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The Complete Guide to Washing and Caring for Cloth Diapers

Everyone likes a quick start guide, right? Check out the basic details on how simple it is to wash cloth incontinence products, then let’s dive into a deeper explanation. In this article you will find info on....

The Dry Pail System | Pail Liners | Bowel Incontinence Necessities | Daily Wash Routines | More In Depth Knowledge of Washing Cloth | How to Kill Mold | Periodic Maintenance for Cloth Diapers

So let's begin!

How Do I Wash Cloth Diapers?

Perform a cold water rinse Run a Hot Wash Cycle - Use detergent you trust.
Dry on Medium. That’s it!

In a nutshell, washing cloth breaks down into a simple routine that can fit into any lifestyle. But then questions start to percolate... What do I do with my briefs until it’s time to wash them? How many can I wash at one time? Can I was them with regular clothing loads? Will they smell?

Don’t worry. This is an in-depth guide that will answer questions you don’t even have yet. Switching from disposables to cloth can be seen as a dramatic change, but with some education, you will be well prepared to make an informed decision.


What do I do with cloth diapers between washes?

Diaper pail for washing cloth diapers

If you are just using one chameleon undie per night, feel free to wash that pair with any other load, but if you are committed to a pack of cloth diapers for use throughout the day, having a system in place to handle your used Undies will greatly reduce the stress involved with making that important decision... could I, SHOULD I - switch to cloth? Daily changes will cause soiled diapers to accumulate and need to be set aside until laundering. We recommend using The Dry Pail System.

The Dry Pail System involves a pail with a lid. The soiled item goes in the pail to await its inevitable laundering date.

Typically people chose a garbage pail with a flip top lid, purchased at your local hardware or department store. They can be lined with reusable pail liners that just get washed with your load. Brilliant

diaper pail liners for potty trainers, cloth diapers and bedwetting pants


Before purchasing, consider these factors:


If you have multiple bathrooms in your home, consider the bathroom that is least accessible to guests to be the permanent home of your pail and laundering system. It’s bonus if this private bathroom happens to be near the laundry room!

Check out your bathroom layout and determine where you will place the pail. Some people keep it next to their toilet if they plan on using a hand-help water sprayer, which is especially helpful if you struggle with bowel incontinence. If you plan on investing in a water sprayer in the future, take the measurements on the area next to your toilet and use that as a basis for how big your pail can be.

The Ever Essential Lid: A lid is imperative for obvious reasons. Manually opening the lid can save you a few bucks on the price, but ultimately is not as practical as a foot pedal system. You will be holding a soiled item and need quick access to your pail. Some pails have a spring loaded lid with a button that releases the spring, automatically opening the lid for you. I found this type of pail to be reasonably priced, as well as effective. A few dollars more and you can have a foot operated flip top lid. If the pail is rectangular in shape, ensure that the hinges are evenly spaced along the width of the pail rather than the short side. This will reduce the load on the hinges and springs, springs, and give a longer life to the pail.

Shape and Size: A pail that sits discreetly under a counter is better with a foot operated lid. Double check to make sure your lid will open enough for easy access to put your briefs in. If possible, take the measurement of your under-counter space with you to the store, and measure it up against the proposed pails. If you are storing your pail under a counter, a button operated or manual lid will be cumbersome.

Rectangular pails can fit in a variety of spaces like directly next to the toilet next to the shower. Round pails typically have compromised hinges if they are not manually lidded. Look for durability, and ease of cleaning when choosing your pail.

You will only be storing one to two days worth of briefs and inserts in your pail at a time. For a person who goes through 3-5 briefs a day, a standard 13 gallon kitchen trash can is sufficient to hold this quantity.

The Dry Pail System is well established and may be in your home for a while, so have fun with it. There are multiple options for you to choose your look.

White: Inconspicuous
Colored: Can match hand towels
Patterned: Can match a theme in your bathroom.
Matching: Match your pail to your garbage can. Having two pails in your bathroom that match flows well and can complete the look of the bathroom. You can typically find matching cans in stainless steel.

