How Often Do You Really Need To Wash Cloth Diapers?

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Are you interested in cloth diapers but worried that the washing part might be too complicated?

You’ve probably heard you must wash them on time; otherwise, they’ll start to stink.

But when is that exactly?

Cloth diapers should be washed every two to three days, depending on the washing machine’s capacity. Absorbent cloth diaper parts, including pocket shells, must be washed after every use, while waterproof PUL covers can be used about three times if not soiled.

If you’re interested in more helpful information and how to wash cloth diapers, I encourage you to read on.

I’ll also cover how many times you can reuse a specific diaper type, storing solutions for dirty diapers, how many times you should wash them, and if they can be washed with other clothes, amongst other things.

How Long Can Cloth Diapers Sit Before Washing?

Cloth diapers need to be washed every two to three days.

If you leave them any longer than that, you’re risking permanent staining and smelly diapers. Bacteria can also start breeding there if they’re left soiled for too long.

They need to be stored where they can breathe, so use a diaper pail liner to store them.

If your washing machine isn’t big enough to wash two or three days’ worth of cloth diapers, you’ll probably have to wash them every day until you start using fewer diapers daily.

That usually happens when your baby grows. Eventually, you won’t need as many diaper changes as right in the beginning when your baby is still a newborn.

If you have to wash cloth diapers daily, remember that they will wear out much sooner than if you washed them every few days. One thing to consider is still having about three days worth of diaper changes available and intentionally choosing different diapers every other day so you don’t wear out favorites too soon.

Do You Have to Wash Cloth Diapers After Every Use?

You’ll have to wash absorbent parts after every use, including all-in-one cloth diapers, pocket diapers, fitted diapers, flat diapers, prefolds, preflats, and inserts.

If you’re practicing elimination communication and you notice a slight trace of poop on the otherwise dry absorbent part, cover the spot with a fleece liner (affiliate link to Amazon) or a reusable wipe so you don’t have to wash it right away. Of course, this works if the trace is minimal and you’re sure the baby’s bottom won’t be in contact with it.

Covers don’t need to be washed after every use unless they’re soiled with poop. It’s usually recommended to use the covers about three times before putting them away for wash day, but you’ll learn when you can use it more than that and when less.

If you’re practicing elimination communication, the absorbent parts in your covers probably won’t get soaking wet, so covers will have a higher chance of staying dry and will have a couple more uses in them.

Use too little absorbency in a cover; however, the moisture will penetrate the PUL material, and the elastics will feel very wet. I don’t recommend using such a cover again because it won’t feel good to the baby.

Wool covers are a winner here; they don’t have to be washed after each use but must be hung to dry between two diaper changes.

With such use, they will last for two to three weeks, depending on how wet the absorbent part gets. The less wet it gets, the longer the lanolin in the cover will last and the longer you’ll be able to use them. Do take into account you’ll have to wash them immediately in case any poop gets on them.

Read more about why wool covers need to be lanolized at all if lanolin is already naturally present in wool.

Beginner pocket diaper users are usually surprised that they can not reuse a pocket diaper shell. They need to be changed every time you do a diaper change because the material that covers the pocket will still absorb some of the fluid, even though it is not intended for absorbency.

However, there is a trick here, which I only learned with my second child. If you place the absorbent part on top of the pocket shell, you can essentially use the shell as a cover and therefore reuse it. Remember to check how wet the absorbent part is to ensure the shell didn’t absorb any of the fluid. This is especially great if you don’t have the time or aren’t in the mood to fill the pocket diapers.

Do Cloth Diapers Require Soaking Before Washing Them?

You should not soak cloth diapers until wash day. If soaked, diaper materials and elastics will get worn out quicker. Soak baths with soiled diapers can be a breeding ground for bacteria and mold, not to mention a safety hazard for wandering babies/toddlers that could fall in.

Soaking cloth diapers is called a wet pail method which is outdated and not recommended for modern cloth diapers.

The purpose of the wet pail method was to prevent any stains from occurring and making diapers easier to wash by pre-eliminating a lot of the gunk.

While the wet pail method isn’t popular anymore, I highly recommend that you rinse nighttime diapers and all soiled diapers (unless the baby is exclusively breastfed) to avoid unwanted smells and stains.

You can do this manually or do a short rinse cycle as soon as possible and then put the diaper away in the pail liner until wash day.

The short cold rinse cycle for the nighttime diapers has just finished.

Where Do You Store Cloth Diapers Between Washes?

Now that we’ve covered where you shouldn’t keep cloth diapers until wash day, you’re probably wondering where and how you can properly store them.

The answer is the dry pail method.

Get two large diaper pail cloth liners that can contain about 30 cloth diapers, and put one in a pail. Don’t sweat if you don’t have a spare pail; I only use a pail liner without the actual pail and hang it or leave it on the floor (but out of children’s reach).

If you want to purchase a diaper pail for cloth diapers, read this guide I prepared.

