Cleaning Cloth Diapers Properly – Super Easy, Super Helpful Guide

What Detergent Are You Using For Cleaning Cloth Diapers

Worried about cleaning cloth diapers properly? The first step is to take a look at the detergent that you are planning to use. You will want one that has no heavy perfumes (you don’t need any detergent smell to cover up odors) and no added fabric softeners (like Dreft). You also do not want to use laundry soap. The added fabric softeners, brighteners, and enzymes in any laundry soap or detergent can cause the diapers to become moisture repellent (not what you want in a cloth diaper). We do not recommend using any detergents or soaps that are not made for washing clothes or washing your diapers in any appliances that are not made for washing clothing.
Cleaning Cloth Diapers Copy 2

Recommended Detergents for Cleaning Cloth Diapers


See our full list of recommended cloth diaper detergents here

  • Allen’s Naturally liquid/powder
  • BumGenius Powder
  • Charlie Banana Powder Fragrance-Free
  • Country Save Liquid
  • Country Save Powdered
  • Planet Ultra Powder
  • Tide (plain as you can find, not residue free but used by many families successfully)
  • No fabric softeners! No sheets, no liquid, none added to your detergent.

* Any detergent (even a residue-free one) can cause an allergic reaction. If you have any redness or rash, try a different detergent along with an extra rinse.

Initial Set up


All diapers need to be washed (with detergent) and dried at least twice before they become absorbent. Unbleached, bamboo and natural diapers will need to be washed more often in hotter (sometimes boiling water will need to be tossed on them) before they will be absorbent enough for use. Try dropping a few drops of water on your dry washed diapers. If the water does not absorb immediately, the diapers are not ready for use and need to be washed more. Microfiber does not behave in this way and water may bead briefly on a functional microfiber diaper.

Diapers and/or covers stink or not working as well as they used to? Detergent residue is often the culprit. Especially if your diapers and covers have some poly in them, at one point you are going to have to strip your diapers. If recommended by the cover or diaper manufacturer wash in hot water, otherwise wash in the warmest water recommended – do not use detergent.

Wash again using either 1/4 cup baking soda or 1/4 vinegar (usually you want to use vinegar as it helps break down detergent residue). Using both vinegar and baking soda at once has no purpose as you are creating a neutral PH when you combine them. Wash again using the hottest water possible. If your diapers or covers smell like vinegar, run them through a wash with 1/4 cup baking soda and an additional wash with nothing added. Dry as usual. Test your covers and diapers by using them. For future washings use the lowest amount suggested of a recommended detergent.

Toss that smell a curveball

Cleaning Cloth Diapers Properly E
It is best to wash your diapers every two or three days.

Prefolds – If you can’t do a complete wash cycle with your prefolds, run them through a cold rinse and stick them back in the pail for washing later. Prefolds can occasionally be bleached (like every six months), but better than bleach is to use Oxyboost cleaner (OK for prefolds and most diapers without elastics).

All-in-Ones and fitted diapers really need to be washed at least every three days maximum. Every two days is better. Most should never have bleach used on them. BumGenius’ manufacturer does recommend a small amount of bleach on a monthly basis only. Oxyboost can be used occasionally.

Too much detergent – Detergent needs to be completely rinsed out of all diapers each time. Some detergents leave residue (like brighteners and stain guards) on purpose so that your clothes look cleaner. Detergent residues can build up will trap old odors and that wonderful smell will be released when your baby pees. Only use half the recommended amount of detergent for one wash cycle and run the diapers through a complete cycle without any detergent (you can add a 1/4 vinegar to help break up the detergent). Check the diaper load when you haven’t added any detergent. If there is foam on top, the diapers have detergent residue built up on them. Run them through another cycle until there is no foam on top. Some detergents that are formulated with brighteners will leave a residue that will not give you that foamy look when washed without detergent.

Did you use any diaper rash ointment? Many diaper rash treatments leave an old oil smell. Soak your diapers overnight. It will take several more washings to totally get rid of that smell. Next time use one of our recommended diaper rash creams.

