I’m pretty clueless about laundry.
Thankfully, as a dude, the majority of my clothes are simple. Throw them in on whatever wash cycle I feel like, haphazardly toss them in the dryer on basically any heat, and whala!
But when it comes to your kid’s clothes, and baby clothes in particular, you’ll want to be a little more mindful.
That begs the question: How do you wash and dry baby clothes properly without shrinking them?
There’s a lot to know, but let’s not make it too complicated.
For the most part, to properly wash baby clothes use a fragrance-free, gentle detergent and a delicate or cold wash cycle. To dry baby clothes without shrinking them, use a low heat setting in the dryer.
But there are lots of exceptions and other helpful tips and tricks to know about baby laundry.
Here are 7 things you need to know about washing a baby’s clothes.
And if you’re in a hurry, I put together a few essentials you’ll need to get started (baby-safe detergent, wool dryer balls, and a good stain remover, plus a few other goodies) in a convenient Ideas List on Amazon.
1. What kind of detergent to use
Probably the easiest thing to do is to buy a special laundry detergent that’s specifically formulated for babies.
But if you’re on a budget and want to just buy something the whole household can use, there’s really no need. The American Academy of Pediatrics even says that most household laundry detergents are fine for babies that don’t have any special allergies.
The best and safest detergent for baby clothes, though, will be:
- Gentle, or designed for delicates
- Have no bleach
- Have no fabric softener
Another easy option if you want to make your own baby laundry detergent is to simply mix equal parts baking soda and warm water.
Use the mixture the same way you would any other detergent. It’s great for getting out stains and will be super gentle on baby’s skin.
To go the simple route, stock up on Babyganics laundry detergent on Amazon. It’s free of additives and harsh chemicals, and is almost completely plant-based.
2. What washing cycle and drying cycle or heat to use
Your baby’s clothes will almost always have washing and drying instructions on the tag.
That’s the best way to know you’re using all the right laundry settings for the material to avoid shrinking, color loss, or damage to the clothes.
But when in doubt, most parents seem to wash in cold water using the gentle or delicates cycle.
(Cold cleans great and is best for preventing shrinking or color bleeding when it comes to dark-colored clothes or delicate fabrics.)
Can I put baby clothes like onesies, etc. in the dryer?
When it comes to drying, again, refer to the instructions on the tag. (Usually, it will say ‘tumble dry low,’ which means just throw it in the dryer on low heat as opposed to hang-drying.)
A low heat tumble dry is usually the safest setting for any baby clothes you don’t want to shrink. If your dryer has a Delicates setting, that’s perfect! Permanent Press may be too hot.
High-heat drying doesn’t really have much of a benefit except it’s usually a lot faster. But it’s also a lot more likely to mess up your clothes.
If you have something super delicate (like a dress with lace, mesh, sparkles, jewels, etc.), you can always hang it up and let it air dry to be safe.
3. What to handwash & how to wash baby & newborn clothes by hand
Handwashing all of your baby’s clothes will probably drive you insane over time.
They’re just so little, and there are so many of them!
There’s no real need to handwash anything unless it specifically says “handwash only.”
(And even then, I might take my chances! Seriously, when baby comes you’ll more than have your hands full with other tasks.)
The easiest way to handwash baby clothes is to:
- Fill a small tub with cold or room temperature water
- Add a small amount of baby-safe detergent
- Whip it up to form some bubbles and suds
- Soak baby’s clothes in the soapy water for a few minutes
- Rinse them thoroughly
- Hang them up to dry
There’s really no magic to it!
But again, personally I would save this for only certain kinds of clothes like nice dresses or formal baby clothes that can’t be machine washed.
4. How often to wash your baby’s clothes
The obvious answer here is that once your baby has worn something, it needs to be washed before they can wear it again.
It’s not exactly rocket science!
Dirty clothes can carry germs, and you definitely don’t want to reuse anything with stains from:
- Spit up
- Diaper leaks
- Milk spills
As for your household’s laundry schedule, you basically have two choices:
Small, frequent loads (perhaps daily): The benefit of washing a baby’s clothes every day or close to it is that you’ll basically never have a huge backup. Most of their burp cloths, onesies, and outfits should be available when you need them.
It also won’t take as long in any individual sitting to wash, dry, and fold their clothes.
The downside is that it will start to feel like laundry is your entire life.
Batching (once per week-ish): Alternatively, you can save up your baby’s clothes for a while (around a week), and just commit a couple of hours on a Saturday to knocking the whole thing out at once.
