Caring for Cloth Diapers in your HE Washing Machine

15 Jun

The ultimate cloth diaper pail: a stainless steel trash can with XL wet bag.

Ah, the front loading high-efficiency washing machine… nothing marked me as a MOM quite like this purchase. I had spent the first 10 years of marriage with a handed down washer with two settings: regular and delicate. While the new steam washing machine has many benefits over my old one, getting cloth diapers clean proved to be a challenge. After a lot of trial and error, I’ve come up with the solution that works for us.

The modified wet pail method: Most cloth diaper manufacturers advise against a wet pail (soaking dirty diapers in water until wash day). The wet pail wears down the waterproof fabric more quickly than tossing the dirty duds in a pail or laundry basket. However, high efficiency (HE) washers use very little water and over a short amount of time you’ll notice the distinct smell of ammonia lingering in the diapers. I never had this problem in the old top-load machine that sloshed the clothes around in gallons of water. I’ve tried using a soak cycle first, then running the hot wash/cold rinse cycle with limited results. I’ve also used the steam cycle, which works wonders on removing stains, but the smells are still noticeable. The best solution I’ve found is to simply rinse and wring the diapers out in the sink or tub either when you change them or at the end of the day, then toss them in a wet bag until you’re ready to wash. It’s a faster method than running an extra soak cycle, reduces any odor coming from the diaper pail and easily eliminates the ammonia smell.

Steam cycle or sanitize setting: I’m lucky enough to have the steam washer model and use this option frequently. Like I mentioned, it eliminates stains quite well, but still uses very little water and does not thoroughly rinse out the thick cloth diapers. And the sanitize setting is amazing at cleaning soiled sheets, sanitizing plush toys and prefolds or doublers with solids (okay, poop). The problem is that the heat setting is so high that it will break down the fabric on diaper covers and all-in-one or hybrid diapers. (Like BumGenius, Rumparooz or Bumkins.) So, if you’re spending the money on premium all-in-one diapers or diaper covers, skip the sanitize setting to preserve your investment.

Using the right detergent: This is still an ongoing experiment for us. My third daughter is sensitive to Tide and I recently realized most cloth diaper makers advise against Oxi-Clean and any free and clear detergents. I was using a vegetable-based detergent from Whole Foods that worked well, but with hard water it turns white clothes a light gray over time. So, I’m back to traditional grocery store detergents formulated for an HE machine. I’ve found one that does not irritate my daughter’s skin, but am not happy that it’s not as eco-friendly. Oh, and a word about vinegar. I use vinegar for practically everything (from killing weeds to cleaning counter tops to making cucumber salad) so I have used it often in the wash. Unfortunately, it really breaks down the fibers in your clothes and you will begin to notice  that vinegar makes your washed items scratchy and worn out.

All in all, I still believe that cloth diapers are the easiest diapering solution and without a doubt the most economical. I’ve used them on three children and washing them in an HE machine goes one step further in reducing our eco footprint. What methods have you developed to make cloth diaper care work best for you? Did you find an HE machine to be better or worse (than a top-loader) for this task?


Posted by on June 15, 2010 in Cloth Diapers


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12 responses to “Caring for Cloth Diapers in your HE Washing Machine

  1. Steph

    July 18, 2010 at 8:04 pm

    Thanks for your post. I had the same experience. I never smelled that lingering diaper “funk” until we bought an HE washer. One thing that helped was soaking a bath towel and throwing it in the wash with the dipes. I also pour in a few mason jars full of water. Then I toss in a rag with a few drop of tea tree oil on it. Also I add baking soda. It is supposed to get rid of any lingering laundry detergent. I use Allen’s Naturally detergent. It is safe on all cloth dipes.

    Still once in awhile we are left with a funk and have to strip the dipes (run them through several hot cycles w/out detergent).

    I used vinegar in the past but then was told by the dipe store that it ruin the elasticity in the dipes. I am considering trying out just washing the inserts with some vinegar once in awhile.

