Cloth Diaper Washing


Hemp and cotton prefold cloth diapers need to be washed and dried before you use them. This will fluff them up and make them absorbent. Please don't be alarmed when your prefold diapers arrive somewhat stiff and flat...after a few washings they will fluff up beautifully and will be very soft. Unbleached diapers need extra initial washes to rid the material of natural oils that interfere with absorbency.

A Few Basic Rules

  • DO NOT...
  • ....use too much detergent. Too much detergent will irritate your baby's skin and build up on diapers over time causing stinkiness and absorbency issues.
  • ...use a soap. Detergents are better. We recommend Allen's Naturally. Many other natural detergents are oil based and over time will leave a residue on your cloth diapers that will affect absorbency and may cause your diapers to stink.
  • ...use bleach. Besides for deteriorating the textile of the diapers, bleach will irritate your baby's skin.
  • ...use fabric softeners. Over time they affect the diaper's ability to absorb.
  • ...put diaper covers in the dryer. The dryer will wreck the elasticity and ultimately shorten the life of your covers.  If absolutely necessary, use low heat to increase elastic life.
  • ...pre-soak your covers, all-in-ones, or pocket diapers.  Soaking will deteriorate the waterproof shell.
  • ...use diaper cream ointments with cod liver oil. They leave an oily residue and is often the cause of smelly diapers. Plain zinc oxide or Rash Magic is best.  We also recommend using a liner to protect your diapers if creams, particularly prescriptions, are needed. 



  • DO...
  • ...use a non-toxic, natural detergent to benefit both your baby and our environment. We recommend Allen's Naturally.  Use only 1/2 the recommended amount of detergent.
  • ...use the sun as a natural bleacher. I love to hang my daughter's diapers outside. They smell good and the stains don't set. To avoid stiffness, put the diapers in the dryer on low for 15 minutes then hang to dry.
  • ...hang dry your covers. They dry pretty quickly. 
  • ...pre-wash your diapers before using them. Prefolds and hemp inserts will need to be washed with a tiny bit of detergent on hot and dried on hot several times before use to rid them of the natural oils.  This process will "quilt" up your prefolds and get them soft and ready to absorb.
  • ...wash your diapers at least every 2-3 days.
  • ...add 2-3 Tablespoons of oxygen bleach.  We recommend Ecover which has no additives other than the peroxide bleach itself.  Add this to your diaper wash and then hang dry in sun all day long after a bout of illness. This will kill any bacteria. Boiling your prefolds, contours, or fitted diapers are a sure-fire way of killing all bacteria. Do not boil waterproofing shells.

How We Wash In More Detail...

At-home diaper washing is easy!  We prefer to use a dry pail method.  These are the steps we take in cleaning our soiled cloth diapers:

1. Shake "poop" into toilet. Newborn stools will be too loose to shake clean, and breastmilk poo is entirely water soluble, so your washer will take care of it. Older children eating solids will need to have their poo dumped into the toilet.  We love our Diaper Sprayer for that.  Rinse or swish off any solids and then let the washer take care of any residue.  Simply set your washing machine cycle for an extra initial cold rinse or cold pre-soak to release the poo. Our machine has a pre-wash cycle that I love for this reason.  If you do not have a pre-wash cycle on your washer, then consider running your diapers through an initial cold short cycle followed by a heavy hot cycle.  My favorite trick for cleaning soiled diapers is to use disposable diaper liners. The liners "hold" the solids to prevent soiling of the diaper and since they are oxygen bleached and 100% Biodegradable, they can be flushed or thrown away without harming the environment.

2. Collect soiled or wet diapers in a lined plastic pail.  You can purchase a special made diaper pail, but we have found your basic plastic 52 quart kitchen garbage can and lid works just as well, is more affordable, and is available at your local department store.  The reusable waterproof diaper pail liners we sell are great and can be thrown in the washer right along with your diapers.  

3.  You can optionally add a sprinkle of baking soda or some Pail Powder to your diapers and pail to help neutralize odors.  Once mixed with water in your washer, the baking soda will help to lift stains.

3. For optimum cleanliness, limit the size of your load to no more than 36 diapers.  As a general rule, the fewer diapers per load, the cleaner they will be.

4. After the initial COLD rinse or soak, use HOT wash and COLD rinse with high water level. Use a mild detergent, such as Allen's Naturally, with no phosphates, and minimal additives. Add only 1/2 the recommended amount of detergent.  Avoid all soaps and all "Free & Clear" and/or popular baby detergents. These detergents will leave a residue on your diapers that will affect the absorbency and may cause 'stinky' diapers and/or diaper rash.  Country Save is safe detergent that you can probably find at your local health food store. Contact us for more detergent recommendations.  It doesn't have to be expensive--in fact, the best diaper detergents are usually the cheapest!  Just remember not to pay attention to the advertising claims on the front of the package, but to look at the ingredients.  You want no scents, optical brighteners, whiteners, or enzymes.

5. Hang to dry, or dry in dryer on low heat. Add a dry towel to the dryer to speed the drying process. Occasionally you may wish to dry in dryer on high heat to help with sterilization. Drying in direct sunlight is also an excellent method; it helps to preserve the textiles of your diapers and is great at getting rid of stains.  Hang drying will leave your diapers somewhat stiff so to soften sun-dried diapers, you may choose to use the dryer for the last 15 minutes.

