So you bought the diapers, you've taken the plunge and actually put one on your baby, now the moment of truth comes - washing them. And ensuring they get properly clean with no build-up or stink issues in the future. While I by no means claim that this is the only way to do it, I can say that I've had excellent luck with this method for the last almost year and a half that I've been using cloth.
1. Storing your dirty diapers until wash day
You will need a place to store your dirty diapers until wash day. I use a lidded bucket (bought at Plastic Warehouse) with a smaller inner lid that can remove seperately enabling me to drop the diaper that I've just changed into the bucket without removing the entire lid. I add a pail liner (the green bit sticking out around the top) to the bucket - this simplifies clean up as I am able to take the entire bag of dirty diapers out of the bucket and dump it straight into the washing machine. The pail liner gets washed along with the diapers. The bucket contains smells, but sometimes I add a few drops of tea tree oil to deoderise and disinfect.
All diapers go directly from A's bum into the bucket. The two exceptions are
a) her overnight diapers - they contain up to twelve hours worth of toddler pee and trust me, the smell ain't pretty! I do a quick rinse by hand for those in the mornings and then add it to the pail. I find that if I skip this step I struggle to get all the pee out of her overnight diapers.
b) poopy diapers. I spray the solids off into the toilet before placing the diaper in the pail. If your baby does not eat solids yet, you can just add the poopy diaper directly to the pail - pre-solids poo is completely water soluble and will rinse out in the washing machine.
Note - this is a dry-pail system, i.e there is NO need to soak your diapers. In fact, prolonged soaking of most modern cloth diapers is not recommended as it can cause breaking down of the elastics and PUL on the diaper.
2. Washing the diapers
I wash every other day, though sometimes I will stretch it to every third day. Once the diapers are in the washing machine I set the machine to do the following three cycles:
a) A quick cold wash/rinse This step is important as it rinses the pee out of your diapers. If you skip this step you will be washing your diapers in pee water and they will not get properly clean. You can do a pre-rinse by hand if you would like to save electricity.
b) A long hot wash - no hotter than 60 degrees Celsius. This cycle is the one that gets your diapers clean and this is where you would add your detergent. I use Earthsap laundry powder (though you can use any detergent, just don't use a 2 in 1 formulation as it contains softener) and use the full recommended amount per the instructions. It's important to use a long enough cycle and one with plenty of agitation - I use the cotton cycle on my machine and it takes around two hours. A quick 30 minute wash will not get your diapers cleaned properly!
Note - No detergent gets added during the first wash/rinse. Do not use any softener in your wash cycle, this will cause build-up in the long run and your nappies will not be able to absorb properly any more.
3. Drying your diapers
After taking my diapers out of the washing machine I hang them outside on the washing line to dry. On a sunny day everything is dry within a few hours. On rainy days (ie the whole of the winter here in the Western Cape...), I hang them on a drying rack inside and they take a day or two to dry - depending on whether the diapers are made of synthetic or natural fibres. Natural fibres take longer to dry. Another quirk of natural fibres is that they are prone to getting incredibly stiff when line dried. I combat this in one of two ways:
a) Throw them in the tumble dryer on medium/low heat for half an hour or so to fluff them up and then hang them up to dry
b) Scrunch them up/rub them against each other to relax the fibres - this softens them up again
I do sometimes take a short cut and tumble dry my non-PUL items (inserts, prefolds, fitteds), but 99% of the time I line dry the items containing PUL. Note that high heat can potentially cause PUL to delaminate - ie your diapers will no longer be waterproof. For this reason, even when I take a shortcut and tumble dry my non-PUL items (inserts, prefolds, fitteds), I always line dry the items with PUL.
Benefits of line drying is that the sun is a natural disinfectant, natural stain remover and free. Tumble drying your diapers every time can really rack up your electricity bill.
4. Stain removal
I have two foolproof weapons against stains:
a) the sun
The sun bleaches out ebf poo stains like magic - I didn't believe it until I tried it. So if your newborn's diapers come out of the washing machine stained yellow, don't despair. It is completely normal and I promise your diapers will be white as snow after a few hours out in the sun to dry.
If you aren't able to hang your diapers in the sun, boerseep is the next best option. Simply rub the soap bar on the stains before washing - most stains will come right out.
If you have any questions - feel free to ask me in the comments below. In the meantime - have fun cloth diapering!