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Handwashing Cloth Diapers

Washing Cloth Diapers by Hand

Handwashing Cloth Diapers - Washtub

How do you wash your cloth diapers? Have you ever thought about washing them by hand? What if you had to wash them by hand - do you know how? Handwashing cloth diapers isn't as unusual as you may think; read on to get the low-down on the whys and hows of handwashing cloth diapers, including tips and tricks from the experts!

Why are you Handwashing Cloth Diapers?

In this age of technology with washers and dryers, why would anyone choose to wash laundry by hand - especially cloth diapers? We did some research and discovered that there are many good reasons why families are handwashing their cloth diapers.

Broken Washer or Dryer

I don't think anyone realizes how much they depend on their washer and dryer until they break. Of course our washer died in the middle of a cloth diaper washing session! I was able to take the diapers to my parents instead of washing them by hand, but next time I'll be prepared for handwashing our cloth diapers.


My family isn't big into camping but we've gone a few times and there have never been laundry facilities in the campgrounds where we stayed. I'm sure some campgrounds offer laundry facilities, but like hotels, they're not secure either.

Diaper Emergency

When you realize that you're about to run out of clean diapers it may be quicker to try washing a couple of cloth diapers by hand than running a load in the machine.

Lack of Laundry Facilities

Some families live in apartment buildings without laundry facilities or on upper floors of buildings that have basement facilities. Often these families choose to wash their cloth diapers by hand in between trips to the laundromat.

Personal Preference

Many families prefer handwashing their cloth diapers because they feel it keeps them looking new longer.

Vacationing in a Hotel

Most hotels don't offer laundry facilities, and those that do are either very expensive, not secure, or both. Using the hotel tub for handwashing cloth diapers is a popular alternative for many families.

Handwashing Cloth Diapers is Easier than you Think!

We've never washed our diapers by hand so we went to the experts on handwashing cloth diapers. We posted on several cloth diapering boards and asked for information on how to handwash cloth diapers. We were surprised to learn that washing cloth diapers by hand isn't as hard or as yucky as it sounds!

Step by Step Guide to Handwashing Cloth Diapers

No matter where or why you're handwashing your cloth diapers, there are a number of steps you'll want to follow to be sure your diapers get clean. Before you begin you may want to change into clothing you won't mind getting soapy water on, or put a chef's apron over your clothing.

  • Step 1: Plug the sink or tub drain and add about 1/8 to 1/4 cup of detergent.
  • Step 2: Add water as hot as you can stand, being sure to leave room for the cloth diapers to move freely.
  • Step 3: Add the diapers and swish until they're all wet and soapy. At this point you could let them soak if you wish.
  • Step 4: Knead the diapers with your hands like you're kneading bread for several minutes (rubber gloves makes this less icky).
  • Step 5: Unplug the sink or tub and let the water drain out.
  • Step 6: Rinse the diapers under hot or warm running water until the water is clear.
  • Step 7: Wring out your diapers and place in the dryer or hang to dry.

Tips for Handwashing Cloth Diapers

Handwashing Cloth Diapers - Wooden Rack

Now that you know the basics, try some of the following ideas to make washing cloth diapers by hand even easier.

  • You may need more diapers than recommended because they take longer to dry when washed by hand.
  • Flat diapers are the easiest to handwash and will dry the quickest.
  • Washing cloth diapers by hand is less overwhelming if you wash every day or every other day.
  • Use your child's used bathwater to pre-soak your cloth diapers before washing.
  • Rinse your cloth diapers in cold water before washing to prevent stains from setting.
  • Try handwashing cloth diapers in a large bucket with a plunger as agitator.
  • If you will be handwashing your cloth diapers for a long time consider investing in a wringer-washer.
  • Don't worry if your cloth diapers come off the line stiff as boards, once they warm up they will soften.
  • If you can't dry your cloth diapers outside try a wooden drying rack or hang clotheslines on a porch or in the kitchen.

