When you’re expecting a new baby, it is instinctive to try to perfectly prepare your home environment for the precious little life that will soon be living there along with you. Decorating the nursery, stocking up on essentials, installing the carseat, and of course…collecting tiny clothes and stacking them neatly in the dresser. Many new moms wonder if there is a right way to wash baby clothes or if you can just wash them as you would wash the rest of your laundry. Do you need to buy the special “baby detergent”? Do you need to wash clothing that is brand new or used? And how do you wash the baby clothes once they’re being used and introduced to a variety of baby related stains!? Not to worry, you don’t need to jump through hoops for these special little outfits. There are a few things to consider that might be different from your regular laundry but it is easy and will become your new normal in no time.
Wash Before Wearing? Whether the clothes are brand new, given to you gently used, or purchased from a consignment store, always wash them before tucking them into your baby’s dresser. Brand new clothing can have chemical treatments, factory and warehouse dirt and dust, and germs from the people who handled the clothing as well as the germs of people who touched the clothing in the store. You don’t need to be paranoid and treat new clothing as if its biohazard material, of course, but just give them a wash once you get them home so you don’t have to give it a second thought. The same goes for used clothing. Any fragrances, pet hair and dander, dust, dirt or germs from the previous owners will be washed away by laundering. Start fresh!
Do I Need Baby Detergent? The quick answer is: definitely not. The popular detergent on the grocery store shelves that is marketed for babies actually has fragrance added which isn’t necessary or healthy for baby. Babies can have very sensitive skin so it is important to use detergents that are gentle and rinse clean. Many of us are accustomed to detergents that “smell good” but it is much healthier for baby (and really, for all of us!) to use a “free and clear” detergent, all natural detergent, or to even make your own!
Can I Use Fabric Softener, Bleach & Dryer Sheets? Continuing on with the discussion of health and safety of the baby, you can avoid all of these products. Fabric softeners and dryer sheets add fragrances that are made up of chemicals that aren’t healthy to breathe in or to have on our skin. Bleach is also unhealthy and can be replaced with other techniques. If you want to soften your fabrics, add vinegar to a fabric softener dispenser ball which will release vinegar in the rinse cycle. Vinegar is a safe and natural way to soften fabrics and it does not leave the clothes smelling like vinegar once they’re rinsed and dried. Instead of using bleach, hang your white clothing in the sun to dry. This works so well at whitening and also removing many stains! In lieu of dryer sheets, you can use balls of aluminum foil to remove static and wool dryer balls to soften the clothing by beating them up a bit as they tumble in the dryer.
How Do I Deal With These Stains? Babies are messy and they are going to stain a lot of clothing – both theirs and yours! The best thing you can do is to be proactive and try to rinse the soiled areas in cold water as soon as you can. Of course this does not always happen. When you bring the baby’s hamper to the washing machine, pull out the clothes individually to check for noticeable stains and treat them with a simple stain remover five minutes before you toss them into the washer. This takes just a bit of extra time, but it goes a long way to preserving the clothing so that you can sell, donate or reuse it all in the future.
-Be sure to fasten all velcro on bibs and other velcro items before you throw them into the hamper. That unfastened velcro will snag fabrics and ruin them so be careful!
-Keep a mesh laundry bag by the hamper and throw all of the tiny items, like socks, into it. This way you’re less likely to be struck by the sock eating monster inside the washing machine!
– Almost all of your baby clothes will be easy to care for fabrics that can be washed in cold water and dried on medium or low. Check the care tags on items that seem to need special treatment such as special occasion outfits, outerwear, knit sweaters, or garments with lots of decorative trim. When in doubt, wash them on cold in a gentle or hand wash cycle and hang to dry.
In your sleep deprived stupor with a new baby, the easiest thing to keep in mind when it comes to washing your baby clothes is to keep it natural and simple. A cold wash in fragrance free detergent and drying on low or hanging in the sun and you’re set! Now, figuring out how to fold those tiny baby socks is your next challenge.