How to Prep Cloth Diapers: Your Questions Answered

975 Flares Twitter 8 Facebook 456 Pin It Share 506 Google+ 5 Made with Flare More Info'> 975 Flares ×

Not all cloth diapers are made from the same material, therefore not all cloth diapers can be prepped in one single load.  I’m answering the most common questions I’ve been asked over the years in hopes that I can just refer future readers here and save my hands some typing.  Just kidding…  kind of.  If you are completely new to cloth diapers you will find a lot more helpful information on my New to Cloth Diapers.

So exactly what does “prepping” mean?

Prepping is the process of washing your cloth diapers repeatedly before the first use in order to help them reach their maximum absorbency.  Prepping will also remove any excess natural oils from the diapers (those with natural fibers) and clean away any dirt left over from the manufacturing process.  

Do I have to prep my diapers?

Yes, at least once.  If only to remove any leftover chemicals that might be present on the diapers from manufacturing.  I always wash my diapers at least one good time before using them, just in case.  If you do decide to only wash once then use that diaper during the day and not for a nap.  It won’t be fully absorbent until it gets washed a few more times.

Can I wash my synthetic cloth diapers with my diapers made with natural fibers?

No!  Cloth diapers made from cotton, bamboo, and hemp will have a natural oil in the fibers that will wash away within the first few washes.  Organic, unbleached natural fibers (especially organic cotton) have even more oils.  These oils can wash onto your synthetic materials, especially the stay dry layers of pocket diapers made from microfleece and suedecloth, and leave a build-up that leads to repelling (when liquids don’t absorb).  All natural materials should be washed at least three times alone.  If you receive a pocket diaper in the mail that comes with a hemp insert you still need to wash those two pieces separately.  I have a materials glossary for cloth diapers if you need a reference.

How many washes does it take for a diaper to be fully prepped and absorbent?

There is no definite answer because every diaper is made from a different material, however an average number is 6-8.  Microfiber inserts will fall on the lower range, even less than 6 usually.  Natural materials, especially hemp, will take 8 washes.

Do I need to dry the diapers between each wash when prepping?

Eh……..  I don’t.  The drying will exponentially increase quilting (this is when the cotton puffs/wrinkles up which makes them more absorbent) when prepping prefolds, however I don’t find this necessary for other inserts or diapers.  So basically- inserts, flats, fitteds- no.  Cotton prefolds- yes.

Boiling a load of flats

Can I boil my diapers to prep them faster?

You can, but take my advice:  don’t unless you understand what you are getting into!  Boiling looks like the easy route but unless you have a witch’s cauldron or you only need to boil a handful of diapers you’ll want the capacity of a washer.  I gave my tiny apartment kitchen a steam bath when I boiled about 52 prefolds in batches.  It took 5 hours of constant work.  The steam “cleaned” my wallpaper, leaving disgusting yellow streaks down my walls.  I ended up doing even more work than just boiling diapers- I also had to wash all of my walls.  You can NOT boil any parts of a cloth diaper that have PUL, TPU, elastic, or snaps.  Really the only things you can boil are prefolds, flats, and inserts.

What if I just have one brand new diaper?  Do I really need it wash it all by itself to prep it? 

This will all depend on the materials.  If it has organic, natural materials, I defintely would still wash it by itself.  This will be less work than stripping all of your diapers later.  If the diaper is made from synthetics,  non organic cotton, or non organic bamboo velour then I would say it should be ok and you can sneak it into a load of your dirty diapers.

How much detergent do I use when just prepping my diapers?

There is conflicting information on this (just like all diaper washing articles) but I use the tiniest amount.  Usually just a teaspoon or two.  Since prep loads are usually less than full wash loads this gives you enough to work out the oils but not enough to cause any repelling problems.  Some people prefer not to use any soap.  You can adjust the amount if you are prepping an entire load of brand new diapers- so if you have a full wash load of 12-15 new diapers you could use the full recommended amount by your soap maker.  In my case it would be 2 tablespoons of Rockin’ Green.

Do I need to prep my new covers?

Covers aren’t absorbent therefore you don’t need to “prep” them in the sense that they need washing to work effectively.  They will work right out of the package as intended.  You will still probably want to wash once but you can throw these into your dirty laundry (if you have any).

Should I prep my “new to me” (previously loved) diapers?

Assuming they were loved more than a few times they will already be fully absorbent.  You might want to “strip” your diapers, however.

Stripping gone wrong- Image from a friend

What is “Stripping” and why does it sound so dirty?  

Stripping refers to the removal of any soap, minerals, and stink that sometimes accumulate over time in the fibers of cloth diapers.  All fabrics cling to these things during the wash but unlike cloth diapers, our sheets and clothes don’t need to hold liquid so this isn’t usually a concern.  When stripping diapers there are several approaches, some of which could void the warranty of your diapers, so do your research and understand what you are getting into.  The simplest form of stripping just involved repeated HOT WASH CYCLES with no detergent.  The hot water will remove the built up soap and rinse it away.  Other stripping methods will recommend using Original Blue Dawn (just a drop…) and bleach.  If someone tells you to strip your diapers using your dish washer- DON’T DO IT.  This is extremely unsafe since a diaper could land on a heating element inside and start a fire.  Not only that, but you can potentially ruin your diapers.  If you are looking to go the unconventional route read about how to use fish tank ammonia remover.  Why does “stripping” sound so dirty?  Because your mind is in the gutter, that’s why!

