How To Wash Cloth Diapers For The First Time (Beginners Guide)

Learning how to clean cloth diapers can be intimidating when you’re first getting started but with a few simple tricks you’ll be successfully on your way in no time. No matter what type of reusable cloth diapers you’re using, you will want to wash them at least once before your baby wears them. Some new cloth diapers work even better if they are washed multiple times and don’t reach maximum absorbency until about 6-10 washes! But here’s the question… Do you have to wash your diapers that many times before you get started using them? The short answer is no. Let’s take a look at some of the most common questions about getting started with cloth diapering.

Why Wash Cloth Diapers Before Use?

We already touched on this in the introduction, but depending on the type of material your cloth diaper is made of, it might require washing before use to help it reach peak performance capability. Diapers made of natural fibers like organic cotton and hemp have natural oils in them that can decrease their ability to absorb liquid. Prep work might seem a little over the top but absorbing liquid is super important for the diaper to function properly. 

Another good reason to wash cloth diapers before use is to ensure there is no debris from manufacturing or harsh chemicals that your baby’s sensitive skin could be exposed to and cause a diaper rash or worse. You can never be too careful with products that will go right next to your baby’s skin. 

washing machine and dryer

How To Wash ‘All In One’ Diapers For The First Time

All in one diapers are made of an outer waterproof shell and absorbent material inside that is sewn together and not meant to be separated. The advantage of an all in one is how easy it is to use. They usually have snaps or Velcro on the outside to adjust to your baby’s waist and don’t require you to remove an insert or stuff a pocket to use them. Quick and easy!

You need to make sure wet diapers are able to dry out completely after your wash routine. The disadvantage of an all in one diaper is that the absorbent material is attached to the cover and it can take longer to dry because of this. The last thing you need to worry about is having a slightly damp cloth diaper collecting bacteria or mold because it’s been folded and put away moist.

All in one diapers can be made from a few different types of materials and should be washed accordingly. Always double check your diaper’s manufacturer’s washing instructions on how to best care for their products.

Some all in ones have a PUL cover with polyester lining. PUL stands for polyurethane laminate, it’s a soft synthetic fabric that is highly waterproof and comes in cute prints and colors. Polyester or microfiber inserts are very water absorbent immediately which means you don’t have to wash them 10x before you start using them. Here are some tips to get these diapers ready:

  • Wash all in one polyester diapers once
  • Washing machine on hot (140 degrees Fahrenheit/60 degrees Celsius)
  • Use baby safe gentle laundry detergent 
  • Use an extra rinse cycle or wash a second time to get rid of detergent residue
  • Hang dry or tumble dry low heat 
  • No bleach 
  • No fabric softeners 
  • No dryer sheets
all in two diaper. diaper cover and diaper insert

How To Wash All In Two Diapers For The First Time

Diaper inserts are used when the reusable diaper comes in two pieces: an outer waterproof cover and an inner water absorbent layer that can be separated from the cover. There are a few types of reusable diapers that come in two parts like this such as:

  • Pocket diapers 
  • All in twos 
  • Prefolds
  • Fitted 

If you have a diaper like this (in two parts) here are some tips for washing the cover for the first time. Make sure you take a look at your diaper cover’s manufacturer’s details to check what they recommend and what the material is made of.

  • PUL (polyurethane laminate) covers
  • Wash once in hot water
  • Use mild baby safe detergent 
  • Wash a second time to rinse out detergent 
  • Tumble dry low temperature or hang dry 
  • No bleach 
  • No fabric softener 
reusable diaper covers

How To Wash Diaper Inserts For The First Time

All in two diapers come in two parts: an outer waterproof cover and an absorbent liner on the inside. There are many different materials the diaper inserts can be made from. Here are some tips for some of the most common fabrics you’ll find inserts made from. 

  • Cotton Prefolds or cotton inserts
  • Wash 3 – 4 times in hot water
  • Use mild baby safe detergent once
  • Tumble dry low heat or hang dry 
  • No bleach 
  • No fabric softener

  • Hemp inserts
  • Wash 3-4 times in hot water
  • Use mild baby safe detergent once
  • Tumble dry low heat or hang dry 
  • No bleach 
  • No fabric softener

  • Bamboo inserts 
  • Wash once in hot water
  • Use mild baby safe detergent 
  • Wash a second time to rinse detergent 
  • Tumble dry low heat or hang dry 
  • No bleach 
  • No fabric softener 

  • Polyester inserts
  • Wash once with detergent 
  • Wash a second time to rinse detergent 
  • Tumble dry low heat or hang dry 
  • No bleach 
  • No fabric softener 
  • No dryer sheets
hang drying diaper covers and reusable diaper inserts with clothes pins

Do I Need To Dry Reusable Diapers In Between Each Wash?

There are mixed reviews on whether you should dry your brand new diapers between each wash cycle. Many moms don’t bother with it and swear that it saves time, money (less electricity) and has the same end effect of a clean absorbent reusable diaper. 

