Prepping Cloth Diapers: Cloth Diaper Moms Reveal the Easiest and Most Efficient Ways
What is “Prepping Cloth Diapers” and why do I have to do it?
Cloth diaper prep is, simply put, the process of washing a brand new diaper several times before using it. It’s an important step that cannot be missed because prepping cloth diapers 1) helps increase their absorbency, which is important because if they’re not sufficiently absorbent, they will leak, and 2) wash away any irritants left over from the manufacturing process.
Prepping cloth diapers is important because:
- You want to ensure maximum absorbency. Diapers that are made of natural fibers will have natural oils in them, that would prevent them from absorbing sufficiently. So, the process of prepping cloth diapers means you get rid of those oils that prevent sufficient absorption.
- Your diapers were likely made in a factory. Even if it was made in the cleanest factory, it’s always a good idea to clean anything before you put it on your baby, especially things that will cover their private parts.
- Diaper prepping also rinses away residues from natural fibers that may deposit on other diapers and cause repelling (which means leaks).
Depending on the kind of diaper and the fabric/material involved, the actual process of prepping your diapers will differ somewhat. What does NOT vary is the fact that some form of prep must indeed take place – All in Ones (AIO), All in Two’s (AI2), fitted’s, prefolds, flats, inserts, soakers, doublers, etc. should be prepped before putting them on your baby. You should also prep cloth diaper covers, even though they are not intended to absorb anything. The purpose of prepping cloth diaper cover is more to get them cleaned and ready for baby.
How to prep diapers are generally the same: wash, wash, wash. However, it’s a little different depending on what kind of diapers you’re prepping because generally – instructions for synthetically-based diapers will differ from those that use natural fabrics like hemp, unbleached cotton, and bamboo. Also, people do it differently – some people start with a cold wash, so don’t dry between washes, etc. The instructions I offer below is the most common way of doing it but do not feel that you have to follow the instructions exactly. It is for that purpose that I’m also adding videos of different yet effective ways other moms do it.
How To Prep Cloth Diapers Method 1: Wash, Wash, Wash
- For prefolds of all versions, doublers made of prefold fabric, workhorse diapers, gauze and birdseye fabric, do one cold or warm cycle with water. This first cycle without detergent added will clean out any residue from the manufacturing process. It helps rinse out residue in your machine, too. You do not need to dry after this first water-only cycle (it’s not compulsory), but this initial water only cycle is recommended before you begin your prepping on hot.
- Next, wash your diapers with warm/ hot water on a regular cycle, with detergent 3-6 times. Drying in between washes is optional by recommended by many.
- Dry and Use.
- If your diapers are not absorbing sufficiently (see below), repeat the process.
How To Prep Cloth Diapers Method 2: Boil
- If you only fave a few items to prep, boiling is often a good idea.
- Do Not Boil diaper covers with PUL, velcro or snaps because boiling will likely damage the them and could certainly melt the PUL (the waterproof part).
- In a large pot, bring water to a boil.
- Add a drop of Dawn Blue dish detergent or a small amount of laundry detergent.
- Watch carefully as the water levels will go down, so you always want to be around to watch.
- Do not overfill the pot.
- Once done, let the diapers cool down and dry as normal.
Prepping Natural Fibers like Hemp, Cotton and Bamboo
When you first get your inserts/ flat diapers, prefolds, they will be flat and stiff. Take a good look because this is the last time they will look this way because prepping your diapers will make them shrink and they will become puffy and softer through a process called “quilting”.
Cloth Diapers made of natural fibers need to be washed 3 to 6 times before first use. This does require lots of patience but it’s necessary because there are lots of naturally occurring oil in the fabric – if you purchase the material new. Washing it repeatedly cleans out the natural oils contained in the fibers. If you don’t clean it, those oils will stay and when baby pee’s on it, the urine will slide off instead of sinking it, which will cause leaking, which will make you very unhappy.
Make sure that you prep natural diapers separately from synthetic diapers to avoid those natural oils from moving into the synthetics. The prepping procedure is also training the material to absorb liquid, which makes it more effective as a diaper.
Image from YouTube Video by debtisdum, https://youtu.be/NKn30eQkH5I
After several washes, “quilting” occurs, where the material of the prefold starts to thicken up and increases in absorbency.
Synthetic Cloth Diapers
This is mainly microfiber-based and they only require one washing with detergent before the first use, so the starting process is a lot less complicated.
Even though synthetic isn’t typically as absorbent as natural fibers, they wick properly and normally soak in urine quicker, so they are good for babies with a heavy, quick stream. Many moms use them in addition to their natural fiber inserts, especially for overnight diapering.
When you look at man-made materials used in cloth diapering – like microfiber, TPU (thermoplastic polyurethane), or PUL (polyurethane laminate) – the prepping process is less “involved” than with natural materials. Because these are man-made materials, they do not have any “naturally occurring” oils to worry about and they are engineered to be absorbent from the start, these materials just need to be cleansed.
Due to the fact that these materials are man-made, you do need to pay attention to your method of washing these. TPU, for example, is recommended for washing only in medium/low temperatures.
