Now that you’ve fallen in love with the cloth diapers, let’s talk about getting them clean!
Firstly, if you have a top loading machine – KEEP IT! They are wonderful for cloth diapers as they generally allow you to control the amount of water in the drum. The most important factor in getting cloth diapers clean is using LOTS of water in the rinses and wash. If you have an HE machine, don’t fret, there are ways you can trick your machine into using more water. We’ll get to those shortly. Just remember that high water volume = cleaner diapers.
Now, let’s start at the very beginning…
If you’ve just come home from Belly Laughs with a stash of brand new diapers, refrain from immediately putting them on your baby. They need some treatment before they become absorbent. If you have bought diapers and/or inserts made of unbleached cotton, bamboo or hemp you will need to wash and dry them at least three times to remove the natural oils and waxes that inhibit absorption. These diapers and inserts will continue to become more absorbent with each subsequent wash. If your inserts are made of microfiber terry cloth, one round of washing will suffice. In all of these cases, wash diapers in hot water using a small amount of zero residue detergent (more on detergents later).
Where do I put soiled diapers?
There are two main options for storing soiled diapers. A dry pail, or a wet bag
(ironically there is nothing wet about this bag, other than the soiled diapers). Do NOT use a wet pail. Nobody needs to deal with poop soup.
Remove the diaper from baby, if necessary dump the poop (you’ll see what I mean shortly), remove insert (if using pockets), affix any applix to the sides so they don’t catch on anything and toss into the pail or bag.
We Belly Laughers prefer using a hanging wet bag for soiled diapers. The reason being that wet bags can remain open a little to let the air at the diapers and thus dissipate some of the ammonia smell that develops from urine. A sealed diaper pail will knock you out with the smell when you open it. Also, plastic tends to retain smell a LOT. You can combat this a little by using a pail liner. However, having two wet bags for soiled diapers is a great idea. When you’re ready to launder, toss the diapers and the bag itself into the wash, and set up your second wet bag to start collecting the new batch of soiled diapers.
But what about the poop!?
This is the most common question from cloth diapering virgins. Fear not! Soon enough you won’t think twice about it, and you will, in fact, be romancing other virgins with your cloth diapering ways!
Here’s the story on poop:
If your baby is exclusively breast fed, – wait for it… do absolutely NOTHING. That stuff washes out like nobody’s business. It’s completely water soluble and therefore doesn’t need to be removed from the diaper before laundering. Trust me on this one. Now, I will warn you, breast fed poop STAINS. Your diapers will come out of the wash all sorts of different shades of anything between neon yellow and brown. The forest green poop with grass clippings was my personal favourite, but I digress. Your diapers are clean, I swear. Just take a whiff of them – they’re clean. Some people are more bothered by stains than others. If you wish to return your diapers to their former pristine state, all that is really required is some time in the sun. Lay wet diapers outside in the sun for a few hours, and those stains will vanish. It is really quite magical, and you will, I assure you, bask in the glory of having conquered the stains.
WARNING: Laying yourself in the sun will not remove the baby barf stains from your shirt. Either embrace the stains, or be prepared to change your shirt every 30 minutes.
As for the rest….
Whether formula fed from birth, or having moved onto adding solid foods to your breastfed baby, these poops are a different beast. These gems are removed from diapers and flushed away before your diapers are tossed into the wash. With that said, do not think that all the poop needs to be removed. There will be leftovers in there, and that’s okay. The wash will take care of that. There are a few ways to remove the aforementioned poop. Many people opt to use liners. These are sheets of biodegradable material that lay on top of the diaper to catch the poop. When changing baby, simply toss the liner and its contents into the toilet and flush. Some people choose to use reusable fleece liners and dedicate a spatula to poop removal. Another option is a diaper sprayer. These handy little guys hook up to your toilet and allow you to spray poop off directly into your toilet while giving the diapers a bit of a rinse. Finally, it’s not uncommon for some poop just to roll off the diaper without any encouragement. We all pray for those poops!
Now for the the big finish… THE WASH.
We’ll just break this down into steps shall we?
- WARM pre-rinse
- HOT wash with non-residue detergent.
- WARM or COLD Warm water tends to flow better through the fibres of the fabrics. Cold water shrinks the fabric pores. So, if you’re able to rinse with warm, do it. You won’t be sorry.
- Dry diapers either in your tumble dryer (DO NOT USE FABRIC SOFTENER! It causes the dreaded residue) or hang them outside and allow the fresh air and sun dry them and eliminate stains. If using prefolds and wraps, you may want to tumble dry your prefolds but let the wraps air dry. The prefolds take much longer to dry than the wraps.
Top Load vs Front Load
As mentioned earlier, if using a top load machine, set it to use more water than you would for a normal load of laundry.
If you’re using a front loader, or any other machine that dispenses water according to the weight of the load, you need to trick the machine. Adding a wet towel or two to the load will fool the machine into increasing the water volume. You could also call the manufacturer and ask if there are ways to add extra water to the machine.
The most common problems with cloth diapers are stink, rashes and leaks. All of these are caused by residue. If your diapers start to stink (usually like ammonia), aren’t absorbing as they should or your baby develops a rash, then you have residue build up. This is caused by some detergents with unwanted additives (see our detergent list, stick to one of them, and you should be okay), fabric softeners, hard water or use of a diaper cream that is not safe for cloth diapers. Word to the wise – stay away from any diaper cream that is white, or petroleum based. They all create a barrier on diapers that prevent absorption. But, fear not – there are simple solutions to residue build-up! While many people go through a complicated process to strip diapers, we find the following work:
Once a month, add RLR to your diaper wash – it generally takes care of residue issues.
Another option is doing a soak with Funk Rock. Soak up to 20 diapers at a time with 4 tbsp of Funk Rock in warm water, swirl them around a little and then let them sit for half an hour or so. Dump the water out, throw the diapers in the washing machine and rinse and spin! Adding a little of this magic powder to your prewash each time you launder will also help to keep the funk down.
If your residue issues reoccur quickly, you may have to make some adjustments to your laundry routine. Residue can be caused by too much or too little detergent, and not using enough water.
Choose a detergent that is free of all of the following:
- Fabric softeners
- Natural oils
- UV brighteners
- Stain guard ingredients
The detergents listed below are safe bets:
- Rockin Green
- Country Save
- Seventh Generation Delicate Care
- Nature Clean Powder or Liquid
- Wonder Wash
- Allen’s Naturally
- Country Fresh
The ones we at Belly Laughs favour can be found here.
And there you have it! Everything you need to know about caring for your cloth diapers! Now all you need to do is enjoy your new obsession. And trust me, it WILL become an obsession.