6. Some parents like to add 1/2 cup vinegar to the final rinse to reduce residue of detergent or hard water.  Do not use vinegar when washing cloth diapers made from synthetic textiles...this includes most all diaper covers and some brands of cloth diapers.  Synthetic fibers tend to hang on to the vinegar smell.

7. Even if you follows all the rules above, you still might end up with occasional stinky diapers and less absorbent diapers due to mineral or detergent residue, cream or lotion residue, or a host of other reasons . The first thing you can try is simply to wash clean diapers on HOT (turn your water heater up for this and get it as hot as possible) and rinse on HOT, both with no detergents or additives.  The diapers may simply need a good rinse.  Or if you believe you might have mineral buildup from hard water try replacing your regular detergent with 1/4 cup Calgon water softener (found at your local grocers). Use Calgon as often as needed, but not at every wash.  This process is often referred to as diaper stripping. We have a lot of other information on stripping, but stink problems often have to be solved on a case-by-case basis.  Contact us with questions, and we'll help you try to solve any problems.

8.  Finally, if your diapers are in need of a thorough deep cleaning, you can use a bit of OxyClean in place of your regular detergent.  Also only do this only when needed.

How do you care for WOOL Diaper Covers (Soakers) and Longies?.

Congratulations on including wool in diapering your baby!  We love wool here at Baby Cotton Bottoms and often find that once people try it, they usually love it and stay with it.  Here are a few tips and our basic wool care instructions to get you going.

First, normally we wash all our diapers together, but wool is the only exception.  There are a few wool items out there that are fully “felted” or shrunk so that they can be machine washed on hot, but most require hand washing and gentle treatment to maintain size and softness.  Yes.  We realize that sounds completely nuts.  You want me to hand wash diaper covers that are going to get peed on?!?!  And aren’t they itchy?!?!  We’re not kidding.  Dani was a total skeptic and cloth diapered for over a year before a friend forced her to try a wool cover.  She loved it so much that she learned to knit because she just had to have more.  It’s so easy once you try, and wool is so natural and breathable and soft (if you choose the right wool) that it is the perfect fiber for babies.  Plus, wool is naturally anti-microbial and the lanolin we use on the wool makes it waterproof and acts as a natural “soap” when the wool gets wet to keep the wool clean between washes.  And it’s moisturizing and softening to skin, so that’s an additional bonus.

Wash your wool covers about once every week to once every month, depending on how heavily they are used.  Listen to your wool.  It will “tell” you when you need to wash or lanolize it.  When it begins to have a musty smell or if it isn’t as leakproof, it’s time to wash.  Here’s how we do it.  I only do step 3 every third or so wash as long as I’m using a good lanolin-based soap.  Do it when you think your covers need extra waterproofing and softness.  

1.        Fill a bucket or bathroom sink with comfortably cool water.  Add a bit of soap to the water.  To add it, I lather it in my hands under the water running into the sink and a bit against the soakers in the water until the water is good and murky.  I also recommend getting a soap deck (wire or metal rack to dry the bar on) to dry it and keep it dry to make it last as long as possible.  If you take care of it and keep it dry between uses, it’ll last a LONG time.  We recommend you use a lanolin wool wash bar or lanolin wool soap (like Sheepish Grins or Eucalan) to maximize softness and maintain lanolin and waterproofing.  Some folks use baby shampoo with good results, but please use lanolin with it because shampoo strips the wool fibers and you lose all the lanolin goodness.

2.        Plunge in your soakers, longies and other wool to the soapy water.  Pay special attention to any soiled areas.  Agitate the wool gently to run the soapy water through it.  Let it sit for a few minutes.  Drain the sink and rinse.  No twisting or too much squeezing needed. 

3.        (OPTIONAL STEP)  Refill the sink with comfortably cool water again.  Put liquid or solid lanolin in a coffee cup of hot/boiling water.  I like a heavier lanolin layer, so I use about a quarter to a half teaspoon lanolin per cover.  Melt the lanolin and then dump the hot water into the sink.  Put covers back in the water and soak them for at least ten minutes, but up to overnight.  I sometimes put a little lanolin on my hands like lotion and then pat and rub it into the wet areas like the thighs and crotch.  After lanolin soaking, you don’t need to rinse. Just gently squeeze out the excess moisture.

4.        (OPTIONAL STEP) Instead of melting lanolin and soaking, you can spray on a lanolin spray at this point.  This isn’t quite as effective as soaking, but it’s great to give a little refresher when needed.

5.        Roll soakers in a towel and squeeze gently.  Then lay flat to dry.  I lay mine on a cookie cooling rack to maximize air flow to get them dry faster.  Once they’re dry, you’re good to go for a couple more weeks. 

That’s it!  Just a few minutes every few weeks to maintain your wool, and then you’ve got the best covers!  Wool should always offer the best protection, but it does depend on having enough absorbency in the diaper underneath.  So compression wicking and leaks are almost always due to not having enough diaper on first.  Either change more often or add more absorbency and that usually takes care of it.