    All in all, I’m happy with our current practices. I would consider trying your daily rinse, but I’m just not sure I’ll follow through with that extra steps 🙂

    • momswithgrace

      July 18, 2010 at 8:41 pm

      These are all great suggestions. I can’t believe I didn’t think of tea tree oil. I use it for practically everything, too. When I started CDing 8 years ago, I always soaked my prefolds in a vinegar solution before washing. It’s rough on the covers, but it really does work for the inserts or prefolds. I’m nearly at the end of diapering my third child now that she is 2 and only wears diapers at night and during nap, so the rinsing out by hand is not a big task for me. If I were at the beginning and just acquired the HE washer, I have to say I would go back to the wet pail in a hurry. Thanks so much for your comments!

  2. washing machine

    July 20, 2010 at 4:44 pm

    Great information. Thank you

  3. cait

    August 18, 2010 at 9:46 pm

    This is great information!

    I am brand new to cloth diapering (1 week in) and I am already having a TERRIBLE time with my AIOs (Fuzzibunz, Kawaii, and BG) stinking and causing diaper rash on my middle child. I have three in diapers with no immediate end in sigh, (my oldest is just over 2yrs). I have a Whirlpool Duet Steam Washer and Dryer and pretty hard water. I am now on my 3rd day of trying everything I can find to strip the diapers, soaking in dawn in the tub, oxyclean, vinegar, baking soda, borax. …I am on my 3rd rinse with just plain water but they still stink!

    Is this going to be a constant, labor intensive battle? Should I sell these and try a different kind of CD or am I just crazy for even trying to CD? – most of my friends think I’m nuts. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated, I’m ready to throw in the towel and go back to disposables.

    Side Note: This is stressing me out to the point that I just stress ate over half a bag of chocolate chips. : ( AAaarrgg

    • momswithgrace

      August 19, 2010 at 12:23 am

      Gosh, I might eat a few cookies just thinking about 3 in diapers at once! I only had 2 at a time, but I do think it’s manageable. After each change I have to watch my hands, so I take the diaper with me and just rinse it out. Especially those microfiber inserts in BGs, they really need to be rinsed and wrung out. Sometimes, after the kids are done with bath I throw the diapers in, wring them out then throw in the wash. (Only the wet diapers, though. Not the poopy ones!)

      Honestly though the easiest method for a lot of diapers is to use a wet pail. I used the big plastic bucket with lid from cat litter. You can also get a 5-gallon bucket with a lid at the hardware store. if you have a safe place to keep it away from kids and pets, you won’t need to worry about smell or extra rinsing.

      Also, I’ve found that rash is almost always caused by too much detergent or chemicals in the dipe. (ESPECIALLY OXYCLEAN!!) Oxyclean always made my little ones bum bright red. I’ve got the same w/d that you have. I don’t have any issues with smell or rash now. Give it a little time, and check back here for more comments. I get a lot of traffic on this post.

      And seriously, don’t stress yourself out over this. Another easy option may be to use a disposable only at night since those are the most saturated. I gave myself this one concession with my oldest child, and have now been cding for 8 years! Now that the youngest is almost done, I don’t need to use disposables at all, but I’m glad I gave myself a break at the beginning.

      All the best to you.

  4. Rosanne

    October 30, 2010 at 4:05 am

    We have been cloth diapering for about 6 months now – my sister gifted me with a set of BumGenius 3.0, which we do love. I wasn’t aware the sanitize cycle breaks down the covers of the diaps! I had noticed recently, now that my daughter is 15 months, it seems the diaps leak like crazy. I assumed it was because she is bigger now, as is her bladder, and the inserts just can’t hold that much fluid. But maybe it’s more than that? Anyhow, I had also noticed they are getting stinky and it’s difficult to get the smell out. I will try the soaked towel & tea tree oil or eucalyptus (I always have lots of that around for sinuses) and see how it goes. Thanks for the post!

  5. Ashley

    January 5, 2012 at 11:07 am

    We just got an HE (although a top loader) but it senses how much water to put in it. I have been using CD’s for 9 months with an old washer and now I hate this new one. The first wash I did left POOP particles in the machine and on dipes. Nevermind that they also did not smell clean. I dont have a safe place for a wet pail so I think rinsing them all out by hand seems like the only solution for us…unless I can get my old washer back. We are still in the first 30 days and can return the new machine so I might do that…
    ps I got to this post by googling about cloth friendly washers

    • momswithgrace

      January 5, 2012 at 12:02 pm

      Hi Ashley, It’s frustrating, no? Those old water hogs did the job on diapers but the HE washers are more cost-efficient and eco-friendly… the two reasons most of us chose to CD in the first place! There is a great sprayer device that can be attached to your toilet so you don’t actually have to wring out the soiled dipes. You can spray the mess directly into the toilet. I did not get one of these but there were many times I wish I had one. If any other readers have experience with one, please let us know how well it worked and what brand you have. I have seen them online at many diaper retailers. Thank you for your comment!

