How to Clean Cloth Diapers

How to Clean Cloth Diapers

I remember the first time I told my spouse that I wanted to cloth diaper. One of his first questions was “How do we clean them?” and to tell you the truth at the time I had absolutely no idea, but I was determined to find out. More than a few times he was pretty grossed out by the idea of throwing poo covered items into our washing machine. But don’t worry, it’s really not that gross (at least until they begin eating solids 😉)

How to Clean Cloth Diapers (properly!)

There are many different benefits to cloth diapering and I outline why I personally wanted to cloth diaper in a separate post, if you’re interested you can read about it here. Cloth diapering does require a bit more work than disposables (that’s for sure) and you can expect to add a couple extra washes to your laundry routine each week. That being said, I think it’s well worth it for us.

After getting your head wrapped around the idea of all the different types of cloth diapers (Pocket, AIO etc.) The next thing you need to know is how to properly care for them. Which laundry detergent to use, how to rinse and dry them.

If you’re looking to use a more natural laundry detergent, you must make sure it is a detergent and not a soap. there are lots of natural laundry soaps which will not clean cloth diapers properly.

Let’s start with why it is important to clean cloth diapers properly…

If you don’t clean cloth diapers properly you will get ammonia build-up, stains and foul smelling diapers in general. Ammonia is the real problem because it can cause burns to your baby’s bum. Ammonia build-up is a common problem with cloth diapers than can easily be avoided. 

A quick note on baby poo

It’s important to note that while your baby is breastfed you do not need to wash the soiled diapers after changing them. Breastmilk is water soluble and therefore their poo will easily wash off.

However, once your baby starts eating solids you will need to rinse/remove the poo from the diapers. Some people choose to use a diaper sprayer which can attach to your toilet to get any of the solid debris off (we have this one.) Or you can use a disposable liner.


Start with the right detergent

When researching cloth diapers I came upon a great resource for all things cloth diaper; Fluff Love University. They have a whole list of different detergents and what will work best. It is by far one of the best cloth diapering resources you can refer to. You should definitely bookmark it (I have!)

When I began using cloth diapers, I was using J.R Watkins powder detergent which worked well, but I failed to notice that you should avoid the use of whitening agents in laundry detergents; the J.R Watkins detergent has whitening agents. Therefore it was time to find something new.

I referred to the Fluff Love University Detergent index and found a few options for natural detergents which will ensure the cleanliness of your diapers without sacrificing the environment. Win-win!


Four Natural and Effective Detergents

Seventh Generation Natural 4x Concentrated Laundry Detergent $15.99 CAD

This is the laundry detergent I am currently using. It is one of the weaker formulas so you do have to add at least a full capful to the main wash. It is recommended to add half a capful to the rinse as well. Therefore it is one of the pricier detergent options.

Kind HE Laundry Detergent $8.99 CAD

I plan to purchase this detergent after the Seventh Generation one runs out. It is much more effective to clean the diapers and you do not need to use quite as much. Plus, it’s more cost-effective. Use a full cap on main wash and half on prewash.

Attitude Natural Laundry Detergent $16.29 CAD

Again, one of the more pricey detergent options. But another effective and gentle laundry detergent. Use a full cap on main wash and half a capful in prewash.

Method Laundry Detergent $16.49 CAD 

It is recommended to use 12 pumps on main wash and 6 pumps on prewash.

in order to avoid sensitivity to your little one’s bum I also recommend avoiding the use of scented laundry detergents. it’s also easier to make sure you’re washing the diapers properly if there isn’t a scent to mask any ammonia.

If you do notice ammonia build up…

Once the diapers have been cleaned and still smell of ammonia there is hope! Rockin’ Green’s Funk Rock $21.99 CAD can be used to combat it. Soak your clean diapers in warm water with the recommended amount of the Funk Rock for a few hours (or overnight) and then wash again. This should remove any ammonia build-up.

Although I have not had any ammonia build-up in my diapers yet, I plan to soak clean diapers in the funk rock on a monthly basis. It’s not a cheap product but it can help save your little one’s tush!


Next order of business: The Washing Cycle

Now that you’ve found the right detergent it’s time to throw them in the wash. Don’t worry, it’s not as intimidating as it sounds. If you’re using pocket diapers most of the inserts come out in the wash which will save you from pulling out dirty inserts with your hands (Thank goodness!)


The first cycle is a pre-wash. A good rule of thumb is to use half the amount of detergent that you will use in your main wash. The pre-wash is more of a rinse; water is very important for cleaning the diapers. The pre-wash can be done on any temperature of water you prefer, although I generally use warm water to make sure the poo separates from the diapers.

  • If you have a new washing machine, it is likely that you have a rinse and spin cycle on your machine. This is what I use for my pre-wash. In my machine it takes about 23 minutes.
  • If you are using an older washing machine you can place your washer on the lightest wash option available.

Main Wash

The next cycle is the main wash. This will be the heavy-duty wash option on your washing machine and ensure that you use hot water for this cycle. The hot water will easily separate the poo from the diapers.


Most cloth diapers have a PUL coating (which is what makes them waterproof.) It is not recommended to put these in the dryer otherwise they break down over time. Instead, hanging these up is the best option. These dry fairly quickly; usually overnight.

For the inserts, I put them in the dryer. They take much longer to air dry and I find that the dryer can help to kill any other bacteria that could be present in them.

And that’s it! The diapers are clean. After drying them you have the fun job of re-stuffing, re-using and going through the cycle again. See, not as hard as it sounds… right?

What are your thoughts on cloth diapers?

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