Everything You Need to Know About Washing Baby Clothes
It's a dilemma many new parents face: You have a new bundle of joy that's producing a ton of laundry, but you're not sure what products and methods you should use to ensure the safest, cleanest clothes for your little one. The best approach is simple. Harsh detergents can irritate newborn skin, so use the mildest product possible. Certain soaps are made to leave fabric soft while also containing few of those unnecessary additives that can cause irritation; on the other hand, these soaps are also are less alkaline than detergents and therefore don't have as strong cleaning and stain-fighting properties. So, what's a new parent to do? Ahead, explore our expert tips to getting your baby's clothes as clean and soft as possible.
How to Wash Baby Clothes
Avoid fabric softeners and products that contain dyes and perfumes. You'll also want to keep an eye out for signs of an allergic reaction on your baby, even if you're using gentler soaps. Contact your doctor if any rash appears—the skin might look dry and patchy or have tiny red bumps. The solution might be as simple as rinsing the baby's laundry more thoroughly, but you should always be on the safe side and have a rash examined.
Before washing any garment for the first time, read the care label. Baby sleepwear, in particular, often needs special care because it is required by law to be flame-resistant, and some soaps can hinder flame resistance. You may want to wash the baby's clothes separately from the rest of the family's, but this isn't necessary, as long as you use the same mild soap for everyone. Always put baby clothes away clean as dirt tends to attract pets and stains can set and become permanent with time.
How to Get Rid of Every Type of Stain
The good news is that the days of grass stains and finger paints are still a long way off. Even so, babies produce a surprising amount of dirty laundry, and with baby stains, fast action is your best defense. First, always presoak stains in cool water. Water is enough to remove many spots—especially light ones such as drool and formula—if you get to them while they're fresh. Even stains that have had time to set will loosen somewhat while they soak in the water. You can use a soft-bristled nylon brush and a small amount of soap to gently work out a spot, but don't scrub, or you'll risk damaging the fabric.
After trying to remove a stain, always check for remnants of it before drying clothing—if the mark remains, you'll have to resort to something stronger. Just remember that babies' skin is very sensitive; be sure to rinse the clothing thoroughly after treating the stains, and skip the treatments altogether on clothes that will be rubbing right up against your baby's skin, such as cloth diapers or undershirts. Below are lists of common stains and suggestions for attacking them from Janet Brady, a textile and stain expert at Thomas Jefferson University. (For a more comprehensive list of stains and their antidotes, refer to our Stain Remover Basics Guide.)
Proteins can be difficult to remove. This includes breast milk, formula, most food stains, and spit-up. Soak in plain water first, then add an enzyme cleaner, such as Era Plus ($22.66, amazon.com) or Biz ($7.99, target.com). The enzymes in the detergent will attack the stain, literally digesting the protein. If traces of the stain remain, apply a combination solvent (an all-purpose stain remover) such as Shout ($2.99, target.com) or Spray 'N Wash ($2.74, walmart.com), then launder as usual. Oily, greasy stains are also trying. These types of stains include baby oil, creams, and petroleum jelly. If fresh, remove any excess, and cover the area with cornstarch or talcum powder to absorb oil; scrape off after 10 to 15 minutes. Apply a combination solvent and then launder as usual.
Fruit and vegetable juices, jams, and berries can all leave distinct marks on baby clothing. Flush with cool water; soak in a one-to-one mixture of rubbing alcohol and water. If the stain loosens, launder as usual. If not, apply a combination solvent and then wash. For a stubborn stain, lightly bleach the area by soaking it in a one-to-one mixture of white vinegar and water.
Leaky diapers are par for the course when becoming a parent, and laundering this particular situation can be unpleasant. Attack diarrhea stains in the same way you would a protein stain above. For urine stains, pretreat the area with a tablespoon of ammonia diluted in at least one cup water—be sure to test a hidden spot first to see if the fabric is colorfast. Follow with a combination solvent then launder as usual. Never mix any product containing chlorine bleach with either ammonia or vinegar; these combinations are toxic.
Natural Laundry Supplies
If you prefer not to use chemicals on baby's clothes, try these natural options suggested by Annie Berthold-Bond in Clean and Green (Ceres Press, 1994). Be sure to rinse the clothes thoroughly. Keep these and all household products out of the reach of children. Baking soda is an effective cleaner, deodorizer, and fabric softener. Mix with water to form a paste, and use on stains to absorb odors, or add to water when presoaking new clothes to eliminate residue. Borax is a water-soluble mineral with antiseptic, antibacterial, water-softening, and whitening properties. Makes mild soap more effective (add 1/2 cup to wash). It's also a good diaper presoak.
Sodium Perborate is a natural alternative to chlorine bleach that's made of borax and hydrogen peroxide. Add three tablespoons to wash water to fight stains. Washing Soda is also known as sodium carbonate, a mineral with strong cleaning and degreasing properties. Add two tablespoons to laundry soap to make it more effective, or make it into a paste to remove greasy stains. White Vinegar is also a naturally acidic pantry staple that cuts grease, softens water, and can lighten dingy and gray laundry. Add 1/4 cup to wash.
Special Care for Vintage Garments
If you have a vintage baby item, whether it's a treasured family christening gown or a beautiful baby dress you found in an antique shop, you'll have to take an extra-delicate approach. Before you do anything, try to determine whether the garment is strong enough to wash. If the fabric smells of must and mildew, it may not stand up to immersion in water. If you have any doubt that a garment can be washed safely, it's best to seek the help of a professional.
To wash a vintage garment, first, place it on a piece of nylon net to support the delicate fibers, then soak it in cool water. Choose a mild soap. Professional laundries often use Orvus Paste ($18.13, walmart.com), because it has cleaning and whitening properties but is gentle on fabric. With very delicate fabrics, don't worry too much about small stains, but if the fabric is sturdy, you can try a soap that contains a color-safe bleach. This will help to lighten yellow age marks on fabric and brighten whites that haven't been laundered for decades. Just be sure to rinse very well to remove all traces of soap. Always let vintage clothing air dry rather than subject it to the heat of a dryer.