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In The Laundry Room: Washing

Posted by Sprout Soup on

Our previous posts on Homemade Laundry Detergent and Rockin Green vs Thirsties Pre-Wash are some of the most popular posts on our site. We see the need for good information on how to wash cloth diapers and how best to deal with cloth diaper laundry issues.

We have helped Central Ohioans cloth diaper for over four years now. We know our way around the different washing routines, detergents, additives and methods. We have talked with countless customers to troubleshoot their cloth diaper laundry problems and get them back on track to loving their cloth diapers.

We truly believe that following our advice from the beginning and never changing your wash routine, unless you understand your problem and have chosen an appropriate solution, is the best way to successfully cloth diaper. We also know that 100% of people aren’t going to agree with us 100% of the time. Do your own research and please let us know what you find out!


Thanks to advancements in science we can put away the washboard and utilize modern machinery to wash our diapers. This saves us loads of time and keeps us from the wet and messy work of washing by hand. But most of us who own washing machines don’t understand what goes on inside them.

Number One: Understand Your Washing Machine

Two of the most common reasons that diapers stink happen inside the washing machine. Either the washing cycle is not long enough or there is two much water and the fibers don’t get roughed up enough to remove soil.

Think back to old fashioned wash boards. They are rough and the old fashioned mama rubbed clothes up and down on it to remove dirt. This process scraped the dirt off the clothing fibers. Concerned about detergent build-up, many cloth diapering families are adding more water to their washing machines or washing on larger load settings than necessary. What can happen when there is too much water is the diapers float around in the water and don’t get scrubbed. Washing machines are designed to scrub the cloth against the insides of the washing machine drum or against the other cloth in the machine, agitating the dirt out of them.

For heavily soiled loads like diapers, this process can take a long time, so we recommend you use the longest washing time setting on your machine. We also recommend that you don’t overload your machine, but also don’t put too few diapers in. You need the diapers to rub up against each other and against the inside of the washing machine to get them clean.

If you don’t know how your washing machine works and what settings to use to lengthen the washing cycle or maintain an accurate amount of water, read the manual!

Number Two: Use Appropriate Detergent

I don’t need to rehash this as everyone who cloth diapers has come across what makes an appropriate detergent, I’m sure. Here’s what you may not have heard.

Detergent buildup is most often identified as reduced absorbency in the diapers. Detergent buildup does not cause ammonia problems, and in fact ammonia is often the result of too little detergent or detergent which does not contain proper washing ingredients.

What makes proper washing ingredients is debatable, so I will leave that for another post, but what I will say is detergents need to loosen and lift soil from the fabric allowing it to wash away. Sounds simple, but not every product does this important step.

Washing cloth is different than washing dishes, for example. “Blue Dawn” is a common suggestion when dealing with cloth diaper issues, but Dawn was created to wash non-porous surfaces like dishes, not cloth! Dawn has its uses when removing oily buildup (like when grandma tries to be helpful and covers baby’s bottom in a thick oil-based diaper cream before putting on a cloth diaper), but it is not formulated to clean cloth and will not fix stink problems!

Number Three: Keep It Simple

This is where we could mention all the crazy things some cloth diapering families do with their cloth diapers. You might read about people boiling their diapers on the stove, putting them in the dishwasher, adding things to their wash cycle, like products intended for fish tanks or made for cleaning things other than fabrics.

If your problem is stink, try adding more detergent. Another way to do the same thing would be to reduce the amount of water *if* you are adding extra water. If you are washing on a standard cycle with a water level that matches the number of diapers you are washing, try a bit more detergent. Start with 25% more. Follow the directions on your detergent container if you are using a detergent especially for cloth, most give a range of how much detergent to use.

If your problem is diapers that don’t absorb, you will need to switch detergent. If your child is getting a rash from your cloth, switching detergent is a good start, but you may also need to consider the types of diapers you are using to find some that will better suit your child’s needs.


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