This post has been a long time coming and has been sitting in my queue for weeks. Oops! If you're interested in cloth diapering, read on about how to wash!
This is the most popular question I've been asked about cloth diapering since starting to consider it. Yes, at first even I cringed at the thought of poop in the washing machine. It's one of the aspects which first turned me off the idea of cloth when I was pregnant. Only after discovering the many downsides to disposable diapers did I do some research into how the laundering is accomplished. It's really not as bad as it sounds but there are some complexities involved.
First, you need what is called a wet bag or a wet/dry pail. A wet bag is a waterproof bag used to store soiled diapers. A wet pail is a pail filled with water in which dirty cloth diapers are placed to soak. It's then drained before loading the diapers into the washing machine. This method has been largely replaced due to smell, mess and potential safety issues. The dry pail just involves placing the diapers into a dry, waterproof lined pail. Depending on the size of your bag/pail and how many diapers you have, you will be doing diaper laundry every 1-3 days. We have a Rumparooz wet bag for the house and a medium sized Planetwise wet/dry bag for outings.
Assuming baby is exclusively breastfed, the first six months of washing is a breeze because breastmilk poop is completely water-soluble. No rinsing is necessary; everything goes in the wash and comes out perfectly clean. If baby is formula fed or once baby is eating solids, the majority of the poop must be knocked/wiped off or sprayed with a diaper sprayer into the toilet. There are also flushable liners that lay inside the diapers to catch the poop, making the job much faster. Whatever liquid is absorbed by the diapers and even if there's a little bit of poop left, there is no reason why it can't go into the wash! We've been putting breastmilk poop into our washer for over a month now and from what we're aware of, our clothes don't smell like poop and are as clean as they ever were!
There are endlessly different washing routines - everyone does something a little differently. What I do is start with at least one cold rinse to wash all remaining solids off the diapers. Then add detergent and wash on hot/cold heavy cycle, do another cold rinse or two. Then I air dry my covers (which extends the life of the elastic and waterproof fabric) and put the inserts in the dryer.
Detergent is another thing you need to consider. We are currently in the process of switching detergents to find something that works for us. You cannot use just any detergent - the softeners, enzymes and other additives in regular detergent will build up in the fabrics. This will cause the stay dry fabrics (found in pocket diapers) to repel liquid when worn. You can imagine how well that turns out - ie. they leak like crazy. If you do experience buildup (signs of this are excessive odor from the diapers or repelling) you will need to 'strip' your diapers of this residue. To remedy that, you rinse/wash/rinse without any detergent multiple times until the residue is agitated out of the fabrics.
I could ramble on about this for quite a while! If you're interested in cloth diapering your baby, feel free to send me an email and I'll supply you with more info about it! Now for your patience, some cute butt fluff!