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Cloth Diaper Care and Washing Tips

written by: Lindsay Evans•edited by: Donna Cosmato•updated: 7/15/2011

If you have chosen to cloth diaper your baby, there are a few things you need to know in order to properly use and care for your diapers. By following these tips you can ensure your diapers will last a long time - usually for more than one child!

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    Getting Used to Cloth

    Today's modern selection of cloth diaper styles are designed to work for today's families. All-in-ones (AIO's) and pocket diapers are nearly as easy to use as disposables and traditional prefolds work great under a well-designed diaper cover. No matter which style you use (or if you use a combination of styles), you'll still have to learn how to properly clean the cloth diapers to keep them leak-free and in great working condition.

    It is important to separate a wet or dirty diaper from it's cover or un-stuff your pocket diaper after use. As urine breaks down, it may weaken the waterproofing fabric. In the case of AIOs, separation is not an option unless the diaper comes with snap-in soaker pads. AIOs and pocket diapers need to be washed after each use, but diaper covers can be air dried and re-used until they are smelly or dirty. Store your dirty covers or pocket diapers in a breathable mesh bag or a washable wet-bag, which are available at cloth diaper retailers.

    Store used diapers and inserts in a covered diaper pail (a small garbage can with a lid works well) without any water or soaking solution. Soaking dirty diapers is no longer recommended primarily because of the associated drowning hazard. An in-washer soaking or an extra wash cycle will help get diapers clean. If you use cloth wipes, store used ones in the pail along with the diapers.

    If your baby is exclusively breastfeeding, you do not need to rinse or dunk your used diapers before they are stored in the pail. In the case of a solid-fed baby, first shake or scrape contents into the toilet and flush. When dealing with an extra-messy diaper you can follow with a quick rinse in the toilet.

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    Washing Your Diapers

    Cloth diapers may be user-friendly these days, but you still have to wash them. Once you get used to your cloth diaper home cleaning routine it won't seem like too much extra work. Your extra effort will be justified by the fact that you are doing what's best for the health of your baby and the environment.

    Cloth diapers should be washed at least every 3 or 4 days. On wash day, first run a cold water cycle with a very small amount of clean-rinsing detergent and a generous amount of water. Follow with a warm water cycle - again adding just a small amount of detergent. This is a general wash routine - always follow the washing instructions for the diapers you have. If you have a combination of styles your diapers may need to be washed separately.

    Your laundry detergent should not only be free of dyes and perfumes but should also be clean-rinsing. Any detergent residue remaining on your diapers can repel liquid (causing leaks) or lead to lingering smells. Adding too much detergent to your load can also cause these problems. Finding a clean-rinsing detergent is harder than you think as most free-and-clear varieties have additional ingredients, such as softeners or brighteners, that can cause a build-up of residue.

    Tried-and-true clean-rinsing detergents that parents love include Allen's Naturally, Charlie's Soap, and Country Save. See how cloth diapering parents have rated several laundry detergents by visiting this detergent chart.

    If your diapers seem to have a detergent residue build-up, wash your diapers with the warmest water recommended without adding any additional detergent. If you see bubbles in the wash water, you have added too much detergent in previous loads. Keep washing until the bubbles disappear and use less detergent next time.

    Check your diapers' washing instructions to see if line-drying or tumble drying is recommended. Exposure to high temperatures may compromise the waterproofing ability of some diapers and covers. When possible, use a clothesline to air-dry diapers in the sun. Not only will you be saving energy, but the sunlight will naturally remove most staining.