10 Tips To Make Your Cloth Diapers Last

Congratulations!  You’ve chosen to use cloth diapers.  Now all your friends and family members have proof that you’re a little crazy!  The truth is, cloth diapers have come a looooong way in recent years and are at least as easy to put on your wiggly worm child as disposables.  All you need now are these tips on how to properly care for and clean your cloth diapers.  With a little TLC, your cloth diapers can make it through several kids and may still even be re-sale worthy.  Check out these 10 tips on how to make your cloth diapers last for years and be sure to add your own ideas in the comments.

 

1. NO fabric softener

  • Fabric softener can sneak in through your detergent (some detergents include fabric softener) and through your dryer (do not use dryer sheets if drying your diapers).  Fabric softeners coat the fabric with oils and enzymes to make it soft, and the left behind oil builds up on the diaper making it less absorbent.  Obviously, you want those diapers to be ULTRA absorbent, so skip the softener!

2. Banish smell with baking soda and vinegar

  • Even with proper care, over time your diapers will likely build up an ammonium smell (re: urine).  A natural way to help get rid of the odor is to start with a cold water rinse.  Next use 1/2 c baking soda and a Downy ball filled with white distilled vinegar in a HOT wash.  Once the washing machine has filled with the hot water and been agitated, stop the machine and let the diapers soak overnight. Do not use any regular detergent with this method.  Finish the wash cycle the next morning and your diapers should be stink free and squeaky clean!
Before trying this method, check your diaper company’s website. Some companies will void the warranty if vinegar is used.

3. Replace old elastic and snaps

  • If your diapers have been used with several children, or you bought them used, chances are that the elastic and snaps could use a little TLC.  For a great tutorial on how to change the elastic yourself, see this article.  Snaps are a little trickier to replace on your own and require some special tools. However, if you’re up to the task, give it a whirl with this tutorial.  If the thought of replacing the elastic or snaps is too overwhelming, have no fear!  You can send them away to a diapering professional.  We recommend Diaper Snap Conversions for the job.

4. Ditch the dryer!

  • The dryer is elastic’s worst enemy.  Anything with elastic should be hung to dry in order to preserve the stretch and life of the elastic.  While an occasional spin in the dryer should be O.K., make it a habit to wash your diapers in the evening so that they have enough time to dry overnight.  Diaper inserts or prefold diapers can be dried safely and drying them will fluff them back up for the next usage.

5. Use correct laundry detergent:

  • Using laundry detergent specially formulated for the wash is essential for maintaining your cloth diapers.  Since cloth diapers need to be washed every 12-48 hours (depending on your stockpile), that means they get a lot of contact with the washing machine.  You need to use a soap that will remove the stink and help clean away stains, while also not adding gunk to your diapers or wearing them down.  One of our favorite cloth diaper detergents is Rockin’ Green.

    PRODUCT RECOMMENDATION


    Rockin’ Green seriously knows how to get the funk out of cloth diapers with their Funk Rock Ammonia Bouncer. Use this detergent once a month to help keep your diapers stink free.  They also make great regular detergents for everyday diaper washing. For everyday washing, we recommend getting Rockin’ Green Classic Concentrate Laundry Detergent in unscented (or–if you know you have hard or soft water, they make special formulations for both water types!). However, if you love the smell of fresh laundry with a little scent for yourself, you won’t want to miss their detergents in Lavender Mint Revival, Motley Clean (ocean scent), or Smashing Watermelons.


6. Strip the soap

  • If you accidentally washed the diapers with a dryer sheet or maybe your washer or dryer has build-up from washing other items, your diapers are likely to build up gunk over time.  Stripping your diapers periodically will help remove the build-up and return them to their original absorbent selves. If you’re using a regular front-loading washer, all you need is regular blue Dawn dish soap to do the job.  Wash the diapers with 1T Dawn with hot water.  Run 2 additional rinses (or more) until the water is free from suds.
For instructions on how to strip your diapers using an HE machine, see our Daily Mom article: Stripping Cloth Diapers in an HE Washer.  

