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How to Prep New Cloth Diapers

Medically Reviewed by Mary Sweeney, BSN, RN, CEN
Learn how to get your cloth diapers ready for your baby.

Do you have a stash of cloth diapers, but have no idea how to get them ready for your baby?

Unlike their disposable counterparts, cloth diapers require a bit of prep work before they are ready to be placed on your baby’s bottom. This prep can vary based on different factors and the task can seem a little daunting, especially if you are new to cloth diapering. I know it was for me.

Don’t worry, we have your butt covered here. In this article, we are going to talk all about how to prep your cloth diapers so that when your due date arrives, your diapers are ready and waiting.

Why Prep Your Cloth Diapers

You might be asking yourself if you really need to prep your cloth diapers in the first place. The answer to that question is absolutely yes. Unlike disposable diapers, cloth diapers do not come ready to wear.

Right out of the package, most cloth diapers are not at their full absorbency, especially diapers made out of natural fibers. That’s because these types of diapers hold oils within the fibers themselves. These oils can also deposit onto other diapers, making them repel as well.

Even though diapers made from synthetic fibers do not have natural oils in them, they still need to be prepped before they go on your baby’s bottom. Prepping will take away any dirt and grime that got on your diapers during manufacturing or shipping as well as open up the fibers so that they become more absorbent.

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Natural or Synthetic Fibers

So, you have your stash of diapers. Some might be made from synthetic fibers, some might be made from natural. You might assume you can prep them together, but don’t go running to the washing machine just yet. This is actually a hotly-debated topic in the cloth diaper world.

On one side of the debate is the separation group. They believe if you prep your synthetic diapers together with the natural fiber ones, that the oils from the natural-fiber diapers will seep into the others and cause them to repel moisture. So, this group chooses to prep them separately.

The other side of the debate is the group of people who choose to prep their diapers together. They believe if you use a good quality detergent that it will keep the oils from seeping into the synthetic-fiber diapers. So there really isn’t anything to worry about.

What You Need To Know

There is no proven winner or loser in this debate, it’s one of the things you are going to have to decide for yourself as a cloth diapering mama. It’s really whatever you feel comfortable doing.

How to Prep Cloth Diapers Diapers

It’s up to you whether you prep your diapers together or separately, but how exactly do you do it?

Here are instructions for prepping your cloth diapers, whether they are synthetic or natural fibers.

1. Synthetic

Synthetic diapers include diapers made from microfiber, microfleece, polyester, microsuede, etc. These diapers are some of the simplest diapers to prep because they do not need to be washed more than once. They come already absorbent, so all you need to do is get off the dust and grime.

To prep synthetic diapers, simply run them through one wash cycle on the hottest water setting possible. Use the recommended amount of cloth diaper safe detergent, then dry in the dryer. That’s all it takes for these cloth diapers to be ready to use!

2. Natural

Diapers made from natural fibers, such as cotton and hemp, take a bit more work to prep before they are ready to use on your baby. That’s because the natural oils need to be washed out of them as much as possible to ensure they are absorbent and won’t simply repel your baby’s urine.

To prep natural fiber diapers, you will wash them several times in hot water with cloth diaper safe detergent. This can be up to 6 to 8 times, or as little as 2 to 3.

Here’s What I Do

I suggest you run them through a hot wash cycle twice, then dry them in the dryer. Once they come out of the dryer, check the absorbency in your diapers. If they are repelling, repeat the process for two more cycles and check again.

Now you can have your baby wear the diapers before they have reached their full absorbency if you need to. Just be prepared that the diaper might leak until it has gone through a few more wash cycles.

Special Circumstances

Are synthetic fibers versus natural fibers all we have to worry about when prepping our diapers? If only life were so easy. Really though, it’s thankfully not that complicated.

Here are a few more scenarios you might run into.

1. Bamboo

Fun fact, when bamboo is processed to turn into the cloth for your diapers, it essentially is turned into rayon. So, this natural fiber becomes a natural/synthetic hybrid. But, do you prep bamboo diapers like they are a natural or synthetic fiber?

Most moms choose to treat bamboo diapers as if they are synthetic since the natural oils have been removed during the processing of the plant. So, all you need to do before using them is wash them once in hot water with detergent, then dry them in the dryer. This also goes for bamboo blends such as charcoal bamboo and bamboo/microfiber blends.

2. Charcoal

Charcoal diapers are usually made from bamboo and can be prepped in the same way as other bamboo diapers. However, while you might choose to prep your other diapers together, it can be a good idea to put these through their first wash cycle by themselves.

That’s because some charcoal inserts contain a gray dye to give them their color. This dye can wash out of the charcoal inserts and onto your other diapers if you aren’t careful. While this won’t affect the absorbency of the diapers, it can affect how they look.

If you have already prepped your charcoal inserts together with other diapers and notice some color runoff, don’t freak out. This change is typically not permanent, and the dye should come out within a few washes.

3. Covers

Diaper covers do not need any special attention. You can prep them along with your synthetic diapers by washing them once in hot water and detergent, followed by running them once through the dryer to seal PUL (Polyurethane Laminate), the waterproof fabric found inside most cloth diaper covers.

Note that long-term, it is best to air dry covers instead of putting them in the dryer as it will help prolong the life of your cloth diaper covers and prevent the PUL from cracking and delamination.

4. Pre-Loved

Just because preloved diapers have been prepped by their previous owners, does not mean there isn’t anything you need to do to them before you put them on your baby. In fact, pre-loved diapers require a bit more work than new diapers, but the money you save can be worth it.

Before you put pre-loved diapers on your baby, you are going to want to do a bleach soak. This will kill any yeast, bacteria, or stink that might have come over from the diaper’s previous owners.

To do a bleach soak fill up your bathtub or top load washing machine with cold water, then add bleach based on the following recommendations:


  • Half Full: ½ cup of bleach.
  • ¾ Full: ¾ cup of bleach.

Top Load Machine

  • Small: ⅓ cup of bleach.
  • Medium: ½ cup of bleach.
  • Large: ¾ cup of bleach.

Add the diapers and soak for 30 to 45 minutes. Once the diapers are done soaking, rinse them in hot water. Then follow with a hot wash with detergent.

If you find you are having trouble with stink or repelling even after you do the bleach soak, you might need to consider doing a strip. It might be possible the previous owners had hard water and there could be mineral buildup in the diapers causing the problem.

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Medically Reviewed by

Mary Sweeney, BSN, RN, CEN

Mary Sweeney, BSN, RN, CEN is an oncology nurse navigator and freelance medical writer. Mary has 4 years of experience as an officer in the Navy Nurse Corps. including emergency/trauma, post-anesthesia, and deployment medicine.