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

The bomb post.

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. I'm saving up to buy myself a cup of coffee so I can keep this thing going. 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 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)
Long, heavy wash on hot/warm (with a lot of detergent (whatever is recommended for a heavily soiled load*))

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, but borax is way cheaper) is a must. When you wash with hard water, not only will your detergent not be as effective (ESPECIALLY plant-based), but the minerals from your water will build up on your diapers and will cause issues down the road. Some people add 1/4 cup, some do 1/2. I do 1/4 cup.

3. Do not do any extra rinses. You should not do extra rinses unless you have extremely soft water and your diapers still feel slimy with just one rinse. If you are doing extra rinses with hard water, you could be depositing more minerals on your diaper, without anything there to help break them away. At the very least, you're probably just wasting water. If you feel the need to do extra rinses, you may just be using too much detergent.

4. 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.

5. 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 a little less than half a cap of my laundry 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 5 of detergent (what is recommended for a heavily soiled load), and measure out 1/4 cup of borax.
I put the washer going on the super heavy wash, with hot water.

** I only wash my pail liner every few washes, as needed.

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 used to put everything in the dryer, and you can, but I definitely feel like air drying the covers extends the elastic life so much, it's worth the few extra minutes it takes to separate and hang.

Want a free, customizable wash routine printable?

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