as I can into the toilet first. I always use powder detergent and have used Tide, Trader Joe's etc with the Oxy Clean and they come out great. I dry the diapers, liners and wipes in the dryer but air dry the covers. There's a ton of cloth diaper websites and most of them have instructions for washing them. The Chinese Diaper Quality Service (DQS) diapers are great and very soft. I also have organic hemp diapers but they are not and never have been, very soft. I use them as a liner or changing pad when I change the baby. Anon.

Drying cloth diapers out in the sun

August 2006

How long do I need to keep the fuzzi bunz cloth diapers in the sun for the full sun-bleaching and drying effect? I machine wash them and put them on a drying rack. If the sun is out all day and the diapers are dry, does it mean that it's as clean as it's going to get? Will they get any cleaner if I bring them in for the night and set them outside again the next day? Will the sunshine not take out some of the stains?? inquiring mama

I've never actually had a stain problem with our Fuzzi Bunz, so this doesn't exactly address the problem, but I'm wondering how you wash them? That may be the key to eliminating future stains... I first run a soak cycle with the poopy diapers in COLD water with a little bit of All Free & Clear or Allen's Naturally detergent and a scoop of Arm & Hammer washing soda (available in the laundry section at Berkeley Bowl). Spin, then add the wet diapers. Wash with hot water and a little more detergent and washing soda. Then run a cold rinse cycle. The cold water in the first step is key to not setting protein stains (like poop). I used to do this process with a regular top-loading washer, but now have a high-efficiency front-loading washer that can't do a soak cycle. I just run a heavy-duty cold cycle first, then add the wet diapers and run the hot one -- they're still stain-free after nearly two years (and two different sizes) of Fuzzi Bunz.
Another Cloth Diapering Mom

Hanging the covers (and cloth diapers or inserts) in the sun until they dry is plenty! On a hot day, if that means 2 hours, wonderful. Come winter, it might mean all day. In the winter when it rains, I still hang diaper covers to dry, but inside, out of the sun. a mama who cloth diapers

I don't know about fuzzi buns but my prefold whiten pretty well after a day in the (esp.) summer sun. I would check with fuzzi buns to see if you can do this, but adding vinegar to the rinse brightens my prefolds incredibly! can't beat prefolds!

I periodically bleach my Fuzzi Bunz in the sun, and I think it usually takes somewhere around 4 hours for them to get stain-free. I think some kinds of stains (from rash cream, for example) don't bleach out, but in my experience with only milk poop so far, the diapers have gotten totally white again. Hope that helps! Mama of a 9-week old

I've used Fuzzi Bunz with both my daughters and I've found that the strength of the sun has a lot to do with how effective it is at bleaching any stains out of the diapers/liners. The brighter and more direct the sun, the better. You can definitely try setting the diapers out again to see if they will get any whiter.

Personally, I don't worry too much about faint staining on either the diaper or the insert. As long as I know that I've laundered them thoroughly, I figure they are clean enough! Feel free to email me if you have any more questions - love those Fuzzi Bunz! kelly

Getting cloth diapers clean without bleach

April 2003

I am using Kushies Ultra cloth diapers which I really like. However, I am wondering about the best way to wash them. After a few really poopy diapers, they smell a bit funny even out of the wash and I feel really tempted to use a bit of bleach now and then to kill germs and to get rid of that slightly fishy poopy smell. However, I have heard many times not to use bleach. So my question is, how do you get these diapers clean, germ-free and clean-smelling? Thanks in advance for any advice. lcr

Based on two years of cloth diapering, I have two bits of advice. One, don't put your washing machine to the acid test of throwing in REALLY poopy diapers. Put on some gloves and remove most of the poop with a brush reserved just for that. Second, consider bleaching. Although you hear alot about the horrors of bleach, upon examining that (and my stained diapers) critically, I decided that the problem was really with bleach that's not rinsed out. My son's diapers were gorgeous, fresh and clean after judicious bleaching. If I bleach, I always use an extra rinse and run them through the washer an additional time to assure they are completely rinsed. Anon

To wash my Kooshies and other diapers I use 2 steps. First a soak cycle with detergent (mild/environmentally friendly stuff) and oxygen bleach (non-chlorine) Then a heavy duty wash cycle with detergent and sometimes baking soda or white vinegar added as well. Bac-out by Biokleen is also a great product to add to the wash cycle. Berkeley Bowl and other stores carry it.