A few things to consider about Prepping Cloth Diapers
- Both natural fibers and even some synthetics will increase in absorbency the more washing and drying cycles they go through. Don’t worry – 3-6 prep washes is usually sufficient but over time, you will likely notice that your diaper inserts/ flats or prefold diapers are absorbing more. Yeah!
- If you have purchased materials that are fuzzy and might shed a lot, it can be helpful to just wash once and dry them separately, or with your towels, to get those fuzzies off. It can be useful to wash and dry “sheddy-things” once separately from your prefolds or Workhorse diapers before washing all your diapers, doublers and wipes together.
- “Sheddy-things” are terry (includes two-sided wipes), sherpa or other smooth cotton items that will shed. Shedded fuzzies can get caught in the twill of the prefolds, making them appear pilly. Most people avoid this stage and simply wash everything together which is fine because any shedded fuzzies will in time end up in the lint screen anyhow, but if you want to avoid shedding transfer, you can do this one-time separate load.
- Never add fabric softeners or dryer sheets to your diaper laundry, whether you’re prepping them or you’re just washing cloth diapers.
- Your diaper inserts/ flat diapers/ prefold diapers will shrink. This is natural and expected. Shrinkage is calculated when the are being manufactured so don’t let this worry you.
- Don’t try to rush the prepping by using superheated cycles especially in the first 2 or 3 cycles.
- Test for absorbency by putting some water on a dry diaper. If it soaks in right away, they are ready to be used. If not, you need to rewash. Check again. If it is still not absorbing, then check to see if your water is hot inside the machine and perhaps use extra detergent next time.
- Ensure the water level is correct to get proper agitation.
- Be careful of the amount of detergent you use. Prepping for absorbency has a lot to do with the actual water making it’s way into the material – not the detergent. Try not to use too much because there is no filth in the load to use up the detergent, but you still need detergent to break up the natural oils (in natural fiber cloth diaper inserts/ flat diapers or prefolds). Unbleached cotton oils are sometimes quite tough so keep washing them until they absorb quickly.
- If you usually use a water softener additive,continue to do what you normally do. Don’t fix something that is not broken.
- Some pilling is actually normal. Diapers and doublers do need 4 (or more) hot washes before you use them on baby, regardless of the brand, white, unbleached, bamboo rayon or hemp.
- Pilling can occur through prepping cloth diapers or through normal washing of cloth diapers. This happens because of friction and rubbing in the washing machine as they are being agitated. With stronger fabrics, the pills are likely to be hard to remove. You can try to prevent pilling by not filling your washing machine too much because that causes more friction and rubbing. (However, when you’re actually doing dirty diaper laundry, make sure you have enough laundry in your washer because a load that is too small won’t wash properly because if you have a HE washing machine, not enough water will be drawn into your washer. You can trick the washer by adding a towel or two.)
- Avoid using oxygen bleaches or washing soda additives when prepping so your diapers don’t get rough and to reduce pilling. If they do get pilly, do not fret, pills eventually wash off or you can pick them off yourself.
- An excessive amount of oxygen cleaner or too high pH and too high of a wash temperature in initial washes can cause extra pilling but a little pilling is normal.
- Be wary of some sanitary cycles and steam cycles if they have high temperatures over 150 degrees or so which damage fabrics – find out what the actual temperature is. Hot should be around 105-125 degrees. Boiling diapers is not recommended.
- Spin cycle speed – When prepping diapers, for the first few cycles especially, use a medium spin speed, not high or ultra. The material will become stronger after they start to shrink so don’t be overly rough on them in the first two cycles. (Some newer washing machines have really high speeds that they can distort or rip apart fabrics. If you know your washer is “rough”, reduce the spin speed).
- Nighttime use with a new diaper can also be tricky, so ensure you plan ahead with extra absorbency layers to ensure you’re prepared for overnight diapering.
HOW MANY TIMES SHOULD I WASH MY DIAPERS BEFORE USE?
To an extent, the numbers are up for debate. Some people would recommend more, others less. However, it should be noted that your prefolds and fitted’s will continue to gain absorbency for a while through use – so don’t give up on a diaper if it’s not 100% absorbent right after prep.
- Prefolds: 4-6 washes, dry in between
- Natural Fiber Inserts: 2-3 washes, dry in between.
- Fitted: 2-3 washes, dry in between
- Synthetic Pockets: one wash
- Synthetic AIO’s and AI2’s: one wash
- Synthetic Inserts: one wash
- Synthetic Covers: one wash
HOW CAN I TELL IF MY DIAPERS ARE FULLY PREPPED?
The honest truth is there is no way to be sure that your diapers are completely prepped. However washing them several times to remove the oils and soften up the fabric will definitely increase their ability to absorb. So preparing new cloth diapers made of hemp can definitely take a lot of washes to reach its full absorbency!
In conclusion, prepping cloth diapers is important and it’s a step that cannot be overlooked. The purpose of prepping cloth diapers is to ensure that they are ready to be used, and absorbent for your baby because if they’re not absorbent, they will leak. There are simple steps to prepping and they are really easy, so you do not need to worry about getting it wrong.