New parents often worry that washing baby clothes will be a complicated process, requiring much of their precious time. But washing your newborn’s clothes isn’t as tough as you may think.
We’ve done more baby laundry over the years than we care to think about. And we’ve learned how to scale the process down to get clothing sparkling clean with minimal effort.
We’ll share our step-by-step process of how to wash baby clothes. We’ll also let you in on some baby laundry tips and tricks so you can stop stressing about wash day and get back to enjoying your new little bundle.
- Choose a fragrance-free detergent for sensitive baby skin; homemade detergents are also an option.
- Wash baby clothes with other household clothes using a baby-safe detergent, unless there’s a specific reason for separating them.
- Always wash new clothes before baby wears them, and pre-treat stubborn stains like poop, spit-up, and baby oil.
- Use gentle cycle when washing baby clothes, and consider line drying or using a fragrance-free fabric softener.
Choosing a Detergent
Before you can get to the actual washing part of laundering your newborn’s clothes, you’ll need to find the right detergent.
There are many brands to choose from, but you might want to stick to a fragrance-free option. Some babies can be sensitive to scented products (1). You want to clean their clothes, not irritate their skin.
It may seem obvious, but it is best to wash any new clothes before your baby wears them. In clinical practice, I have seen several infants who wore an unwashed new outfit gifted by a family member, only to develop a rash after wearing it (2).
Editor's Note:Dr. Leah Alexander, MD, FAAP
Many parents choose to make their own detergent because it can be cheaper than purchasing more expensive baby laundry detergents. When you make the detergent yourself, you can be sure of its ingredients.
You can find many homemade recipes on the internet. Most contain just a few ingredients and can be made fairly quickly. If you’re unsure about any ingredients in a recipe, check with your pediatrician before using it — especially if you are planning to add essential oils. Avoid tea tree and lavender oils due to potential estrogenic effects (3).
Whether you choose a store-bought brand or the homemade version, always keep your detergent on a high shelf. You should keep any chemicals or cleaning products well out of the reach of tiny fingers (4).
Combined vs. Baby-Only Loads
Some parents wash their baby’s clothes separately from the rest of the household’s clothing. There can be a lot of reasons to isolate your baby’s clothes. Yet, there is one huge reason not to — it’s more work for you.
If you change the entire household over to the baby-safe detergent, you can wash all the clothes together.
Your baby is 100% guaranteed to come into contact with your clothing. You hold and cuddle them, which means their skin touches your clothes. So washing your clothes together with a mild detergent is a viable option.
Reasons to Opt for Baby-Only Loads
There are some times when you shouldn’t wash your clothes with your baby’s.
- Your baby has eczema or super sensitive skin. If your child requires special detergents beyond the typical cost of baby detergent, it may be too extravagant to wash everyone’s clothes together (5).
- Someone in your household works with dangerous chemicals. Some jobs may require a household member to come into contact with harsh chemicals or other hazardous materials. In those instances, it may be better to err on the side of caution rather than accidentally expose your baby to an irritant.
- You prefer a heavily scented detergent. Some people prefer their clothes to smell strongly of a particular fragrance. They may add fragrance enhancers to the wash. These will likely be too strong for your baby, so you should wash their clothes separately.
- Your baby uses a lot of clothes and blankets throughout the day. Some babies pee or spit up a lot and go through a ton of clothing daily — enough to do a load daily. You may find baby-only loads necessary simply because no one else dirties as many clothes as your newborn.
Washing New Clothes
You should wash any new clothing items, whether purchased or hand-me-downs, before dressing your baby in them. You cannot know what might have come into contact with the clothes before you got them. A baby’s skin is more likely to become irritated or develop a rash than an adult’s skin.
You’ll want to ensure the clothes you put on your newborn are freshly laundered with your preferred baby detergent.
Dealing with Stubborn Stains
Stains happen. Your baby will expel various liquids from both ends, sometimes at an alarming rate. Most of those liquids will be smelly and stain-causing.
There is something about a crisp, white onesie that makes a baby prone to puking. The biggest stain-causing problems you will face with a newborn are poop, spit-up, and baby oil.
The majority of poop stains will come from those inevitable diaper blowouts. Also, there will probably be times when your baby decides to poop right after you remove their diaper for changing. Either way, it is one big, smelly mess that leads to stains.
To get those stubborn poop stains out, you’ll first need to soak the clothing item in warm water. Then, before throwing it in the wash, you will need to pre-treat it with lemon juice or your favorite pre-treater.
After letting the juice soak in for 10 to 15 minutes, use an old toothbrush to scrub the area. Finally, you can wash as usual with your favorite baby laundry detergent.
All babies spit up. It’s a normal process that usually subsides between 6 months and 1 year of age (6). Nonetheless, it can leave a lot of icky, yellow-looking stains on your baby’s clothes. If your baby is formula-fed, the stains will be harder to remove than those left by breast milk.
For breastmilk stains, pre-treating with a bit of lemon juice should do the trick. For formula stains, however, the process will be slightly more involved.
Removing Formula Stains
The first step to removing a formula stain is to soak the clothing item in lukewarm water. Then, you should sprinkle the area with baking soda. Finally, pour some club soda over the baking soda, and scrub with a toothbrush.
After letting the soda mixture soak for 5 to 10 minutes, you can wash the clothing as usual. This should stop the spit-up from leaving a yellowish stain.
While baby oil is great for your baby’s body, it isn’t always so great on the clothes (7). It can leave discolored stains anywhere it drips, which can be difficult to wash out.
Before laundering, the best way to remove the baby oil stain is to pre-treat the area with a grease-busting dish soap, like Dawn. You may want to scrub the area with a toothbrush to ensure the dish soap penetrates the cloth fibers and lifts the oil.
Some medications contain dyes that easily stain clothing. Parents complain that prescription vitamins are particularly problematic. The best way to remove these stains is to first soak the clothing in warm water, then rub white vinegar onto the stain before laundering.
Time for the Washing Machine
Sleepwear is required by law to be flame resistant (8). Due to these laws, some sleepwear may have special washing instructions. Always follow the manufacturer’s labeled instructions.
Don’t overload the washer. Washing your baby’s clothes in loads that are too large could put extra wear on tiny, delicate items. To help preserve them, separate clothing and blankets into smaller loads.
Another way to keep things looking newer for longer is to use the gentle cycle. While gentle may not be best for washing cloth diapers, it should do just fine on clothing, bibs, and blankets. Also, fasten bibs before washing, especially those with Velcro, to keep them from snagging on all the other items.
If your baby has extremely sensitive skin or suffers from eczema, it may be a good idea to run the rinse cycle twice. The extra rinsing should keep any detergent from lingering in the fabric fibers.
Drying Your Baby Clothes
You can dry your baby’s clothes just like any of your own clothes. You should probably lay things like sweaters and lacy dresses flat to dry. However, most other items are fine to let tumble.
You might think that all those tiny clothes would dry quickly, but that often isn’t the case. The decreased surface area makes them take a bit longer. To speed up the process, toss in a clean, dry towel to tumble with the baby clothes.
It’s best to skip the fabric softener or stick to a dye-free and fragrance-free version (9). If you’re using cloth diapers, you should definitely skip the fabric softener on those. It will cause a buildup on the diapers and make them less absorbent.
There are some benefits to line drying your baby clothes instead of using the dryer. The sunshine can sometimes bleach your whites, making them appear whiter. Plus, sunlight has germ-busting properties.
Folding vs. Hanging
Baby clothes are so tiny that hanging or folding them can be tricky! How you choose to store them after laundering is a personal preference. Most baby clothes are so small and light they won’t wrinkle much, even when folded.
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