How to Wash & Care?
How to Wash Cloth Diapers
Here’s all about how to wash cloth diapers, so that you’d have an easier time when transiting to using cloth on baby. With the information here, you can feel confident about getting your cloth diapers clean and long-lasting enough for future babies.
Before we start…
1. Your ideal wash routine depends on many factors that would be discussed later
2. Washing cloth diapers can be as simple or as complex as you’d like to
3. Expect your preferred wash routine to change over time as your situation changes, baby grows and her output pattern changes
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) on Washing Cloth Diapers
Now, here are the various areas to tailor-make your own wash routine:
Part 1: Before You Start Washing
1. Who’s Baby’s Caregiver or Your Helper?
Increasingly, there’re many working mums who wish to cloth diaper baby too. If you delegate laundry work to the caregiver or a helper, you’d need to take her preferences and abilities into consideration. Some tips to consider:
- Keep the wash routine very simple and systematic so that they can follow easily without constant monitoring. A simple routine also means a new caregiver or helper can take over the laundry easily.
- Write down your steps clearly on a whiteboard or piece of paper so that she can refer to it conveniently.
- Draw a marker line on the detergent cap or scoop so that she knows the amount of detergent to use.
2. How Many Days Between Washes?
If you get a full load every day (especially when washing clothes and diapers together), then simply wash daily. This way, you’d need a smaller diaper stash to rotate.
With a smaller load or if you prefer to wash cloth diapers separately, then wash every alternate day. In this case, consider removing the poo off soiled diapers even on the non-laundry day. This helps to prevent poo stains from setting in.
Tip: In a humid country such as Singapore and Malaysia, the MAXIMUM is 2 days. Stretch to 3 days and you’d risk having mildew growing on the precious diapers.
3. Machine Wash or Handwash?
Machine wash is recommended, especially for Mums with sensitive skin and hand eczema.
Most washing machines should be able to clean cloth diapers well. It’s a matter of knowing your washing machine and choosing the right functions, water level, amount of detergent, etc.
A High Efficiency washing machine uses very little water, so it’s important to use only 1/4 the recommended amount of detergent (unless you’re sure), else it could be hard to rinse the diapers sufficiently. (There’s more on detergent later on.)
You may also add 1-2 used big towels into the load to “trick” the machine into using a bit more water for the wash.
There are a few common reasons for handwashing cloth diapers:
- No washing machine at home
- The washing machine is spoilt
- During travel
- Only a few pieces to wash
- Personal preference
Handwashing traditional square nappies can work fine because they open up to allow thorough cleaning. There’s also no stay-dry layer prone to detergent build-up.
But, handwashing modern cloth diapers with a stay-dry layer (such as Moo Moo Kow cloth diapers) means you’d need to rinse the diapers VERY thoroughly, to avoid build-up and leaks.
Tip: To protect your delicate hands from detergents, invest in a pair of rubber gloves when handwashing.
4. Same or Different Load With Clothes?
This is mainly a consideration when using the machine washine. Generally, adult outdoor clothes should be washed in a separate load from baby clothes and cloth diapers for hygiene reasons.
Same Load: Many Mums wash baby's cloth diapers with cloth wipes, baby clothes and towels. Some even wash them together with home clothes and family towels. This way, it's easy to get a full load every 1 to 2 days.
Different Load: It's perfectly fine if you prefer to wash cloth diapers in a different load too, especially if your baby use enough diapers to get a bigger load.
If baby happens to have yeast infection (or thrush) at the diaper area, then it's important to wash the diapers in a separate load from clothes.
Some options to consider:
- Machine wash: Run the cloth diapers on Prewash function (if there's one), then add clothes to the load after the prewash is completed. This means you’d need to watch the washing machine, or
- Machine wash: Rinse the cloth diapers by hand once, then toss diapers and clothes into the washing machine, or
- Simply wash diapers and clothes together. They do turn out clean.
Washing diapers and clothes together or separately depends a lot on your personal preference and situation, and your choice may change over time.
5. Which Detergent to Use?
With the right detergent, cloth diapering becomes so much easier.
Learn to read the ingredients stated on the detergent packaging. If nothing is stated or they sound dubious, then simply avoid it.
