To prepare Lovely Pocket Diapers for first use, just wash the shell and the insert once to get the factory off from them, and they’re good to go.
Natural fiber inserts made from cotton or hemp can also be used after one wash, though they’ll gain absorbency over several washes. The easiest way to prepare those is to throw them into whatever laundry you happen to be doing for three or so washes. Different fibers can all be prepped together, and washing with other dirty diapers is fine. They don’t need to be dried between each prep wash.
The most important thing to remember is that cloth diapers are just really, really dirty laundry, and the basic concepts of laundry still apply. You don’t need special detergent, you don’t need a complicated routine. Just do a prewash, do a main wash, dry.
Most people can use their regular laundry detergent, with a few exceptions. Fabric softener can cause repelling, so avoid detergents with fabric softeners in them. If you have a high-efficiency machine, make sure you’re using an HE-safe detergent. Most mainstream detergents, as well as certain Eco-friendly brands are very effective. You can also use free and clear, unscented detergents. Most detergents marketed as being “cloth safe” are both weak and expensive and generally not recommended.
Minerals from hard water make detergents less effective, and minerals can deposit onto cloth fibers. If your water hardness is above 120 parts per million (PPM) and you’re using mainstream detergent, it is suggested that you add 1/2 cup of borax or a cap of Calgon to the main wash. Tide powder is effective in water with hardness up to about 180 PPM. With free and clear or plant based detergents, it is suggested that you add a softener if your water hardness is 60 PPM or more. In extremely hard water (250 PPM or more) you’ll probably want to add a softener to the prewash and main wash. To check your water hardness, look to your water utility provider, take a sample of your water to a pet store that carries aquarium fish and they’ll do it for free, or pick up a DIY kit from your local hardware store.
A prewash is important because it removes the worst of the the soil from diapers (use the quickest setting on your washer and cold water) — that way, the water in the main wash isn’t so dirty. The main wash is where the heavy cleaning takes place (use the longest cycle and hot water). Don’t do extra rinses (unless your water is very soft) because it can cause mineral build up.
Agitation is an important part of cleaning, so the diapers need to have enough water that they’re able to move freely, but not so much water that they’re swimming rather than agitating against each other (if necessary you can add towels or other baby laundry to the mix to make a big enough load after the prewash). First do a prewash with a small amount of detergent. Next, do the main wash with a full measure of detergent.
You can machine dry or line dry as you like. Line drying saves on energy costs and can reduce wear and tear on diapers in the long term. Machine drying is more convenient and leaves natural fiber diapers much softer. The sun naturally bleaches out any lingering stains (especially those yellow stains from exclusively breastfed babies). It is best to prevent elastics from getting stretched out by not using the snaps on the diapers to hook them to other diapers, the weight of which will pull on the elastic.