Even though the products we use are mild, the diapers are always clean. We also do a quick rinse of poopy diapers before throwing them in the pail but don't soak them. melissa

Here's how I wash my diapers: First, whenever I change a poopy diaper I shake whatever solids I can into the toilet. Then I put it in the dry pail -- no soaking. On wash day, I run the diapers through a prewash/soak cycle with cold water, a small amount of detergent, and a scoop of Biz (this fights protein stains and really helps). The cold water keeps stains from setting. Then I run a long hot wash with a little more detergent. Then I sort out anything that shouldn't go in the dryer (covers, etc), hang them, and toss everything else into the dryer on hot. You could also line dry if you like. This routine has worked great for me for nearly two years now. Every once in a while I get a stain, which I squirt with lemon juice and sit in the sun for awhile.

Sometimes odor problems are caused by using too much detergent. Try using less (less than half a cup per wash). You want to make sure all the soap is rinsed out of the diapers or it will hold odors. Good luck! Catherine

I found this method for washing cloth diapers on line and it has worked well for us, poops and all. We keep our wet-only diapers in a ''dry'' diaper pail and sprinkle them liberally with baking soda. The poopy ones, after being emptied/rinsed in the toilet, go into a bucket in the basement full of water and Dr. Bronner's peppermint soap. Every two days or so, the whole lot goes in the wash with regular unscented detergent for a hot wash/warm rinse. Then we repeat the rinse with about 1.5 - 2 cups of white vinegar, which needless to say we buy in bulk. We line-dry whenever possible, to take advantage of the UV rays' sterilizing/antimicrobial properties. But we always finish up with a short fluff in the dryer for softness. So far, no fishy smell, and very little discoloration of diapers. Alexa

I washed diapers for three children and avoided bad smells in recently washed diapers by soaking the dirty diapers in borax and water as soon as the diaper was changed, by adding borax to the wash along with the detergent, and by adding white vinegar to the rinse cycle. If you have access to a clothesline, outside drying results in very sweeting-smelling diapers as well. Sara

This is how we wash our Kushies:

1) Soak them in water sprinkled with baking soda in a trash bin until we're ready to wash them.
2) Run them through a spin cycle in the machine.
3) Add detergent and WHITE VINEGAR (or baking soda) and wash hot in regular cycle.

I've heard you can bleach them once or twice a year--it's the regual bleaching that will ruin them. Or, better yet, wait for a sunny day, and hang them out to dry. I was also truned off by the occasional stain, but got used to it. My diapers, however, never smell, so maybe something we do will help avoid that for you? Kushie's mom

There are a number of things you can do, without using bleach, which will assure you of clean, fresh, cloth diapers.

Make sure to completely dampen the freshly soiled area of the diaper even if it is a b.m. that just ''rolls out''. Remove as much soil as possible with rinsing. Store in a tightly sealed diaper pail (urine soaked and b.m. diapers can be in the same pail). If you wash diapers every 2-3 days or sooner there is no need to add liquid to the diaper pail. If you have more diapers and can, therefore, go longer between washings it is a good idea to add water to the pail along with some dissolved Borax powder.

When washing: If you use a wet diaper pail: Pour entire contents of pail into washer and select a prewash or rinse and spin setting. Use hot water unless suggested otherwise by the manufacturer. (This step is included as an easy way to get rid of the smelly water with as little ''hands on time'' as possible) Then following general washing instructions below.

If you use a dry diaper pail: Pour entire contents of pail into washer and then follow general washing instructions below. (I find it is not necessary to do a prewash or rinse and spin if you do a good job at rinsing out the b.m. at the time it occurs.

General Washing Instructions: Spot treat any stains (if desired) with a color-safe bleach or stain treater. Select a HEAVY DUTY CYCLE. Always use hot water unless suggested otherwise by the manufacturer. Use your choice of laundry detergent and add Borax, if desired.(I find it is not necessary to use as much detergent as the detergent manufacturers suggest, try for yourself and see.) Then select a 2ND RINSE. Dry diapers as you wish. For lingering stains and extra freshness hang in bright sunshine every other week or so.

When removing diapers from the washer they should smell sweet and fresh. If they don't, they are not clean and should not be dried. Repeat the washing, and add a prewash with detergent and then a regular wash with detergent, then the 2nd Rinse. Hang in the sun, then fluff in the dryer. If your washer is older you may find it necessary to always do this prewash with detergent step. Hints from C.M.