Now that we all know about the different variables that can affect your cloth diaper laundering, we can get more specific on how to wash and maintain your fluffy stash. I'm going to start by talking about the types of pails to use to store your dirty diapers. There are dry pails that consist of either a wet bag or an actual pail with a pail liner. You simply toss your soiled diaper in the pail after flushing down any solids. Then you take it to the washer on wash day and away you go! This is recommended by most modern cloth diaperers. Then there is the wet pail. The wet pail is a pail that is filled with water to put your soiled diapers into. Then you have to drain it out on wash day and fill again with fresh water. The reason the wet pail was originally used was to help ward off the stinkies and stains that came when using the cotton prefolds/flats way back when. This was because the washing machines or hand washing diapers was not as efficient or effective as machines and hand washing are now. The wet pail is really not necessary now with the advances that we've had with diaper manufacturing and better machines, water quality and detergents. The wet pail also poses some serious problems. Having standing water can cause an increase in mold, mildew and foxing (foxing is the red, rusty colored stains that come from a build up of minerals from water with a combination of mold). If you use a wet pail, it needs to be stored in a dry and cool area of the house. The other problem with wet pails is that they are a potential drowning hazard. Plus, the inconvenience of having to lug a heavy water-filled pail to the laundry room or having to take your diaper to the wet pail that's stored in the laundry room after every change (not recommended because of the heat and humidity in those rooms) seems like a big hassle to me. Not to mention having to dispose of the water that is filled with human waste before laundering. I would suggest that if you want to use a wet pail, to only do it with prefolds/flats. Wet pails are very hard on modern cloth diapers that use PUL and other waterproof fabrics. It is, however, your choice as to what type of pail works for you.
Every diaper style (and even each brand) will launder differently. Prefolds, flats and fitteds can be laundered and dried at a higher temperature (as long as there are no snaps). Plus you can use laundry aides that you can't use with PUL (like vinegar, borax, bleach, and other whiteners/brighteners). I always suggest that if you do use these types of additives, that you fully wash and rinse afterward to make sure that there is no residue left that can irritate baby's bottom. Personally, I stay away from these harsh chemicals except for vinegar. Vinegar is my go-to cleaner for almost everything. Pockets, AI2s, AIOs and Hybrids need to be laundered and more importantly dried at lower temperatures. They require a little more finesse from your routine.
Laundry routines vary greatly for each person. The number one thing that everyone needs to do (no matter what type of pail you use) is the first rinse. This is very important. It removes the bulk of soiled product from your diapers. After that, the routines vary greatly. Find what works best for you from warm or hot water used, water level in the washer, heavy or normal agitation, type and amount of detergent, and need for extra rinses. Fell free to contact me if you want help finding that routine that works best for you (if I can't help, I know just the people who can!)
Diaper maintenance is a very important thing to do. Some people believe that there isn't a need to strip diapers if you are washing perfectly every time, but the truth is that no one can wash perfectly every time. Regular diaper maintenance will extend the life of your diapers and is a good thing to do to prevent problems from occurring. Think of it like changing the oil in your car. I try to 'maintain' my diapers once every 6 weeks unless needed sooner. Your diapers don't have to smell or cause rashes to do a maintenance wash, but if they do cause rashes or smell bad then it is definitely time for it. There are many different ways to strip diapers and, just like your wash routine, you need to find the one that works best for you. I'm going to tell you about a few that I like to do.
The overnight soak: This is very easy to do and great for those in between times when you don't have a problem with your diapers, but you want to maintain them. The way that I do it is I do my first cold rinse. Then I start my hot, heavy, full water wash cycle and I add twice as much detergent as I would with a normal wash. Then I let the washer agitate for 1 or 2 minutes to get everything moved around and the detergent dispersed in the water. I then leave the door open (or stop the cycle) and I let it sit overnight or about 8 hours. I start the cycle again and let it run through. After the first cycle is done, I start a second hot water cycle with no detergent in it. To finish, I throw everything in the dryer or put everything in the sun to dry (depending on the weather and the time of year). For those of you with an HE machine: If you can't stop your wash cycle by the push of a button, you can always do an overnight soak in the bathtub. To do that, fill your tub with hot water, your diapers and detergent. Then swish it around to get the detergent distributed. When your time is up, empty your tub and step on the diapers (with clean feet) to squish out excess water. Take them to your washer and do a hot wash cycle. If there are still bubbles or smells like detergent, then do an extra rinse or wash cycle.
The strip: This is great to do when you have a problem or you sense that your diapers need a little more deep cleaning. The way I do it is to start with my first cold rinse (I only skip this if I'm stripping diapers that are already cleaned and dry). Then I start my hot, heavy, full water wash cycle and I add 1 teaspoon (yep, just a little tsp!) of Blue Dawn Dish soap to the washer. *It is important to only use the blue colored Dawn; like what they use to clean off poor little ducks that get caught in oil spills.* Then let your wash cycle go. After the first cycle is done, you continue with a second hot wash cycle with no detergents. Continue additional hot wash cycles until the rinse cycle runs clear with no bubbles. For me, this usually takes 3-4 wash cycles. Finish up by drying your diapers. I like to do this every 4-6 months or so unless I have some problems because it is a little more labor intensive with all the extra wash cycles. For HE users: Add the dawn to your detergent area when the water is running through it just a few drops at a time and make sure that you don't exceed a tsp.
The boil: Yes. You can boil some things. *DO NOT boil anything that has PUL or other waterproof materials, elastic, snaps or aplix. You will melt your fabric and snaps if you boil them.* What you can boil is your inserts with no snaps and prefolds/flats and other natural fabric diapers. All you have to do is fill a large pot with water, put in your inserts/diapers in, and boil for 5 minutes (you can put a plate on top to weigh down the inserts so they can't float). I always boil my hemp inserts. It is the perfect way to prep hemp inserts and to maintain them because it gets the natural oils out that cause repelling and it thoroughly cleans them.
Maintaining your diapers will help ward off the dreaded 'stinkies' and it will keep them working like new. I always love how soft and white my diapers come out as after a maintenance wash. I also do a maintenance wash when I switch detergents or if I use a different washer (like when traveling). Happy washing!!!