The Pail Liner:

pail liner for washing cloth diapers

The same sturdy waterproof fabric that our Undies are made out of can also line your Dry Pail. This allows you to easily gather up the contents of your pail and transfer them into the washing machine for their first cold water rinse. A pail liner is not an essential piece of your laundering routine, but for those looking for the most convenient cloth diapering systems, having two pail liners makes this chore simple. Transfer your pails contents into the washer, then line your pail with the second pail liner. You’ll be all reset in a jiffy!

Depositing Used Briefs In The Pail: After rinsing (if that step was necessary) feel free to leave the Flexible Absorbency Insert snapped into the briefs. Just pull out the Step-Up Insert fully or part way before depositing the briefs into your pail. The agitation from your washing machine will handle pulling the step-up insert out of the main insert, if you remove it partially. Make sure your briefs are turned inside out before you deposit them into your pail. This way the soiled area will be fully exposed in the washer.

Bowel Incontinence Necessities

what you need for bowel incontinence when using cloth diapers 

A diaper sprayer can be used to minimize any additional hardships that cloth diapering can cause a person with bowel incontinence. This device taps into the clean water line that feeds your commode, before the water reaches the bowl. Its
original purpose in the United States was to allow Americans the luxury of a
bidet, in hand held form. Women could use it to clean themselves during a postpartum season or menstrual cycle, and men and women alike could use it to cleanse after their constitutional.

The diapering community saw a much greater purpose for this ingenious gadget. To clean and pre-rinse soiled cloth diapers. To further process on making cloth diapering clean and simple, Spray Pal developed a spray guard that eliminated any possibility of back-splashing. This plastic shield clips your Flexible Insert System in place while you spray any soil into the toilet. It folds flat for discreet storage, and can be used to squeeze excess water from the insert before placing into your dry pail.

Routines make life simple. They put things on auto-pilot and remove the need to think. Developing a daily or every other day wash routine makes moving to cloth far less intimidating.

Washing With Other Clothes:

If you are curious about trying cloth Protective Briefs, or want to use both cloth and disposables, then setting up an entire system around your cloth may be too much. With just one or two pairs of briefs in your rotation you can easily wash then with other clothing. The in-depth guidelines developed around washing cloth are based on a high ammonia and soil content in the load. Washing one, two or even three pairs of briefs and inserts with other clothing greatly reduces the amount of soil saturation in the load. With a low volume of briefs, feel free to incorporate them in your regular laundry routine.

Full-time cloth diapering underwear
If you find yourself using cloth and enjoying the financial freedom it brings you over disposables, it’s time to incorporate a standard cloth diaper friendly wash routine into your week. You can expect to spend on average less than 10-15 minutes per day of active time on your wash routine. Most people do not fold their cloth. When you being using reusable briefs, you will tell reasonably quick if your wash routine need to be daily, every other day, or every third day. Never go beyond three days. Letting ammonia sit in the fibers of cloth too long can lead to ammonia burn, which we will cover in the In-depth Knowledge of Cloth section.

Most people settle into an evening routine for washing their cloth. After work or before dinner take your pail to the washer and lift the pail liner out. Dump the contents into the washer, then add in the pail liner. If your washer has a pre-rinse setting, the routine gets even easier. You can simply set your preferences with soap, water level and washing time, then walk away. If you don’t have a pre-rinse setting, just run a “quick wash” on cold with no soap, then come back in 20 minutes to set the washer with your proper wash settings and soap. After dinner or before bed your cloth will be ready to transfer to the dryer. Standard cloth diapers are thick and bulky and will possibly need two dry cycles, but Super Undies are designed to wash more thoroughly and dry in one cycle. Simply press the start button on your dryer and walk away! If you don’t return to the dryer until morning, no worries. You will have a fresh clean load of cloth ready for use.

Folding is not necessary. In fact, many people simply unload their briefs into a laundry basket and take them to their private bathroom. They use the briefs right out of the basket, or place them flat and stacked one on another in a dresser drawer.