Also, avoid these detergent ingredients:
- Fabric softener: This leads to build-up and repelling.
- Enzymes: This is commonly present in the more “fanciful” detergents. When enzymes come into contact with baby’s pee, they start to break it down and could attack baby’s skin too, leading to diaper rash.
- Chlorine bleach: This is very harsh to the cloth fibres and could reduce the lifespan of the diapers. Also, they can be harsh to baby’s sensitive skin too. If you really need to use it once in a blue moon, then rinse it away very thoroughly. On the other hand, an oxygen bleach such as Nellie's Oxygen Brightener is fine.
- Essential oils: Over time, these could lead to build-up issues too.
- Laundry soap: Well, this isn’t really an ingredient. Anyway, soap may leave a waxy residue on the diapers, so it isn’t appropriate.
- Artificial fragrance: Fragrance may mask any smell from the washed diapers. Avoiding it means you’d know whether the diapers are truly clean or not. Also, some babies’ skin are sensitive to fragrance.
Are you asking, “Why don’t you simply tell me what to use?” Well, here are some pointers instead:
- Choose a detergent proven to work with MODERN cloth diapers. Some packaging states that the detergent is suitable for cloth diapers when it’s referring to traditional square nappies, not the modern invention.
- Get recommendations from other mums living in the same region as you, where water conditions are similar. What works in Singapore may not work in New York.
- Check baby’s reaction to your chosen detergent. What works for others may not work for your baby’s skin.
- Laundry balls are suitable to clean modern cloth diapers in a top-loader washing machine.
You’d also need to consider Water Hardness.
Water hardness refers to the amount of calcium and magnesium ions in water. The higher the mineral content, the harder the water.
In areas where water is “soft”, such as in Singapore and Kuala Lumpur, it’s easy to rinse detergent off clothes and diapers. On the other hand, water in the limestone caves in Batu Caves would be really hard.
If you happen to live in an area with hard water, then you may try the following:
- Add a water softener to detergent during the wash
- Use a detergent designed for hard water and is proven to be cloth diaper friendly
Do try out Nellie’s All-Natural Laundry Soda available at Moo Moo Kow to clean your cloth diapers. It's definitely cloth diaper-friendly.
Part 2: The Actual Wash
6. How Much Detergent to Use?
To prevent detergent build-up, start with 1/4 to 1/2 of the recommended amount.
- If the diapers smell of pee after the wash, do an extra rinse and check if the smell disappears. On the next laundry day, use slightly more detergent.
- If the diapers smell of detergent or feels soapy after the wash, also do extra rinses until the smell disappears and the soapy sensation disappears. In future, use slightly less detergent.
Clean diapers should smell of nothing. Within a few days, you’d be able to find the optimal amount.
7. How to Remove Poo?
Newborns (especially breastfed ones) can poo many times a day, so it’s important to master this area.
Poo belongs to the toilet and sewage system, not the garbage system. If you read the disposable diapers packaging carefully, it states that poo should be dumped into the toilet before disposing the diaper. But very, very few parents know of this, let alone practise this.
These are the options you can choose from:
- Use a toilet sprayer to spray poo off the diaper and into the toilet. Do this once a day or straight after a poo, if you’ve time. Use the medium “strength”; if water shoots out too forcefully, you risk getting poo all over yourself! (Limitation: Cost of diaper sprayer)
- Use a toilet hose, cover part of the opening and spray poo off the diaper. (Limitation: harder to control water power, so practice makes perfect)
- Roll solid poo off the poopy diaper. This is easy after baby has started eating semi-solid foods.
- Wet the diaper. Use an old soft toothbrush to scrub remaining poo bits off. (Limitation: takes a long time for newborn explosive poo)
- Use a disposable and flushable diaper liner. Simply throw the liner with poo into the toilet. (Limitations: #1 – poo may not be confined to diaper liner only, so some spraying may still be needed. #2 – Cost of diaper liners. #3 – not suitable for older sewage systems)
- Breastfed-baby poo is water soluble, so simply toss cloth diapers with poo into washing machine. (Limitation: Erm… not every Mum's cup of tea!)
