You want to use only the safest, most natural products on your baby's clothes, but you also want their garments to be incredibly clean.

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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.

Comments (9)

Martha Stewart Member
June 9, 2020
Shopping is my stress release activity. I love shopping. After becoming a parent now I'm a little bit careful about my expenses, now I don't shop free-hand as before. Shopping for babies is really a great challenge for first-time parents. Parents always considered to buy a cozy and comfy Kids Garments... Baba and New born Baby Dress online.
Martha Stewart Member
December 29, 2019
Very informative articles. As a new mother myself I struggled with a baby that was clean and I made sure to keep up with the laundry but that wasn't possible. My son had reflux and because of this he would spit up a lot as a baby. This led me to start my small business of stain-proof baby clothes, meaning you don't need any stain remover for your baby clothes, just with a flick of the wipe messes are cleaned and no stains remain. You can check us out here https://snugbubusa.com. Just thought will share here since I love your recipes and am a huge fan :)
Martha Stewart Member
January 6, 2019
My baby never slept well (especially through the night) until I started using the website >>SLEEPBABY.ORG<< - that website has been by far one of the best things I've ever got my hands on to get him to fall asleep quickly. Best time is 45 seconds from awake to asleep! Can’t imagine life without it! I heard about it through a kindergarten teacher who uses it to put to sleep a group of 30 children. Check it out! >>SLEEPBABY.ORG<< - sorry, you can't post links here so you'll have to turn it into a normal link :) Best of luck to you and your family!
Martha Stewart Member
April 17, 2017
Hi Martha, I have been trying to get feces stain out of cotton slacks. I first soaked in cold water over night then sprayed with pre wash, then washed in cool water with detergent. The stain is still in there. How can I get the stain out? I didn't dry in the dryer as I was afraid it would really set the stain. Please help.
Martha Stewart Member
September 17, 2016
Some good advise, but vinegar doesn't cut grease. That is a job for detergents.
Martha Stewart Member
May 21, 2013
Even though doing laundry for a baby can be a hassle I would still much rather use organic cloth nappies than disposable ones...
Martha Stewart Member
May 17, 2010
This article doesn't mention whether or not washing in hot water is a must. I'm tired of baby's clothes shrinking rapidly while he's growing so fast! Do I have to wash his clothes hot?
Martha Stewart Member
June 19, 2008
would Sodium Perborate (natural bleach) work on my pets' bedding, cleaning rags, pet messes in the bedding, etc., or would something like baking soda or vinegar work better? Please help!! Thanks.
Martha Stewart Member
May 9, 2008
okay, this is the best tip available.....I used cloth diapers on my son and after scrubbing my fingers off trying to remove stain I put them in the sun to dry (with stains) and after 5 minutes (not kidding) the stains were 85% gone and after 30 minutes they were completely gone!!! You can't get more natural than that!