How to Wash Baby Clothes

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Verywell / Photo Illustration by Madelyn Goodnight / Getty Images

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While giddily choosing outfits for your little one (and maybe even wishing their clothes came in your size), it’s possible you were blissfully unaware of just how much laundry you would be doing for this tiny human. With a pile of dirty PJs and bodysuits in front of you, the reality is sinking in. Luckily, tackling baby laundry is nothing to fear, whether you love or loathe laundry. Here’s how to wash these sweet necessities, step-by-step.

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Do I Need to Pre-Wash Baby Clothes?

Many parenting and pregnancy books will advise you to pre-wash your baby’s clothes before they ever wear them. This is because these garments have had a life before your little one, even if the items are brand new. They've sat in warehouses and on store shelves and possibly been treated with chemicals during the manufacturing process. 

"If you don't normally for your own new clothing, please do pre-wash new baby clothing," advises Brandi Winch, owner of Homemaid Cleaning Service and Homemaid Home Organization. "New clothing has an unknown history; you could be introducing contaminants such as sprays and rodent droppings from transport and much more."

Winch explains that while an adult's skin might be able to stand up to contaminated clothing, your baby's skin is far more delicate and likely to have a reaction. "Make sure to include stuffed animals, wraps, and other linens that come in contact with baby's skin [in the load]," she says.

What You Need to Wash Baby Clothes

A washer and dryer are incredibly efficient for washing baby clothes, whether they are machines you own or simply have access to. Aside from those appliances, you’ll want to find a gentle detergent formulated for sensitive skin. It isn't necessary to purchase a formula that is specifically marketed towards babies but look for one that is fragrance-free, hypoallergenic, and dye-free.

Additionally, have a basic laundry pre-treat on hand for the inevitable stains. If you would prefer not to use a commercial pre-treat product, Winch suggests soaking the garment in a solution that is 50% vinegar and 50% water.

Step-by-Step: How to Wash Baby Clothes

If you generally throw all your clothes in one load, you might want to be more careful with your child’s clothes to keep them in tip-top shape. First, sort them into lights and darks. When possible, try to wash your baby's clothes and blankets separately from the rest of the household's garments.

Before you prepare your child’s clothes for a wash, first check the label for the material's wash instructions, says Sarah Cook, owner of childcare agency Nanny's & Granny's. Second, address any clothing stains. Use the pre-treat of your choosing as soon as you notice a stain.

Then, prep the clothes to go in. "Prior to throwing a load of laundry in the machine, clothing should be buttoned and turned inside out to protect designs and seams," says Cook. If you’re washing bibs or small socks, put these items into a mesh laundry bag so they don’t get lost in the machine during the wash or drying cycles.

Use a gentle detergent formulated for sensitive skin, and remember that this does not have to be a baby-branded detergent. 

Choose a warm wash temperature when possible to maintain the integrity of the items. "Most baby clothing can be washed on the normal cycle without issue but do use the extra rinse cycle if that is an option for you," says Winch.

Before placing clothing in the dryer, check the status of any previous stains. Drying can set the stain so if it isn't removed, treat and wash the garment again before drying.

Finish off the load with a tumble in the dryer on a low setting to avoid shrinkage.

What to Consider When Remove Stains from Baby Clothes

Messes happen, so when trying to treat a stain on your baby’s clothes, look for a product that is formulated for sensitive skin and fragrance-free, just as you did for the detergent. 

Follow the product’s instructions when applying the stain remover. For example, it will likely want you to treat the stain right away. (Though you'll want to take the item off of your baby, first.)

Tough stains may require time for the treatment to set. Apply it to the stain, and allow the product to sit and work its magic for at least several minutes before washing. "Time matters when it comes to stains," says Winch. "Remove any large portion of the mess, then soak the garment in cool water and detergent right away. Wash new stains on a cold water cycle."

Aside from the 50/50 vinegar-water solution Winch previously mentioned, she also recommends using Dawn dish soap for getting rid of oil stains.

It bears repeating that you should check stained clothing before moving it from the washer to the dryer. If the stain persists, treat and wash once again.

A Word From Verywell

Bringing a baby into your life means lots of changes, the least of which is how you do laundry, With that being said, it's so important to take special care with your child's clothing to protect their delicate, sensitive skin. If you're using a hypoallergenic, fragrance-free detergent for your baby's clothes and their skin is still looking irritated, consider using a sensitive skin detergent for your own clothes, as well as any other fabrics your baby comes into contact with. If this doesn't help, talk to your healthcare provider for the best course of action.

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