8. Need to Prewash Just Before the Real Wash?
This is optional depending on the circumstances. Some options:
- No prewash: For newborn stage and before baby starts eating solid food.
- Use Prewash function (if available): When baby starts eating semi-solid food, poo is no longer water soluble, and total pee volume increases significantly. Prewash is recommend at this stage.
- Prewash by hand: Put pocket diapers with inserts into a pail. Fill pail with enough water to cover the items. Agitate the items by hand (consider wearing gloves), then pour the water away. Repeat once more if preferred. Put items into the washing machine or handwash with detergent this time round.
It isn't necessary to soak cloth diapers. Soaking diapers with a PUL layer may weaken the laminate that provides waterproofness. If you really wish to soak, then use cold water and keep it to about an hour, not overnight.
9. What Water Temperature: Cold, Warm or Hot?
Prewashing to remove pee and poo is done in cold water, to prevent stains from setting in.
Using the appropriate water temperature can make or break the cloth diapers, especially those made of PUL (polyurethane laminate). The PUL layer can delaminate from the diaper fabric, when the wash temperature is too high and for too many times. Delamination can lead to leakage.
Also, PUL quality defers vastly depending on where the diaper manufacturer sources its fabric from. The most resilient PUL, such as the one used for Moo Moo Kow cloth diapers, can withstand regular hot washes. The weakest quality PUL can delaminate after only 3 hot washes! So bear in mind that not all PUL cloth diapers are made equal.
There seems to be no universal definition of what “cold”, “warm” and “hot” washes mean. Generally, you may take this as a guide:
- Cold: Maximum 30°C
- Warm: Maximum 40°C
- Hot: Maximum 60°C (i.e. highest quality PUL)
Usually, the lowest-priced cloth diapers can only withstand cold washes because high quality PUL is expensive. You can rest assured that Moo Moo Kow cloth diapers can be washed in cold, warm or hot water.
How Do I Know the Recommended Wash Temperature?
Before buying the cloth diaper, check the recommended temperature on the manufacturer’s website. If it’s not clearly stated, ask the manufacturer before buying.
If you missed the above, read the laundry label of every new cloth diaper before washing it. This prevents using a water temperature that’s too high, and voiding any warranty.
Are Hot Washes Necessary?
Cold to warm washes are sufficient to clean cloth diapers. Washing diapers regularly on hot tends to break them down faster. Even the highest quality PUL can delaminate after being washed in hot for hundreds of times. If you plan to use the diapers for future babies, then don’t wash on hot every time. Schedule it for once a month or so.
Also, if you plan to wash clothes together with cloth diapers, then the hot washes will damage the clothes much faster. For instance, the collars of home clothes may start tearing apart after months of hot washes.
Hot washes also use up more electricity than warm or cold wash, which will rake up the electricity bill.
The exception: When baby has a yeast infection, then wash on Hot until the yeast clears up.
Because of the occasional hot washes that may be necessary, do consider cloth diapers that can withstand hot washes. This means paying a little more while not risking damages. Again, this is a personal preference.
Part 3: After The Wash
10. How to Dry Cloth Diapers?
Finally, we’re left with drying the diapers! Some options:
- Line drying under the sun
- Line drying indoors, catching as much sunshine as possible
- Line drying indoors, using a fan to blow at the items
Drying under the hot sun is a great way to bleach away poo stains naturally. It’s simply amazing! Usually, the diapers take 4 hours to dry on a sunny day, and 2 days to dry on rainy days. Thick inserts, fitted diapers and All-in-Ones (AIOs) take the longest to dry.
During rainy days, using a fan or the dryer would help to speed things up.
Tip: Once you’re comfortable with cloth diapering, have enough diapers to rotate. This reduces the “stress level” on rainy days or when baby uses more diapers than normal.
Another Tip: Diaper covers dry faster than inserts, so have several traditional square nappies or prefolds as back-up inserts for rainy days. They’re low cost and are quite absorbent.
By now, almost all your queries related to washing cloth diapers should have been addressed. As said in the beginning, washing cloth diapers can be as simple or as complex as you’d like. Once you’ve chosen your preferred routine, washing should soon become second nature.
(Edited with permission from MummysReviews.com)