When I was on my quest for cloth diapers, one of the most overwhelming things was trying to figure out how to care for the diapers. There are so many detergent options and so many different ways people wash their diapers. Once again, using cloth really is very easy! Feel free to use this information and tweak it in a way that works best for you.
Wet Pail Vs Dry Pail
One of the biggest misconceptions regarding cloth diapers is that you have to keep them soaking until you wash them. Years ago, many moms used this wet pail method but it is rarely used today. Using a wet pail is actually a safety concern because you have a bucket of water around young kids and could you imagine the mess if your pail was tipped over? Yuck! Most cloth diaper manufacturers actually recommend NOT using the wet pail method.
Using a dry pail is the preferred method for today's families. It's pretty simple: all diapers, wet and soiled, go into the same pail or trash can until they need washed (usually 2-3 days). You can find diaper pail liners that can just be thrown in the wash right along with your diapers or you can use laundry bags or trash bags. For our dry pail, we are using a regular kitchen trash can with a lid and a nylon laundry bag (that only cost $5). If you notice your diaper pail starts smelling like, well, a diaper pail, you can sprinkle some baking soda in the bottom of the pail and that will help absorb the odors.
Prepping the Diapers
Before you can begin putting that super cute fluff on your little one, you need to prep the diapers. Prepping just means washing your diapers a certain number of times before using them. This helps the diapers become more absorbant and dissolves any natural oils or oils leftover from the manufacturing process. Covers and many pockets only need to be washed once before using, but AIOs, prefolds, fitteds, and inserts usually need to be washed 3-5 times before being used. The thicker the diaper is, usually the more times it needs washed for prepping. Be sure to check the manufacturer's instructions before prepping.
To prep the diapers you need to wash and dry them the recommended times. I usually put our new diapers through 3 or 4 wash and dry cycles before using them. Keep in mind that some diapers still won't reach their full absorbancy until after being washed 6 or more times. So, if you have issues with leaking the first time your baby wears a new diaper, it just might need to be washed one more time or two.
What Do I Do With the Poo?
This is what scares a lot of people away from using cloth. But, did you know that disposable diaper companies recommend shaking any fecal matter in the toilet before throwing the diaper away?? Crazy, huh?
Honestly, once you start doing it, it's not bad at all and you won't even give it a second thought. Usually, you can just shake most of the poo off in the toilet and then put the diaper in your dry pail. If you do need to rinse, you can either swish the diaper in the toilet or you can use a diaper sprayer. This is a nifty contraption that attaches to your toilet's water line and looks like a kitchen sink sprayer. When you have a dirty diaper all you need to do is rinse the diaper off over the toilet bowl. You can find these at most cloth diaper stores under the names diaper sprayer or mini-shower.
The diaper sprayer is not a must have. In fact, we didn't have one for the longest time and I just swished the dirty diapers. But, it does make things easier.
The Wash Routine
Everyone's wash routine is a little bit different and it might take a few tries to find out what works best for you. What many people do is a COLD rinse/HOT wash/COLD rinse cycle. The first rinse is to help get any of the leftover ickies off the diapers. Before you wash, make sure to fasten the velcro tabs on your diapers or you will end up with the dreaded diaper chain. (I've had this happen many times!) You can have an issue with detergent build up if you use too much so it's usually best to start with 1/4 of the recommended amount. If you see soap suds in your second rinse, you have detergent buildup. To help control that, rinse your diapers until you see no more soap suds. If you have hard water, you can experiement with baking soda and vinegar. Hard water can cause your detergent to be less effective and vinegar and/or baking soda have been known to help with that.
We have hard well water and I usually add baking soda to the wash and vinegar to the second rinse. Since first writing this, I've actually found some wonderful diaper detergents and I don't have to add any extras when I wash my diapers. Some people I've talked to have said that vinegar actually made things worse when they added it to their hard water. Again, this is one of those things that you'll just have to find what works best for you.
You can dry your diapers in the dryer or by line drying, or a combination of both. Line drying will help extend the life of your diapers since it is gentler than machine drying. I sometimes machine dry the inserts, soakers, and wipes but I almost always line dry our diapers and covers. If it's rainy or cold outside, I will dry the diapers on a drying rack in the house. The AIOs take the longest to dry while the pocket diapers seem to dry fairly quick. Make sure you do not use dryer sheets if you use a dryer because they can cause buildup and repelling issues with cloth diapers. A great alternative to dryer sheets is wool dryer balls. They are natural and can even help reduce your drying time!
There are so many cloth diaper detergents on the market right now that it can be really hard to choose. My advice is to get as many samples as you can and try each one out before you commit to a certain brand. We actually have 5 different detergents sitting in our laundry room right now that I used before finding one I liked! It would've been so much simpler to just buy a few samples!
Some of the regular detergents that you'll find in your supermarket aren't the best for cloth because of their extra additives and enzymes. Most baby detergents actually aren't good for cloth diapers at all and can cause buildup problems. When we first started using cloth, I just washed them in ALL Free & Clear. That's what we use on our regular clothes and I'd heard about people using it for cloth diapers with no problems. Well, only a week after starting cloth, we had a major case of stinky diapers! The ALL just wasn't cutting it for us so we moved on. Just like everything else, what works for some people won't necessarily work for others.
The Diaper Jungle has a great Detergent Chart that rates different detergents to help you find the best detergent for your needs.
Caring for Wool
I admit it, wool is one of those fabrics that I was intimidated by. But, Deborah from Ewe Wool Love It shared these perfectly simple wool care instructions with me.
Your wool cover only needs to be washed when it begins to retain some odor or gets soiled.
1. Rinse your cover (turned inside-out) under cool running water and gently squeeze out excess moisture.
2. Fill the sink with enough warm water to cover your woolies.
3. Add wool wash OR 1/4" (pea sized amount) of lanolin mixed with approx. 1 tsp. of baby soap in a small jar of HOT water. Mix into the sink of warm water.
4. Press your cover down into the mixture and let soak for 30 minutes.
5. Drain water and gently squeeze the soaker, then roll in a towel to remove excess moisture. Re-shape and lay flat to dry.
Depending on how heavily your cover is used, you may need to lanolize every 1-2 months or less. When you notice it is not so waterproof anymore, it's time to lanolize. Follow the same instructions as washing your cover, except use about 1/2" of lanolin melted in HOT water.
Stripping Your Cloth Diapers
Occassionally, you may need to strip your diapers to get rid of any buildup. If you notice your diapers starting to stink or leak, more than likely they need stripped. There are two common ways of doing this:
1. Wash your diapers in HOT water with no detergent 2-3 times. Rinse your diapers until the water is clear and there are no soap suds present.
2. Wash your diapers in HOT water with a couple squirts of Dawn Dish Soap. Rinse until the water is clear and there are no soap suds present. ***Dawn is normally not recommended in washing machines so be sure to check your manual because using Dawn may void your model's warranty.
Be sure to always start with clean diapers before you strip them.