How to Wash Baby Clothes

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Laundry for days! Learn the best tips and tricks to wash your baby's clothes.

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    As soon as you became pregnant, you were stopping in the baby section at stores, right? Imagining your new baby in all those adorable clothes can be so exciting!

    But then you probably started thinking about the prospect of washing all those dainty little shirts and minuscule socks.

    Did you panic? Just a little bit? It seems that impending parenthood comes with all types of new skills to learn and things to worry about.

    You can quit worrying, though, mommy. Washing your newborn’s clothes isn’t as tough as you may think.


    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 a ton of brands to choose from on the supermarket shelves, but you might want to stick to a fragrance-free option. Some babies can be sensitive to any products with scents (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 they are worn by your baby. In clinical practice, I have seen several infants who wore a new outfit gifted by a family member, only to develop a rash after wearing it (2).
    Headshot of Dr. Leah Alexander, MD, FAAP

    Editor's Note:

    Dr. Leah Alexander, MD, FAAP

    There is also the option of making your own detergent. Many parents choose to do this because it can be cheaper than purchasing the more expensive baby laundry detergents. Plus, when detergent is homemade, you can be absolutely sure of the ingredients that went into it.

    You can find many homemade recipes on the internet. Most of them contain just a few ingredients and can be made fairly quickly. If you’re unsure about any of the ingredients in a recipe, check with your pediatrician before using it, especially if planning to add essential oils. Tea tree and lavender oils should be avoided 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. Any chemicals or cleaning products in the house should be kept well out of the reach of tiny fingers (4).

    Combined vs. Baby-Only Loads

    A lot of parents choose to wash their baby’s clothes separately from the rest of the household’s clothing. There can be a lot of reasons to isolate the baby’s clothes. Yet, there is one huge reason not to — it’s more work for you when you do baby-only loads.

    If you change the entire household over to the baby-safe detergent, then all of the clothes can be washed together.

    Your baby is 100 percent guaranteed to come into contact with your clothing. You hold them 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

    That being said, there may be times where you shouldn’t wash your clothes with your baby’s.

    1. Your baby has eczema or super sensitive skin. If your child requires special detergents beyond the normal cost of baby detergent, it may be too extravagant to wash everyone’s clothes together (5).
    2. Someone in your household works with dangerous chemicals. Some jobs may require a member of your household to come into contact with harsh chemicals or other hazardous materials. In those instances, it may be better to err on the side of safety rather than accidentally expose your baby to an irritant.
    3. 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 their clothes should be washed separately.
    4. 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 each day, enough to do a load daily. You may find that baby-only loads are necessary simply because no one else dirties as many clothes as the newborn.
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    Washing New Clothes

    Any new clothing items, whether purchased or hand-me-downs, should be washed before dressing your baby in them. You have no way of knowing what might have come into contact with the clothes prior to you getting them. A baby’s skin is more likely to become irritated or develop a rash than an adult’s skin (source).

    You’ll want to make sure the clothes you put on your newborn are freshly laundered with your preferred baby detergent.

    Hot Tip

    Make sure to check the clothing for stickers before washing. A lot of stores will add the size stickers to clothing items. They’re easy to peel off before washing, but leaving the sticker on it can leave a gooey residue behind.

    Dealing with Stubborn Stains

    Any mother can tell you, stains will happen. Various liquids will be coming out of both ends of your baby, sometimes at an alarming rate. Most of those liquids will be smelly and stain-causing.

    There is something about a crisp, white onesie that just makes a baby want to puke all over it. The biggest stain-causing problems you will have to face with a newborn are poop, spit up, and baby oil.

    Poop

    The majority of your poop stains will come from those inevitable diaper blowouts. Also, there’ll probably be times when you remove the diaper for changing, and then your baby decides to poop. 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 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.

    Learn More
    Constipated newborn baby cryingHow Long Can My Baby Go Without Pooping?

    Spit Up

    All babies spit up — it’s a normal process which usually subsides between 6 months to the one year mark (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 a little harder to get out than those left by breast milk.

    For breastmilk stains, pre-treating with a little 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 on the clothing.

    Baby Oil

    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.

    The best way to remove the baby oil stain is to pre-treat the area with a grease-busting dish soap, like Dawn, before laundering. You may want to scrub the area with a toothbrush to make sure the dish soap penetrates the cloth fibers and lifts the oil.

    Medications

    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

    Before throwing any of the clothes into the washing machine, check out the labels. Some of the clothing items for your baby may have special washing instructions. Pay particular attention to sleepwear.

    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 the tiny and delicate items. To help preserve them, separate clothing and blankets into smaller loads.

    Another way to keep things looking newer 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 the bibs before washing, especially velcro ones, 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 fibers of the fabric.

    Hot Tip

    Put your baby’s socks in a mesh bag (like a lingerie bag) because all those teeny tiny socks can be super easy to lose. Just think about all those adult socks you have hanging around without partners!

    Drying Your Baby Clothes

    Your baby’s clothes can be dried just like you would any of your own clothes. Things like sweaters and lacy dresses should probably be laid flat to dry. However, most other items are fine to let tumble.

    You might think that all those tiny clothes would dry really quickly, but that actually isn’t the case. The decreased surface area makes them take a bit longer. To speed up the process, you can toss a clean, dry towel in to tumble with the baby clothes.

    It’s best to either 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 build up on the diapers and make them less absorbent.

    There are some benefits to line drying the baby clothes instead of using the dryer. The sunshine can sometimes bleach your whites, making them appear whiter. Plus, sunlight has germ-busting properties (10).

    Folding vs. Hanging

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    Baby clothes are so tiny it can be difficult to hang or fold them! How you choose to store them after laundering is purely a personal preference. Most baby clothes are so small and light they won’t wrinkle much, even when folded.

    If you prefer to hang the clothes, the job will be much easier if you purchase the smaller baby-sized hangers. However, things like onesies and socks will fare much better tossed in a dresser drawer.

    Make Your Life Easier

    Before putting a dirty outfit into the hamper, clip the top and bottoms together. It makes matching up the items so much easier once they’re laundered. You can use any kind of clip to match them up — clothespins or chip clips!

    And They’re All Clean…

    When you were anxiously awaiting the arrival of your bundle of joy, you probably didn’t realize how much laundry would be involved. It’s really hard to imagine a 6 or 7 pound being requiring a load of laundry per day! Even the most organized mom will be doing load after load after load.

    All that laundry won’t be a problem for you, though, not after you’ve mastered all of these baby clothes washing suggestions! Your laundry hampers will never be overflowing, and the baby will always have an abundance of clean socks in the drawer.

    Do you have a hot tip about laundry you’d like to share? Tell us in the comments below!

    Headshot of Dr. Leah Alexander, MD, FAAP

    Reviewed by

    Dr. Leah Alexander, MD, FAAP

    Leah Alexander, M.D. FAAP is board certified in General Pediatrics and began practicing pediatrics at Elizabeth Pediatric Group of New Jersey in 2000. She has been an independently contracted pediatrician with Medical Doctors Associates at Pediatricare Associates of New Jersey since 2005. Outside of the field of medicine, she has an interest in culinary arts.
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