Cloth Diaper Makers

Storing, Washing and Disinfecting Cloth Diapers

Storing Dirty Cloth Diapers

If you are just testing cloth diapers to see how you like them, you should avoid purchasing a diaper pail – a good wetbag or any other waterproof bag will do the job.  Once you decide to buy more diapers, you can buy a diaper pail or a bigger/better wetbag.

Some people will put dirty diapers in a wet pail which is just a container partially filled with water.  Others will place the diapers in a dry pail or a wetbag once the majority of the poop has been plopped into the toilet or rinsed off.  Diaper sprayers are very popular for diaper rinsing.  I cannot believe we managed to live without one for close to two years.  You might not need one if your baby’s poop is quite solid and can be plopped in the toilet.

If you do decide to go with a wet pail please make sure it is out of reach of your little ones to prevent drowning.       

Washing Cloth Diapers

Probably the most important part of washing your diapers is detergent.  Always check the ingredients to make sure the detergent does not contain optical brighteners, fragrances and dyes.  Enzymes should also be avoided since they get activated when wet and start digesting organic matter, including your baby’s skin.  Tide Free & Clear and President’s Choice (PC) Ultra Free are two popular detergents that include enzymes and might create some issues when used on cloth diapers.  For cloth diaper safe detergents, please see the Diaper Jungle or the Pinstripes and Polkadots detergent charts.  Diaper Jungle has a separate chart for front-loading washers which you can find here.  If you are Canadian, please note that Nature Clean detergent in powder form is considered safe for cloth diapers and nowadays is available in a lot of supermarket stores.  Please keep in mind that some cloth diaper safe detergents might not work for you even though they have been getting rave reviews from other people.  In the end, the detergent that will work for you depends on your washing machine, your water, the type of diapers you use and your child.  For example, a lot of people have had great results with the original Tide which is normally not recommended for cloth diapers because of additives.  Always check the information provided by your diaper’s manufacturer to make sure the warranty will not be voided if you use a certain detergent or laundry additive.   

Once you think you have the right detergent, below are the steps most people follow when washing their diapers:

  1. Cold rinse or short cold wash with no detergent.  Some people will use a very small amount of detergent during the short cold wash.
  2. Hot wash with 1/4 – 1/2 of recommended detergent followed by a cold rinse.  It might be a good idea to start with less detergent and if that does not get your diapers clean, add a little bit more next time.  If you are using a detergent specifically made for cloth diapers then use the recommended amount.
  3. Smell the diapers, if they smell clean, run another rinse.  If they do not smell clean, run another wash cycle with some detergent.  Please note that if you are using soap nuts, the diapers will have a soap nut smell that does disappear after the extra rinse. 
  4. Tumble or line dry. The sun is great for bleaching poop stains, so try to sun the diapers as much as possible.  If you live in an apartment, you can do this by laying out the diapers in the sun in front of a window.

Remember not to wash too many diapers at once, especially if you have a front-loading washer.  After many months of successful diaper washing, we decided to purchase a front-loading machine for our new home.  It took me 4-5 washes to figure out what worked and what did not.  From what I have discovered, most front-loading washers are not very cloth diaper friendly, but you can use them successfully for washing your diapers.  It just might take slightly longer to figure out the best washing routine.  Some people do have to add a bit of water to their front-loading washers manually or they have to place a wet towel in with the diapers before starting the wash.  Recently, I've started changing the spin speed to "low" when doing the first short (cold) wash, so that the diapers are heavier and thus the washer adds more water during the second (hot) wash.

Washing PUL/TPU Covers

Most PUL/TPU covers can be washed with cloth diapers. Some manufacturers will recommend washing and drying PUL covers (and any diapers with a PUL layer) on hot the first time you wash them in order to seal the holes made by sewing needles.  After that you can hang them to dry or tumble dry them on low/medium. 

Most diaper experts agree that soaking PUL covers in a pail with vinegar, baking soda, oxygen bleach, chlorine bleach or any other laundry additive for extended periods of time should be avoided.  Soaking them in any of the above additives for hours might cause breakdown in waterproofing. 

Always read manufacturer’s washing instructions for your diapers and covers to avoid voiding the warranty.  If you are not sure how to wash the covers and are worried about the warranty or the condition of your covers, then contact the manufacturer.   

Washing Wool Covers

Wool covers do not need to be washed frequently.  Most wool covers need only be washed when:

  • The covers have been used frequently for 2-3 weeks.
  • The covers get soiled.
  • The covers feel damp after only a couple of hours.

How to Wash Your Wool Covers

The following instructions are for hand washing wool covers with a wool wash containing lanolin.  

  1. Rinse the cover to remove as much pee and poop as possible.
  2. Fill a sink, basin or bucket with warm water and add the wool wash.
  3. Add the cover to the water and let the cover soak for 10-15 minutes.
  4. Gently squeeze water out of the cover and lay flat on a towel.
  5. Roll the towel and gently press to absorb water.
  6. Lay the cover flat to dry.

