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How to Wash Cloth Diapers Like a Pro: A Step-by-Step Guide

Cloth diapering can be intimidating. Here's how to wash cloth diapers and reduce your baby's waste-centric waste.

how to wash cloth diapers
Written by
Riley Baker
An unavoidable fact: babies come with diapers. A lot of diapers. A newborn baby goes through
10 to 12 traditional diapers a day
, which equates to around 2,200 to 3,000 diapers during your little one's first year of life. But just because something is unavoidable, that doesn't mean it can't be made more sustainable with some extra effort—in this case caring for the environment translates to learning how to wash cloth diapers.
"You can do it," says Brightly founder Laura Wittig, who practices cloth diapering with her daughter. "It seems overwhelming for a lot of people, but when you consider the waste that comes with regular diapering—you can kind of picture it in your head, and there’s a lot of diapers sitting in landfills." Billions of disposable diapers are added to
across the United States every year, in fact, where they can take up to 500 years to degrade.
Choosing cloth diapers as an alternative may be less convenient, but the reduction in waste (while you work to manage your baby's waste) makes the undertaking incredibly worthwhile. Here's what you need to know about washing cloth diapers like a pro.

How to Wash Cloth Diapers—Tips, Tricks, and More

how to wash cloth diapers

1. Find Your Brand

To make your cloth diapering process as seamless as possible, Wittig recommends investing in a diaper brand that you love to use and that's super easy to clean.
"We really like using the
Esembly system
, because there’s an inner and outer component to the diaper. They’re really easy to use, they’re durable, and they wash up really well," she says.

2. Invest in a Wet Bag

While diaper pails have their place, the buckets are no match for the stink that comes with cloth diapering—particularly between laundry loads, the amount of which depends on the number of cloth diapers you buy and the age of your baby.
Instead, Wittig suggests a durable wet bag with a zipper, the better to subdue the stench. "Sometimes you’ll read that you need something with airflow—no," she says. You get the picture.

3. Reach for Powder Detergent

"Powders work best in my opinion," says Wittig, who goes industrial over eco for this step, opting for
Tide Free and Gentle Powder Laundry Detergent
Fluff Love University
has a ton of advice and testers that help to test different detergents to ensure that the diapers are actually getting clean," she says. "The problem with most eco-friendly detergents is that they don’t have enough actual detergent in them, they mostly consist of soap."
Seventh Generation's new
Zero Plastic Powder Laundry Detergent Soap
offers a more sustainable option that the cloth diapering community is currently trying out—you should, too!

4. Wash for Three Cycles

To ensure the cleanest possible diapers, you'll want to opt for three cycles: pre-wash, main wash, and rinse. The pre-wash should be a quick or express wash with detergent, followed by a heavy-duty wash with detergent, and finally a rinse sans detergent.
Though you can certainly wash your cloth diapers in a traditional machine, Wittig (and the Fluff Love community) suggests investing in an HE (high-efficiency) mini machine.
"I wanted to make sure that they were super-clean," she explains. "It’s kind of problematic, getting another piece of machinery/more electronics, but we’re planning on multiple kids, so we’ll get our money’s worth out of it. And when we’re done, we'll pass it to the next person in our
Buy Nothing
group who wants to try cloth diapering."
Another benefit? With multiple wash cycles comes water waste—a smaller machine helps to reduce your footprint.

Shop Cloth Diapers and Gear

Here, some gear to help you get started on your cloth diapering journey.

1. Esembly Cloth Diaper Starter Kit, $69.50

Esembly's Cloth Diaper Starter Kit has everything you need to diaper sustainably. The Esembly founders have perfected the art of washing cloth diapers, and include a super simple, step-by-step instructions booklet in each kit.
Shop Now

2. Seventh Generation Zero Plastic Powder Laundry Detergent Soap, $12.99

This clean and cruelty-free powder detergent is still being tested by cloth diapering devotees, but the brand's environmental merits make it an eco option worth trying.
Shop Now

3. The Laundry Alternative PuriFI Portable Washing Machine, $249

The little machine is worth the investment. A separate accessory allows you to keep the human waste out of your main wash, and its small stature reduces your water footprint.
Shop Now