Oh, Crap...Cleaning Cloth Diapers

Thursday, August 27, 2015

One of the biggest cons to cloth diapers is cleaning them. Poop is gross. Period. I don't even like saying the word. I used to refer to it as crap. But I'm a mom now so using that word is frowned upon. Especially now that I have a toddler who likes to play copy cat.

I'll be the first to admit that it is a million times easier to just toss a disposable diaper into the garbage. But as I mentioned in my first post about why we cloth diaper, I have a hard time tossing hundreds of diapers into the garbage knowing they're just going to go sit in some landfill for ages. It may not be pretty, but in a weird way cleaning and re-using cloth diapers is good for my soul. 

So, on to the nitty gritty of our cloth diaper cleaning routine.

We wash our diapers every two to three days. It's a lot of laundry, but I do a lot of laundry anyway (especially now with a toddler).  Instead of a dirty diaper pail, I use a large Green Planet wet bag that hangs next to our changing table. If the diaper is wet, I just place it in the wet bag. If it's a pocket diaper instead of the all-in-one diaper, I pull out the insert when putting it in the bag. It makes it easier when washing them later. 

Now if it's more than wet, that's where things get interesting. In my opinion, the first and most important tool when cleaning cloth diapers is the diaper sprayer. I always spray off the diapers after a poo, even when they were the easy liquid based newborn ones. I think of it as a first rinse that can't hurt and it helps to lessen the setting of stains. The sprayer conveniently connects to your toilet and is really easy (and weirdly entertaining for the hubby) to use. 

After I spray off the diaper, it goes in the wet bag too. Some people worry about the smell of the dirty diapers sitting in the bag, but I've been using these wet bags for over a year now and have never had an issue with smell.

When washing the diapers I simply take the wet bag, unzip it and then dump the entire contents and the bag into my washer. Since we do the diapers every few days, a typical load of diapers for us is about 12-15 diapers (They were larger when she was a baby, about 18-20 diapers). 

There are four main steps to washing cloth diapers:
  1. Rinse out the diapers 
  2. Use detergent to clean the diapers 
  3. Rinse all of the soap from the diapers
  4. Dry the diapers
But there a dozen different ways to go about these steps depending on your washing machine, water type and even your baby. I am going to outline how we do it, but I really do think every person has to go through a trial and error period to figure out what works best for them (which has kind of been my mantra for this whole parenthood thing too, go figure.) So don't be discouraged if it takes a little while to figure out what works best for you.

First, you'll want to rinse your diapers. I have a very standard top loading washing machine. It has three knobs and no fancy dials or settings. Because of this, I don't have a pre-wash or rinse only option, so I just do a water only cycle with warm/cold water. I use the full amount of water to really soak them through and get all of the pee out.  

Next I change the water setting to hot, the load size to medium so the diapers rub against each other and agitate to get really clean instead of just floating around in a lot of water. (Note: If you're washing a large load of diapers, don't switch the load size to medium, keep it at large. You want your diapers to be able to move around in the water and not form one giant bunch.)  

I add in two scoops (two tablespoons) of Rockin Green laundry detergent. They have different kinds depending on the hardness of your water. I use the Classic Concentrate with no fragrance.  I have experienced great results with this soap and after trying out several other brands, I have found this one works the best for us. 

If your washer has the settings to do so, set your wash to do an extra rinse at the end to ensure all of the detergent is washed out. Detergent buildup can cause your diapers not to soak up as much pee and result in leaks - not fun! 

When drying cloth diapers, it's best to hang dry them. Putting them in a dryer can add wear to the elastic and shorten the lifespan of your diapers. Whenever possible, I try to hang dry my diapers on a clothes line outside in the sun because it helps remove stains. However, as I am often doing laundry when I get home from work, the diapers are usually hung all around our guest bathroom (as seen in the photo at the top of this post). For my pocket diapers, I only hang dry the covers. The inserts go in the dryer on low heat. 

Once a month, I soak my diapers for an hour or two in Rockin Green's Funk Rock and then rinse them a few times in hot water to help remove detergent buildup and "strip" them. BumGenius recommends washing your diapers with bleach once a month, but I have read that bleach can break down the materials of cloth diapers and hence lessen their lifespan, so I have avoided that. Other than that, putting them out in the sun also helps to remove stains and naturally "bleach" them.

Some other useful tips to keep your diapers clean include: 
  • Never use fabric softener on diapers as it decreases the absorbency of the diapers
  • Make sure to only use cloth safe diaper rash cream and if you're using a lot of cream, it's best to use a disposable liner to protect your diapers
  • Be on the lookout or "smell out" for ammonia buildup as it can burn your baby's bum
  • Have a relatively large stash of diapers to minimize the wear each diaper goes through. In fact, I think it's time for me to add a few new diapers to my stash -  I love, love, love this new print!
I have had several frustrating moments, either because of diaper rash or leak problems, where I've wanted to toss these cloth diapers out the window (or cried because one diaper did literally blow out the window and into the alley when I was hang drying them). But after using cloth diapers for about a year and a half, I can honestly say that I still love them. 

I have had to adjust my expectations several times and have learned to cut myself and our family some slack. For instance, when we travel we don't use cloth and sometimes it feels like a mini-vacation to not worry about washing out her diapers! Baby girl once went through a horrible spell of diaper rash when she was teething and I ditched cloth then too. 

Like many things I have experienced as a parent, there is no perfect system for cloth diapering, but we have lived and learned and keep doing the best we can. In the end, I love that cloth diapering limits the number of diapers headed to the landfill and I feel better knowing that we are playing at least a small role in helping the environment. Because...
We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children.
-- Native American Proverb
...which is why I don't mind getting my hands dirty once in a while. 

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