Machine Washing Cloth Diapers Part 2: The Process

front-loader-cloth-diapersSo if you read Machine Washing Cloth Diapers Part 1, you’ll know we touched on some factors to consider before beginning, including water hardness, detergent, and how to load your machine efficiently. Now let’s get to the nitty gritty!

If you remember the Handwashing Diapers post, you’ll know that washing diapers can be broken down into 3 parts: Prerinse, Wash, and Final Rinse. For the machine, the process is virtually the same, but how it’s accomplished will depend on what type of machine you have.

PreWash (the equivalent of PreRinsing for handwashing)- prewash settingsThis usually looks like a simple Quick Wash cycle. It’s an important step in preparing your diapers for the main wash. If using a non-HE machine without the option of auto-water sensing, using a regular setting of water is alright; no need for extra water here. Cool or warm water will be just fine as well. Like mentioned in Part 1, if you have hard water, then it would be of added benefit to include a small amount of detergent into your prewash. If you don’t have a quick wash setting on your machine, just run a standard normal cycle. I do not recommend running just a rinse and spin cycle as this will not give your diapers enough agitation to thoroughly prepare them for the main wash. I also do not recommend just soaking your diapers. In fact, many diaper manufacturers don’t either. This increases the risk of mold or mildew and adds no benefit to your wash routine.

(Main) Wash & Rinsemain wash settingsAnother wonderful aspect of machine washing: your wash cycle includes the rinsing step! Once your prewash cycle finishes, it doesn’t hurt to kind of fluff things up a little, get the diapers unstuck from the sides of the drum (unless you use a front loader). Add your detergent according to the recommended amount on the packaging, taking your water hardness into account if applicable. Set your machine to warm or hot (some manufacturers recommend warm, some hot), set your machine to the heaviest soil setting and use a Heavy Duty cycle. You may not need an additional rinse, but it never hurts to make sure all the detergent is rinsed. Often, stink issues are a result of too much detergent which ends up left in the diapers, not the failure to use enough detergent (although that certainly can be a problem). This is namely because the average person tends to use way more detergent than is required, even in regular laundry. To dumb it down, detergent works by grabbing soil and carrying it away with water. Not enough of a rinse (which can occur if you used too much detergent) means you’re left with not just leftover detergent but whatever soil that detergent is clinging to as well. In the case of diapers, this means… well, you know. This also means that diapers that smell slightly off but seem visibly clean might actually just need an additional rinse, not necessarily an extra entire wash cycle.

top-loader-with-agitator-cloth-diapersSwitching from hand washing diapers to using my machine presented a learning curve I wasn’t expecting. I’m surprised how little I knew about my washer until I began washing cloth diapers in a machine. This seems generally straightforward, and it is, but it can still be a bit of a trial and error process, as I learned in my own experience:

When I finally got use of my top-loading HE machine with an agitator again, I began using it figuring that a Rinse/Spin cycle for the prewash and a Deep Wash cycle for the main wash with a maximum amount of detergent was the “duh” answer to getting my diapers clean. After all, I had the agitator to help get things clean! But after winding up with smelly diapers and adding an extra wash to get them clean, I knew something was off and there had to be a better way. In hindsight, I now know why this was actually a very bad idea for my machine: the Rinse and Spin cycle was not enough of a rinse to prepare my diapers for the main wash and my water being hard meant I needed the touch of detergent in the prewash. The Deep Wash option focused much on water quantity and soaking than agitation, which actually made the load too “soupy”, thus decreasing the “scrub action” of the diapers with each other (aka improper agitation). I don’t have a Quick Wash option on my cheap HE top-loader, so I switched my prerinse from a Rinse/Spin cycle to a Normal Cycle with Medium Soil Setting and added just below line 1 of powdered detergent. I then switched from Deep Wash to Heavy Duty, which gave the diapers the proper amount of both water and agitation to get them squeaky clean each time. My top loading machine is only 3.3 cubic feet with an agitator, so about 30 diapers fills my machine 2/3 full and, accounting for our hard water, line 4 of Tide in the Main Wash is plenty to get our diapers clean! The smallest load I can wash to get diapers adequately cleaned is 18 diapers, for which I use line 3 Tide. Max load is about 42 diapers which fills my machine about 3/4 full and I use between line 4 and 5 for a load of that size. Another issue I confronted in learning to use my machine was that while powdered detergent dissolved well for the prewash since it was placed in the bottom of the machine, using powdered detergent sometimes left residue on PUL if used for the main wash. So while I still use powder detergent for my prewash without problem, my main wash uses liquid Tide.

There’s quite a drastic change in my routine from what I thought would work to what actually worked. I only share this so you understand that, just like the Hand Washing Post, this is just a guide to get you in the right direction with washing diapers in your machine, because ultimately you’ll have to figure out what routine works best for you in light of your water, diapers, machine, and detergent.

Frankly, figuring out my machine posed more a challenge than just hand washing the diapers myself, and frustration almost sent me back to hand washing! But coming through that, not only are my diapers squeaky clean, I learned how to properly load and launder all my laundry. Likewise, I hope this helps you!

If you are struggling and have questions, if you want to share your routine or favorite detergent, if you have something you’d like to add, by all means comment below and let me know! I’d love to hear and so would other moms! Thank you for reading!

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