7. NO bleach

  • Some diaper manufacturers recommend the occasional use of bleach to kill any lingering bacteria or to whiten up your diapers.  However, the regular old sun is a great way to naturally bleach out your diaper stains and doesn’t require the use of a harsh chemical like bleach.  With overuse, bleach will increase the wear on your diapers, so if you do use it, sparingly is the key word.

8. Trick your washer

  • If you have an HE washer, it probably washes your diapers with less water than is optimal to get them fully rinsed and clean.  Washing cloth diapers is one instance where it is important to make sure you are getting ample water through the machine or you may start to feel that your diapers just aren’t quite clean enough.
  • To trick your washer, add 2 saturated bath towels for your first rinse cycle.  This adds additional weight to the machine, releasing extra water to help clean your diapers.  After the first rinse, re-saturate the bath towels for the wash cycle and final rinse.  You may be able to just add an extra gallon of hot water from your tap instead or re-saturating the towels for this second step.  Play with your machine and see which method works best for you.
Remember, HE washers also require less detergent.  Even with the extra water, follow the instructions for how much detergent to add for an HE machine.

9. NO enzymes

  • If you use any of the detergents recommended above, you won’t have a problem with enzymes in the wash.  However, if you have your own favorite brand of detergent, make sure that it doesn’t have any enzymes.  Most diaper brands recommend a hot wash for your diapers and enzymes do not work in hot water.  There is also anecdotal evidence that detergents with enzymes may cause diaper rash.  When in doubt, leave it out!

10. Follow wash instructions

  • Each diaper brand usually has its own rules for how to wash the cloth diapers.  Follow their instructions! For a fairly comprehensive list of all the washing instructions by the most popular diaper brands, go here.

Feel ready to troubleshoot your cloth diapering woes?  These tips should hopefully help solve most common cloth diapering problems.  Take good care of your diapers and they are sure to save you money in the long run as well as reduce waste in your household.  Have any other tips that we missed?  Please share them in the comments!

Make sure to check out this informative post on Cloth Diapering on a Budget.


Photo credits: stack of diapers adapted from Miss Messie (CC) | Diapers hanging on a clothesline: Mimi.

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Katherine

Katherine lives in Kansas City with her husband, toddler, and 3 furry children. When she is not at home with her daughter, she is finishing up her Ph.D. in psychology or working on one of her multiple half-finished art projects. She loves ceramics, crafts, fitness, paper mache, and pretending to learn French and Spanish.

Comments (26)

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    Hippie Mama Pea

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    Love this article! However, I’ve heard it doesn’t really work to trick your washer with towels, and pouring extra water in it can kill it. This came from a washing machine repair man. 🙂

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      Katherine

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      Thanks for your comment! As usual, I’m sure there are a lot of variables involved (type of machine, diapers, etc.). The wet towel and extra water trick is recommended by several cloth diaper companies and diaper friendly websites. Still–I’m glad you mentioned it because people always need to be careful when doing anything to modify their machine! I’m sure it’s best practice to add only a small amount at a time to be sure.

      Reply

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        Marc

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        Adding water to an HE machine will cause major problems, or the machine will automatically drain off the excess. Bottom line, it doesn’t help, and can destroy your machine.

        Reply

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    Sarah

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    I am interested in the pattern or brand for the stack of three diapers pictured.

    Reply

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    wendy

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    If your diapers are clean you will never battle ammonia. Try a better detergent like tide,gain or the stronger natural detergent like 7th gen.

    Reply

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      Katherine

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      I agree that if your diapers are clean they should not stink. However, if you ever dry your diapers in a dryer that has used fabric softener in the past, build-up will likely occur on your diapers over time (even if you don’t use a dryer sheet in the diaper load). This tip is really for people who get build up over time from softeners and diaper creams, both of which will prevent diapers from getting fully rinsed eventually. As for detergent, there are many great detergents on the market. Of course, people should use what works best for their diapers, type of water, and machine. We like Rockin’ Green because they sell detergent for different water types.

      Reply

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        jessica b

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        Yeah, but you SAID over time the diapers would get ammonia build up, not softener build up. So now I’m confused. Diapers shouldn’t stink when clean. But you’re saying they will…?

