Hand Washing Cloth Diapers: Step-by-Step Guide (2023)

Drying the cloth diaper in the sun

Hand washing cloth diapers is the way people did it for centuries until the invention of the modern washing machine; nonetheless, it is not the preferred method for most people.

While it might be more complicated than machine washing, it is entirely doable and easy for anyone to learn!

It is worth noting that even if it is not your favored way to wash diapers, it is a valuable skill to have if your washing machine breaks or will be traveling.

Learning to Hand Wash Cloth Diapers is Essential

Everyone who will be using cloth diapers should learn how to hand wash them in case of an emergency!

I once had no water in my home because of a burst water main pipe and had to use bottled water for washing and bathing my baby for two days!

There are several other reasons you may need to hand wash cloth diapers, such as a vacation rental with no washing machine or loss of electricity.

Hand Washing Cloth Diapers

Learning to hand wash cloth diapers is as easy as 1, 2, 3:

  1. Plug your sink and add the hottest water possible.
  2. Add the diapers and some detergent and switch them around until they’re all wet and soapy.
  3. Knead the diapers as you would, dough, then unplug the sink and let the water drain out.
  4. Rinse each diaper in hot water until the water runs clear.
  5. Wring out your diapers and hang them up to air dry.

Different Ways of Hand Washing 

There are a couple of different ways you can hand wash your cloth diapers.

The three most common ways are the bathtub or sink and your hands, a bucket and a plunger, or a washbasin and a washing board.

There is no best way to wash cloth diapers, so it is just a matter of choosing the one that works for you!

1. Bathtub and Hands

Probably the most common way is to wash cloth diapers by hand. To do this, most people use their sink or the bathtub. Fill your tub with very hot water and add your cloth diapers.

Add some detergent and agitate the water so that it becomes bubbly and soapy. You can either soak cloth diapers or move straight on to the rinse cycle.

Drain all the water from the tub, and then rinse the diapers until the water runs clear. Once the diapers are rinsed, hang them on a drying rack or outside on a wash line to air dry.

  • Easy to do
  • Limited supplies needed
  • More difficult to get all the stains out
  • Time-consuming

2. Bucket and Plunger

Another popular method of washing cloth diapers by hand is to use a bucket and plunger. You will want to have a particular hand wash bucket and a washing plunger.

This method is similar to the tub and hands method, except the plunger agitates instead of your hands. When you use a bucket, use about ¼ of the cloth diaper soap you would for a bathtub or washing machine load. 

  • Easy to do
  • Great for small batches of diapers
  • No cross-contamination with your bathtub
  • You don’t have to use your hands
  • Requires extra supplies
  • Can only do a few diapers at a time
  • Time-consuming

3. Wash Basin and Washing board

If you’d like a more traditional way of washing cloth diapers by hand, you can use a washbasin and washing board.

These two hand wash laundry tools are easy to find and use! The washboard is excellent for getting stains out and scrubbing and agitating the detergent. 

  • Great for small batches
  • Best for scrubbing stains
  • Requires extra supplies
  • Can only do a few diapers at a time
  • It might be hard on your hands and wrists

Hand Washing Essentials

Depending on your preferred method of handwashing diapers, you will need different supplies. One supply you will need, no matter your method, is laundry detergent approved for use with cloth diapers.

Rockin’ Green was my diaper detergent of choice! You will also need a method to agitate the diapers. Some people use their hands; if you go this route, wear rubber gloves to protect your skin from soiled diapers.

Some people prefer to do smaller batches of diapers, or they don’t want to use the same bathtub they bathe in to clean their diapers. Hence, they purchase a diaper bathtub or a hand washing tub solely for the use of washing diapers. 

This Collapsible Wash Basin is an excellent product because it comes with a plug so you could set the bin right in your tub! If you don’t want to use your hands, you will need a hand washing plunger; a standard toilet plunger like the Hideaway Toilet Plunger will work as long as it is clean!

If you’re looking for a way to deep clean cloth diapers, consider purchasing a washing board to scrub your diapers against. You can use a washboard with a regular washbasin or a modern basin with the washboard attached or molded into the bin, such as this washboard basin.

How to Hand Wash Cloth Diapers?

Before you wash your cloth diapers:

  1. Gather all your supplies together.
  2. Fill your basin of choice with hot water. If you are not doing a pre-soak, add your preferred diaper detergent and agitate the diapers and water making it and the diapers soapy.
  3. Rinse as needed
  4. Allow the diapers to air-dry.

