How To Wash Baby Clothes (Including Cloth Diapers!)

Some of the most fun baby-related items to shop for will be your little one’s teeny tiny wardrobe. From onesies to sleepers and stretch suits to gowns, there are a lot of options to keep your baby clothed! (Feeling a little overwhelmed? Don’t worry- we’ve posted a whole list of essential items for newborns curated for you.) 

Of course, clothing is one of the most important essentials for your new arrival, so you’ll want to get a head start on shopping, setting up the dresser, and getting everything ready. Though it may not be on your mind yet, soon after the baby arrives you will realize just how much laundry a tiny body can produce over the course of a day! 
That’s why we’ve compiled this helpful guide covering how to wash baby clothes. We’ll cover everything you want to know, plus some things you didn’t even know you didn’t know!

Read on for answers to questions about pre-washing, clothing material types, cutting down on laundry, how to separate loads, how to launder cloth diapers, and so much more. Tip #1: not all baby clothes are created equal!

The Basics of Baby Clothes

Wardrobe-wise, there are a few things to consider. Based on your due date, you’ll need to coordinate your little one’s wardrobe for the season. So if the baby is due in autumn, your 0-3 month and 3-6 month clothes will consist of warmer items like long sleeve onesies, pants, warm layers, jackets, hats, and gloves. (Of course, you can throw some shorter sleeve options in there for baby to wear indoors, too). 

Alternatively, if the due date is in spring or summer you’ll want lots of short sleeves and cooler materials like cotton and linen for those first few months.

Some of the basic clothing items you’ll need, regardless of season or geographic location, include:

  • Diapers (disposable, cloth, or a combination of both)
  • Onesies (one-piece garment with snaps at the bottom for easy diaper changing; can be paired with leggings for cooler temps)
  • Sleepers (pajamas for newborns! These can either be footies or gowns)

Other clothing items and accessories may include short sleeve shirts, long sleeve shirts, pants, leggings, diaper covers, socks, sleep sacks, hats, gloves, coats, jackets, teething mits, blankets, and more.

Though baby clothing is adorable and practically irresistible, we would caution against buying too much clothing up front- especially in newborn sizing- for a few reasons. Of course, you will receive a lot of cute, tiny clothing as gifts, so anything you buy too far in advance may end up being redundant. 

But also, many newborns actually end up fitting clothing in the 3-6 month range within a couple weeks of birth! Babies grow very quickly at these early stages, so it’s better to stock up on the basics like diapers and onesies, and wait until the baby is born before buying all of the adorable accessories.

Importance of Pre-washing

Once you have your basic clothing picked out, you’ll want to do as much as you can ahead of time to make the transition smoother after bringing baby home. This includes pre-washing! We know what you’re thinking: Do I really need to pre-wash all of these clothes? The short answer is yes, you need to pre-wash baby’s clothing, regardless of whether it is brand-new or used. 

At first, it may sound like overkill. After all, if you’ve purchased a pack of onesies from Target, Walmart, or Amazon, they’re already clean, right?

Not exactly. Babies have incredibly sensitive skin, not to mention the allergies or eczema that some babies suffer from. That means that even brand-new clothing poses a risk of irritating the baby’s skin, since new clothes contain dyes and bleaches from the manufacturing process. A simple pre-wash with a mild detergent will take care of that! (Don’t worry- we’ll talk detergents a little later). 

Prep Dirty Baby Clothes

Washing baby clothes is a slightly different process from washing clothes for the rest of the family. Because baby’s clothing tends to be soiled more frequently, and by substances that are likely to stain, you’ll need to do some prep work before just tossing the clothes into the washer.

Hampers

First, you’ll want to invest in a reliable hamper. Since baby clothes are so small, you might want to wait until you have a full load before washing. But you also don’t want the clothes to get mildewy or moldy. Look for a hamper that is breathable. Soft, collapsible hampers are a great option for nurseries. Also consider purchasing a separate diaper pail, if you plan to use cloth diapers.

When to Wash

Hampers are helpful in collecting enough dirty laundry to make a load. But sometimes, you won’t want to delay washing if the clothing smells or is wet. 

This is when some pre-treatment options come into play. If you’re handling a diaper blowout, you’ll need to get the clothing treated quickly. Here’s the best way to prevent staining and get those clothes in the wash pronto:

  1. Rinse the clothing off with warm water.
  2. Use a natural stain remover, or a product specifically made to be gentle enough for baby clothing (Oxy Clean, Dreft, etc. have baby-specific stain removers).
  3. Scrub the affected area of the clothing with a brush or sponge to work the stain remover in.
  4. Let sit for a few minutes.
  5. Wash and dry.

If you have several soiled garments that have spit-up, poop, or pee, you can treat and wash those items together. Try not to let them sit, as they will be more likely to stain (plus, they smell!). 

For baby clothes that aren’t wet, but have been worn, you can store those in a hamper until you have a full load. Crib sheets and blankets should be washed at least once a week (though of course if they get soiled, you should change them immediately!).

Washing Baby Clothes

Like every other aspect of parenting, almost every person you ask will have their own opinion and way of doing things. And that’s okay! We’ve gathered some common tips here, but of course, not every method will work for every situation . But if you’re looking for some basic guidance to get you started, you’ve come to the right place.

Separating Clothing (Or not)

Opting to wash baby-only loads or to mix baby’s clothing in with your other laundry will depend on a few different factors. 