It is recommended that you lanolize covers every 1-2 months depending on use.  To lanolize your covers, please follow the steps below. 

  1. Rinse the cover as above and let it soak in warm water.
  2. Prepare a lanolin solution by mixing ¼ teaspoon of lanolin with a cup of hot water and wool wash.
  3. Stir the mixture gently until the lanolin dissolves.
  4. Add the mixture to the warm water where your cover is soaking.
  5. Wait 15-20 minutes.
  6. Gently squeeze the water out of the wool and lay flat on a towel.
  7. Roll the towel and gently press to absorb excess water.
  8. Lay the cover flat to dry.

Cloth Diaper and Cloth Diaper Cover Residue

Once in a while, something happens and you end up with stinky diapers.  Sometimes you might have stinky diapers because they have not been washed properly, but a lot of the time the cause is detergent build-up.

Signs of residue problem:

  • Your child develops a diaper rash almost every time he or she wears a cloth diaper.
  • Diapers and/or covers are stinky.
  • Diapers and/or covers are leaky.
  • Discoloration of white polyester fabric (microfleece, suede cloth, minky, etc.).  Most polyester fabrics are more prone to detergent build-up. 

Causes of residue:

  • Too much detergent used in the wash.
  • Not using enough water to wash the diapers with.  This is a common problem with front-loading washers.
  • Using detergents with additives such as, optical brighteners, natural oils, castile soap, fabric softeners, etc.
  • Washing too many diapers at once.
  • Using dryer sheets and fabric softeners with cloth diaper and/or regular laundry.

To remove detergent build-up, wash the diapers on hot without detergent.  Repeat until you see no more bubbles in the water.  Some people will use a tiny bit of dishwashing soap in the first wash and then keep washing until all bubbles are gone.  A lot of people recommend using Dawn dishwashing soap without additives.  The use of dishwashing soap in front-loading machines is not recommended and might void warranties on the washer.  If you have a front loader, it might be a good idea to do the first wash with dishwashing soap in a bathtub, sink or bucket.  Once you are done the first rinse, then you can place the diapers in the washer and wash them on hot without detergent.  Continue until you see no bubbles.    

A lot of people have been using Bi-O-Kleen Bac-Out Stain & Odor Eliminator to remove odor from cloth diapers with great success.  However, Bac-Out does contain enzymes which may cause rashes with some babies/toddlers, so please use it with caution.  If you are going to use it, try to use it in the pre-wash to allow enough rinsing to remove the enzymes. 

Other products that some cloth diaperers use to remove odor include:

  • Baking soda in the wash followed by a vinegar rinse
    The effectiveness might depend on the type of water in your home and the type of cloth diapers you use.
  • Chlorine bleach
    Effective, but not the safest choice
  • Oxygen bleach
    A safer and more natural alternative to chlorine bleach.  Do not overuse it though. 
  • RLS Laundry Treatment
  • Vinegar
    Can actually create stink in certain types of water and some people claim that it can cause breakdown of some elastics.

Please note that some cloth diaper manufacturers might void warranties if you use any of the above.  Some diaper makers will even void warranties if you use detergents with additives, so make sure to read the fine print before you wash your diapers.

Disinfecting Cloth Diapers

Chlorine bleach is a great disinfectant, but there are great alternatives out there that are safer for you, your baby and the environment. 

Ever since the birth of my first child, I have been cautious with the use of chemicals, but once my daughter started crawling and putting everything in her mouth, I became almost obsessed with safer household cleaners and disinfectants.  So, when it came to disinfecting cloth diapers, I also wanted to use something safer.

I have known for a while that tea tree oil and grapefruit seed extract (GSE) can be used for disinfecting.  I have been using those two occasionally on cloth diapers for more than a year without any issues.  It has worked very well for us when we had problems with yeast diaper rashes.  In addition, tea tree oil is great for treatment of skin blemishes and insect bites, and GSE is great in vegetable washes.

Tea tree oil has a very strong smell, so be prepared for it when you use it for the first time.  The smell does not last a long time though and if you use it to disinfect diapers, do not worry, they will not smell like tea tree oil after the wash is done.

Another great disinfectant is eucalyptus oil.  The smell of eucalyptus oil will definitely wake you up and clear your sinuses.  You can use the oil in the diaper wash just like you would tea tree oil. 

Both oils – tea tree and eucalyptus – can be pricey.  However, they are usually used in smaller amounts.  As for availability, tea tree oil can be found in many stores especially pharmacies.  I have bought tea tree oil at Shoppers Drug Mart, Costco and Zehrs (a Loblaws-owned supermarket store in Canada).  Eucalyptus oil is harder to find.  I would love to be able to buy it close to home in larger bottles since I also like to use it for household cleaning.