How To Wash Cloth Diapers in 5 Steps

Folded cloth diapers in dark brown weave basket

The Spruce / Sarah Lee

Many parents choose cloth diapers for their baby. And within the cloth diaper community there are strong opinions on how those diapers should be cleaned. Some parents insist that only natural cleaning products should be used on cloth diapers. Some choose to use a diaper service that takes care of all of the cleaning and simply leaves snowy white diapers at the door.

If you don’t plan to use a diaper service, keep these essentials on hand to make laundering easier:

  • a diaper pail with a cover
  • borax
  • baking soda
  • oxygen bleach
  • white distilled vinegar

If you don't already do laundry every day, it is best to wash diapers at least every other day.

If you want to store diapers for a time in anticipation of another baby, be sure they are clean and packed away properly.

  • 01 of 05

    Step One - Prepare the Diaper Pail

    Diaper pail filled with water and borax

    The Spruce / Sarah Lee

    Since most parents choose to use disposable diapers, the diaper pails like Diaper Genie offered for disposable diapers don't work well for cloth diapers. Instead choose a pail designed for cloth diapers. While some models can be hung and others are typical floor models, all are waterproof. There are also liners that act as a laundry bag and are tossed in the washer with the soiled diapers.

    Look for a diaper pail that both seals well to contain odor and is easy to use with one hand while you hold onto baby!

    Fill the diaper pail about half full with warm water and 1/2 cup of borax per gallon of water. The borax, a natural mineral, will help remove stains and deodorize the fabric.

  • 02 of 05

    Step Two - The Soak and Wash Cycle

    Washing machine set for an extra rinse cycle to clean cloth diapers

    The Spruce / Sarah Lee

    Before placing the used diapers in the pail, remove any solid matter and flush it away in the toilet. You can use a spatula dedicated to only this use or simply dip the diaper in the toilet bowl water to loosen the fecal matter.  Place the soiled diaper in the borax solution. 

    Some parents choose to add 1/4 cup chlorine bleach per gallon of water to the pail as well. The bleach will help remove stains and control odor. However, this concentration of chlorine bleach will not completely disinfect the diapers by killing all bacteria.​

    If you choose to add chlorine bleach, select a non-scented variety to avoid any possible skin irritation from the fragrance.

    When it is time to wash the diapers, always wash diapers separately from other laundry using the correct laundry cycle. Use hot water and a gentle detergent like Arm & Hammer Baby. You can opt for a detergent labeled specifically for baby or one that is simply dye and fragrance free.

    Following the instructions for your washer, add the detergent to the washer drum or dispenser. Pour the contents of the diaper pail in the washer and then select the hot water cycle.

    Do not overcrowd the washer - a couple of dozen diapers is the maximum you should try to launder at once.

  • 03 of 05

    Step Three - An Extra Rinse

    white distilled vinegar added to washing machine for second cycle of washing cloth diapers

    The Spruce / Sarah Lee

    Add a second rinse cycle when the regular wash cycle is complete. Add 1/2 cup distilled white vinegar to this rinse cycle to get rid of any detergent residue left in the fabric and whiten the diapers.

    Do not use commercial fabric softeners on cloth diapers because they reduce the absorbency of the fabric. Adding 1/2 cup of baking soda to the wash cycle will help soften the fabric if needed.

  • 04 of 05

    Step Four - Drying Time

    Cloth diapers air-dried on drying rack

    The Spruce / Sarah Lee

    Since most parents use laundry detergents free of enzymes, brighteners and synthetic fragrances to help keep cloth diapers as bottom-friendly as possible; this often leaves diapers looking dingy.   Fortunately, a free, natural bleach exists - the sun.

    Simply lay or hang wet diapers in sunlight. Any UV exposure will help to lighten the stains, whether indoors or outdoors, in bright sun or under cloud cover. However, the stronger and more direct the sunlight, the better the results. Fifteen to twenty minutes will make a big difference and can significantly lighten stains or get rid of them.

    The sun works to lighten stains on all white garments - even old stains. Eco-friendly and free, it's worth a try!

    If you are drying diapers in a clothes dryer, do not use a dryer sheet.

    Continue to 5 of 5 below.
  • 05 of 05

    Step Five - Removing Those Stains

    Cloth diapers soaked in white plastic bin with oxygen-based bleach

    The Spruce / Sarah Lee

    There comes a point when diaper stains may become excessive and you want to give the diapers some extra attention.

    Set aside those diapers that have excessive stains or are very dingy. An oxygen-based bleach will remove the stains and is still gentle on baby's skin. 

    Follow the package directions as to how much oxygen bleach to use per gallon of warm water water. Completely submerge the stained diapers and allow them soak in the solution for at least eight hours. Check the stains. If they are gone, wash as usual. If they remain, mix a fresh solution and repeat.