Hand Washing: I actually wrote a post already about how to hand wash your cloth pads. This is especially useful if you don't have a large stash or if you're a little wary about tossing in with the rest of your laundry. There is really minimal effort involved and despite the term 'hand washing' being used, it's really more soaking than actually using your hands to get them super clean. When I do choose to hand wash, I use Rockin' Green's Femme Rock formula which is specially designed for cloth pads and getting out menstrual staining.
Soaking: Some people prefer to wash all their cloth pads at once and soak them until laundry day. You can do this by putting them in a pail of water, and you even have the option to add a few drops of essential oil for any odor control you might need. Be sure to change out the water every day or two so that it doesn't become stagnant and gross. If you have a heavier cycle and go through a lot of pads each day, you may choose to dump and wash at the end of the day, or end of your cycle for those of you with a lighter period.
Dry Pail: Some people would rather just toss their pads into a dry pail or wet bag and toss into the laundry whenever it's convenient. Because I have a lighter cycle, this is usually what I do and then I toss mine in with cloth diaper laundry whenever I need those washed as well. Most cloth pads have some sort of closure method to keep them secured to your under garments and most designs allow for you to fold ends in and snap closed to contain everything in the pad. I don't do this because the last thing I want to do when I'm tossing them in the laundry is have to go through one by one to unsnap them all. I mean, if they're snapped shut, how do you expect to get them clean?
Rinsing: Depending on your cycle, or the fabrics used for your cloth pads, staining may be an issue. If this is the case you may want to rinse your pads right after using them and then continue on to either store them in a dry or wet pail until your wash them. All of my pads have a minky top layer, so staining hasn't been an issue for me.
As I mentioned above, I wash my pads with our cloth diapers. For that wash routine, they get a cold rinse to remove any excess debris and bodily fluids. I then follow with a hot/warm wash with detergent, and then an additional warm rinse to make sure all the detergent is thoroughly washed out. For drying you can either dry on a low heat in the dryer or you can hang dry in the sun, which also helps to lift any stains you may have.
- Don't use bleach on your pads! Bleach can break down the fabrics and if not rinsed thoroughly, you're putting that harmful chemical right against your sensitive skin. If you need a little help fighting stains, opt to hang dry in the sun or you can even use a small amount of an OxiClean type booster in with the detergent cycle.
- Avoid fabric softener. This can lead to a build up of residue and can cause repelling issues. The last thing you want is a leak.
- If your pads have a layer of waterproof PUL, be sure you dry them on HOT the first time. When the pads are sewn together, it leaves tiny holes in the PUL and you want to be sure they are heat sealed shut to avoid leaks in the future.
- Hydrogen peroxide also works well for lifting stains (especially blood) and is a favorite cleaning tool for midwives and nurses. ;)