Dry those diapers out in the sun with a short trip in the dryer afterward. Or put in the dryer until half dry and they dry the rest of the way in the sun for a softer hand.

White Vinegar – Any laundry additive should be added for a reason. The Ph of vinegar is about 4 and the Ph of Ammonia (the main component or urine) is about 10. So adding vinegar should balance the Ph in the wash. It will make it harder for your detergent to work if you lower the Ph too much, however. Just try 1/4 cup at first, you can always add more, but the smell of too much vinegar can be as hard to get out as too much ammonia. If you have got a detergent build up on your diapers you can use vinegar to help get rid of all of that detergent. Put some in one of those Downy balls so that it releases the vinegar in the rinse cycle. Not recommended with micro terry products.

Baking Soda – Baking soda has a Ph of about 8, so adding it to your laundry will tend to keep the Ph level above neutral. That can be a great thing for killing germs. Baking soda also softens your water to allow your detergent to work better. You can soak your diapers and most knit covers in water and 1/4 cup baking soda in the washing machine overnight to help with cleaning. Not recommended with micro terry products.

Tea Tree Oil – You can use a very small amount on cotton, hemp or bamboo diapers. Not recommended for use with Fuzzi Bunz or bumGenius it can cause the suede cloth or fleece to become repellent. If you are having a hard time finding it locally at a good price, I get my tea tree oil from here.

Bac-Out – Used every few washes, it’s the only way (other than bleach) to remove all bacteria from your wash. [Available here ]

Washing And Drying Cloth Diapers

In-between baby and the wash

– Storing your dirty diapers so that no one in the house passes out. –

The wet pail – Keeping your diapers soaking in water is not necessary to keep them clean. A pail full of water can be a safety hazard to small children. The pail also has been on the small side or you will not be able to lift it. If you do soak, don’t use detergent or bleach in the water and make sure that the lid on your pail LOCKS! (like this one ) You can add a tablespoon or two of a bleach alternative (Oxyboost ) to the water.

The dry pail – Just dump any loose solids in the toilet. Keeping the covers separate from the diapers will help with the longevity of the waterproof materials on the covers. It will also help if you run out of covers and need to find a dirty cover to wash. All of your covers and diapers can be sprayed with BumGenius Diaper Spray to naturally reduce odors. On wash day dump in your washing machine. If you can do a soak in cold water before you do a complete wash cycle – great!

Try cloth wipes

If you use disposable wipes, you will wash one or two. Some disposable wipes will make it through the wash without falling apart. Others will give you a nice shredded tissue like a mess to pick through. Save yourself a ton of time (and lint) by using cloth wipes. Easy to use with Kissaluvs Diaper Lotion Potion.

Washing methods will depend on the diaper type.

All-in-Ones, Contour, and Fitted Diapers

Wash and dry your new diapers a couple of times before using them, fasten the tabs before washing. Kissaluvs, like all unbleached cotton products, need to be washed more than bleached fabrics to get the fabric to absorb properly. For Kissaluvs the manufacturer recommends at least four washes (dry between loads) in hot water before the first use. Bamboo diapers may need up to ten wash/dry cycles before they become fully absorbent although you can use them after two/three washes. Kissaluvs will continue to get more absorbent the more that they are washed (up to about ten washings).

After they get “used” dump out any solids into the toilet and toss the diaper into the diaper pail. Presoaking not recommended. When I am ready to wash, I dump the pail into the washer and run a cold rinse cycle. After the rinse cycle, I run a complete wash cycle with detergent with some baking soda in warm water. You can use almost any detergent in moderation. We do recommend that you use a detergent that leaves no residue. I do not recommend Dreft or any of the made for baby detergents. They leave a fabric softener type coating on the fabric.

