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What to Do If You Accidentally Run a Disposable Diaper Through the Washing Machine

Not all is lost.

My 2-year-old daughter was trying to be helpful — I’ll give her that. Every night before bath time, she knows to put her dirty clothes in the laundry basket, which she usually does diligently. What she didn’t notice on this particular evening, however, was that she accidentally left a disposable pull-up diaper entwined in her pants. Unfortunately, this diaper stowaway managed to get past me too as I loaded the washing machine a few nights later.

Now as any parent who’s ever forgotten to change a baby’s diaper knows: Diapers don’t hold all the pee in the world. Even the most absorbent ones eventually become so saturated that they burst open, leaving the baby a sticky mess of gel pellets and crystals made of Super Absorbent Polymer (SAP). According to Pampers spokesperson Laura Dressman: “The core of the diaper contains an absorbent gelling material that’s used to absorb wetness and help keep your baby dry. The dry particles form a gel as they absorb liquid and can retain up to 30 times their weight in liquid as they lock away the wetness.” It’s all reportedly safe and non-toxic, but it’s not fun to clean up and one quickly learns that the easiest way to avoid doing so is by being a better parent and/or changing your kid’s diaper more frequently.

When said disposable diapers or pull-ups land in the washing machine, however… good lord, buckle up. We discovered that the entire load of clothes was covered in gelatinous beads, and it looked as if my daughter had accidentally left a box of Kleenex in one of her pockets. The pellets didn’t easily brush off, and there were piles of crystalline goop throughout the machine ⏤ enough that I was certain we had done irreparable damage.

Thankfully, we had not. The ‘disaster,’ it turned out, actually appeared far worse than it was. There was little reason to panic and getting the clothes and washer back into shape, while time-consuming, wasn’t hard. Here’s what you need to do if it happens to you, in three (or four) easy steps.

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If a Disposable Diaper Ends Up in the Washing Machine:

1) Take All Clothes and Shake Them Outside

After carefully discarding any larger chunks of the diaper, take the clothes outside (do not do this inside unless you want to cover the room) and give each item a vigorous shake ⏤ as if you were cleaning a rug. Be forewarned, though, you will end up covering yourself in the gel. It will rain down on you. Either plan to shower afterward or opt instead to scrape the beads off in a more controlled manner.

2) Carefully Wipe Down the Entire Machine

Using paper towels, clean out the clumps of pellets in the washing machine. Naturally, some will remain but don’t worry ⏤ just focus on getting the big stuff. “We recommend running the rinse cycle once or twice without any laundry in the machine,” says Dressman. “The particles will break down with agitation.”

3) Wash ’Em Again 

Now you have two options: Throw the now-shaken laundry back into the machine with detergent for another full wash ⏤ which is what Huggies recommends ⏤ or toss them straight in the dryer, which is what Pampers customer service advises. According to Pampers, the heat will dry the beads up, and they’ll naturally find their way to the lint trap without doing damage to the machine. We decided to err on the side of caution and ran the clothes through another washing cycle, which both helped clean out the machine and left the clothes bead-free before going into the drier.