Other moms suggest that drying the diaper between each wash will help fluff up the diaper covers. That being said, the purpose of multiple washes is to remove natural plant oils, which a dryer doesn’t do. The only type of diaper that might benefit from a drying cycle between washes is hemp, which becomes softer over time. So for all other diapers you may as well stick to multiple washes back to back without multiple drying cycles. 

hang drying diapers on a clothes line

Note on drying Diaper Covers

After the first wash and tumble dry it’s best to hang dry your cloth diaper covers if at all possible to extend their life! If you want to use them over  a long period of time, they will last better being hung out to dry. 

More notes on Cotton Diapers

Yes, cotton is a natural fiber but you don’t need to go crazy washing it a ton before you can use it. Organic cotton products might contain trace amounts of natural oils and because of this could benefit from some washing before use. It’s true that these products will get softer after more washes and more use, but the diaper will still be absorbent enough to function properly for your newborn after just a few washes. You can wash organic cotton diapers about 3-4 times back to back on a hot water cycle with enough detergent on the first wash to clean off any manufacturing leftovers that might be on them. Then for the remaining washes just use the regular wash cycle back to back without pausing to dry in between cycles.

More notes on Polyester and other synthetic Diapers

Polyester is a man made synthetic material that is commonly used in cloth diapers because it is highly absorbent. It doesn’t require any special routine or multiple washes to prepare it for use. Simply put these synthetic fabrics through a warm wash cycle with baby safe detergent. If your washing machine has an extra rinse cycle, use it. Or wash them a second time to get rid of any remaining detergent residue from the first cycle. Then hang dry your diapers or tumble dry on a low heat. It’s particularly important to look at your manufacturer’s instructions on synthetic fabric diapers because materials like polyester can melt when the temperature is too high. Don’t ever boil them and watch how high your dryer heat is set to.

More notes on Hemp Diapers

Diapers made from hemp are great because these natural fibers become softer and more absorbent with each wash. This is one of the only types of fabrics that would really benefit from multiple washes before its first use. That being said, yes the hemp diaper will be more absorbent after 8-10 washes but after only about 3-4 washes you’re still going to have a diaper that should function nicely for your newborn.

More notes on Bamboo Diapers

Bamboo fabric doesn’t usually contain natural oils that need extra washing like hemp does. This is because bamboo is so thoroughly processed in order to turn it into rayon yarn and eventually fabric, there are no oils left to be concerned about. This means that, generally, bamboo fabric diapers can be washed once with regular baby safe detergent in hot water, then use an extra rinse cycle to get rid of detergent residue and tumble dry them on low or hang them to dry.

Tips for washing dirty cloth diapers 

So now you’ve prepped your diapers and they’re ready for your little bundle of joy. Now what? What does the daily/weekly wash look like for you? How do you clean dirty diapers?

Some things that would be helpful in your cleaning journey are a wet bag for a soiled diaper on the go and a diaper pail for your nursery. It’s also a good idea to have a diaper sprayer on your toilet so you can spray solid waste off and into your toilet before putting the dirty diaper in your diaper pail. 

Alternatively you could go with a hybrid diaper which has a reusable shell but disposable inserts that get tossed out each time they are soiled. 

For exclusively breastfed infants it might shock you to learn that their poop stains cloth diapers. No matter how you wash them you might find yourself stuck with these stains. The best trick is to hang dry them in direct sunlight and watch the discolouration magically disappear. The color isn’t UV stable and sunshine will cause the stains to break down. 

diaper sprayer next to toilet in washroom
diaper sprayer

Regular cloth diaper cleaning:

  • Separate cover from liner depending on your diaper type 
  • Spray off solid waste with a diaper sprayer into toilet (flush)
  • Machine wash  in cold water to get off any remaining solid waste from baby’s poop or diaper cream
  • Second wash warm or hot with baby safe detergent
  • Hang dry the waterproof covers 
  • Hang dry for best results or tumble dry the inserts on low heat 
  • No bleach 
  • No fabric softener 

How to wash swim diapers before first use

Swim diapers are another type of reusable diapers for a very specialized use: swimming! It’s important to know that swim diapers do not catch liquid. They are basically a reusable shell that offer some protection in catching baby’s solid waste to prevent it from entering the pool or lake/ocean. 

  • Swim Diaper washing
  • Wash once before first use in warm water
  • Use baby safe detergent
  • Wash a second time to rinse detergent
  • Hang to dry
  • No bleach
  • No fabric softener

Do I Need To Wash Wet Bags?

You do not need to wash your wet bag before its first use. Here are a few other cloth diapering items you may be using and suggestions about washing them for the first time.

  • Wet bags don’t need washing before first use 
  • Diaper pail bags don’t need washing before first use 
  • Cloth wipes need to be washed once before use

Check out more of our articles on other baby gear!

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