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Washing Diapers

How to wash cloth diapers

The GMD 16 page How-To Booklet is available with your order when you add it to your cart from here or from the How-To Info link in the left navigation bar. The Booklet is more detailed than this page is but this will give you a great start.


There are many ways to wash cloth diapers. If you ask 10 people how to wash diapers you will get 10 different answers. But no worries. You will come up with your own system that works best for you. Diaper laundry is the best laundry in the house. Nothing to iron, you don't need to worry about wrinkles, all the diaper laundry is together in one load so there's nothing to sort or hang up. You don't really need to even sort it at all if you don't want to. You can use them right out of the laundry basket. But it's fun to pile them with baby. It's very satisfying to accomplish something tangible in the day. The diapers are soft and lovely when they are done. I think it's much more fun to stack clean cloth diapers with baby than the alternative method of carseat, drive, shop, pay, then add to the landfill. Diaper laundry is my favorite laundry.

Babies love to help with the laundry. It's fun!

washing cloth diapers with baby

Washing Diapers

There are many ways to wash diapers. Washers vary, detergents/soaps vary, and water conditions vary (hardness, acidity/alkalinity, etc.). Try different ways to find out what works for you.

Here's our favorite method: Run a warm wash cycle first. Then hot wash on regular cycle. Extra rinse. That's it. Easy!

There is no one-best way and you need to come up with your own set-up and your favorite wash routine over time. It's really not complicated when you choose easy-to-wash cotton diapers.

Here is the basic outline of all wash routines

Step 1. Somehow you need to get the pee and poop off the diapers so that your main wash is not full of soiled water.

Step 2. Run a main hot wash with detergent to clean the diapers.

Step 3. Somehow you need to rinse the diapers so the detergent is no longer in the diapers.

Step 4. Get the diapers dry somehow.


For a newborn baby's diapers, put the soiled diaper into a dry pail with a pail liner, or use the pail liner as a hanging pail liner to allow more air circulation. A breastfed baby's soil is a bit like yogurt so you can decide if you want to dunk or spray off the diaper or not. If you spray or dunk off, you'll have less staining, but some staining is not big deal and you can decide if you want to do that or not. When it's time to wash, use the pail liner to transport the diapers to the machine, and use the pail liner like a glove as you turn it inside out putting the diapers into the machine. Throw the liner in the machine, also. This way you never touch a thing! No soaking is needed (but you can run a cool or warm soak cycle if you want to). Doing a prewash cycle first minimizes dunking and helps you main hot wash be in cleaner water. It really is easy!

Small apartment with a washer? Try the No-Pail Method. Some people don't use a diaper pail at all, but instead simply put all diapers directly into the washer and now and then run short cycles so they have no odors, until the washer is full enough to run their regular diaper washing washes. This works well if you happen to have a changing area near the washing machine, and is truly odor free since the diapers get rinsed out frequently. This is great in small apartments or condos where there is a small small washer nearby since it is so odor-free. Remember if you have a small washer, don't buy as many diapers (2 dozen will be plenty, washing about 14 at at time and the rest for spares and use during wash time). Just wash more frequently because you can't overload the washing machine. There are so many ways to do this and set things up! I mention the no-pail method just to show you how many different ways there are to set things up and to get you thinking about your physical set up and what will work for you in your situation.

Shared laundry facility? Buy a diaper sprayer and use it. This way the diapers are starting fairly cleaned off, then wash as usual on hot with regular detergent (such as Tide or anything you like). Rinse well. Yes, it really is that easy. Mainstream detergents are recommended for shared laundry facilities.

How do you get the pee and poop off the diapers? Spray or dunk the soiled ones. The Potty Pail is wonderful for spraying off the diapers before they go into your diaper pail. Learn more: tiny potty pail picture We don't sell the Potty Pail but offer a link to their website because it is our favorite sprayer.