The downside here is that you’ll have a big backup by the end of the week and may be running low on key items, plus it will take a big chunk of time all at once to finish. But on the plus side, you’ll only be doing laundry once per week and it will take less time overall.
5. How to wash baby clothes with poop, urine, spit up & other stains
This may shock you, but sometimes baby’s clothes get gross.
Like, really gross.
Poop stains, spit-up stains, and drool or other spill stains are super, super common.
First things first: Get the crap off your baby’s clothes!
No need to be scientific about it. Strip off the onesie and just rinse it off with cold water to get as much gunk off as you can.
Next, you can try a couple of different methods for preventing a stain from setting, or removing a stain:
Spot-treat the stain with a synthetic stain remover: Something like Shout Stain Spray (Amazon link) will be super, super tough on those poop stains. But don’t worry, it’s still safe for baby if you use it right and follow the instructions.
Spot-treat the stain with a natural stain remover: If you want to go a more natural method, try spritzing the area with lemon juice or soak the whole garment in some cold water mixed with baking soda.
From there, you can throw it in the wash to finish the stain off. Washing in cold water is usually best unless the stain is greasy (oils, mayonnaise, sauces, etc.)
If the stain is still there after all of that, try a harsher stain remover. But don’t dry anything until the stain is gone! Once you dry it, it’s probably baked in there for life.
6. Whether you need to pre-wash baby clothes before birth or when baby arrives
It’s a really good idea to wash all of your baby’s clothes before they wear them for the first time.
It’s up to you if you want to wash everything way ahead of time and sit it in a drawer, or if you want to do it closer to delivery so it doesn’t sit and potentially gather dust and germs for as long.
(Letting it sit in a dresser drawer or closet is totally fine, though.)
Washing baby clothes for the first time?
You might consider washing the clothes in just plain water, or using a gentle detergent but double-rinsing the clothes the first time around.
Some babies do have reactions to certain kinds of detergents, even gentle ones, so if you want to play it safe at first there’s nothing wrong with new clothes washed in only water.
Another thing to try would be to only wash a small handful of items in detergent, and simply give the rest a thorough soapless rinse in the washing machine.
That way, if your baby reacts negatively to the soap-washed clothes, you haven’t “contaminated” the entire wardrobe.
There are two things to look out for:
- Skin irritation: Some materials or chemicals just don’t agree with babies skin. But red, itchy irritation will usually go away pretty quickly once the irritant is removed.
- Skin allergic reaction: According to Cleveland Clinic, an allergic reaction to laundry detergent can take about a week to appear and will last longer than simple irritation.
Be diligent at first and keep your eyes opened, but chances are you won’t have a problem and can go ahead and start using regular laundry detergent pretty quickly.
7. Whether to use fabric softener or dryer sheets for baby clothes
When in doubt, don’t use dryer sheets or fabric softener on baby and newborn clothes.
Fabric softeners and dryer sheets very often have perfumes, chemicals, fragrances, and other additives that can irritate a baby’s skin. (You don’t even want to know about some of the things you can find in dryer sheets.)
And beyond that, they’re not really necessary. Most people use them to add a nice, fresh smell to their clean laundry, or in the case of dryer sheets, to reduce static electricity.
You can do without these benefits!
If your baby does fine with regular laundry detergent and you want to try using fabric softener or dryer sheets, definitely go with a fragrance and dye-free option.
As a less-chemically and more eco-friendly alternative, we’ve been using these organic wool dryer balls (Amazon link) to help with static and wrinkles. They work great and don’t rub any harsh chemicals on our clothes!
I know that was a lot of information, but I swear washing baby clothes isn’t that complicated!
Unless your baby has sensitive skin or an actual allergic reaction to certain materials and detergents, you can pretty much do their laundry the same way you do yours.
Treat their clothes like you would delicates, and stay away from super fragrant or colorful detergents.
Just wash most baby clothes on cold with a gentle tumble dry afterwards. Reserve handwashing for only the most important things (for your sanity). And stay away from fabric softener and dryer sheets until you know your baby can handle them.
That’s pretty much it!
To recap the shopping list for doing baby laundry, you might want to check out a few things on Amazon:
- Plant-based, gentle, baby-safe laundry detergent
- A heavy-duty stain remover for poop, spit-up, and sauce stains
- Organic wool dryer balls to replace dryer sheets
Hope that helps, parents!