How will I know that my diapers are fully prepped?

There won’t be an exact moment where you look at your diapers and know for certain that they are fully absorbent.  With prefolds you can kind of tell by how quilted the cotton appears, but even at full quilt they will still become more absorbent for a few more washes.  With pockets, All-in-Ones, All-in-Two’s, Fitteds, Flats, and other types of cloth diapers you’ll just have to work on the honor system.  If you decided to only wash once and let the dirty washes do the rest of the work give those diapers a few weeks or even a month before trying them overnight.  You won’t want to use a half-prepped diaper overnight because you’ll likely get unfavorable results.  Don’t rule out a diaper if it leaks and it is new- chances are it just needs a few more washes.

Do you have a prepping question that wasn’t answered?  Leave a comment and I’ll answer it if I can!

The following two tabs change content below.
Kim Rosas began Dirty Diaper Laundry in 2009 out of a desire to help more parents understand modern cloth diapers. She lives in Florida with her husband of 5 years and her two boys. Even though none of her boys wear diapers anymore she is still just as committed to promoting them. In her spare time Kim enjoys video editing, photography, and coffee.
  • Sara

    It seems some people don’t read thoroughly or don’t bother looking through comments to see if you have already answered their question. You are a SAINT for patiently answering the same questions repeatedly.

  • Kris06387

    I just prepped my unbleached Indian cotton prefolds and I found for me boiling was the way to go! However, after reading your article (and being concerned for my kitchen walls) I switched it up a little. For 30prefolds I did the following: one hot wash with a bit of detergent, I use a brand called surcare (I live in Ireland). Then half line dried then into the dryer with dryer balls for quilting up. Then another hot wash, no detergent, same drying process. Then, the next day (this stuff is time consuming!), I got two big stock pots boiling on the stovetop and boiled six nappies at a time, 3in each pot, for ten minutes each. I figured because they’d been through two hot washes I didn’t need to boil for as long. To do all 30 probably took me about an hour and a half and while time consuming it certainly wasn’t difficult at all. When all finished I popped them into the machine for a spin cycle then half dried on the line and into the dryer to finish up. Now, I wouldn’t want to have to do this every day but, as a once off prep I found it worked amazingly well!!! They are soft and super quilty and lovely! And the only clean up was a light scrubbing for the pots with some steel wool but there was almost no residue. Very pleased with the results!

  • Rebecca

    After diapers are completely prepped, can cotton prefolds, suede cloth pocket diapers and microfiber inserts be washed in the same load?

    • kimrosas

      Yes after being prepped they can always be washed together.

  • Jamie

    Could you soak instead of wash the new cloth diapers in hot water to prep them?

    • kimrosas

      No, they need several washes for a few reasons… the need to agitate to remove the oils, and drying the prefolds (if you are prepping those) a few times will quilt them up which increases absorbency.

  • elizabethk

    My inserts arent fully drying in the dryer..normal?

    • kimrosas

      Are they microfiber? If you have very small loads of laundry sometimes the diapers won’t all be dry in one cycle. One way to speed drying is by using wool dryer balls. Here is a post to explain how they speed up drying time for small loads like dryer balls:

  • Kristen

    Can my hemp, bamboo and terry bamboo inserts all be prepped together? Also, can minky diapers be prepped with my synthetic diaper stuff? TIA!

    • kimrosas

      Yes and yes :)

  • Tasha Webster

    Can you boil microfiber. More specifically can you boil flips or will that ruin them.

  • Ishtar

    I’m wondering if it’s safe to dry microfiber with cotton and hemp diapers. For the time being I’m prepping diapers at a laundromat before bebe arrives, needless to say I have to pay 2x as much to dry separately.

    • kimrosas

      Drying would be fine, the washing is what brings out the oils.

  • Sarah

    when prepping the diapers, do I use the detergent every time I put them through a wash cycle?

    • kimrosas

      No you don’t have to

  • Regan

    I accidentally bought several stay dry/microfleece inserts that I’d prefer not to touch the baby… can I place a cotton prefold on top of a stay dry insert and it work?

    • kimrosas

      Yes but do you need both? Maybe for overnights, I would think both are overkill for days.
      Please excuse typos and brevity. Sent from my iPhone

  • Julie Osborne Wuenschel

    How should blended inserts be prepped? I have bamboo.microfiber.

  • Angel

    Loved this article! Will be referencing it for sure in the near future!!

  • Nancy B

    Covers in the dryer to “seal” the PUL…yay or nay?

Sweet Iris Designs, Bugga Bugga Boutique, Bummis Duo-Brite
Follow me onTwitter ampad
975 Flares Twitter 8 Facebook 456 Pin It Share 506 Google+ 5 975 Flares ×