How long can cloth diapers sit before washing?

Quick answers

Cloth diapers should not sit soiled for more than 2-3 days before washing. Leaving soiled diapers for longer increases the risk of stains, odors, and bacteria growth. The exact timeframe depends on factors like diaper material, weather, storage conditions, and type of mess. As a general rule, it’s best to wash every 2-3 days.

How long is it safe to leave soiled cloth diapers before washing?

Most childcare experts recommend washing cloth diapers every 2-3 days. Here are some guidelines on safe timeframes:

  • Breastfed baby poop – 1-2 days
  • Formula-fed baby poop – 1-2 days
  • Solid food poop – Immediately rinse, then wash within 1-2 days
  • Pee only – 2-3 days

Leaving diapers longer than 2-3 days allows bacteria, yeast and mold to grow, which can lead to diaper rash. It also increases the risk of stains and odors setting in. During hot weather or humid conditions, it’s best to wash every 1-2 days.

Factors that affect how long cloth diapers can sit before washing

Diaper material

The type of material affects how quickly bacteria grow:

  • Natural fibers like cotton, hemp, bamboo – Increased breathability, but absorb liquid and bacteria
  • Synthetic fibers like microfiber, fleece – Less breathable, but dry quickly and inhibit bacteria
  • Combo fabrics like cotton/polyester – Balance of natural and synthetic benefits

Natural fibers allow more bacteria growth, so should be washed more frequently. Synthetics can last a bit longer between washes.

Weather and humidity

Hot and humid conditions cause faster bacteria multiplication. In summer or humid climates:

  • Wash every 1-2 days
  • Store diapers in a dry, well-ventilated area
  • Consider using a drying rack or fan to dry diapers fully between uses

Type of poop/pee

Some types of excrement require quicker washing:

  • Newborn breastfed poop – Very runny and gets absorbed quickly into fibers
  • Newborn formula-fed poop – More solid, sits on top of fibers longer
  • Solid food poop – Contains more proteins and fats, can stain and smell if left
  • Pee – Urine is sterile, so bacteria risk is lower

Breastfed and especially solid food poop need more frequent washing. Pee-only diapers can go a bit longer between washes.

Type of diaper system

How diapers are used and stored also impacts wash frequency:

  • All-in-one (AIO) diapers – Entire diaper absorbs mess; higher bacteria contact
  • Pocket diapers – Mess is contained in insert; lower bacteria contact
  • Hybrid diapers – Paired with disposable insert to contain poop

Diapers with less direct contact with poop and the cover can sometimes last longer between washes. If using hybrids with disposable inserts, the cover itself may only need washing every 2-3 days.

Washing and drying routine

Proper washing and drying is key to killing bacteria between uses:

  • Use proper amount of laundry detergent
  • Wash with hot water temperature
  • Use extra rinse cycles to remove residue
  • Dry diapers completely between uses

Good cleaning routine allows diapers to sit longer before rewashing. Poor washing or drying leads to bacteria lingering in the fibers.

How to store cloth diapers before washing

Proper diaper storage between changes helps contain messes and bacteria growth. Recommended storage methods:

  • Diaper pail – Use breathable pail with hanging wet bag liner. Consider adding baking soda inside pail to control odors.
  • Hamper – Place soiled diapers in hamper without bag. Use an absorbent liner or laundry sanitizer to control bacteria.
  • Rinse – Rinse solid food poop into toilet before storing. Keeps diaper cleaner.
  • Air dry – If reusing a cover between changes, air dry thoroughly before reapplying.

Avoid using completely sealed containers or plastic bags, as these can trap moisture and odor. Store in a well-ventilated space.

How to get cloth diapers clean when left longer than recommended

If life gets busy and you’ve left diapers longer than the ideal 2-3 days, here are some tips for getting them clean:


Do an initial rinse or prewash cycle to remove excess solid waste. Agitate diapers by hand in cold water first if needed.


Add 1⁄2 cup of bleach or other sanitizing agent to the main wash cycle. This helps kill lingering bacteria and germs.

Extra wash

Run an extra rinse cycle after the main wash to remove residue. Consider temporarily adjusting your detergent amount to reduce buildup.

Dry thoroughly

Use high heat drying or hang in direct sunlight. This helps remove moisture where bacteria can live.