We recommend washing your baby’s clothing in separate loads from the rest of your laundry if: 

  • Your baby has extremely sensitive skin, allergies, eczema, or requires special detergent (more on this later). 
  • You don’t do laundry frequently enough to keep up with the amount of laundry the baby produces.
  • Your normal loads of clothing are washed with strong chemicals, strong perfumed additives, or any other specialty detergents (scent boosters, bleaches, etc.)

If there are just a couple of people in the house and you don’t produce tons of laundry, you can probably get away with mixing baby’s clothing into your normal loads, as long as you use a mild detergent that won’t irritate your newborn’s skin.

Detergents

As we’ve mentioned before, baby skin is incredibly sensitive to fragrances, dyes, and other irritants commonly found in detergents. Therefore, it’s best to wash all of baby’s clothing in a dye-free, hypoallergenic detergent with little to no fragrance. This type of mild detergent won’t be irritating, and will still get clothing very clean. 

Alternatively, you could use a baby-specific detergent, but these can be more expensive and may not be necessary unless your baby has severe sensitivities.

Treating Different Clothing Materials

Many of the materials used for baby clothing are the same ones used for adult clothing. Common materials include cotton, cotton/polyester or cotton/spandex blends, and fleece. However, some baby items like adorable hand-knit items, rubber-soled booties, or other specialty accessories might contain natural or synthetic fibers that require special attention to prevent damage from washing. 

Most items will have a tag with instructions for washing. But in the event that you have a unique item, your best bet will be to hand wash the item with gentle soap in lukewarm water, wring it out, and hang it to dry. This is the gentlest way to treat garments or items that might not survive the washing machine- especially meaningful items like handmade clothing or accessories, or stuffed animals.  

Cloth Diapers (Not as daunting as they might seem!)

A lot of parents swear by cloth diapers, and it’s easy to see why- they can save you some serious money over the first years of your baby’s life, plus they eliminate the harmful chemicals that are found in some disposable diapers. They also have the added benefit of being much better for the environment, since disposables take hundreds of years to decompose in landfills.

At the same time, if you’ve never done it before, cloth diapering sounds like a hassle and a mess. But you’d be surprised by how simple it is to use and wash cloth diapers once you get a system down!

Types of Cloth Diapers

There are several different types of cloth diapers available today. Here’s our list of the best cloth diapers. Many parents who opt to cloth-diaper actually use a few different styles for different purposes. 

  • All-in-one diapers: one of the most common types of cloth diapers found today. These diapers have a water-resistant outer layer and absorbent inner layer which can be washed easily after use. No covers or inserts necessary. 
  • All-in-two (Hybrid) diapers: The all-in-one, deconstructed so you can (sometimes) re-use the outer layer without having to wash the entire thing after every change. Consists of a water-resistant outer layer and a detachable inner layer. 
  • Pocket diapers: an interesting new twist on traditional cloth diapers. The water-resistant cover has a pocket, where you can slide a prefold diaper or other absorbent material. This allows you to only change the padded section, which you can remove from the cover. These can be a bit messier than other cloth diaper options but do allow you to customize the type and amount of absorbent material you need.
  • Prefold diapers: the original cloth diapers. Just a rectangular piece of cloth that you fold into a diaper shape, fasten, and pair with a leakproof diaper cover. This allows you to change just the prefold cloth rather than the entire diaper and cover each time. 
  • Fitted diapers: essentially the prefold diaper, new and improved. Fitted diapers are shaped like a modern diaper and have elastic surrounding the legs and snap closures. They are also thicker and more absorbent, but still have to be paired with a diaper cover.

How do I wash them?

Not all cloth diapers are made the same. Some consist of a liner and a cover- unless the cover is soiled, you don’t need to wash it. However, you should always wash the insert after it has been worn, even if it isn’t soiled. 

There are many different approaches to washing cloth diapers, but let’s face it- you’re a new parent, and the last thing you need is to try and research the best way of cleaning your baby’s diapers! Let’s keep things simple. 

Here is one easy method that will get your cloth diapers clean and free of (most) stains:

  1. Rinse the diaper and get it very wet.
  2. Spray the soiled diaper with a stain removing solution.
  3. Allow diaper to soak (you may want to designate a specific pail just for diapers). It can sit for up to a day with the stain removing solution, while you gather enough diapers for a load. 
  4. When you have several diapers ready to wash, run the diapers through the rinse cycle on your washing machine (should be a cold-water option).
  5. Add a gentle detergent and run the diapers through a normal wash cycle.
  6. Hang diapers to dry (preferred) or run the dryer on the delicates setting.

Time and Money Saving Tips

A few other general tips on washing your baby’s clothing:

  • Try to avoid using bleach or fabric softener on baby clothes; not only could these harsh chemicals irritate baby’s skin, but they are also likely to shorten the life of the clothing by breaking down the fibers over time.
  • When possible, hang clothing to air dry rather than using the dryer. It might take a little longer, but the clothing will last longer and you’ll save money on your electric bill.
  • Waiting until you have enough clothing for a full load will save you time and money.
  • Compare the ingredients of name-brand and generic detergents. You might be able to save a few dollars while using a generic detergent that is made of identical ingredients as the name brands!
  • Pre-sort your baby’s laundry to save time while also preventing stains or odors from setting in. Use one hamper for wet and soiled clothing, one pail for cloth diapers, and another hamper or basket for dirty sheets or blankets. That way you can prioritize what you need to wash first, and never experience the dreaded feeling of running out of clean baby clothes, or worse- diapers!