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How To: Prep & Wash Cloth Diapers

Posted by Fluffy Penguin on

Congrats on your new fluff! Whether it is a prefold, insert, pocket, cover or AIO, I’ve got you COVERED on how to prep and care for your new fluffies! Take a look at each item description below, and get familiar with the terminology and washing instructions. Once you do three or four full loads of diaper laundry, it’ll come easy peasy to you! Until then, keep this link handy for you to come back and reference when you need it!

Preparation/ “Prep”

When you “prep” you’re washing and preparing the item for use. All products should be washed once to rinse off any residue, string, or fabric from the item being created. Some need several washes and to get the item up to its full absorbency level.

When you prep, you do NOT dry between washes, but you DO use detergent! Your routine may vary here and there, if you need a little more detergent or an extra rinse, go ahead! These guidelines are a starting point, fine tune it as you need to suit your machine.

(See larger version here)



Prep wash inserts WITH detergent. You’ll know your inserts are ready when they’re fluffed up and thick- ready to absorb! Cotton, Hemp, Bamboo, and blends all need three or four prep washes before they’re ready for use. Microfiber only needs one wash to be ready to go!


New covers and pockets only need one prep wash and they’re good! Remember to use detergent, and you can dry these in your dryer or hang dry!

AIO & Fitteds

Microfiber core and charcoal bamboo AIO’s need only 1 prep wash with detergent. Fitteds or AIOs with hemp, or cotton, bamboo inners need 3-4 prep washes, again with detergent!


Hemp, bamboo, or cotton prefolds need 3-4 washes. Most prefolds will start to look 'quilted' or bumpy when they're ready to use.



Now you’ve prepped your diapers. You’ve put your little love in them and snapped no less than 10 photos, showing off and posting them online for your friends to gawk over when…you smell it. The diaper has done its job, and now you must do yours! Grab a wetbag or diaper pod and toss the dirty diaper in! If you use cloth wipes, put those in as well! When you have a washer load full, it’s time to wash!

Water Hardness

It may seem like an odd thing to care about, but water hardness is a huge factor in cloth diapering. Mineral deposits from the hard water can build up in your diaper's fabric fibers, trapping in bacteria and causing ammonia issues.

If you have any build up on your faucets, you probably have hard water. Even if you don't, you should test (you can search 'free water hardness test strips' and there's quite a few companies who will send you one).

Washing in hard water has two main rules.

  1. Use a softener in each load. Borax or Calgon work great.
  2. Limit extra rinses

Diaper Load

You want to wash a full load of diapers, you want enough in there that they’re mixing and scrubbing against each other and cleaning off the gunk. If you don’t have enough diapers, they just won’t come clean. If you have too much water, they won’t come clean.

You can toss in small items like baby clothes or wash cloths if you need to, and make sure you’re using detergent in the pre-wash AND the main wash. You want a "stew" consistency, which is enough water to distribute the detergent, and carry messes away, but not too much water so the clothes don't rub together and clean. 

Two Washes?

We HIGHLY recommend two washes per diaper load. 

Your first wash will be a 'pre-wash'. You want this to be a quick wash, with agitation (not just a rinse!), with a small amount of detergent. A pre-wash takes care of a majority of the soil so that your next wash, the 'main wash', can really dive deep in to the fabric fibers and get your diapers truly clean. Pre-washes can be hot or cold, but we recommend hot water if you're using a plant based detergent.

Your second wash will be a 'main wash'. This wash is a heavy, highly agitated wash that really gets your diapers clean. In your main wash, we recommend using the amount of detergent listed on the container for a 'heavy soiled load'. Main washes can be hot or cold, but we recommend hot water if you're using a plant based detergent.

AVOID 'sanitize' cycles! Usually these are not appropriate for the materials diapers are made of.

How much detergent?

Most, if not all, detergents have a recommended usage for their product. This can usually be found on the container. We recommend using whatever the detergent calls for in regards to a 'heavily soiled load'.

Mainstream detergents such as original Tide, Gain, Cheer, Dreft, and Foca all work very well for diapers. Their free and clear alternatives are weaker, but still work great. We do NOT recommend homemade, essential oil based, or 'soapnut' style detergents - they just don't have the 'oomph' to get the job done. Remember, we're dealing with human waste! 

If you're looking for more natural or plant-based detergents, we've found that Arm & Hammer Bio Enzyme, BioKleen, Earthwise, Purex Natural Elements, and Seventh Generation work well. We recommend washing your diapers on hot if you're using plant based detergents.


Water Softeners

Water softeners are cloth diapers friendly! Calgon has more power to it, so we recommend using it if you have higher levels of water hardness. Borax is in the mid-range, and washing soda is the weakest water softener.

Add your softener directly to the drum - avoid the 'softener' compartment, as that's meant for FABRIC softener, not water softener!

To use softeners, add roughly 1/2 a cup (for borax or washing soda) or 1 cap (calgon) to your wash. If your water is over 200ppm hard, we recommend using a softener in both the pre-wash and main wash.



An easy way to dry in warmer climates and in the summer is to just hang them outside on the line. The sun naturally bleaches out stains, and you're left with fresh diapers. We recommend hanging them 'hot dog style'.

Fluffy Penguin diapers ARE dryer safe though! If you use a dryer, make sure you do NOT use a dryer sheet or fabric softener. Wool dryer balls are a perfect alternative.

Make sure that your inserts and AIOs are fully dry before you put them away or to use. If they're not allowed to fully dry, they will begin to smell. Let your diaper laundry sit outside of the dryer for a few minutes, then feel them. If they are still wet put them back in!

To dry thicker items like fitteds or AIOs, make sure they're unsnapped and able to 'open'. You can also turn some AIOs inside out so that the warm dryer air can get to the absorbent insert.

Let your diapers fully cool before putting them away and to use as well, if the elastics are warm or hot, they can stretch out/relax which would make them not as tight, and cause leakage.

If you have any other questions about cloth diapering, ask me below! I'm happy to help!

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