  6. Melissa Tracy

    March 29, 2012 at 3:29 pm

    I just started/am trying to cloth diaper my 7 month old son. Right now we are just trying to find something that works! I’m doing a diaper trial from Jillians Drawers and after one day of poopin (me rinsing in toilet) and then putting in the dry pail the Fuzzibunze Pocket stinks! So far they all smelled like pee when I put them in the wash but this was the only diaper that when I took it off him it stunk so I think something is up with it. I have an HE front loader and I read somewhere that the delicate cycle has the most water so I use that first for my cold rinse then wash normal with 1/4 of suggested ECOS free and clear that I got at my local Smith’s followed by a freshwater rinse. Right now I really don’t want to hand wash anything. Would it be worth it to get my pee inserts soaking wet too? or even the pocket diaper? I haven’t got to try it yet but instead of a diaper sprayer I just poked a hole with a nail in the top of a water bottle and plan on using that to spray poop off. It seems like it will work but my lil guy is transitioning into solids so I don’t know about older babies. So do I just put a couple drops of tea tree oil in with my detergent in the main wash compartment? And about adding the wet towel and/or a couple cups of water to the wash. Would I also add that up top too? I won’t have any problems with flooding? Same questions with baking soda. I have no idea how to wash my diapers or run my washer! lol. I live in Las Vegas so I can definitely sun them too.

    • momswithgrace

      March 29, 2012 at 4:14 pm

      I forgot… are you breastfeeding? If you are then transitioning to solids will work in your favor. Generally, when you start solids and reduce BF, stools will become more solid and just shake off into the toilet. Having said that, I BF all three girls for 14-18 months (it was different for each child) so they all had somewhat soft stools until they stopped breastfeeding completely. But they did stop having the blowouts.

  7. Melissa Tracy

    March 29, 2012 at 3:35 pm

    Okay I re-read it above and got my answers for the tea tree oil…If I wanted to go away from free and clear I can just get liquid tide? Where can I find something like Allen’s. I just don’t want to spend a fortune on detergent too. Or does anyone know if I can just add water to some dry detergent that is HE safe to make it liquid. My washer says no to any dry stuff. I might try the rinsing of inserts because pee doesn’t botther me and we’ve had so many blowouts (like 2 a week or more) I’m not afraid of poop either!

    • momswithgrace

      March 29, 2012 at 4:07 pm

      Hi Melissa. I haven’t tried Fuzzibunz, but are the inserts microfiber? I had the most trouble with my BumGenius microfiber inserts. They absorb a ton, but they do not come clean in the wash unless I rinsed and really wrung them out. I have heard good things about Rockin Green (or something like that). It’s a natural detergent that a lot of diaper retailers sell and swear by. Unfortunately I’ve never seen it in stores so you have to order it. I have used Tide and Wisk and most of the standard grocery store brands and they all work fine. My only caution is against Oxyclean because it really does irritate the skin. I usually dump extra stuff right into the washer because the compartments on top seem so specific and confusing!

      Ironically, my diapers that washed out the best and never leaked were my old chinese prefolds. (A lot of moms have never even heard of these but they were the most common choice 10 years ago when I first started. They are the fluffy, rectangle shaped cloth diapers that you fold and stick inside a diaper cover.) And despite what any diaper maker says, I still believe that a WET pail is the most effective way to clean diapers. The only question is safety and making sure your kids or pets can’t get into it.

      Also, you are absolutely right about the sun. I didn’t mention it only because we are in short supply here in the midwest! But the sun works as a natural bleach and may help reduce odor too. I would love to know how well that works from my readers.

      And making your own sprayer from a water bottle is a GENIUS idea. It never occurred to me!

      I wish you all the best.


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