Euphoria’s Blog for Green Mamas

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Washing Cloth Diapers in a Front Load Washing Machine July 23, 2009

bg basketEveryone knows that front loading washing machines are more efficient, using less water and less detergent to do the job.  So, if you plan to use cloth diapers (and wash them at home) you’ll want a front loader, right?

Maybe not.

While some mamas manage to make front loaders work, everyone seems to agree that they make washing diapers a bit more challenging – precisely because they use less water.  Think about it: you’re washing something lightweight that’s highly absorbent.  The machine automatically gives the load little water, and the diapers suck it up, with only a bit left over in the wash.  This can lead to stinky diapers, that aren’t fully clean, and detergent build-up, because of incomplete rinsing. 

I cloth diapered with BumGenius Pocket Diapers for about 6 months, washing in a top loading machine.  Then, I had to switch to a fancy, top-of-the-line front loader for about 9 months.  I immediately smelled a difference!  I tried using less detergent.  I also changed from doing a pre-rinse before my full hot/cold wash to doing a full cold wash before my hot/cold wash.  Neither change seemed to really make a difference.  When I was able to switch back to my top-loader, the smell significantly subsided. 

Well, I wondered if it was just me until I received an email from a customer who experienced the same smell-issue when she got a new front loading washing machine.  After some research online at, here are some tips for washing cloth diapers successfully with a front load machine:

  • Don’t use too much detergent – 1 tbsp is a standard, though you may need less
  • Switch to Tide HE powder detergent – mom’s with top loading machines say they see an immediate improvement when they switch to this product (especially an improvement over natural detergent brands)
  • Use options for extra rinse, extra water and presoak whenever possible.  Anything that puts more water in the load will help avoid the stinkies.
  • Do at least 2 full cycles (one cold, one hot – both with extra rinses).  If you’re still having troubles, try adding a 3rd cycle.  This can make a load take 3 hours to wash… which is why a top loader is more convenient.
  • Tricks for “tricking” the machine to put more water in each load
    • Use delicate or hand wash cycles, which automatically use more water
    • Manually shorten the spin between cycles (and never use spin max extract), because the water left in will make the diapers seem heavier to the machine.  The machine will respond by adding more water to the next cycle.
    • Pour a few gallons of water into the machine through the soap dispenser during the wash cycle.  This seems to be the last resort for those that are desperate!

If you have any tips to add, please share!


10 Responses to “Washing Cloth Diapers in a Front Load Washing Machine”

  1. Sherrie Williams Says:

    your blog says to use tide but its my understanding that tide breaks down the fibers of your cloth diapers making them less absorbant.

    • Rachel Says:

      I have never heard that said of Tide. In fact, you’ll find that Tide is probably the most popular non-natural cloth diaper detergent around. But, everyone has their own experience and opinion, when it comes to cloth diapers.

      What I have heard from many moms is that diapers do break down faster when they are kept in a wet pail or exposed to bleach repeatedly.

      • domesticday Says:

        i don’t think it is tide specific from what i understand in general you have to be very careful of what detergents to use on cloth diapers, even some more natural ones like seventh generation contain fragance in them which leaves a residue on the diapers and makes them less absorbant. its best to use a detergent that doesn’t contain fragrance such as charlies soap (which is made for High efficany washers and dryers.)

  2. Rachel Says:

    I originally researched and wrote this post for a customer who was having issues with her front loader. Here’s what she said after experimenting with these ideas: “I think I have found the ‘system’ that is going to work for me and my front load washer, because since I’ve been doing this I have had no issues with smell at all. First, I wash the diapers in a cold soak cycle with no soap. Then I wash them in cold water on the delicate cycle to leave more water in the diapers, also without soap. Last, I wash them with a small amount of soap on the ‘heavy duty’ setting in hot water. Like I said, I have not had a smell issue the last couple of times that I have done it this way. Thank you again for the link on the blog! I am going to try the Tide HE powder soap once I use up what I have left to see how that works… Again, thanks for the help. I truly appreciate it.”

  3. Jaime Says:

    I just wanted to comment on the problem I had with my front-loader. I was using prefold diapers and after switching to the front-load machine, they got really rough to the touch and I couldn’t stand to put them on my baby. I tried everything to get them soft again, but nothing worked. I have been researching all the info online and I am going to give prefolds another shot with our new baby. I really hope I don’t ruin these.

  4. Erin Says:

    Does anyone know if it matters whether you use a top-load HE or a regular top-load? I’d much rather stick with an HE machine, and top-load HE uses about twice as much water as front-load HE (based on my research). But it’s still not nearly as much as a regular top-load… I’d appreciate any thoughts or suggestions on this.

    Also, Green Mountain Diapers suggests throwing a towel in with your diaper load to trick your washer into more water.

  5. […] Washing Cloth Diapers in Front Loading Machines July 27th, 2010 in parenting | tags: cloth, cloth diapers, laundry […]

  6. Bryan Says:

    I wonder if some of the higher-end washers that have automatic load size sensors to determine how much water to add can couteract the light-weight-absorbent-low-water level issue. For example according to this LG WM3875HWCA review it might even be useful to use the steam settings on this bad boy to clean those things.

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