Choose any mainstream detergent that you like. Anything mainstream is fine on cotton. Coconut-based natural detergent options are fine, too. Be very cautious about detergents marketed as "for all cloth diapers". Some are good, such as Bum Genius, Tiny Bubbles and a few others. But others are not. Avoid excessively high pH products often marketed for getting the stink out of microfiber. They can turn soft cotton into something rock-hard or disintegrate it too quickly. If the ingredients of these products were so great, don't you think the big detergent companies would have figured that out? Well, yes, they have figured it that the ingredients are strong.  Those strong ingredients are found in product like Oxiclean or oxygen bleach. Read the directions on the Oxiclean packaging and follow them if you use that. So, do some label reading. If the package says "brightens colors" or has whiteners or brighteners, or "optical or UV brighteners", you can decide if that is ok with you but we discourage the use of optical brighteners. Fabric softeners are designed to coat fabrics. This causes buildup and possibly rashes and will make your covers leak and wick. Don't coat your diapers with stuff. Stick with Tide Unscented, Cheer Free or something similar and you'll be fine. Ecover Zero cleans well. As long as baby is not sensitive to the product, you can use most simple detergents you can find at the grocery store on cotton diapers. Just avoid fabric softeners. We also strongly suggest avoiding scents to protect baby's young, developing and sensitive lungs, but that is a choice for you to decide.

My family tends to get rashes from mainstream products such as Tide but most people are ok with Tide (unscented) and similar detergents, such as Arm and Hammer Sensitive Unscented. If your family is ok with these products, they are excellent choices and clean very well.   Again we do recommend unscented choices as much as possible for baby's lung and brain safety. Do your own research on chemical fragrances and neurotoxins to learn why we prefer unscented laundry options.  You can read more about my (Karen's) laundry here if you are interested. Choices are different for everyone.

Enzymes are good and help clean. If you are not ok with mainstream products, then there are many natural detergents available on the market today. For example, Country Save , Tiny Bubbles, Bum Genius, Bi-O-Kleen Premium Plus Laundry Powder, Kirkland Environmentally Friendly, Ecos, Ecover, Green Shield and others get good reviews. Skip brighteners and scents if at all possible (read the label), but there are still plenty of good choices readily available.

Bi-O-Kleen Bac Out is wonderful for getting stinks out. Get some and use it in the initial cold cycle if you need extra deodorizing power in addition to your Charlie's or other detergent. This is usually not needed for cotton items, but can really make the difference if you are using synthetics or anything not 100% cotton. There are plenty of choices out there and you don't need "special for cloth" laundry products. Oxi-type cleaning products are good when added to the hot cycle for extra disinfection but do not use it as a detergent. Simple oxi-products are great for whitening and killing bacteria, but don't use as much as the package says. A very small amount does the job.

How do you know if your diapers are clean? Put your nose right up to a clean diaper and breathe in. If it doesn't smell like nothing at all, or smell "clean" , it isn't. Wash it again. Don't cover up uncleanness with scents.  Choose unscented so you can figure out if it is clean or not.  Be sure diapers are thoroughly rinsed to prevent irritations. If baby gets redness on his bottom, it may be time to disinfect your diapers, or you might need to use more detergent. It does take using enough detergent to get things clean. Look in the washing machine for suds during the final rinse to make sure they are rinsed.

Vinegar can be added to the first rinse to help get the detergent rinse out easier. The vinegar is acidic and it breaks up the bubbles and the detergent rinses out easier. Then rinse out the vinegar. Try different ways to see what works for you and your water conditions. Vinegar is fine for regular diapers, but it is better not to use vinegar on the all-in-ones or the covers because it is an acid and will damage the waterproofing.  Don't use fabric softener on any of the diapers or covers. It decreases the absorbency of the diapers.

Be very cautious and careful if you use whiteners or bleach. Bleach greatly shortens the life of your diapers, and whiteners might damage the waterproofing on the all-in-ones and covers. But sometimes adding a tiny bit of diluted bleach occasionally is useful if you run into odor problems. Overuse will damage things, but careful, occasional light use can be helpful if needed. Hanging diapers in the sun really works. Try it!

