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Cloth Diaper Care

If you launder cloth diapers at home, you can save as much as $1,500 over the entire diapering period. This includes all your diapers, covers, and wash products. In fact, each time you use a disposable, it costs you nearly a quarter. By contrast, home washing can cost as little as five cents per change. And, if you decide on a diaper service, it will run about $.20 per change. If you buy three dozen cloth diapers, you only have to wash about twice a week. You don’t need any special detergent or supplies to wash cloth diapers–just a washing machine, your detergent, and a diaper pail.

Regular Washing Routine:

  1. Place wet or soiled diapers in a dry diaper pail. When changing a wet diaper, or poopy diaper from an exclusively-breastfed infant, throw it right into the diaper pail. Your washing machine will handle it. When changing a poopy diaper from an infant on solids, shake out the poop into the toilet, and then toss the diaper into the pail.

  2. When your diaper pail is full, dump the diapers in the washing machine, and do a quick cycle on cold, with no detergent. Or use your washer’s prewash or prerinse cycle, if it has one. Use the highest water setting (i.e. full load). To give the diapers plenty of room to get clean, never wash more than 2-3 dozen diapers in each load.

  3. Wash on HOT water with a long cycle. Use ½ the amount of recommended detergent. Optional: adding 1/3 cup of baking soda to your wash helps to remove detergent residues and odors.

  4. Rinse once or twice.

  5. Dry on Medium or High heat. Or hang diapers outside in sunlight, where ultraviolet light will naturally disinfect them. After sunning, toss in the dryer to soften them up.

  6. Don’t use fabric softeners, they create a film on the fibers which hinders absorption.

  7. If odors are a problem, throw some Borax or baking soda to cover the bottom of the diaper pail. Change this solution with each load of diapers.

What about the bacteria?

Dr. Charles Gerba, an environmental microbiologist at the University of Arizona, released results of a study on germs in the standard household’s washers and dryers. Even without introducing cloth diapers, 60% of homes tested positive for coliform bacteria (an indicator of fecal contamination), while another 20% contained staph. These bacteria can be found in underwear, dishcloths, sponges and towels.

What does this mean for you? If you are considering cloth diapering but are concerned about the bacteria in or on cloth diapers, remember that it’s likely that these bacteria are in your laundry already. Adding cloth diapers to the mix will make it no more “dirty.” If you already are washing your clothes at home in a washing machine, you certainly can wash diapers too without introducing bacteria that would not otherwise be there. The truth is, washing cloth diapers at home is just as simple and hygienic as washing sweaty socks, gym shorts, undies, musty towels, food-ridden dish rags and other laundry.

  1. United States Environmental Protection Agency, Office of Water 4303, EPA-821-F-97-011, EPA FACT SHEET, The Pulp and Paper Industry, the Pulping Process, and Pollutant Releases to the Environment. November 1997.

  2. Contemporary Pediatrics, Disposable diapers: effective and safe. Sponsored by Personal Absorbent Products Council.

  3. Fuzbaby Diapers, Lori Taylor,

  4. Barbara Ingham, Food Science Extension Specialist, University of Wisconsin-Extension, Germs in the Laundry.

  5. Schiff, Sherry, “The Diaper Dilemma, Waterloo Centre For Groundwater Research.

  6. Iowa Sate University – University Extension, “The Diaper Dilemma.”

  7. Reilly, Lee, “The diaper debate: cloth vs. paper, . . . “

  8. Fearer, Mark, “Diaper Debate — Not Over Yet.”

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