The 5 Best Detergents for Cloth Diapers

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by Ileana Morales Valentine

Committing to cloth diapers hinges on being able to maintain them. For your baby’s daily messes, you’ll need a heavy-duty cleaner you can rely on for properly cleaning your reusables. The best detergent for cloth diapers uses a formula with surfactants and enzymes to really clean soiled diapers and skips additives that can build up on the diapers over time.

Cloth diapers end up, well, dirtier than a standard load of laundry, and you’ll need to choose a detergent with a formula that’s up to the task. Look for ones with surfactants that allow detergent to better mix with water and enzymes that efficiently break down stains. Enzymes will give the surfactants an extra boost. In addition to what to look for in a detergent, it's also good to know what to avoid. Look for detergents free of optical brighteners, fabric softeners, and fragrance to mitigate build-up or absorption issues in cloth diapers. Gentler formulas without fragrance or dyes are also preferred for a baby’s sensitive skin.

Over time, detergent build-up creates a film over the fibers of a cloth diaper, which can lead to a distinct smell when the diaper is soiled and can also irritate sensitive baby skin; this calls for a process called "stripping," which requires a soak in a laundry treatment or "laundry booster." The stripping process removes build-up for cleaner and more absorbent diapers. Some boosters are also useful for getting diapers cleaner in homes with hard water.

Choosing powdered or liquid detergent for cloth diapers is really just a matter of preference. Powdered detergent tends to be more affordable and can come in a more eco-friendly container, and it may be more effective in soft water versus hard water. Liquid detergents are increasingly popular, but keep in mind that liquids make it easy to use too much detergent, resulting in more build-up.

Here are the best detergents for cloth diapers, as well as some laundry boosters and cloth diapering accessories that will make your life easier — and cleaner — too.

1. The Overall Best Detergent For Cloth Diapers

The overall best detergent for cloth diapers is this highly rated pick from a brand you'll recognize: Tide. Its formula contains enzymes and several biodegradable surfactants, including nonionic surfactants that don't bind with certain ions in hard water for a better clean. Tide's Free & Gentle formula skips dyes and perfumes so it won't irritate your baby's bottom, and this detergent cleans cloth diapers thoroughly in soft or hard water, making it a great place to start with cleaning cloth diapers.

The powder version of this dermatologist-tested laundry detergent cleans up to 68 loads, but it's also available as a liquid detergent if you prefer it (with enough for 64 loads in a bottle). This detergent is designed to be safe in high-efficiency washing machines. If you have an HE machine, you'll love that, in a quick cycle, this pick offers up to six times the cleaning power of other detergents, according to the manufacturer.

A helpful review: “Big fan of this detergent. It gets my cloth diapers clean and smelling like nothing, which is how I prefer them."

2. The Best Budget Detergent For Cloth Diapers

The best budget detergent for cloth diapers is a much-loved one with over 4,500 reviews, and it might have something to do with this box setting you back just $5. This powder formula is also tough on soiled diapers with a combination of enzymes and biodegradable surfactants, including some non-ionic surfactants that help it clean more effectively in hard water. It's also free of perfumes and dyes.

Keep in mind this affordable pick does use some brightener, which will whiten diapers but also means you may need to strip your diapers to remove build-up when using this formula. It's also worth noting you'll likely be stripping your diapers periodically anyway, and I have just the thing for it further down on this list. This box is enough for 40 loads of laundry.

A helpful review: “When I first started cloth diapering I was really having a hard time getting them thoroughly clean. Even after two wash cycles they'd still have an odor. I tried changing everything about my wash routine; different detergent, extra rinse cycles, extra washes, different temps, and load sizes but still no luck. I was finally ready to conclude it might be my washer when I tried this powder on a whim. It completely solved my problem! It's such a great price and product I've started using it for both diapers and all our other laundry. Everything comes out smelling fresh and clean.”

3. The Best Natural Detergent

If you prefer to choose plant-based products when possible, here's the best natural detergent for washing cloth diapers. This liquid detergent is a concentrated one designed to be used in cold water that provides up to 128 loads in a high-efficiency washing machine or 64 standard loads. Its plant-based surfactants remove tough stains and odors without brighteners, artificial fragrances, or preservatives and it contains enzymes. Grapefruit seed and citrus extract in the formula leave a light clean scent. Several reviewers confirmed that this detergent works for soft and hard water, but that it's a good idea to include baking soda or washing soda if you have hard water.