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          Katherine

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          Jessica, I’m just saying that in an ideal situation–diapers are cleaned properly all the time (following the company’s instructions), no diaper creams with petroleums are used, and chemical fabric softeners don’t accidentally get added and if this is the case, they won’t stink. I don’t think, however, that most people are as diligent or perfect about their wash every time. Or–they have someone else help out with laundry and a mistake is made. So–if there’s build-up in your washer, your dryer, or on your diapers, they may stink a little bit after a while. I’m not suggesting they will ever reek of ammonia–just that they may hold on to an odor and that this can be managed.

          Reply

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        Kinsey

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        Anything that would transfer from the dryer onto the diapers would get washed off if properly washed by the detergent in the next wash cycle. Wazoodle fabrics and many other suppliers recommend use of the dryer, or hanging if desired. Rockin’ Green uses the same basic ingredients in all of their products. Each of their products is equally ineffective, and not sufficient on its own to clean diapers, as the surfactant is near or at the bottom of the ingredient list.

        Reply

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          Katherine

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          Following the recommended care instructions for diaper fabric suppliers will not be helpful to people using store-bought cloth diapers since doing so may void the warranty of their diapers. Rockin’ Green is specifically recommended for most (if not all) major cloth diaper companies. Though–as mentioned, there are MANY great detergents on the market and people should choose what fits their budget and their other laundering needs.

          Reply

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    melinda

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    “fabric softener build-up” or non-petroleum based rash creams are NOT cause for needing to strip and won’t build up, nor will they cause barnyard OR ammonia if a legitimate detergent in the recommended amount is used. Detergent is meant to remove soil and oil from clothes and wash it away. The reason stripping regularly is needed while using a product such as RNG is because it’s NOT a detergent and it’s NOT doing the job it needs to do. It is a glorified water softener with a miniscule amount of surfactant. As to the ‘different water type’ claim. ALL of their ‘detergents’ use the exact same ingredient base, the only difference in their products is the water softener ratios.

    Reply

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    jenessa

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    Yikes suggesting for people to use dawn dish soap in their washer will one reck their washer two void their warranty. enzymes are needed to break down protiens which human waste has, you need a good detergent such as tide or gain. Specialty diaper soaps such as the one mentioned above don’t work the ingredients consist of water softeners and washing soda no actual detergent. You should never have to use some product called ammonia bouncer if you do it means your diapers are not getting clean!

    Reply

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      Katherine

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      The amount of Dawn soap suggested is very small and is specifically recommended by many diaper manufacturers as one method for stripped diapers–should it be necessary in your situation. However, I hope my readers will first remember to follow the warranty instructions on their washer if it does, in fact, advise against using a small amount of dish soap.
      Enzymes can be very helpful in removing organic material. However, some types, such as cellulase will break down fibers in cotton materials. This seems to not be an issue with other types of materials (such as hemp or bamboo). For this post though–I took a conservative approach in making recommendations that would not do harm to any potential diapers or shorten their life. There is also conflicting data about whether enzymes cause diaper rashes or if their effects are negated by the use of hot water (since enzymes can’t live in hot environments). To each their own–and if a detergent with enzymes makes your diapers clean and your child does not appear to experience any discomfort, then it seems that your search for a “good” detergent is over!
      Lastly, I hope my recommendation of the ammonia bouncer was not misunderstood. I agree that it’s most important that diapers are properly washed to prevent the need of a product like an ammonia bouncer. Though–in my research, I found that many people complain that their diapers stink a little over time and this can be helpful in removing any leftover stink. Whatever the reason for the origin of the smell, it seems that many people complain their diapers take on a “funky” odor sooner or later and this product seems to me like a reasonable solution.

      Reply

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        Marc

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        Any amount of dawn in your washing machine is bad. It is a degreaser. It will deteriorate the seals and lubricants in your machine and destroy it. No washing machine is Dawn safe. If you must use dawn to remove petroleum based diaper creams, do it in the sink, use a toothbrush to scrub, rinse the dawn completely out, and wash normally.

