It’s probably coincidence, but I’ve had a bunch of people ask about part-time cloth lately, right when I find myself with a daytime-potty-trained toddler and only nighttime bedwetting pants to wash. In both cases (part-time cloth or potty training your youngest/only child) you’ll have very few cloth diapers to wash and probably wonder if can you wash cloth diapers with other clothes.
To answer this question, I’ve not only done some research but I’ve also tested things out for you too. I’ve found that yes, you can wash cloth diapers with other clothes. With that said, cloth diapers are different from other laundry in some important ways and so you may want to carefully consider what laundry you wash them with, and when you will add them.
How is cloth diaper laundry different from other laundry?
Cloth Diaper laundry is different from regular laundry in two key ways:
They are a different level of dirty.
Dirty clothes are usually just dirty on the outside. They have food or dirt on their surface only. Occasionally clothing with have sweat penetrate their inner layers, but clothes are often thin, single-layer pieces of material, and the sweat isn’t in great quantities.
Cloth diapers on the other hand are thick, multi-layered products and the dirt (urine) is sucked into it by design. It needs to be cleansed inside and out. This is why cloth diapers need to an extra rinse at the start of their washing process, to begin the process of removing the urine from inside the diaper layers.
They can’t be stored for as long.
Dirty clothes can be stored in open laundry hampers, and because they are thin and lightly soiled, they dry out and can then sit waiting to be washed for days or even weeks at a time.
Cloth diapers on the other hand are often soaking wet and because of the urine smell are often stored in a wet bag or diaper pail where air-flow is minimal. Urine, stored inside thick diapers and kept in a closed container is a breeding ground for mold, mildew and bacteria. For this reason, cloth diapers MUST be washed every 2-3 days to keep bacteria and mildew/mold from growing.
If they’re so different, Why Wash them Together?
Good question! Though there are big differences between cloth diaper laundry and regular laundry, which I just described, the benefits to washing them together are even bigger.
To get diapers truly clean you need them to agitate against each other. To do that, aim to have your washing machine look like a big pot of stew once it’s full with laundry and water.
You can read more about cloth diaper stew here. While cloth diaper stew is more of a concern for older, non-HE machines, as HE machines are made to operate with less water, no matter what you’re using it’s important to have enough in your cloth diaper load to force the cloth diapers to rub against each other.
When you don’t have many cloth diapers to wash this is of course a problem. As mentioned earlier, cloth diapers need to be washed every 2-3 days at maximum to prevent mildew (mold) and bacteria build-up, so just waiting until you have enough to wash together is not a good solution.
Adding other laundry, like towels, other dirty clothes, etc., is a great way to still give your diapers the agitation they need to get clean, within that 2-3 day window before mold and bacteria is a concern.
What Items Shouldn’t I Wash With My Cloth Diapers?
When I started washing my cloth diapers with other laundry, I was very choosy about what laundry I put with them. My husband is in construction and regularly comes home muddy and covered in glues, wood chips and other nasty things that I didn’t want traces of against my child’s nether regions.
To get you thinking about what kinds of laundry you don’t want to add to your cloth diaper loads, here’s a short list of items that aren’t ideal:
- Items with heavy grease or chemicals.Again, while our washing machines today are great, and your cloth diaper wash routine should be enough to wash everything clean, why risk trace amounts of heavy grease or chemicals coming into contact with your baby’s intimate areas.
- Delicates. This is especially a problem if your diapers have Velcro (hook & loop) closures as they can snag your delicate laundry.
- Very heavily soiled laundry. When my husband comes home with mud encrusted white shirts and when my daughter gets covered in muddy water and grass stains, I’m using a lot of cleaning products to get that heavy dirt and stains out of their clothes. All these extra detergents and stain removers can be a bit much for cloth diaper laundry where detergent build-up can be a problem, so I often wash those things separately.
- Dark and/or red clothing. Except for PUL covers, diapers are often light coloured and will easily get dyed when washed with dark coloured or red clothing that run in the wash. Rather than risk reducing your resale value, consider washing heavily colored items separately.
- Anything with sharp studs or a lot of zippers. Just like your delicate laundry can get snagged on cloth diaper Velcro, your cloth diapers can get snagged on sharp embellishments on your clothes. This is especially problematic for PUL which can leak if the waterproof coating on it is damaged.
- Big towels and sheets. It may seem like washing diapers with big towels and sheets is perfect, but sometimes diapers can get wound up in them, which can inhibit their ability to agitate and get squeaky clean.
- Anything you don’t want washed with your cloth diaper detergent. Many folks choose to use a different detergent for their regular laundry and their cloth diaper laundry. If this is you, and your cloth diaper wash routine is working for you, make sure to use your regular cloth diaper detergent on your diapers whether or not you’re washing them with other clothes.
How to Wash Cloth Diapers with Other Laundry
As I touched on above, cloth diaper laundry washing routines include an extra rinse at the start to help clean urine out of the inner layers of diaper fabric. You can download my cheat sheet for the basic cloth diaper wash routine here.
This extra rinse if often overkill for regular laundry as dirt is usually on the surface.
I recommend beginning loads of mixed laundry (diapers and regular laundry) by doing the initial rinse on only the diapers and then adding in the clothing just before the hot wash cycle. This is because that while cloth diaper stew is key to deep cleaning, during the initial rinse, more water than laundry is not a bad thing, and it may actually help rinse more urine away as it won’t be able to attach itself on the clothing before it’s all washed.
Now, while that’s what I recommend, it isn’t what I follow. I currently own a HE top loader that gives me the option of adding an initial rinse, and additional final rinse with the push of a button. This allows me to dump in everything, push a few extra buttons and forget about everything — I’m lazy enough that that option is what I choose every time I can. All my clothes and diapers come out nice and clean together regardless.
If you decide to add laundry to your diaper wash after the initial rinse, make sure to follow your cloth diaper wash routine for the remaining wash and rinse(s) including detergent and heat settings. When it’s time to dry, you can once again separate the laundry or continue to follow your cloth diaper drying routine if drying them together in a dryer. (Yes, you can dry cloth diapers in the dryer as you can read about here).
If you don’t have enough dirty cloth diapers to make up a load of laundry, washing them with other laundry has a ton of benefits and doesn’t affect the cleanliness of your laundry at all. As long as your diapers are following their same wash routine, all the clothes you wash with them will come out nice and clean, and the diapers themselves will come out much cleaner than they would if you had waited too long to wash them, or washed just a few at a time.