The Complete Guide To Buying & Caring For Baby Clothes

As a new parent, there are many new things you’ll need to learn about, and even before your little one is born it’s a good idea to brush up on the basics and common issues that revolve around baby clothing.

Clearly buying – and then later caring for – baby clothes isn’t the same as for adult clothing, which is why it can be helpful to understand some basic information around things like sizing, what to wear (and what not to) in different seasons, and how best to clean, dry and store your little one’s garments.

The Basics Of Baby Clothes

Washing Temperature For Baby Clothes

If you are washing re-suable diapers, then it’s best to use hot water as this will kill most of the bacteria.

For everything else, it’s better to use cold or warm water (typically between 20°C to 40°C).

A cooler cycle is not only a better option for the environment, but it will also clean the items while keeping them soft (more on this below).

Having said that, the best place to start is usually to look at the care label on the garment, which should list the manufacturer’s recommended temperature.

woman holding up onesie

Fabric Softener

There is conflicting advice on whether to use fabric softener when cleaning baby clothes.

While the brand owners naturally want parents to use fabric softener to increase sales, many experts warn that using softener can irritate your baby’s skin and reduce the fire-resistant properties of the fabric.

If you do want to use a softener, it’s best to only use a baby-friendly softener and carefully check the care instructions as there may be a specific warning advising against the use of softener.

Keep in mind that if you wash your baby clothes at a low temperature using liquid detergent, and let them dry naturally without using a drier (more on this later), they should remain soft time after time even if you don’t use softener.

Should You Wash Baby Clothes Separately?

Assuming you don’t use a detergent specially designed for baby clothes, you will probably want to clean your baby’s clothes with the rest of the family’s laundry, but is it necessary to wash baby clothes separately?

While some parents do opt for separate cycles, many moms and dads (ourselves included) clean their baby clothes with all their other laundry.

Just remember to separate the whites from the colors, use a gentle cycle and follow any drying instructions found on the label and you should be good to go.

Organic Cotton

When it comes to material, the most popular choice to make baby clothes is typically cotton, because it is natural, soft, breathable, washable, and durable.

Parents should keep in mind that not all cotton is created equal – or to be more specific – organic cotton is a better choice for baby clothes.

The reason for this is because, unlike conventional cotton, organic cotton is not produced using harmful toxins, chemicals, and pesticides, so it’s more gentle for sensitive skin.

assortment of baby clothes

Organic cotton is usually more durable, better for a baby’s skin, has a lower environmental impact and is softer and more comfortable, although as organic is more expensive to produce, it naturally commands a higher retail price compared to similar items made with conventional cotton.

Washing Before Use

It is strongly recommended to wash brand-new AND second-hand baby clothes before use.

Brand new baby clothes have probably been stored in a warehouse before they were shipped to the shop, and at these warehouses, they may have been in contact with bugs, rodents, and other nasties, and if not, they will probably at the least have collected dust or other dirt particles.

Second-hand clothes might look clean, but even if they were washed after their last use these clothes could have been sitting in storage for a long time collecting dust, so although they may look and smell clean, it’s still best to clean them too before adding them to your little one’s wardrobe.

Newborn Clothing

Leaving Hospital

When the time comes to leave the hospital, you’re probably going to want to dress your newborn in clothes that are light, breathable, and easy to get on and off.

The general rule when dressing a baby is to dress them in one more layer than you would wear, but you should of course also be guided by the outside temperature and use common sense.

In summer, you’re likely to find that having the following list of items will ensure your baby is at the right temperature, both outside and in air-conditioned spaces:

  • Short-sleeved onesie
  • Long-sleeved onesie
  • Socks
  • Hat
  • Blankets

For winter babies, having the option of multiple layers will help ensure your baby is the right temperature both indoors and outdoors, so you’ll probably need:

  • Long-sleeved Onesie
  • Diaper Shirt / Under Shirt
  • Hats
  • Socks
  • Booties
  • Mittens
  • Blankets
  • Winter Car Seat Cover

Longevity Of Newborn Clothing

There is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to how long your baby will wear newborn clothing.