Hard water? (that means your water has a lot of minerals in it - if you get soap scum easily in your bathtub then your water is hard), try adding some Calgon Water Softener, RLR or Charlies Soap Booster Hard Water Treatment (Charlies is an external link - you'll leave Green Mountain Diapers and go to Charlies Soap website). Add the softener to the water and let it disperse in the water before you add the detergent.

If you experience detergent buildup just run a few hot cycles with just water. This is called stripping your diapers. If you rinse properly and choose laundry products that are clean rinsing and don't coat your diapers then you'll never need to strip. You may need to disinfect with a little diluted bleach to kill a stink problem if needed, but that is not stripping. That is disinfecting. For stubborn rash creams, hand scrub it out with bar soap or a drop of laundry detergent at your sink. We do not recommend Dawn. it is for dishes not diapers and has a smell that never goes away. Just read the ingredients in Dawn online and then you'll likely also decide not to put them near your baby's bottom. We do not recommend using dish detergent in your washing machine ever. You'll likely have oversudding and the product is not designed for laundry use. It could break your washer. Dish products are not meant for laundry!

Use enough detergent! Not using enough detergent is the most common mistake. The dirtier the load, the more detergent is needed so don't skimp on detergent. Rinse out what you can first, wash often, use enough detergent to get things clean, and rinse completely. You can do this.

Polyester Diaper Covers

For longest life, wash warm. Hang to dry.

Microfiber Inserts

Polyester diapers and microfiber inserts are hard to wash. We don't sell those for that reason. Choose cotton for hassle-free washing and fewer rashes. When the diapers wash easily, they are cleaner and that means fewer rashes and less stink. Cotton diapers really are the best reusable diapering choice. Want stay-dry? You can add a stay-dry liner or doubler if you find that stay-dry is important to you. Usually it is not important to baby. Just change the diaper often, as you should anyhow, and stay-dry is usually not needed but it is still an option when choosing cotton diapers. Already have microfiber? For easiest washing, we recommend replacing microfiber inserts with cotton inserts or doubler or prefolds as inserts or flat birdseye diapers folded into rectangles. The microfiber is pretty good for dusting. Eliminating synthetic inserts from your diaper laundry makes sense and it really is true that synthetics are difficult to wash. No special detergents are needed for cotton diapers.

Wool Information

Wool is naturally water resistant because of the natural lanolin on it. As you use and wash wool, some of the lanolin wears off, so they need to be re-lanonlized. Don't worry, it's easy! View the video of how to lanolize here. And because you can re-lanolize, wool covers can last through many children! This is a good thing! To re-lanolize, dissolve 1/4 teaspoon of Lansinoh Lanolin in HOT water. The water must be very hot to dissolve the lanolin, then add a little Eucalan or olive oil soap to keep the lanolin from glopping. Fill the sink with warm sink water, then put the wool covers in. Keep the water warm so the lanolin stays melted and doesn't glop. Let them soak in the lanolin water for a while (at least 15 minutes) or as long as overnight. Roll in a towel to get out excess moisture, then set them out to dry in a dry place. How often to relanolize them? Once a month, or once every few months, but sometimes more often, usually less often. Eucalan Wool Wash does add some lanolin, and really is the best wool wash. It decreases the need for relanolizing. We've found that truly re-lanonizing is periodically necessary even if Eucalan is used. Olive oil soap can be used instead of Eucalan, but you will need to relanolize more often. In many ways, wool is actually easier to care for than synthetics because you can keep re-using the cover over and over without washing it. On a toddler, I often go for several months between washings, with 4 wool covers in rotation. I think wool is very easy, and I love they way wool stays fresh and doesn't stink like synthetics do if you don't wash them frequently. Wool is quite easy once the poops settle down and baby is older. But for explosive, liquidy, breastfeed poops, wool can be more work than synthetics. A Potty Pail is great for spraying poop off wool covers when that occurs.