With a 4.7-star rating, shoppers love this pick, with some noting a little bit of this concentrated formula goes a long way with cleaning each load.

A helpful review: "This bottle may seem small (64 oz/ half gallon) compared to the detergent available in warehouse stores, but it lasted our family of three for an outrageously long time- at least 3 months-with use in an HE washer and was the right size to store in a cupboard. The clothing also felt clean and fresh. It doesn't have a heavy scent and also scores well for being environmentally friendly."

4. The Best Detergent Booster For Diapers In Hard Water

For homes with stubbornly hard water, this laundry detergent booster is a must. The mineral-based formula softens water in a laundry load, which allows your hard-working detergent to really clean those messy cloth diapers. Adding this powder to laundry loads along with your regular detergent removes tricky stains and deodorizes clothes and diapers and it's also a fantastic ingredient for stripping diapers. With an impressive 4.9-star rating after nearly 8,000 reviews, Borax is a cult-favorite cleaner. Using the recommended 1/2 cup per load yields 65 cycles with this 4-pack.

A helpful review: “We have extremely hard water where we live in the Pacific N.W. I have been using Borax for a few years. I put one half cup in every load of laundry. My whites stay white. I bleach my washcloths in my top loading washer. [...] We love Borax, it instantly softens the water in the washer, makes your laundry soap work better, your clothes will come out of the washer smelling sweet and clean! [...] Stains come out of clothes with Borax.”

5. A Laundry Treatment For Stripping Cloth Diapers

This hypoallergenic laundry booster for stripping deeply cleans cloth diapers to expel odors and detergent build-up. The biodegradable formula rewards your laundering efforts with ultra-clean diapers that are more absorbent and won't irritate your baby's bottom with old detergent. They come in convenient, travel-friendly packets with 10 packs per order.

This highly rated powder is powerful enough to work on diaper stains and those left behind from coffee, grease, tea, or blood to restore clothes and remove any dinginess. The booster is made without parabens, brighteners, and artificial fragrances, and it can be used for presoaks or prewashes and regular laundry loads.

A helpful review: “I’ve read horror stories about stripping diapers, but this product makes stripping a breeze. I bought all my diapers pre-loved, and most had huge detergent build up! It was causing my baby to break out in a rash. After soaking in RLR, and flushing them well, I’ve had no issues! Definitely will be buying again.”

Nice To Have: A Diaper Sprayer

A diaper sprayer will help you stick with a cloth diaper routine by easing the cleaning process. This 4.8-star rated kit created by parents makes pre-rinsing soiled diapers less messy and less fussy. The kit comes with a sprayer and everything you need to install it on a toilet, and the shield with a diaper clip contains the mess while spraying and later folds flat for storage.

For something similar but about half the price, this highly rated diaper sprayer is another top pick. Just know this sprayer isn't bundled with a handy shield pan.

A helpful review: “If you are going to do cloth diapers, this is a MUST BUY! This made cleaning out the diapers an absolute breeze. After a year and a half of using it, everything has still held together well. The sprayer has a high force of water, making it very effective in getting everything off the diaper. It is easy to use, easy to grip. The shield is obviously of good quality, the clip is strong and sturdy. [...]”

Also Great: An Alternative To Disposable Baby Wipes

As you cut down on waste with your cloth diaper collection, consider this French diapering lotion that functions as an alternative to disposable baby wipes. Apply the cream to a cotton pad or washcloth during diaper changes to clean baby's bottom – there's no need to rinse it off. The six-ingredient formula is USDA Certified Organic, and it replaces baby wipes, diapering ointment, and diaper cream with one bottle. Extra-virgin olive oil and beeswax soothe baby's sensitive skin, and this fragrance-free formula is safe to use with cloth diapers.

A helpful review: “Life changing. We paired this with our cloth wipes and cloth diapers. It DOES leave a slight residue on the wipes even after washing, but that's because it's full of wonderfully moisturizing oils that keep babies bottom soft and clean. Prevents rashes and does not stain cloth diapers. Doesn't have a smell really other than faintly of honey. So happy to have found this product. If you have a sensitive skinned baby, want to be environmentally friendly, and/or are looking into options for diapering I definitely recommend this product.”