Now that people are starting to see we're using cloth diapers, we're getting a lot of questions. The questions are great, cloth diapering has been a breeze so far and I would love it if we were able to help others go for it, too. One of the most common questions we get is if we use a diaper service (no) then how we wash them. Honestly, it's simple.
I do diaper laundry every two days. I could probably go three days, but every other ensures we've always got plenty.
Our dirty diapers go into a regular, plastic, foot-pedal garbage can with a PUL pail liner in it. The timing works out so it fills up right about the end of the second day anyway. I dump the whole thing, liner included, into our washer (GE top loader, nothing fancy) on the largest load setting. I do a plain rinse (no detergent) in cold water to rinse out the dirty stuff a bit before actually washing them. [Exclusively breastfed poop can just go right in, it washes away fine. Once Myra starts solid foods, we'll spray off the poo into the toilet with a diaper sprayer, otherwise everything will be the same.] After the cold rinse, I start a heavy wash cycle with hot water. Once it fills up, I add Tide Original powder detergent, unscented (I use an Oxy Clean scooper full, to the line, I think it's 2 TBSPs). There are a lot of "cloth diaper safe" detergents out there, but many people have good luck with Tide, too. We went with Tide to start and figured we'd change if Myra showed any sensitivity to it. So far, so good. I did win a give-away for Nellie's All Natural laundry soda, so maybe we'll give that a try, but the Tide seems to be just fine. Anyway, after that full cycle, I run another cold rinse to make sure all the detergent is rinsed out. Anything with PUL gets line dried (pocket shells, liners, wetbags, diaper covers) and all the inserts/prefolds/wipes get dried in the dryer. Some people dry everything in the dryer, but I usually do diaper laundry at night and everything is dry by morning.
You really don't need much detergent to get them clean, and too much detergent will lead to build up which can cause the diapers to repel and/or irritate baby's skin. Some babies are more sensitive and different water types (hard, soft) and washers (top/front loader, HE or not, etc.) can play a factor so there may be a learning curve to what works best in your situation. Never use fabric softener or any other additives. Actually, it's best if you don't use that stuff at all because I hear in can build up in your washer/dryer and affect the diapers. We use Tide for our diapers and Arm & Hammer for everything else. If there is a build up issue or if baby has yeast, there are ways to deal with that (stripping the diapers, using bleach or vinegar). I have never done those things, so I would refer you to Googling/forums/asking someone who knows what they're doing if that's an issue.
What about stains? Yes, sometimes the diapers stain. First, we all know things can be perfectly clean, but still stained, so you can just deal with it. But, if that's not good enough and/or you're selling the diapers (yep, you can make your money back!), all you need to get the stains out is a little sun! I just wash the diapers like usual and hang anything stained out in the sun so the stains will actually get hit with direct sunlight, of course. After a day in the sun, they're bright white again! Occasionally, if the sun doesn't hit a certain spot or if the stains were really bad, one may need to do this again, but they do come out, I promise, even if they've been washed a bunch since they were originally stained. This also works with pit stains, dingy dish cloths, old socks, etc. And it works in the winter, too! I live in Minnesota and have put clothes/diapers outside when it's pretty darn cold, I just throw them in the dryer for a bit once the sunlight goes away to get them fully dry. It actually might even work better in the winter since there are no leaves on the trees to block the sunlight. If you don't have a clothesline, like me, you can put them on a drying rack outside. If you don't have a place you can do that, you can sun them through a window (window in your home or even your car!).
Hopefully that answers some questions! If not, feel free to ask!