In Depth Knowledge OF Washing Cloth

Start with a cold water rinse/wash with no detergent. This will rinse out any urine and solid residue. Dump any solids (use flushable liners to make it even easier) or spray with a diaper sprayer before putting in your dry pail.

With an HE washer the amount of water is limited to the weight of the laundry load. This often means that cloth diapers don't get the amount of water necessary to get clean, since they are so absorbent and soak up water that is meant to wash them! You can trick your machine into adding more water by adding a wet towel to your load. Make sure your washer is always set on the highest water setting as well and that you only use HE specific detergent.

Next, perform a hot water wash cycle with detergent. Do NOT use the sanitary cycle and be sure your water heater is not set above 120 degrees as temperatures hotter than that can damage your briefs. Now do second cold or warm rinse, optionally you can add 3-4 drops of Lavender Essential Oil a natural antiseptic. For lightly soiled briefs you can skip this step.

Notes on Detergent: The general rule of thumb is to use a detergent that is free of any bleach or fabric softener. “Free and Clear” detergents are generally not recommended, as they often have additional cleaning agents in them that can cause buildup. We have had great success using Tide Original detergent.

If you have hard water, we suggest using a liquid water softener (commonly found in the laundry care aisle at most discount chain stores).

Mainstream Detergents Which are Currently Considered as the Best Performing Detergents to Wash Cloth Diapers Include, but are not limited to:

Tide | Arm & Hammer | Purex | Gain | Country Save | Persil

Use a detergent that you feel comfortable with. If you find that it's not cleaning your briefs and inserts well enough; try adding a little extra detergent. You may need 2x the amount of some plant-based detergents versus the recommended amount on the container. If you notice your diapers aren't smelling fresh out of the machine,try mixing 1-2 tablespoons of bleach in with a cup of water and adding it to your bleach dispenser. This can shorten the life of your briefs by a month in the long run, but is well worth the payoff for crisp clean briefs, and will mitigate the need for maintenance.


Toss in the dryer on medium/low - Tip: adding a dry towel or wool dryer balls can lessen the dry time. To get the absolute most life out of your briefs, consider hang drying. This is not necessary at all, but the fact is true with any clothing article. Heat lessens the life of your clothing. Since the briefs have no absorbency in them they will hang dry faster than the inserts, and may even hang dry faster than your regular clothes!

Hard Water:
Hard water contains a high amount of calcium and magnesium. These minerals, if not properly rinsed away, can lead to a mineral build-up in your absorbency over time can cause offensive odors. Hard water makes it difficult for many detergents to work properly. Using a separate water softener, such as Baking Soda is often recommended and is considered safe for use on all types of fabrics.

Ammonia Build Up:
Ammonia is found in all urine. The longer it stays on fibers, the more it can burn into the fibers. Three days is a maximum amount of time any cloth item should go before being laundered, if it has urine on it. Your level of hydration can immensely affect the concentration of ammonia in urine. A well hydrated person can wash every three days, while a more dehydrated person should wash their briefs nightly or every other day.

There are acceptable amounts of ammonia and if your briefs only smell strongly after a few days in your pail then this is quite normal, though you may want to increase the frequency of your washing to prevent a problem. When the smell is acrid and “knock you over” strong this should be addressed with our maintenance program.

Mold: Forgot about the pail? Didn’t start the load before you went on vacation?

Finding mold in your pail or on your briefs or inserts can happen in extreme situations. Mold thrives in wet, humid conditions, but it’s not the end of the world.

This excerpt on mold handing comes from our friends at All About Cloth Diapers, an excellent resource for all things infant cloth diaper related.

How to Kill Mold

Method 1: Bleach Wash

A bleach wash will do the trick. You can do this right in your washer and soaking is not necessary. Add the bleach via your bleach cup or tray along with your usual detergent and then wash on regular in warm or hot water.

