Skip to Content

How to Prep Cloth Diapers: Everything you need to know to be Successful

Why and How to Prep Cloth Diapers

As a parent, you want to do what’s right for both your baby and the environment. One of the smartest things you can do is to use cloth diapers. Cloth diapers are strong, soft, absorbent, reusable, and made of natural materials that won’t harm the environment even if you are forced to throw one away.

However, you do have to prep cloth diapers before first use. There are several good reasons for this, and the methods for prepping cloth diapers are based on the type of natural fibers from which the diapers are made. The diapers are usually prepped for packaging and shipping with a stiffening agent that needs to be rinsed out before you use them on your baby.

prep cloth diaper

How to Prep Cloth Diapers

First and foremost, select a detergent that’s safe for use on both the diapers and the baby’s skin. You may not know how sensitive your baby’s skin will be, which is why a perfume- and dye-free detergent that’s hypoallergenic is a good choice. Diapers made from cotton, hemp, or bamboo will need to be washed and dried at least seven times.

Yes, you do have to dry them after each wash cycle. You can’t simply spin them on seven wash cycles and then dry them. That won’t work, despite your desire to cut down on washing and drying time.

Additionally, it helps to find diapers that have flaws in them as a result of the prep process. If they fall apart, unravel, or end up with holes in them after one or two complete wash and dry cycles, you know that you need to get your money back and/or use a different detergent and wash setting on your machine.

Air drying is even better, so if you can hang them on a clothesline outside, perfect. If the weather is too cold or you don’t have a clothesline, machine drying is fine to prep cloth diapers.

Prepping Natural Vs. Synthetic Cloth Diapers

Natural diapers have more of their own natural oils on them. These natural oils need to be removed so that the diapers can effectively absorb urine and softer bowel movements from infants. Absorbency is key in preventing diaper rash, which is also a good reason to prep diapers so that they will absorb as much as possible.

Natural diapers have to be washed and dried anywhere from seven to ten times before you can use them on your baby. Synthetic diapers only require one cycle of washing and drying. However, the natural fibers are less likely to cause an allergic reaction on your baby’s skin, so make the call for the right kind of diapers before you buy.

How to Prep Cloth Diapers Made of Hemp

Hemp diapers are some of the strongest diapers around. They can also be some of the oiliest in terms of natural oils in the fibers. They are also very rough, so washing them will make the fabric softer. Eight to ten wash and dry cycles are ideal, but you can decide when they are done by the softness tests you do after wash and dry cycle #8.

How to Prep Cloth Diapers Made from Bamboo

Bamboo is also very strong. Most of the natural bamboo oils are removed at the factory level, so they only need a single wash and dry prep cycle. You can wash and dry them more if you want, but it doesn’t change how they feel against the skin.

How to Prep Cloth Diapers Made of Cotton

Cotton diapers need a minimum of three wash and dry cycles. Five cycles are recommended. If you have more time, you can wash and dry up to eight cycles, but you don’t have to.

How to Prep Cloth Diapers Made of Synthetic Material

These diapers are a “wash and wear” type of cloth diaper. They only need one wash and one dry cycle. Examples of synthetic diapers include micro suede, polyester, microfiber, etc.

How to Prep Cloth Diapers for Newborns

Just follow the directions on how to prep diapers of various fibers. These are just tinier diapers of the same textiles. There’s no extra thing you have to do just because they’re newborn size.

Prepping Cloth Diapers Made of Wool

Wool is a very heavy material. It can also be a very itchy fiber for a baby’s bottom. For that reason, these diapers have to be washed with a special soap containing lanolin. If you do not wash them with the lanolin soap or the lanolin additive, the diapers will become stiff, coarse, and irritating.

Soak them in the lanolin and detergent, either in a bowl or your tub. Squeeze all the water out and air dry. Never dry them in a machine.

Prepping Cloth Diapers Made from Charcoal

Charcoal sounds like such a weird substance to make diapers from, but it works because charcoal is a natural odor absorber. The charcoal itself is part of the fibers and not actually what the diapers are constructed of. In most cases, bamboo is the primary fiber, and charcoal is just ingrained in the bamboo fibers. As such, follow washing instructions for bamboo, or until the wash water doesn’t come out totally gray.

prep cloth diapers

Prepping Cloth Diapers That Were Previously Used, or “Pre-Loved”

If your best friend or sister or just another mom has given you a stack of pre-loved cloth diapers, you will have to prep these as well. These have been on another baby’s backside, and they may contain odors, bacteria, or germs you don’t want on your baby’s bottom. It doesn’t matter how well the other mom washed these. You should still prep them yourself.

The process typically involves a good bleach soak to destroy odors and other hidden microscopic “surprises”. Then wash on a hot agitating cycle for at least forty-five minutes before fully drying them. You wouldn’t wear someone else’s underwear without assurance that they were really clean. Don’t make your baby wear someone else’s diapers without prepping them!

Prepping Cloth Diaper Covers

Part of the process of prepping cloth diapers is prepping covers. These covers go over the outside of the cloth diapers so that you don’t have leaks or wet spots all over your house where the baby goes, sits, or lays down. The covers only need a single wash and dry when they are new as it helps the plastic laminate coating inside harden to the waterproof shell.

Don’t machine dry the covers in the future. They are safe to wash in the machine as you need to, but air dry them going forward. Otherwise, they will crack and become useless, causing you to replace them sooner than you want to replace them.

Prepping Cloth Diapers: FAQs

1. Can I wash a couple of my new diapers with other laundry?

It isn’t recommended, especially where charcoal diapers are concerned. It’s always best to wash diapers separately anyway, considering what they will hold once your baby uses them. If you only have a couple of diapers, use the quick wash or small load settings on your machine to save water and detergent.

2. What detergent should I use?

It’s always best to follow the manufacturer’s recommendations for detergent. However, a good dye-free, hypoallergenic, environmentally friendly, and perfume-free detergent is a good idea. All your bases are covered when using this kind of detergent.

3. Do I need to wash synthetics and natural fiber diapers separately?

Yes, absolutely! Because synthetics don’t need additional washes, it’s unclear why anyone would continue to leave them in with natural fiber diapers and keep washing them anyway. Diapers that have been soaking in bleach or charcoal-infused diapers definitely should be washed separately because the bleach or charcoal could damage or discolor other diapers in the load.

4. Is There Ever a Time When Boiling My Cloth Diapers Is a Good Idea?

This is not recommended unless your washer is out of commission. It’s a lot of work that causes a really big mess in your kitchen. You also can’t boil anything that has any plastic components to it, which is why your washer is best. Additionally, you will have to stand at that stove monitoring and stirring your boiling diapers and constantly adding more water to make sure the diapers aren’t singed or boiling over.

5. Why Do You Have to Wash New Cloth Diapers?

Warehouse storage in large dirty warehouses is the first reason that comes to mind. Germs and bacteria are another reason, although germs are more likely than bacteria. If you wash new clothes before you wear them because you know someone else may have tried them on, it just makes sense to make things like cloth diapers cleaner for your baby too.

Here’s more information on Washing Cloth Diapers.