Some of the key factors that determine the answer include:

  • Full Term vs Premature: If your baby is born preterm, which is before 37 weeks, they may not actually fit newborn clothing at first. This was the case with my daughter, and in this instance you will need to dress them in preemie clothes at birth, following which they will move on to newborn clothing after a few weeks once they gain more weight. If your baby is born between 37 and 41 weeks and is around the average weight of 7 lbs, then you can expect to get anywhere from 3-6 weeks of use before your little one outgrows the items. Full-term babies that are bigger than average may only fit into newborn clothes for an even shorter period (see below).
  • Size & Weight: If your baby is around 7lbs at birth, they may fit into newborn clothing from the time they leave the hospital to up to 6 weeks or more. But if on the other hand, your baby is born on the bigger side, for example, 8-9lbs, they may only fit into these clothes for 1-2 weeks, or sometimes not at all (in which case you’ll need to move straight onto 0-3 months clothing).
  • How Fast They Grow: From birth to 6 months, you can expect your baby to grow 1/2 to 1 inch per month and gain 5-7 ounces per week! As with any average, there are of course some babies that grow faster than this, and some that grow at a slower rate. But if your little one is a normal birth weight and happens to grow faster than average, you can expect them to outgrow newborn clothing pretty quickly.
  • Brand: Some brands will run much larger than others, so keep this additional complication in mind when shopping for clothes.
  • Style & Fit: Both the style and fit of clothes can impact how much wear you get out of them. If you like to see your baby in snug clothing, they may get less life out of the items vs styles that are meant to be looser, such as a (relatively) baggy cardigan or sweater.

Baby Accessories


As a newborn is not able to walk, crawl or even move around, the reason for them wearing socks will be different to older babies and adults.

For a newborn, socks serve one main purpose – to prevent their tiny feet from getting cold, so in winter you might want to put on a nice pair of warm, soft socks to keep them cozy.

In summer and hotter weather, there is less of a need for your newborn to wear socks, particularly as you want to avoid overheating, although as babies have very sensitive skin, on a sunny day you might want to still put on a pair of thin socks on your little one to protect against sunburn.

As a parent, it can be very frustrating if you’re trying to keep your little one’s feet warm and snug but they keep kicking off or taking off their socks by themselves.

5 great tips that we’ve found helpful in keeping your baby’s socks on include:

  • Using footed clothes with in-built “socks”.
  • Use sock-staying products like Sock-Ons, which “lock” your baby’s socks on around the heel.
  • Booties, which provide warmth, comfort and safety to your child, but unlike socks they are less likely to come off.
  • Kick-proof socks, which typically have elastic that keeps the socks in place and make them harder to pull off.


Babies don’t need to wear hard-soled shoes until they start walking confidently, which could be anywhere between 9 to 18 months of age depending on your baby’s development.

pair of small baby boots

Parents should note there are drawbacks to dressing a baby in shoes too early – if you put your little one in a pair when they’re just learning to walk, a shoe with inflexible soles will make it difficult for your baby to learn to move their feet properly.

The advice from pediatricians is therefore for infants to learn to walk barefoot, which will help strengthen their muscles and help your little one develop their balance.

When it comes to choosing baby shoes, parents should consider things like how hot or cold the weather typically is, the conditions your little one will be walking in, how easy the shoes are to take on and off (the harder to take off, the higher the chances of them staying on!), and of course your budget.

The overall fit of a baby or toddler’s shoes should be quite snug but also comfortable, with some excess room at the front so your child can easily wiggle their toes.

A good tip is there should be around one finger’s width between the toes and the front of the shoe, which equates to around 3/4 of an inch of extra room in the shoe.

To ensure the width is correct, there should also be a little bit of extra space on either side of your child’s foot.


Many parents wonder if newborns need hats, and the answer isn’t completely straightforward as it depends on where you’re talking about.


In hospital, newborns should wear hats to prevent excessive heat loss as they transition from the cozy environment of the womb to the outside world.