Use bleach that is not expired and is at least 5.25% sodium hypochlorite. Here are the dilution amounts.
Top Loader (Non-HE): Small- 1/3 cup, Medium – 1/2 cup, Large/XL- 3/4 cup
Top loader (HE) Small- 1/4 cup, Medium- 1/3 cup, Large- 1/2 cup
Method 2: Oxygen Bleach  Soak(such as Oxiclean)
The main ingredient in oxygen bleach is the powder form of hydrogen peroxide which can also be used to kill mold. I personally use OxiClean as it is readily available in most grocery store aisles. Soak the affected diapers in hot water and OxiClean solution. Use 1 gallon of water and a scoop to the 4 line of the OxiClean (using the scoop that comes with the container). Soak for 6 hours. Wash in a tiny bit of detergent after soaking. If you are JUST washing the cloth diapers you soaked, don’t over do it on the detergent, remember you are washing an already clean insert. If mold becomes a recurring issue you should take steps to stop it from happening again and again.
Store your dirty diapers in a cool, dry place. Bathrooms and laundry rooms are places to stay away from. They tend to have higher humidity and less air flow than other rooms in your home.
  • If your home is prone to mold, you may find an open pail method works better for you. The air flow that the pail receives keeps the moisture down and mold at bay.
  • Wash your diapers more often. Sure! You have enough to go a week. But that makes them harder to get clean and also has them sitting in pretty wet conditions for long periods of time. Shoot for every 3-4 days at the max.
  • Wash your washing machine! Mold can grow inside if it isn’t maintained properly Leave the door open after washing a load to allow it to dry inside. If you washer has a cleaning cycle, run that monthly as well.

  • Periodic Maintenance

    Depending on the level soiling that your briefs go through, and the time intervals you choose to wash at, your maintenance period will vary between 2 and 4 weeks.

    The Chameleon Undies are a separate animal from their inserts, and although they both can be washed together, you may find the absorbency needs more maintenance than the briefs.

    Cloth Diaper Detergent Build Up

    Microfiber is highly effective at absorption. It pulls liquid deep into its fibers, making it that “super absorbent miracle cloth” that Sham WOW made it famous for. This also can make it prone to build up. Regular washes can leave behind a very slight detergent residue. Drying the cloth can then solidify this residue into the fibers, which over time can lead to “detergent build up.” Detergent build up can be mitigated by running a warm water rinse, after your wash cycle, and ensuring you are washing with a high volume of water. Without a high volume of water in your wash cycle, the absorbent fibers will soak up the detergent that is meant to be agitating in your machine and performing the wash cycle. You can tell if you have detergent build up when the absorbency performance of your inserts decline.

    Basic Maintenance

    Wash diapers as you normally do. Run a second wash cycle with an added 1/4C bleach in the bleacher dispenser, with no detergent. Run an extra rinse after that cycle. 

    Extreme Maintenance: Stripping - No, not that kind!

    Stripping is a term in the cloth diaper industry that refers to restoring the fibers of cloth to a pre-used state as much as possible. Mineral build up, ammonia build up, and detergent build up can cause the fibers of microfiber to get bogged down with built up residue. Stripping refers to the process of stripping away the build up. You can tell if your briefs and inserts need stripped by assessing smell and performance. If the briefs or insert start to smell when they come in contact with a liquid, or if a previously stable pair of Undies (or insert) begins to leak it is a sign that these undies need strip washed.

    Option 1: Do several (4-6) hot water washes (no detergent) to get rid of most residues. (This method works best in areas with softer water and may not be effective to remove hard water minerals)

    Option 2: Baking soda can also be used for stripping diapers, especially for areas with, especially hard water. Wash clean diapers 3-4 times with hot water and baking soda (no detergent). As always, be sure to rinse thoroughly.


    If you are washing every other day, your routine takes hardly any time from your life. With maintenance set at once per month, most people find that washing cloth is not as cumbersome as they imagined. Cloth is well worth a try when you consider the accumulative cost savings, as well as pure comfort over plastic disposables. The majority of all customers that purchase Threaded Armor return to buy more, which is a testimonial in itself. If you have more questions, reach out to Laura Woj on Facebook. Send a private message to be discreetly connected to one of our cloth concierge experts. We look forward to bringing you peace of mind, comfort and confidence, while helping restore an active lifestyle.