        Reply

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    Carly

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    I used Rockin Green for months and all it gave me was stinky diapers. I cannot stress enough how important it is to use REAL detergent- Tide, Gain, etc. Use plenty of detergent, with only the amount of water needed for your size load (no extra rinses), and if you have hard water use a softening agent like Borax. Bam, clean diapers!

    Reply

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      Katherine

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      Hey Carly,
      We appreciate constructive and feedback over our content! What detergent works best for you is definitely what you should use. Tide and Gain area also commonly recommended cloth diaper friendly detergents. 🙂

      Reply

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    Holly

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    You should NEVER use dawn dishsoap in a washing machine. It will ruin your machine!

    Reply

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    C. Jordan

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    Dirty diapers are dirty laundry. They are made of fabrics which are used every day in a plethora of other capacities and washed normally in every other circumstance except, it seems, when they’re sewn into the shape of a diaper. That makes no sense at all. The only different material some diapers are made with is PUL, and PUL is designed with the ability to be sanitized in an autoclave. It’s actually pretty difficult to ruin.

    It’s simple. Laundry works by way of science. Laundry detergent was developed as a product that would clean effectively and rinse easily out of fabric, even in water with high mineral content. In 1946 the first detergent containing surfactants and boosters (which are designed to allow the surfactants to tackle the soil in the clothing while they help out with any minerals in the water) was invented, and that combination remains the absolute most effective way to wash all fabrics. The surfactants cling tightly to the soils agitating out of the clothing, and also cling tightly to the water in the drum. When the water leaves, so do the surfactants, taking the soils with them, because of chemistry. It’s a simple scientific certainty, and the reason why detergent buildup is an irrefutable myth.

    Additionally, a good detergent will not have surfactants at or near the BOTTOM of its ingredients list because that is not enough surfactant to actually clean anything. And a good company will not suggest using 1 or 2 tbsp of really weak “detergent” to clean a full load of ANY kind of clothing, especially clothing as heavily soiled as diapers. So-called detergents like Rockin’ Green (a company that will, somewhat unwillingly, cough up hard evidence that every formulation it sells is made of the same ingredients) cannot possibly clean heavily soiled laundry thoroughly because not only is it mostly boosters, which aren’t designed to CLEAN soiled laundry, only to allow surfactants to work more effectively, and not only does it lack an appropriate concentration of surfactant, but it’s also recommended it be used in ridiculously small amounts. It’s impossible for such a miniscule amount of surfactant to clean a load of heavily soiled laundry, particularly after it’s been further diluted in the amount of water required to clean said load of laundry. Again, science.

    This critical misunderstanding of how laundry detergent actually works is the number one reason for stink and rash issues. Plain and simple, diapers washed according to the ludicrous advice circulated by cloth diaper companies and blogs the Internet over are NOT GETTING CLEAN.

    Ammonia buildup is not normal or to be expected, it is the result of urine not being washed completely out of diapers. Urine forms ammonia naturally, but does not pose a problem when washed out thoroughly. If not washed completely out, it builds up and causes ammonia burns. The only way to remedy ammonia buildup is soak the diapers in a proper ratio of bleach diluted by water.

    Similarly, fecal matter can and will accumulate in diaper fibers if it is not washed thoroughly out. Detergent is designed to tackle oily residues, including bio-oils deposited by human skin and, yes, human waste. Neglecting to use enough of an effective detergent will result in a buildup of fecal matter and bacteria, causing barnyard stink.

    On top of that, minerals in water, particularly in hard water, can and will build up in fibers if not tackled by a booster like borax or Calgon. Since cloth diaperers are being discouraged from the use of those products, droves of cloth diaperers are washing their diapers over and over in mineral-rich water, causing mineral buildup in their diapers. Mineral buildup traps bacteria and waste materials, as well as ammonia, so mineral buildup is not just a problem of its own, but a problem that actually encourages and is compounded by two other possible problems.

    Then, when these problems emerge, conventional cloth diaper advice would have cloth diaperers futilely attempt ineffective “stripping” methods that will not only NOT work, but may even break their expensive appliances. The simplest and most effective way to strip diapers is to do a mineral strip with RLR or some combination of borax, washing soda, and Calgon, and then to sanitize the diapers with bleach.

