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Many parents would argue that the best way to wash cloth diapers is to have a diaper service. This is expensive, with services varying in price from about $25-75 US Dollars (USD) per month. Since part of the motivation for using cloth diapers may be to save money, this is not an appropriate choice for many parents. Instead they must navigate the world of washing diapers at home, which is pretty simple if you follow a few basic steps.
First, there is a difference between how you treat the diapers of a breast fed baby, and those of the formula fed baby or any child consuming solid foods. If a baby is solely breastfed, there is usually no need to pre-rinse the diapers. On the other hand, when you must wash cloth diapers of the formula fed baby or of most toddlers, you’re likely to see more solid bowel movements (BMs). A good rule is to make sure to dump solid parts of BMs into the toilet. You may also want to hand rinse especially sticky BMs off diapers.
You should probably be prepared to wash cloth diapers every two days. Usually you’ll keep soiled diapers in a covered diaper collector or diaper pail. Don’t wait too long in between washings or bacteria and mold can grow and develop on the diapers. Ideally, you might want to wash a load every day.
Be sure your washing machine has a hot water cycle. If you have warm water cycles only on your machine, probably the best method is to turn off the cold water supply to your machine when washing. This will ensure you’re using the hottest water. Your goal is to both clean and sterilize the diapers, killing any germs that might exist in dirty diapers.
You also want to avoid using harsh detergents when you wash cloth diapers. Many will not rinse completely clean and can irritate baby’s bottom. Bleach, though it was once commonly used, can fail to rinse clean too, and it tends to degrade diapers over time. Instead, using a gentle soap is best. This can be a little hard to find; try looking for soaps in natural foods stores, or choose detergents like Ivory Snow®.
You can help to remove smells and clean the diapers more thoroughly by washing the diapers in a white or apple cider vinegar rinse, after doing a wash cycle with soap. It is especially important to do a second machine cycle if you don’t have a hot water or at least warm water rinse. So ideally, plan to do two complete cycles on a heavy-duty, hot water setting when you wash cloth diapers.
When you pull diapers from the washing machine, they should smell fresh and clean. If your nose tells you otherwise, do a second or even third washing. Though many recommend air-drying, this may not be practical for all, and machine drying tends to produce greater heat, killing even more germs.
If over time, diapers accumulate some stains, it is okay for to use an occasional bleach rinse. Simply do a bleach cycle before you begin your regular washing procedure. This will ensure the bleach is fully rinsed out. You can probably get away with a bleach rinse two to three times a year, (some parents suggest once a month) though pay attention to any washing instructions when you purchase the diapers and before your wash cloth diapers.
Using cloth diapers sounds like more trouble than its worth. If parents are thinking about using them because of concerns about sustainability and recycling, there are companies that make disposable diapers out of recycled and "green" materials. They can be found online or in most stores that carry natural and organic products.
I have never used cloth diapers, but I can't even imagine the cleaning process. I think that any parents that choose to use these diapers should invest in a cloth diaper service. People who run these businesses have all of the equipment and cleaning products necessary for this job, so using this service would be worth the cost.