You’re super excited about trying out your fluffy new stash of cloth diapers, but where do you start? Aren’t prefolds supposed to be fluffy? And the pile in front of you is flat and huge. Do you need to wash your pocket diapers before using them? And what’s this you hear about washing hemp and wool separately?
Don’t worry. 29 Diapers has got you covered. Here is how to prep your cloth diaper stash for use:
Each pocket diaper or all-in-one/all-in-two diaper usually comes with its own washing instructions. Typically, that involves washing the diaper and terrycloth inserts once and possibly throwing them in the dryer once to seal the edges of the PUL waterproof cover material where it has been punctured by stitching or snaps. Many brands claim that the dryer is not necessary, though, and that their PUL should be completely waterproof from the get-go.
If you bought a diaper in a very dark color, you may want to throw a color catcher in with the first wash to make sure the dye won’t run, though this is an unusual problem. BumGenius Brights had a problem with the dye on the stretchy tabs running when they first came out; this is most often a problem with new products that haven’t been tested in the marketplace very long.
Once you have washed your pocket diapers or all-in-ones/all-in-twos once, they should be ready for use. If the insert includes hemp, however, you may want to run it through several wash cycles to thoroughly strip the material of its natural oils. Hemp blend fabrics could probably be thrown in the wash with your other diapers to prep, but if you have inserts that are 100% hemp, you should initially wash these separately to avoid getting those oils spread to your other diapers and causing them to repel moisture.
Yeah, so about that big pile of non-absorbent-looking prefolds in your dresser drawer. Those need to be washed at least 4-5 times, and dried in the dryer after each washing, to fluff them up to their absorbent ready-to-use state. You should be able to avoid leaks after 4-5 initial washes, but prefolds won’t reach maximum absorbency until their 8-10th washing and drying, so if you have leak issues just throw them back in the wash again. Prefolds shrink down significantly when you fluff them up this way, so you will also need to prep them just to get them to fit on your baby’s bum and in a diaper cover.
Because cotton prefolds also have natural oils in the fabric, you should wash these separate from your covers and pocket diapers, particularly anything made of fleece, until they are fully prepped and the oils are removed. Then, you can wash them with any other kind of pocket diaper, all-in-one, or PUL diaper cover and dry them in the dryer or hang them out to dry.
Fitteds need to be prepped like prefolds to remove the oils from the cotton or hemp fabric and make them absorbent, but you don’t need to wash them as many times. Many fitteds can be washed just once or twice before use and will contain leaks just fine. Fitted diapers should come with instructions for prepping, so follow the instructions on the diaper packaging.
If you just have one fitted diaper to prep, you should be able to get away with just throwing it in with your normal wash to prep it, but if you have many to prep, or if the fitted is 100% hemp and contains more oils than a cotton fitted, you should wash it separately from your other diapers for the first wash. Fitteds can always be thrown in the dryer with your other diapers, or air-dried.
PUL diaper covers can be washed with any other prepped diaper right from the moment you buy them. Some companies suggest you run these through the dryer at least once before use to make sure any gaps in the PUL around stitching or snaps have been sealed by the heat of the dryer, but other companies insist their diaper covers are waterproof from the very first use without putting them in the dryer. Just make sure that you fasten any velcro tabs down to their “laundry tabs” before throwing them in the wash. Laundry tabs are little squares of fabric or the soft side of velcro that keep your velcro fasteners from getting stuck on other diapers in the wash. If you forget to do this during a wash cycle, you’ll end up with a “diaper chain,” or a string of diapers stuck to each other by their velcro fasteners. Wouldn’t be such a big deal if it didn’t snag fabrics and make your stash look prematurely worn.
Wool is the only kind of diaper that always needs to be hand-washed separately from your other diapers. People who love wool swear it’s not a hassle and wouldn’t do it any other way, especially because wool doesn’t have to be washed as often as other diaper covers. Wool covers require lanolizing before you start to use them, which just means soaking them for a few hours in a bowl of warm water that has a teaspoon of lanolin dissolved in it. Then, after you have pressed out the extra water and hung the cover to dry, it’s ready to use and re-use until the lanolin wears off from hand-washing. Then, re-lanolize and your covers are waterproof again. If you buy a wool diaper cover, it may come pre-lanolized, in which case it’s ready to use right away. But never, ever throw your wool diapers in with PUL diaper covers and pocket diapers or prefolds, as the lanolin will wash off your wool covers (and onto your other diapers, making them repel moisture). And if you throw those wool covers in the dryer, they will come out doll-size and felted, so don’t do that either. Wool covers need to be air-dried every time. If you use many wool diaper covers, you can save a little time drying them by running them through a spin cycle together in your washer to wring some water out, but they still should be air-dried.
Did I cover everything? I hope so. If you still have questions, please leave a comment below and I will answer it and update this post to be a permanent page on this site with all the info. Thanks for helping me make this the most complete source of info on the web for cloth diapers!