Experts Speak About Handwashing Cloth Diapers

"I just rinse the diapers off with cold water then fill the tub with hot water and some detergent. I wear gloves because you can get chemical burns from the detergent. I let them sit for an hour and then use my hands to agitate. I drain the water and step on the diapers to get excess water out. After that I fill one more time to make there are no suds. Its really easy to do..." Jen L. York, Maine

"I handwash my prefolds. I put about 6 of them into a bucket with detergent and hot water after a cold rinse under the faucet. Handwashing Cloth Diapers - Gloves If there are stains, I scrub at them using any excess fabric from the diaper I can gather. I swish the diapers around in the bucket and let them sit for a few minutes. I've let them sit overnight too, when I was extra busy. When done with that, I dump out the water and run warm water over the diapers. Sometimes I just keep them in the tub and squeeze them underneath the running water to try to get rid of all the soap. It's difficult to do though. I load them into the bucket again with some more hot water and let any excess soap collect to the top. I rinse and repeat until I'm sure there isn't too much detergent left. Then I wring and hang dry. Be sure to wear gloves, as this can be difficult on your hands. I also sometimes wash my pockets using the same method. Pockets are a lot easier, but when handwashing my MF inserts, I add a bit of bleach since they're so thick and absorbent and harder to wring out than prefolds. If the diapers start to smell from excess detergent due to handwashing, boil them for half an hour. You will see the detergent collect on the top. Then wash with hot water and no detergent. Just rinse and drain any foamy soap you see collect." Solight S. Fall River, MA

"When our washing machine broke, I did handwash for a few months. It's not as hard as it sounds. I first sprayed everything off with the kitchen sprayer, then ran a sink of water and dawn dishsoap. I just used a squirt. I swished them around and wrung them out under water, to make sure they were all getting soapy, etc. (I used fitteds) Then, I ran a sink of water with a cup of vinegar in it and did the same thing, then rinsed with water and hung to dry outside. Once they were almost dry, I put them in the clothes-dryer for a few minutes." Teri E. Denton, Texas

Handwashing Cloth Diapers - Bathtub

"My mother hand washed cloth diapers in the Kootenays when I was a baby. She would dump the dipes into her bathwater when she was finished with it, add soap and swish them around for a while and scrub any stains (rubber gloves made this not as gross) Then she would put them in a pot of water on the stove and boil them for a few min to disinfect (I'm not sure if you really need to do that) and then she would rinse them under cold water and hang to dry. (She was rinsing in the creek out back as the only water came from there or a bucket drawn well) In the winter or on rainy days she would dry them inside by the wood stove." Rhiannon F, Ft. St. James, BC, Canada

"I do a combination of hand-washing and machine washing because I only have 5 pocket diapers that I like for the day, but I have 4 bamboo fitteds that I love for nights... So on the days before I wash my nighttime stash (I tried handwashing them takes forever to clean/dry so I just do them in the machine)... I hand wash my pockets so I can use them daily still... And I know at least every 3 to 4 days they will get a good machine wash (to avoid buildup) so it works out well for us, and helps to fill up the machine for the night time ones... When I wash them daily I try to do them as I use them through the day (usually 2 at a time), so if I need one extra at the end of the day I usually will have one or 2 already dried, if I am not home for the day I just wash them all by hand at night and by morning they are ready to go... 5 pockets work fine for my 6 mth old still changing them every 2 to 3 hours (she sleeps almost 13 hours in one of the night ones I use every night so I dont need more) when I wash them I will usually do a quick rinse in warm water if it is not soiled(cold if it is soiled) and then let it soak in the hottest water possible with a few drops of detergent for 30 mins or longer (swishing occasionally) if I don't get to them right away, then I just rinse them out and hang to dry... If they are soiled I find letting them soak (in cold to prevent staining) helps to save me from scrubbing them clean (or at least cuts the scrub time in half)... When I wash the pockets I never wring them out, I just squeeze them (not sure if it makes a difference but I think it helps keep the PUL in better shape then wringing out) and then hang them to dry... sometimes to make the pocket dry faster I will turn it inside out after the first few hours so the inside can dry faster... This is what works for me until I can afford to buy a larger stash of pockets, then I can just wash them every 3 to 4 days on my regular wash day... It only takes me 2 or 3 mins at a time a few times throughout the day so it really doesn't seam like it takes anytime, I just squeeze it in whenever I get a chance. :)" Nora W, Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Thank you to the women above who gave us permission to publish their comments. If you would like to share your experiences handwashing cloth diapers, please submit your comments and your first name, last initial, city and state to us. We'd love to publish your tips and tricks too!

Handwashing Cloth Diapers - More Handwashing Tips and Tricks

For more ideas, take a peek at these articles about handwashing laundry; they work for handwashing cloth diapers too!

Happy Cloth Diapering!

Amy Sue

Amy S. Nogar - Owner Zany Zebra Designs, LLC
Cloth Diapering Expert and Advocate

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Washing Cloth Diapers by Hand

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