Maintaining Your Cloth Diapers

>It’s funny. Some people avoid cloth diapering because of the idea that it is so much work. Granted, it is more work than simply pitching five to ten diapers in the garbage every day. Yes, it may require some sorting, laundering, folding, and “tuning up” from time to time, but most things in our adult life are like that. Think about it: from time to time, your computer needs to be defragmented, scanned for viruses, or cleaned out of old files. Every once in a while, your modem or PVR might need to be reset from the main hub to get it ticking along nicely again. Your carpets and furnace need periodical deep cleaning, and your car has to go into the shop for oil changes, tune ups, and recalls every now and again. Your cloth diapers–like any permanent fixture in your life–require (and deserve!) the same respect and attention. Putting the time into a good maintenance routine every now and then will keep your diapers working better and lasting longer–well through the diapering lifespan of one of your children, and probably through multiple kids.

Everybody’s maintenance routine is slightly different depending on what type of diapers they use, how comfortable they are with using certain products, the type of access they have to different care products, and the time they have to set aside for maintenance and tune-ups. Following are a few bits of maintenance that are popular in the CDing community:

Daily & Preventative Maintenance:

  • Rinse all diapers prior to depositing in pail of dirties for storage (can rinse in toilet—with or without a sprayer, or in a sink, by hand). This helps prevent stains, residues, and build-ups (particularly of ammonia!) before they can set in and create a real problem
  • Use liners (reusable or disposable) in your diapers to prevent stains or residue deposits from diaper creams
  • Use Rockin’ Green detergent to “Rock a Soak” for 20-60 minutes before you begin your normal laundry machine (allow diapers to sit in the hot, soapy water right in your washing machine and then wash normally without adding more soap)
  • Add extra hot water by hand to your HE and front-loading machines during every rinse cycle. High hot water levels when rinsing are the best prevention for all types of problems.
  • When possible, line-dry your diapers in the fresh air and sunshine. Not only will this prolong the life of your diapers, but UV light also has the ability to kill smells & bacteria.

Weekly Maintenance

  • Allow your diapers a short soak in vinegar before your regular laundry routine. This can help to break down ammonia particles so they wash away better (note: vinegar can be associated with certain problems like wearing down PUL & elastic over time; it can also intensify stinky smells if used with hard water; if concerned, check with your city or diaper manufacturer if you are unsure about whether or not vinegar could help you.)
  • Clean your diaper pail well (even if you normally use a pail liner). Swish with hot, soapy water, vinegar, or even a dash of bleach to help keep smells and bacteria at bay.
  • Consider using antimicrobial essential oils (sparingly!) to combat bacteria and odors, whether in your pail, pail liner, or in your diaper wash water.

Monthly or Semi-Annually Maintenance

  • Add 1/4 of bleach to your washing water for prefolds and inserts (or even to your entire diaper load, if you are comfortable doing so). Bleach is one sure-fire way to eliminate any lingering odors and bacteria that may remain in your diaper fibres. Of course, bleach can be very hard on your diapers, so use it sparingly and rinse numerous times after using to ensure that it won’t irritate your baby’s skin afterwards.
  • Use Rockin’ Green to rock an overnight soak. For you front-loader users, use your bathtub and the hottest tap water (turn up your water heater if necessary) you can. Get all the diapers submerged (stir them once in a while) and allow them to soak overnight. In the morning, squeeze them all out, transfer them into your washer, and launder with lots of hot water (no extra soap). Keep rinsing on hot until no bubbles remain. Your diapers should come out super clean and fluffy! Top-loader users–you’re lucky: you can rock your soak right in the washing drum itself!
  • If you are experiencing lots of troubles with your inserts and prefolds, you may want to boil them in small batches on the stove (or, just boil the problematic or stinkiest ones). Be sure not to boil any diapers with elastic, PUL, or plastic snaps. Boiling diapers should release all the residues and soap suds that might be stuck deep in the fibres of your diapers.
  • Strip diapers using good, plain old hot water. Re-wash your (clean) diapers in your machine with as many hot washes as needed to ensure no soap bubbles or stinkies remain. You really shouldn’t have to do this more than a few times a year if you are using good laundry habits in between.
  • Once or twice a year, tumble all your PUL diapers & covers dry in the dryer on high heat. This can help to re-seal microscopic holes or tears that could cause leaking in your covers. Don’t overuse this strategy though, or you could actually create worse problems for yourself!

What other maintenance procedures do you use to keep your diapers clean and effective? Please share in the comments section below to help out other cloth diapering mamas & papas! 🙂

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