Step 1: Pre-Wash

If your cloth diapers are new or are hand-me-downs, you will want to start with a prewash. You won’t need to prewash cloth diapers each time you wash, but it is good to do this once or twice before your baby wears them for the first time.

Some diaper materials like bamboo and wool have natural oils that need to be removed to help your diapers reach their maximum efficiency.

To prewash, your diapers simply take them through the typical wash, rinse, air-dry cycle one or two times, and they should be ready to use!

Step 2: Soaking

Some people swear by the soaking. However, before you wash or pre-soak your cloth diapers, you must remove all of the poop.

This is best done when you change the diaper with a diaper sprayer or a spatula used solely to scrape out the poop. It is best to pre-soak cloth diapers in cold water as hot water will make the stains set in further.

You can soak for anywhere from 30 mins to an hour. If you desire to, you can use a tiny bit of detergent to treat stains before the soak, but don’t add too much. But, again, the water should be cold and clean.

Step 3: Hot Water & Detergent

When you wash your cloth diapers by hand, you want to use the hottest water possible to help sanitize them.

If your hands are going into this water, even with rubber gloves, make sure the water is not hotter than your skin can handle.

You also need to leave enough room in the bin or tub to add the diapers so that the water doesn’t spill over.

Next, add the appropriate amount of detergent. If you are using a bathtub to wash a whole load of diapers, you can use roughly the same amount that you would use in a washing machine.

For a bucket or a washbasin, use about ⅛ of the amount you would use. 

Step 4: Agitate

The next step in washing your cloth diapers by hand is to replicate the agitation a washing machine would produce. You can either do this with your hands, or a broom handle.

You can rub the fabric of the diapers together to help remove stains and scrub the cloth clean thoroughly clean. If you are using a small bucket or basin, use a plunger like you would in a toilet.

The third way to agitate is to use a washboard to scrub the diapers up and down. Agitating the cloth diapers is the “main” part of washing the diaper so take your time with this step.

Step 5: Rinse

Your diapers need to be thoroughly rinsed to prevent build-up from occurring. Detergent left in the diaper’s fabric will make your cloth diapers less absorbent and create more leaks. 

Drain all of the water out of the tub or basin and rinse each diaper. You could either refill the tub with warm water and allow the diapers to sit in the water as a rinse, or you can rinse each diaper one at a time. 

A combined method might work best and save you some time. When the water runs clear, your diapers are thoroughly rinsed. 

Step 6: Air-Dry

It is always best to air-dry cloth diapers. Air drying is gentle on the fabric and elongates the life of the elastic and fasteners on the diapers. The sun is also a natural bacteria killer, so when possible dry your cloth diapers in the sun. 

If you do not have access to or a place to dry your diapers in the sun, use a drying rack or indoor clothesline. Placing your drying rack near an open window where the sun comes through is still beneficial.

It also helps provide that outdoor, fresh scent! A study published in Microbiome discovered that daylight exposure killed bacteria inside the home, even through windows! (1)

Machine Washing Cloth Diapers

In reality, most people are going to machine wash their cloth diapers, and why not? It’s the easier of the two methods.

Machine washing, while simpler, still has a few steps. Again, you can choose to pre-soak your diapers if you choose. You can do it right in the machine if you have a top-loading machine; otherwise, you will need to pre-soak it in a bin or the tub.

In a typical washing machine, you can wash about twenty to twenty-four diapers.

First, wash your diapers in warm or hot water and add the washing detergent. After the initial wash and rinse cycle completes, run a second rinse cycle of warm water to ensure that all the detergent has rinsed out. 

Of course, hand washing will take a bit more of your time since you cannot just toss them in and go, but as long as you do the process thoroughly, you should have no problem achieving clean diapers with either method.

No matter which route you choose, you should always be prepared to wash new cloth diapers before using them on your baby. An initial wash cycle ensures they are clean and ready to go for your baby’s bottom. 


Can you wash cloth diapers in the sink?

Yes, you can! You will need a drain stopper, and you will want to thoroughly disinfect the sink both before and after you wash your diapers.

How you wash cloth diapers?

You can hand wash them in a sink, a large basin, or the bathtub, or you can use a washing machine. The essential steps are rinse, wash, rinse, and air-dry.

What detergents are safe for cloth diapers?

There are several brands designed specifically for cloth diapers, such as Grovia and Rockin Green. But there are also many natural and gentle detergents you can try too. Check on your diaper manufacturer’s website for recommendations.

How to wash cloth diapers by hand?

Rinse in cold water, wash in hot soapy water agitating with your hands or a plunger, rinse in warm water until the water runs clear and air dry.

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