Then I run an extra wash cycle with no detergent or additives to get out all of the detergent (I have found that it is best to use half the amount of detergent that is recommended). Don’t use any fabric softeners, it will probably irritate your baby’s bottom, it will harm the waterproofing on the All in One Diaper and it will reduce the absorbency of the diapers. Most should never have bleach used on them. BumGenius’ manufacturer does recommend a small amount of bleach on a monthly basis only. Dry AIO diapers, fitted and contours on medium. If you are washing disposable liners (all disposable liners cannot be washed as some fall apart, please see the individual product details for more information), remember not to put the liners in the dryer. If you do line dry, put the diapers in the dryer for a couple of minutes to fluff them up first before hanging them on the line.

Pre-folds (cotton and hemp)

Your new cotton diapers look and feel stiff. Wash and dry your new diapers three times before using them and they will quilt up into thick fluffy diapers. They will shrink most after the first two washes, and slightly more for a few more washings. The unbleached and hemp diapers have to be washed with detergent in very hot water; you can also pour some boiling water over them. Wash them with detergent right after they get in the boiling water. Please be careful when using and transporting boiling water and remember, you are doing it at your own risk.

If you have a smaller capacity washer, don’t overload it with unbleached diapers when you are getting them set up, they need some room to agitate. They have a light wax coating on the threads that need to be removed for them to work well. Soaking them overnight with detergent may help also. Unbleached diapers take longer to shrink than the bleached diapers and may have some fuzz on them for the first few months of use.

After they get used, dump out any solids into the toilet and toss the diaper into the diaper pail with some vinegar. When you are ready to wash, toss the diapers in the washing machine and run a cold rinse. After the rinse cycle, I run a complete wash cycle with detergent with some baking soda in hot water (if you need your diapers to smell better – such as after a bout with some nasty stomach illness – let them soak in detergent overnight).

You can add some baking soda – it helps to whiten the diapers and soften the water. Vinegar can be added to the rinse to help break down any detergent that remains in the diapers. Oxyboost can be used with really good results. I added about a tablespoon to a warm wash. Follow that with a hot wash or hot rinse. You can use almost any detergent in moderation, but a detergent that leaves no residue is your best choice. I do not recommend Dreft or any of the made for baby detergents. They leave a fabric softener type coating on the fabric.

Then I run an extra wash cycle with no detergents or additives to get out all of the detergents. Don’t use any fabric softeners, it will probably irritate your baby’s bottom and it will reduce the absorbency of the diapers. I dry prefolds and on hot. If you are washing disposable liners, remember not to put the liners in the dryer. If you do line dry, put the diapers in the dryer for a couple of minutes to fluff them up. If you need to, prefolds can be bleached. I only recommend bleaching every four to six months. Just make sure you run the diapers through another wash cycle to get the bleach out. Constant bleaching will reduce the life of the diapers.

Diaper wraps

Don’t store the used covers in the same pail with the used diapers. The elastic and waterproof laminates will last longer. Wash them every two or three days to help keep stains and odors at bay. Your velcro covers will stay good looking and work better if they are washed separately from the diapers. Lint from the diapers always gets stuck in the velcro, both on the hook and loop parts. Lint may also be attracted to the fabric of the Fuzzi Bunz. It does not impair the functionality.

When enough wraps get dirty, I toss them in the wash on gentle with warm water and a tiny bit of detergent. After they are done I hang them to dry. If they get stained, use WashAway Stain Soap or BumGenius Diaper Spray. Leave it on for 30 minutes and wash. You will need to repeat this a few times to get the stains out. Never use bleach, fabric softeners or pure soap on your covers. Don’t dry your wraps in a hot dryer. The Proraps, Fuzzi Bunz and Bummis Super covers can handle a warm dryer, but the best way to dry your covers is just hanging them to dry. They will last longer. Fuzzi Bunz takes a few hours to dry when hung, the rest dry in about half an hour.

Training Pants


Wash like an all in one or fitted diaper. (see above)

Front loaders and HE machines – Make sure that your water level is set as high as possible. You may want to put a towel in the wash to make the load heavier. An extra rinse is recommended.

At wash, time check any diapers or covers with snaps to make sure they are intact. Loose snaps can be a choking hazard.

We may earn a commission for purchases using our links. Learn More..