How To Wash Cloth Diapers

There are different ways to get your diapers clean and everyone has a slightly different routine.  In addition, different diaper manufacturers have different recommendations, and different washing machines will need a different routine when washing cloth diapers.  It’s really not as complicated as it looks by the length of this post!  The abbreviated version of all this comes down to:

  1. Prewash: quick setting with warm water, a little detergent and water softener, if needed
  2. Main Wash: longer setting with hot water, detergent and water softener, if needed
  3. Line dry outer pieces.  Dry the rest in the dryer.


If you need help sorting though it all, we would love to do a one-on-one consultation.  It’s kind of our thing.  Contact us to set one up!


Getting Everything Ready

Before getting started, you need to know whether you have hard water.  If you do, you will need to add a water softener.  Hard water will gradually deposit minerals onto your cloth diapers which will hold on to bacteria.  Yuck!  Mineral deposits can also lead to your diapers repelling liquids, causing leaks.

Also, you will need a cloth-diaper-friendly laundry detergent.  Fluff Love University has a comprehensive list of recommendations here,  but the chart below is a really good way to sum it up:

Finally, you will need to know the settings to use for your specific washing machine.  Fortunately, Fluff Love University has a very complete index of manufacturers here and a recommendation of the settings that will be right for you.  There is a general set of recommendations below, but it’s good piece of mind to have settings specifically chosen for your machine.

Make sure all your diaper outer pieces are separate from your inner pieces.  Also, make sure all solid waste has been removed from the diapers.  It’s generally recommended to wash diapers every 2-3 days.  Any longer than that and stink, stains and bacteria can really set in.

Toss all your dirty diaper pieces, and the liner for your dirty diaper pail, into the washer.  If you have a front-loader HE machine, make sure it is at least 2/3 full.  A top loader HE machine needs to be at least 3/4 full.  Add small items if you need to make a load bigger (nothing bigger than a receiving blanket).   For additional information on washing cloth diapers in an HE machine, check out this link on Fluff Love University.

If you have a standard/non-HE washer with a spiral agitator, you want your laundry to water ratio so that your wash resembles a stew consistency.  To check the consistency, fill up the washer with laundry and water.  Pause the cycle and open the lid.  Once the agitator is still, put your palm gently in the water and press down until you start to feel resistance and stop.  You should have 3-4 inches of water on top.  If you have more water, add laundry pieces (nothing bigger than a receiving blanket).  If you have less than 3-4 inches of water, take some laundry out.  If you have a standard/non-HE washer with a paddle agitator, check for a soupy stew consistency.  Instructions are the same as above, but look for 4-5 inches of water above your laundry.  Smaller laundry loads are also recommended for this type of washer.  For additional information on washing cloth diapers in a standard/non-HE machine, check out this link on Fluff Love University.

Making sure your washer is adequately full is very important!  The agitation in the wash is a big part of how diapers scrub against one another to release soiled particles and get cleaned well.  Ok, now that you have everything ready, it’s time to wash those diapers!



First, you’ll do a prewash to get the surface soil out of your dirty diapers.  Run a quick cycle with warm water using a little bit of detergent and water softener, if needed.  Generally speaking, this cycle needs to be 30-45 minutes long and have a decent amount of agitation to remove the surface soil from your diapers.  Always select the highest spin and highest soil settings.  Turn off any additional rinses or prewash options.

When this cycle is done, open up the washer and peel off any pieces that are stuck to the drum.  Fluff up the diapers a bit and get ready to start your main cycle.


Main Wash

Next you’ll do your main wash.  This cycle deep cleans all the layers of fabric in your diapers.  For your main wash, run a long cycle with hot water using the recommended full amount of detergent and water softener if needed.  Choose the longest cycle setting with the strongest agitation. Always select the highest spin and highest soil settings.  Turn off any additional rinses or prewash options.

As for drying, you can either hang dry or toss pieces in the dryer.  Keep in mind that the more care you take with your diapers, the longer they will last.  If you put outer pieces in the dryer, do not stretch the elastic while it is still hot as this will cause the elastics to stretch prematurely.  Also, if you hang dry, put outer pieces to lay lengthwise or by the middle, so the weight of the entire wet diaper is not pulling on the elastics.  The inner pieces are generally ok to just go in the dryer.

Synthetic fabric softeners should be avoided because they tend to coat your fabrics and repel liquids.  Natural fabric softeners are safe to use with cloth diapers.  Wool dryer balls are another great natural alternative for keeping your fabrics soft.


Special Situations

Certain situations call for something stronger than your regular wash routine.  If your diapers need to be stripped, sanitized or if you need some troubleshooting with your wash routine, click on the links below:


All in all, cloth diapers present more work than disposables.  That might be true.  But it’s an easy piece to fit into your parenting routine.  Laundry?  Babies give you plenty of that anyhow.  The rest can easily work into your days and you’ll know you are doing better by your baby, your wallet, and your planet.




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