View the How to Lanolize wool covers VIDEO .

Wool does not need to be washed often, because the lanolin is naturally antibacterial, so they don't get smelly, and air out to be fresh again. Wash wool in a product made specially for washing wool, such as Eucalan or olive oil soap. Washing by hand is best. Use room temperature water, not icy cold water; don't shock the wool. BE CAREFUL NOT TO SHRINK YOUR WOOL COVERS by agitating too harshly. Knit wools must always be hand washed, but the felted wool covers can be machine washed if you have a very gentle wool cycle if you choose, but we recommend handwashing. If you decide to machine wash, you can, but expect some shrinkage. Let them dry out of direct sunlight in a dry place. Never use a dryer. Don't put a fan directly on them either. A dryer will shrink your wool covers and ruin them.

How does wool work? See it demonstrated:

Click the picture below to see wool work. This link takes you to You Tube as a popup. See wool work

how wool works image

Go to the How to Wash Wool page.

Washing Machines

A simple, inexpensive top loader cleans best, and an HE top loader is next-best, and the most challenging kind is a front loading machine. Some families actually buy a second washing machine, and love having 2 machines for their growing families long after the diapering years are over. That's not an option for everyone, but if you do find yourself in a position to purchase a new washer, it really is nice to have two if you have the space available. Of course that isn't needed. Shared laundry areas work fine and one washer is completely fine of course. Handwashing works just fine. A tub or a bucket and a plunger are every effective! Any washer you happen to have is great. A diaper sprayer attached to the toilet is wonderful thing to have. I cloth diapered for 3 years without one with no trouble, but now that I have one I do love it. If you are shopping for a washer, standard, simple top-loader cleans best but will probably wear out fabrics faster than the more gentle HE machines. Super-heated cycles on expensive washers are not recommended for diapers since they will destroy the cotton, and the super-heating is not necessary. From our experience, very expensive front loading washers and automatic water level top loading machines make diaper washing more difficult than a simple, inexpensive top loader. More expensive does not mean "better at cleaning" when it comes to the price of washers. Except however, if you can get a warm rinse that is nice to have, because warm water helps rinse detergent residue easier than cold water. If you can get a warm rinse, get that wonderful option. The best overall choice in my opinion is an HE top loader such as a Cabrio or Bravos. They have enough water to clean well but are more gentle on the fabrics than the standard top loaders that have sharp edges on the center agitator. So, because people ask me what my favorite washer is, I'll tell you. Of all the washers I've tried I like the Maytag Bravos HE top loader best, but really anything is just fine. I am hoping I'll get a Speed Queen for my next machine. You just need water and some mechanical action. A plunger in a 5 gallon bucket works great for handwashing and handwashing really does work. Many of our customers do handwash. So don't worry about your machine. This is just information. That's all. Shopping for a washer? Look for made in USA for many reasons but one is that parts are easier to get for made in USA machines should anything go wrong with it. LG and Samsung are not made here. Speed Queen (a wonderful choice!), Maytag and Whirlpool are popular USA-made choices.


If you already have one of those low water front loading machines, don't worry! It's ok! I've successfully cleaned diapers in all kinds of machines including a very, very low water first-generation Whirlpool Duet and my diapers were clean even though that machine was lousy. You can make it work. More information on how to succeed with low-water washers is found in the 16 page Green Mountain How-to Booklet, which is free with your order when you add it to your cart from here. Basically, what you need to do is run short cycles to get additional water changes, because they use such a small amount of water. Using the soak cycle can also help because time in water is helpful too. So you see, there are so many, many ways to do all of this. You will come up with your own method over time. If you have a very challenging washing situation, stay with 100% cotton and choose thinner diapers. Flats are the very best for easy washing, and prefolds are the next best and also very good for difficult washing situations, too. Avoid polyester and stay-dry diapers because they are very difficult to wash. Polyester stay-dry fabrics and microfiber are notoriously stinky and hard to clean. Cotton washes best and much better than hemp and bamboo, too.

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