Are Cloth Diapers Sanitary?


I kind of hate this question. There’s a bit of — snark, behind it. You would never ask a mom if her homemade baby food is edible, or ask if her choice to put a young baby in its crib is neglectful. All of these questions pass judgment more than they seek information.

But ignoring that for just one moment, are cloth diapers sanitary? Yes, just like your underwear (assuming you don’t wear disposable underwear, of course) reusable diapers are sanitary because you wash them appropriately to their level of dirtiness.

Diapers need to be clean, absolutely, but they don’t need to be sterile and so washing cloth diapers to the point of being clean is sufficient.

That’s not to say that many people new to cloth diapers don’t struggle with getting them clean enough. Sadly, though the detergents, washing machines, and water systems have changed dramatically over the years, information on how to use these new technologies hasn’t. Many people think more soap means cleaner laundry, and that’s not the case (often, it can be the opposite).

But with the help of sites like this one, if needed, cloth diaper parents learn how to do laundry better than most folks, and trust me, those diapers are clean.

How Are Cloth Diapers Kept Sanitary?

So how do we cloth diaper users keep them clean and sanitary? Here’s a quick list:

  • Diapers are changed as soon as they are wet or soiled. Unlike disposables with all their “stay dry” chemical goop that leads some parents to believe they can be worn for multiple wettings (disposables aren’t magic, they don’t sterilize waste), cloth diaper parents quickly learn that the way to prevent leaks and rashes is to change after every pee or poop, which keeps baby nice and clean.
  • At a minimum, cloth diapers are rinsed, washed with hot water and detergent, and then dried either in a dryer (though not too hot as I talk about here) or hung to dry.
  • When needed, ie when buying used or when yeast happens (which also occurs in disposables), bleach is used to disinfect any lingering bacteria that can’t be completely removed with proper washing.

Are Used Cloth Diapers Sanitary?

Some of those people asking the question about cloth diapers being sanitary might be horrified at that last point about used diapers and wonder if they are sanitary.

It might be helpful to remember that diaper services are essentially diaper sharing programs, that began back in the 1940’s when mothers had to go to work during WWII and didn’t have time to do their own diaper laundry. These used diaper sharing programs, if you will, were the Cadillac of diapering at the time.

Aside from being widely done, used diapers are (at least they should be) saintized with bleach between every child to be on the safe side and make certain that no yeast or other infections are spread between babies.

Do I Need to Use Bleach All the Time?

No. Yeast or infection problems are rare, and in fact, I regularly come across parents who have bought used diapers, didn’t know they were supposed to bleach them and were fine because the regular washing process removes most of the dirt and bacteria most of the time.

It’s only the rare yeast problem or infection that requires bleach, so unless you know you have a problem, or if your diapers are coming from someone else (and so you want to make doubly sure you don’t get any surprises for safety’s sake), bleach is not necessary.

So, How Should I Respond to, “Are Cloth Diapers Sanitary?”

As I mentioned at the top of this page, I hate this question because it implies that there’s some big health problem that the person answering it hasn’t considered. Rather than being asked by someone who is genuinely interested in using cloth diapers, it’s most often asked by unhelpful friends and family who want to criticize the person considering them.

When people are asking me snarky questions, I like to answer back with a question; so here’s a helpful list of replies I love to help you answer this one:

  • Do you wear disposable underwear?
  • Is your cloth underwear sanitary?
  • Is dumping thousands of disposable diapers in a landfill where they contaminate the soil and groundwater for 500 years sanitary? Are the petroleum and chemical products they’re made from sanitary?
  • Do you think poop and pee are magically different in a disposable diaper?
  • When babies have all those “blow outs” in disposable diapers (way less common in cloth diapers by the way) do you throw their clothes away? No, oh; are they sanitary after you wash them?

No matter how you answer it, don’t let any questions like that get you down. Cloth diapering is a clean, safe and wonderful choice for any parent to consider, so feel confident that you’re doing great and consider getting to know some like-minded people in the Cloth Diapers for Beginners Facebook group here.

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