Repeat as needed

Re-wash with extra rinses if diapers still seem dirty or smelly after initial washing. Hardest stains may require soaking in oxygen bleach before washing.

How long can cloth diapers sit in the washer before they start to smell?

It’s best to wash cloth diapers promptly after soiling, but realistically many parents aren’t able to start a wash every single day. Here are some guidelines for how long diapers can sit in the wash before smelling:

  • Dry pail – 3-4 days
  • Wet bag – 2-3 days
  • Open laundry basket – 1-2 days

The more breathable and dry the storage method, the slower odor-causing bacteria grow. Still aim to wash at least every 2-3 days for cleanliness.

Tips to prevent smells in the washer

  • Rinse diapers before loading washer
  • Use laundry sanitizer or borax
  • Leave washer door open between loads
  • Run cleaning cycle monthly
  • Hang diapers to dry fully after washing

Signs it’s time to wash cloth diapers

Here are some signs it’s definitely time to start a wash, even if it’s earlier than your usual 2-3 day schedule:

  • Strong urine odor
  • Noticeable fecal odor
  • Diaper rash suddenly appears
  • Visible stains setting in
  • Diapers feel stiff or rough
  • Elastic seems stretched out
  • Baby reacts with redness or discomfort when wearing

Odor, skin irritation and fit issues are clues that bacteria or residue has built up. Wash immediately if you notice these signs before putting back on baby.

Storing clean diapers between washes

To minimize bacteria growth between uses:

  • Dry diapers completely after washing, in sun or machine dryer if possible
  • Avoid leaving damp diapers or covers folded together for prolonged periods
  • Store diapers in breathable basket, shelf or drawer
  • Consider placing laundry disinfectant sheets between stacks
  • Place newborn-sized diapers toward top of stack to use first

Rotate diaper stash so all get worn and washed regularly. Dry diapers in sunlight regularly to sanitize.

Cloth diaper wash schedule examples

Here are two sample cloth diaper washing schedules for reference:

Newborn – Washing every 2 days

For breastfed newborn with very runny poop:

  • Day 1 morning – Wash after 2 days use
  • Day 1 evening – Put freshly washed diapers on baby
  • Day 2 – Use clean diapers
  • Day 3 morning – Wash after 2 days use
  • Repeat schedule for first 6-8 weeks

Older baby – Washing every 3 days

For formula-fed or solid food eating baby:

  • Day 1 morning – Wash after 3 days use
  • Day 1 evening – Put freshly washed diapers on baby
  • Day 2-3 – Use clean diapers
  • Day 4 morning – Wash after 3 days use
  • Repeat schedule until potty training

Adjust wash frequency as needed based on odor, stains or rashes. Daily washing is OK if needed.


Can I leave breastfed poop diapers longer than formula poop?

No, breastfed and formula poop should be washed within the same 1-2 day timeline. Despite being more liquid, breastfed poop provides food for bacteria. Leaving either too long allows germs to multiply.

What if I don’t have time to wash the diapers?

If you won’t be able to wash within 2-3 days, consider using disposables or hybrids temporarily until your schedule allows washing again. Storing soiled diapers too long creates major odor and hygiene issues.

Should I wash or rinse poop diapers separately?

No separate wash is needed for heavily soiled diapers. Simply shake off solid poop into the toilet before adding to the wash. All diapers and inserts can be washed together using proper amounts of detergent and rinse cycles.

Can I let covers and inserts sit longer between washes?

Yes, reusable covers and inserts contain less direct poop contact. Covers may only need washing every 2-3 days. Inserts containing only pee can potentially go 3-4 days between washing.

Cloth diaper wash tips summary

  • Wash every 2-3 days for most babies
  • Store in dry, breathable diaper pail or basket before washing
  • Wash covers and inserts separately if needed
  • Rinse solid poop into toilet before washing
  • Use proper detergent amount and hot water
  • Dry diapers thoroughly between uses

Following a regular 2-3 day washing routine is the best way to maximize diaper lifespan and baby’s health. Adjust schedule as needed based on factors like climate, mess type and washing effectiveness. With the right system, cloth diapers are a convenient, reliable choice for babies’ delicate skin.

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