    After that, it’s simple. Pre-rinse. Wash with the recommended amount of an effective detergent in just enough water to cover the diapers and allow them to agitate against each other, and, if washing in hard water, a water softener like borax or Calgon. Rinse once. Dry the diapers, on high if desired because PUL can’t be melted or ruined by the comparatively low heat of a household dryer, and the elastic isn’t going to suffer simply from the heat. No extra rinses. No extra water. Simple, faster than the ridiculous routines people think they need, and effective. Effective enough, in fact, to NEVER need to strip, much less strip regularly.

    Dirty diapers are dirty clothing. Use common sense. Clean them like any other dirty clothing. Understand that it’s science, not a matter of opinion – which is great because science is true whether you believe it or not. There’s no need to complicate cloth diapering with nonsense.

    Reply

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      Katherine

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      This article specifically recommends that people who cloth diaper follow the proper washing instructions specific to the type of diaper/brand they purchased. Since I have written about extending the life of cloth diapers (especially for families who hope to use them for several children and over several years), I included tips that should help to do that. It is important for people to follow the advice of the cloth diaper manufacturer so as not to void the warranty (and get the maximum use out of them). I understand that there is a large debate over the use of enzymes in detergents in getting diapers clean. There are lots of great detergents out there that will get diapers (and all regular clothing) clean. You’re right that diapers don’t necessarily need a whole list of special treatment, but if you use detergents on your other clothing that contains brighteners, softeners, perfumes, whiteners, or yes enzymes, you should not use them on your cloth diapers, as this is against the recommended care instructions. As far as using the dryer–if you regularly dry your diapers with elastic, the elastic is likely to wear out with wear. Though, this can be easy to replace, I think many people will find that simply line drying them and machine drying the inserts will be the best solution for prolonging their life.

      Reply

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    Lis

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    Please don’t advocate using Dawn in your washer! It will break your machine and void your warranty. Also if you are using a proper wash method, good detergent you do not need to strip your diapers. Ever. I have Cd for over 2.5 years and I tried lots of detergents plant based and traditional. RnG is just OK and I am sorry for $25 a bag I want my sock blown off and it does not do that. I much more prefer Planet powder, Country Save and Biokleen. Enzymes are only an issue if your child has sensitive skin and reacts to them. For about 90% of people this is not an issue.

    Reply

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      Katherine

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      Hi Lis, See my comment below about why enzymes were left out for this article. Country Save is considered safe for cloth diapering, though there have been reports of repelling issues. You can see here for a complete list of recommended detergents by Bummis.
      http://www.bummis.com/media/detergent-information.pdf

      Reply

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    Barb

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    These are some great tips! I noticed after a while my diapers started to “funk”, even though we were washing daily and hang drying. I will definitely try out some of these tips. THANK YOU!!

    Reply

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      Ashley

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      Barb, please try testing your water hardness to determine if it is hard. Chances are it is. Calgon, borax and washing soda will help clear that up. 1/4 cup of each will do wonders. Tide ultra is the best detergent for cloth (we use it for all other cloths including the same materials in cloth diapers) so don’t worry that it will hurt your diapers – it won’t! Tide includes enzymes that help break down human soil that non-mainstream detergents don’t include. It took me stinky diapers and a few burns to figure it out – my poor baby. However, now we throw all our dipes straight into the he top loader filled about 2/3 full, add the water softeners, tide and wash with no presoak on tap with no extra rinses. It only took 5 washes and my dipes didn’t even smell after sitting a day in the wet bag. Try it out and good luck momma!

      Reply

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        Katherine

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        The best selling cloth diaper companies such as Bum Genius, G Diapers, Fuzzibunz and Econobum specifically recommend AGAINST the use of enzymes in the wash. Since this article is about extending the life of your cloth diapers, we have to recommend against the use of detergents with enzymes since the is will void the diaper warranty for many brands.

        Reply

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          Marc

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          Voiding diaper warranties should come FAR after keeping your child safe from harmful chemicals. Enzymes in detergents do not harm cloth, they specifically target human waste. If they could harm cloth, why would they be in a product specifically made for clothing?

          Reply

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