HE machines perform the best when 2/3-3/4 full. This offers the proper agitation needed. If you do not have enough diapers, you may add any other items to help bulk up the load (towels, etc).
#1 Prewash (First Cycle)
The goal of your pre-wash cycle is to remove as much of the poop and pee as possible. This allows the main wash to be much more effective as the detergent can then focus on cleaning the deep down inner layers of your diapers rather than try and clean the entirety of the diapers as well as the dirty water. Cycle options:
Speed Wash: If you have this cycle option, use it.
Quick Wash: If you have this cycle, use it.
Express Wash: On some machines this wash cycle is truly express and runs from 15-30 minutes. If this is the case it is an excellent choice for a pre-wash. On other machines the express wash can at times take up to an hour which makes for an overall unnecessarily time consuming wash routine.
Pre-wash button: This wash cycle is typically insufficient. The reason being is that in many machines it does not spin prior to moving on to the main wash. The spin is critical in a pre-wash! This removes the most of the poop and pee from the drum and allows the main wash to be done in much cleaner water.
Rinse & Spin: This cycle may be sufficient while a baby is exclusively breastfed (water soluble poop) it is often lacking in agitation. If your baby is eating solids or is not exclusevily breastfed, I would select a different cycle to start if at all possible.
What if my machine does not offer these cycles Look for the shortest cycle your machine allows that will let you adjust the spin speed to high and the soil level to heavy.
#2 Main Wash
Here are a few options on most HE machines. Select one and make sure you’re your soil level is heavy and your water is hot. This is the sage in your wash that you ADD the detergent.
Heavy Duty: This is a great option as it offers extra agitation.
Whitest Whites: As long as this cycle does not use an extra hot temperature or as long as it will allow you to choose a different temperature setting this is a great cycle to use as it most often gives the most agitation. It is ok to wash your diapers on Hot, I would avoid Extra Hot as this will prematurely wear out fabrics, elastics and snaps.
Cotton/Normal: If you do not have a heavy duty or whitest whites option this is your next best bet. Just be sure to use the heavy soil function.
DO NOT USE Large/Bulky: Your diapers are neither large or bulky. This cycle often uses too much water and not enough agitation. It is designed for items such as comforters or blankets and because of that, it also will not allow you to increase the spin speed to high on most machines. This is not a cycle that should be used.
DO NOT USE Sanitize: In most machines this cycle does not actually sanitize laundry. Most, if not all, american residential water heaters max out at 140 degrees. It is safest to have your water heater set to 120 degrees to avoid scalding. It is difficult for even a machine with an internal heater to heat water to the necessary minimum of 160 degrees when starting with water at 120-140 degrees. Even if the machine is capable, it must then keep that high temperature constant for at least 60 minutes. Even if you had a machine like this (for example: those common in Europe) the temperature would be much too high for laundering diapers. It would prematurely wear out fabrics, elastics and snaps. *There is no need to sanitize diapers as we are using proper detergent and agitation to remove the bacteria every time we wash*
DO NOT USE Allergiene: (See explanation for Sanitize)
DO NOT USE Delicates: Contrary to what some manufacturers might have you believe, your diapers are not delicate. They are filled with poop and pee and should be treated as such.
Spin: Always have this set to the highest possible setting. In the pre-wash it will remove more of the soil and in the main wash it will ensure that more of the detergent residue is removed and allows for a quicker dry time.
Soil: Set this to heavy as diapers are obviously heavily soiled.
More water/Extra water/Water plus: Do not use these buttons when washing diapers. It will not allow the machine to properly agitate which is crucial for diaper washing.
You MUST use truly HE detergent. This detergent is formulated to suds less while maintaining cleaning power. Detergent that claims to be safe for both machines and tells you to just use 1/2 the amount for an HE machine is not truly HE safe. They have not changed the formula at all, they are simply asking you to cut your cleaning power in half. This is the same reason why it is not ok to just use less of a regular detergent either.
#3 REPEAT step 1- Prewash (First Cycle)
This will allow you to remove any lingering detergent.
4. Dry. Dry in the dryer or hang dry.
It's perfectly safe for the PUL to dry in the dryer. WARNING: Do not to stretch elastic while it's hot as it will relax it. Let your diapers cool before stuffing them. Wool Dryer balls will help keep them soft and dry them faster too!
If you hang dry, do so in a way that puts less stress on the elastics, as the weight of a heavy wet diaper pulling them down can prematurely relax them (especially if drying in the heat.) Hanging by the middle or by the sides will help relieve the elastics from the full weight of the wet diaper. If your diapers feel stiff after hanging to dry, you can throw them in the dryer for 10-15 minutes to fluff them (wool dryer balls will help with this process).
DO NOT USE fabric softeners: This can cause repelling among other issues with your diapers. However, if a dryer sheet accidentally makes its way into a load of diapers, don't be alarmed. A single exposure to synthetic fabric softener or a dryer sheet will not ruin your diapers. Test an insert to see if it will properly absorb (if it's synthetic, just press your hand down on it and let the water run through.) If there is repelling, simply wash the diapers again with a hot wash and detergent.
Properly cleaning your cloth diapers is very simple and easy. You should not be using too little detergent in too much water. Properly cleaned diapers will never smell after washing, will not repel liquids, and will not cause rashes or burns on your baby. If you find yourself needing to strip or bleach your diapers due to any of these issues, it is an indicator that they are not properly cleaned and you need to change your wash routine. Properly cleaned diapers will not require stripping or bleaching.