When I started using cloth diapers, the amount of differences in wash routines was a little overwhelming!! I have a front-load washer (or HE machine) and discovered (after the fact) that it would become rather difficult to achieve the ultimate goal of clean (not stinky) diapers. So here is the routine that has worked for me and my washer (a Whirlpool Duet).
I did a lot of research on washing with a front loader and I think the best piece of advice I found was to wash less diapers more often. This allows for a much higher ratio of water to diapers. I have found that by adding water to the wash and doing it more often (every 1-1.5 days), I am able to keep everything clean, absorbent, and stink free.
I should also caution that the majority of my diapers are pockets and the inserts are primarily microfiber (as I have heard that different materials wash differently). We unstuff the pockets prior to dropping them in the pail and I do think we have more stink issues when they sit in a bag for a day with the inserts still inside the pockets. Things gotta air out sometimes!!
Alright, enough disclaimers...here is my actual wash routine. The diapers/covers/wet bags/pail liners all go into the washing machine. I used to put in a wet towel, but later discovered that it was consuming much of the water I wanted my diapers to be floating around in and did not weigh enough to actually cause the washer to add enough water.
I start with a "soak" cycle. I believe it is also be called a "prewash" cycle. This is set on cold water with no spin and do NOT add soap to this cycle. If your washer does not have a "soak" setting you can simply set it to a "normal wash" with cold water and press (or hold) the pause/stop button once the water is in. If you hold that button a second time it will drain the water with no spin. (This is also how to do an overnight soak with an HE machine!) This cycle defaults to 30mins on my machine, but if you select the "more/less soiled" option the time will be longer/shorter. For a while I was using 35mins, but have since backed down and have not had any issues.
Next comes the issue of getting enough water into the wash. Back to the less diapers, more water statement from before. Ideally you want the diapers to be floating loosely to allow the water to dissolve the contents of the diaper. Accomplishing that in an HE machine can be a little tricky since they are designed to use less water. If you open the soap dispenser during the wash cycle, you can add water directly into the drum. I started by adding the water with an old milk jug but after a few gallons it became clear I was going to have to get a new plan!! We have a sink right next to the washer making this much easier.
I simply sent my husband to the hardware store and he picked up a hose adapter and a few feet of plastic hose to rig up a better system. The only thing I will caution about this is to get a durable hose (mine is a clear plastic and when adding hot water I have to be careful that it doesn't kink off due to how pliable it gets with the heat).
When adding water to any cycle, I simply watch through the door until the water is just above the break in the door. I did try and add more water a few times on days when I was lazy and had way too many diapers to wash and discovered that the washer will simply drain the water right back out.
After the soak cycle has finished, I don't even open the door and just turn the controls right back on. I am then able to add the soap (oh yeah, that's a whole different issue) and start the wash. I use the "whitest whites" cycle on my washer. You should never use the "sanitize" cycle as the water is so hot it will in fact cause breakdown in your diapers (especially the PUL). If you feel they need to be cleaned that deeply you can just send the inserts through a sanitize cycle. The whitest whites is a hot/cold wash with an extra rinse. However, if I simply run a normal cycle and add the extra rinse, it is a shorter wash (I have no idea why). You are again able to adjust the soil level if you find you need more wash time. I also add water to this cycle in the same manner as before. The extra rinse is what allows all of the detergent residue to rinse clean, so you will need to have that in whatever cycle you are using.
OK, back to the detergent issue. I started with Country Save and had some major stink issues. Not sure if it was the detergent or that I didn't have the routine down yet. I then switched to Rockin Green and have had no issues since!! I add 1 Tablespoon to the wash cycle and so far it seems to be working great (I am two bags in already). They also have a different formula for hard water if that is a problem for you. We have a water softener, so I use the classic :)
After the wash cycle has finished, I simply throw all of the diapers into the dryer on Med heat and let them go. Do NOT use dryer sheets or fabric softeners with your diapers as they are designed to make your clothes repel water (the opposite of what you want the diapers to do)! You can add dryer balls to help speed up the drying time instead. I do put them in the sun to dry on occasion just to keep them nice and white, but the PUL actually does well to go through the dryer once in a while.
Maia joined the TTBBB family “officially” about 2 months ago as our baby wearing consultant and helps teach our Cloth Diapering 101 classes. She is the mother of two sweet little boys Cole, 3, and Easton, 11 months. Easton is also one of our super cute diaper testers! You can follow Maia and her family on their blog: Poutre Family Happenings . Help us to give Maia a warm welcome!