Put all the dirty diapers in the pail liner, tighten the elastics as much as possible (or close the zipper), and wash it with dirty diapers when full. Don’t forget to turn it inside out before you put it into the washing machine, so the dirty side is properly washed.

Use the other large pail liner while the first one is being washed and dried, and repeat the process.

When you’re out and about, use smaller wet bags holding about six cloth diapers. I especially like the ones with the double zipper, so there is one part where you keep clean diapers and another where you store the dirty ones.

Do You Need to Wash Your Cloth Diapers Twice?

Cloth diapers don’t require two main washes to get clean properly. Nevertheless, they should first be rinsed with cold water on a short cycle to rinse out as much dirtiness as possible, immediately followed by the main hot cycle with the recommended detergent dose.

So if you’ve heard that you have to wash them twice to get them clean properly, chances are people have misunderstood in the past about how to wash cloth diapers and thought you should do two main long cycles, when in reality this isn’t necessary at all.

Make sure you’re using enough detergent in the main wash and your diapers will come out clean.

Do You Have to Boil Cloth Diapers?

Modern cloth diapers should never be boiled because all materials used for them will likely get permanently damaged by the high temperature. The only exception is cotton, which is very durable, but it still isn’t necessary to boil them.

Cloth diapers, mainly cotton flat diapers, used to be boiled regularly to ensure there weren’t any germs left and that the diapers were adequately sanitized. If you’re wondering about ironing them, I went into more detail about ironing cloth diapers in this post.

Washing them in modern washing machines in hot water (60 degrees Celsius) will be enough to get them properly clean and sanitized.

How Many Cloth Diapers Do You Need for One Load?

It’s usually recommended to wash 12-18 diapers at once, however, this can vary depending on the size and type of your washing machine.

If your washing machine is larger, you’ll probably be able to wash up to 24 diapers just fine. They shouldn’t be so crowded that it will be too hard for the water to get to all diapers equally.

On the other hand, washing too few diapers at once will waste unnecessary water, and the diapers won’t get enough friction between them to get cleaned properly (if you’re using a front-loader).

Can You Wash Cloth Diapers with Other Clothes?

First, some cloth diaper users are confused about this fact: can you wash absorbent cloth diaper parts together with cloth diaper covers?

You can wash covers and absorbent parts together unless the manufacturer states explicitly the covers should be washed at a lower temperature. Most of them, however, are okay with being washed in hot water.

The other question parents also have: can you wash cloth diapers together with other clothes?

Cloth diapers can be safely washed with other clothes, but you should rinse cloth diapers first before adding other clothes into the washing machine.

By rinsing them out first, you’ll get rid of the most dirtiness, so when other clothes enter the main wash, the water will be clearer, and the detergent will be able to clean the fabrics better.

If any poop gets on anyone’s clothes, I don’t have any second thoughts about washing those together with cloth diapers. In this case, I put all the soiled garments, including cloth diapers, into the washing machine, start a cold rinse and then do the main wash with the recommended detergent dose.

The cloth diapers and other clothes come out clean every time.

The one thing to consider is that regular laundry might not be able to handle the high temperatures cloth diapers require for cleaning, so keep that in mind when adding other clothes to the diapers. Remember to always check the tags on these clothes.

What If You Can Only Wash Cloth Diapers Once per Week?

If you only used a couple of cloth diapers in the last two to three days and didn’t want to wash them with other clothes, you might still be inclined to wait for a whole load of cloth diapers to add up.

Maybe you’re in a situation where you can only afford to go to the laundromat once per week, but you still want to use cloth diapers full-time.

I would go like this in such a situation.

For washing cloth diapers once per week, thoroughly rinse out each day’s worth of cloth diapers to minimize potential stains and odor. Put them into a dry pail liner and let them wait for wash day.

On wash day, rinse them out again and then do the main hot wash. Always use enough detergent.

Since this method goes against manufacturers’ recommendations, always check for potential smells after they’re washed and be very mindful of the potential diaper rash your baby might develop. If that is the case, you will need to increase the washing frequency somehow.

Another option would be to use flat diapers in the first 4 to 5 days of the week and hand wash them.

First, you would rinse them out thoroughly, then wash with some detergent and dry them at least partly before placing them into a pail liner again, where they would wait for the main wash. You could even boil flat diapers if you can’t wait for the main wash.

You can use other diaper types for the last 2 to 3 days and follow the regular washing routine with those (short cold rinse cycle, followed by the main hot cycle).

Key takeaways

  • Wash cloth diapers every two to three days if possible.
  • Reuse covers if not soiled; other parts generally have to be washed after every use.
  • Store dirty diapers in a dry pail liner.
  • Cold rinse cloth diapers and follow with the main hot wash.
  • To wash cloth diapers with other clothes, cold rinse the diapers first and then add other clothes.

Hopefully, you’ve learned a lot from this post, and that you’ll implement the above-mentioned practices for the best results.


When I first became a mom, it shocked me how much more waste we produced by adding a tiny little member to our family. Since then, it's become very important to me to be more sustainable as a family. I'm excited to share with you what I'm learning along the way!

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