The Minimalist Mom's Guide to Cloth Diapering Part 3: How to Wash Cloth Diapers, Simply + A FREE Wash Routine Printable

I feel the need to write a huge disclaimer at the top of this post. For some reason, nothing polarizes people more than the topic of washing poopy linens. All recommendations here are my own, what I stand behind, and has worked for my own family with zero issues.

This post may contain affiliate links. This means if you click on a link and make a purchase, I receive a small commission for my referral, at no extra cost to you. As always, I would never recommend something I don't stand behind and use myself!

So, first let's talk about your diapers. Your kids poop in them, and even though you're either flushing, tossing, or rinsing the poop away, that residual stuff that stays on them is still nasty. It's poop. Plus, these things are saturated with pee. They are the most heavily soiled laundry you will ever clean in your machine (I hope).

Okay, now that we've established soiled cloth diapers are dirty-dirty, let's talk  

You need something that actually says "detergent". In the US, there are regulations on the word "detergent". If it says the word "soap" it's not detergent, it's soap. A lot of "detergents" specifically formulated for cloth diapers are just baking soda and washing soda. They are weak, at best, and will not carry the punch needed to clean your dirty, disgusting diapers.

Chances are, whatever you use on your regular laundry is safe and effective for cleaning your cloth diapers. As long as it does not contain fabric softeners or optical brighteners. DO NOT use any fabric softeners with your cloth diapers (unless it's plant-based).

You will need to strip your diapers if you do, because fabric softener coats fibers, and will cause repelling/stink issues on your diapers.

I personally use Seventh Generation Ultra Power Plus (the citrus scent, not free and clear) liquid laundry detergent for my diapers. It's what I use for all my clothes, it's plant-based, but it's one of the strongest non-synthetic, and it doesn't make my kids' skin break out.

Plus Target's subscription service is amazing.

Between washing, I have an open garbage can with a Planet Wise pail liner in my laundry room. I, or a lot of times, my toddler, just toss dirty diapers in there after every change.
Leaving it open allows for airflow, which actually reduces stink.
You can't smell the diapers unless you stick your head in there, and that'd be just plain weird.

When it's time to wash, the basic wash routine looks like this:

Quick wash (with a little detergent (usually "line 1" of the detergent): this will remove the majority of the yuck.

Long, heavy wash on hot/warm (with a lot of detergent (whatever is recommended for a heavily soiled load*)): this will deeply clean the now-just-normally-dirty, but not totally-disgusting diapers.

It's seriously that simple.

There's a few important notes I would like to make:

1. READ YOUR WASHER'S MANUAL. I know, groan, grumble, eye-roll. But your manual will most likely give the most accurate usage instructions. It will tell you how full the washer should be with laundry. Hint- most are most effective at at least 1/2 of the way full.

2. If you have hard water, like I do, adding a water softener like borax  (or Calgon, or washing soda (the least strong)) will help your detergent work more effectively. When you wash with hard water, not only will your detergent not be as effective (ESPECIALLY plant-based), but the minerals from your water can build up on your diapers and cause issues down the road. Some people add 1/4 cup of borax, some do 1/2. I do 1/4 cup, in my main wash only.

3. It may take some time to tweak your wash routine to perfection. The biggest part of getting your routine down is knowing how your washer works best, and which load size is going to be optimal. For example, when I started washing when my diaper pail was 2/3 of the way full instead of almost completely full, my diapers started smelling so much cleaner. Try more/less diapers or detergent until you find the sweet spot. If your diapers feel slimy or sticky, cut back on detergent or add an extra rinse.

4. Note about HE machines. I see *so* many recommendations about trying to "trick" your machine into using more water if you have an HE machine. Most of these tips are actually ineffective, and beside the fact, HE washers are MADE to wash with less water. HE washers (especially those without an agitator) work solely by having the clothes agitate against each other to get clean. With less water, the clothes will be agitating together much more than with extra water. THIS is how they get clean. Make sure you are filling your machine to it's recommended level. Most HE machines are most effective at 1/2 - 3/4 of the way full of laundry. I have effectively used both HE and standard, "old-school" machines for cloth diapers.

This is my exact routine:

I put line 1 of detergent in the washer. I dump the diapers directly into the washer from the pail**
I put the washer going on a light wash, cold water, corresponding-sized load.

When the "pre-wash" is done, I peel the diapers off the sides***, pour in line 4 of detergent (what is recommended for a heavily soiled load), and measure out 1/4 cup of borax (throw this right in with the diapers)
I put the washer going on the super heavy wash, with hot water.

I occasionally do an extra rinse, if I feel like my diapers aren't fully rinsing, or accidentally put in a little too much detergent.

** I only wash my pail liner every few washes, as needed.
*** I used to "fluff" my load between washes, but then I realized this was probably pointless with a standard top loader, so I quit that! Another myth I fell for *face palm*

When the washing machine is done, I separate my covers, toss the inserts (mainly FST) into the dryer for 30 minutes (or less, they dry FAST).
I air dry my covers. I throw everything in the dryer, unless it's summer, then they all go on the line!

Want a free, customizable wash routine printable? 
Hang this in your laundry room, for laundry helpers:

For the rest of my cloth diapering system, check out my complete Guide to Cloth Diapering


  1. I have thicker bamboo inserts but I feel like they never dry. I run them through the dryer and they're still very damp. I'll run them 2-3 more times and I still don't feel like they really get dry. Is this normal?

    1. Some fibers can take a long time to dry, it's a huge reason I prefer flats/prefolds over inserts, since they are more thin. But I will say, some inserts just always have this clammy/cold feeling to them (some of my hemp inserts), even though they are dry. I think it might just be the tight weave and the nature of some. They really should be dry after two cycles. I'll usually pull them out after the first and just hang to dry the rest of the way

  2. Do you use borax with every load?

    1. I do with my main wash, every time. I tried cutting this out, but it lead to stink. It may be something you have to tweak/test!