Ready, Set, Cloth: Preparing your Diapers for First Time use
Updated: Jan 20
When you purchased a set of cloth diapers, it is very tempting to use them right away as you are enthusiastic about starting your cloth diapering journey. However, this is not the smartest thing to do as most cloth diapers need to be prepped before you can start using them on your baby. In this post, I share the best way to prepare cloth diapers for first time use.
Unlike disposable diapers, cloth diapers do not come ready to wear. Just like your clothes, you need to wash them before use because you want to remove any residues from dyes and manufacturing dirt but also because cloth diapers are not at their full absorbency right out of the package.
Synthetic materials for cloth diapers include fabrics like microfiber, microfleece, polyester, microsuede, and other similar fabrics. These diapers are very simple to prep because they are already very absorbent from the start.
Even though I am not a fan of diapers made from synthetic materials I can understand why people choose them as diapers are made from natural materials and take a very long time to dry. When you don’t have a drier and have limited space cloth diapers made from synthetic materials are a great option for disposables as they dry so much faster. But even though diapers made from synthetic materials do not have natural oils in them, they still need to be prepped before you put them around your baby.
Just pop them into your washing machine and wash them on a full cycle on a hot setting. This is sufficient to remove any leftover dies and other dirt for manufacturing. Hang dry your diaper and they are ready for use.
Cloth diapers made from natural materials like organic cotton, bamboo, or hemp contain oils and therefore are a bit more work to prepare. Oil repels water and therefore prevents absorption of the material. The amount of oil differs per natural material but the treatment of how to get rid of these oils it is the same for all materials.
To prep diapers made from natural materials you need to wash them multiple times. I wash my cloth diapers made from natural materials 3 times back to back in my washing machine. Make sure the machine uses a full spin at the end to remove the water and oils. This often means you can’t use a short cycle as these spin fewer cycles.
After 3 times of washing cloth diapers, I line dry the diapers. Bamboo cloth diapers need more than 3 washings to reach optimal absorbency but because I have washed them a couple of times now, the absorbency is greatly increased and it will increase even further once I use and wash them more often.
Natural fibers open up more when they are washed more often which increases the absorbency. This is similar to your bath towels. New ones hardly absorb any moisture but the more use washes them the better they absorb water.
This method is great if you have a full load of new cloth diapers, however, not all of us purchase 15 to 20 or more new diapers. If you have only 1 or a few new cloth diapers that need to be prepped, wash them with a regular load of laundry to save water and energy.
When you have purchased a set of secondhand diapers, they need a different treatment compared to new diapers as these have been used for quite some time. To make sure these diapers are clean and have optimal absorbency it is recommended to strip them. In this blog post, you can find everything you need to know about stripping cloth diapers.
Diaper covers don’t need special attention as they don’t absorb moisture. Just wash them once to remove any dye residue and you are good to go.
Note: Some cloth diaper resources mention that separating synthetic material is needed so they do not retain any of the plant oils from the natural fibers. As I could not find any scientific references backing this up and it is also not something I have found to be true. So, even though I have separated them in this guide, that is simply because it is easiest to add them to the latest laundry cycle compared to removing them from the first load.
I think this originates from confusing cloth diaper directions. Especially diapers purchased from China can have unclear directions as there may have been an error in translation. Things like ‘separate before washing’ may lead to confusion. This usually means that the inserts need to be removed from the covers or pockets before washing which is indeed recommended.