At Home

Once your newborn baby leaves the hospital and is in the comfort of their new home, there is no need for them to wear a hat provided your home is not excessively cool.


The decision whether to dress a newborn in a hat when outside will largely come down to the external air temperature.

A good rule to follow to determine whether your baby needs to wear one outside is if the outside temperature feels even a little cool to you, then there’s a good chance your newborn should wear one.

During colder months, a baby’s head should therefore be covered when outdoors to prevent too much heat from escaping from their body.

In the summer months, a baby won’t need to wear a hat for warmth, but it’s a good idea to dress your baby in a thin sun hat to protect their delicate skin from the sun.


If you are unsure how to dry baby clothes then welcome to the club, because this is one of the common clothes-related questions among new parents.

mom putting baby clothes into tumble drier

Some helpful tips that I swear by and know a lot of other parents do too include :

  1. Read the care label and identify the fabric as a starting point.
  2. Avoid twisting and wringing, as this can damage the fabrics.
  3. Use sunshine to dry whites, as this acts as a natural bleach and can help make the clothes whiter.
  4. On the flip side, avoid the sun for non-whites, as it can fade colors.
  5. If drying naturally, encourage air circulation
  6. If using a dryer, use a low heat setting: “tumble dry low” means you should dry your item on a low heat setting in your dryer, which is typically around 125 degrees Fahrenheit (50 degrees Celsius). This setting is designed for items that are made from delicate fabrics and will help ensure the clothes retain their fit and don’t shrink, which can be an issue if items are dried at too high a heat.

Saving Space

With all the toys, accessories, and other gear that babies accumulate, it’s easy to run out of space.

The good news is you don’t necessarily have to have a closet, and even if you do have one, there are other places to efficiently store baby clothes such as:

  • The back or the door.
  • Underneath the crib.
  • Using clothes rods and baskets (great for loose items like blankets, bibs and swim diapers).
  • Using loose furniture like dressers, bookcases and rolling carts.
  • Putting seasonal clothing into storage such as your attic.


Most parents get through an astonishing 3,000 diaper changes in the first year alone, so no guide on baby clothing would be complete without a section on diapers (or nappies as they are also called).

The best way to stop a diaper from leaking is to ensure the fit is correct – look for the following in your bid for a correct fit:

  • The diaper closes easily without having to pull the tabs too tightly – if you need to pull the tabs towards the belly button then the diaper may be too big; if the closure tabs are too close to your child’s hips, the diaper may be too small.
  • The waistband and thigh cuffs appear snug, with no gaps around the edges, but with enough room for you to fit one or two fingers underneath.
  • Your baby’s bottom and belly button are covered.
  • There are no red marks around your baby’s legs or waist.

woman putting diaper on baby

If you’re not 100% sure if your baby’s diaper is ready for a change, then it’s good to know these five signs as they’ll help confirm whether a change is necessary:

  1. Pat or squeeze the front of the diaper – if it feels squishy, or appears full or “padded out” compared to a fresh diaper, then it’s time for a change.
  2. The smell check, which is pretty self-explanatory.
  3. The butt of thigh check, which involves looking inside their diaper to check what the situation is (this can be done via the front by pulling the diaper away from your child’s bottom, or by pulling it away from their thigh).
  4. Checking the wetness indicator – many disposable diapers contain an indicator that turns a particular color when wet.
  5. Making a decision based on when the last diaper change was.

Many parents insist that pull-ups are less absorbent than diapers, leading to more leaking and the need to clean poop stains from your baby’s clothes (more on this shortly).

The truth is that both pull-ups and diapers are made from the same multi-layer absorbent material, so in theory, this means that both have the same absorbency levels.

A leak that consists of pee is fairly easy to clean up, but those dreaded diaper explosions are another story.

It’s therefore worth every parent knowing how to remove poop stains from clothing.

If you act quickly, use a stain remover and wash the item in your washing machine on a warm setting, and allow the clothes to dry naturally, there’s a good chance the stain will come out.

You can also try a couple of DIY methods, which are vinegar and baking soda (mix equal parts white wine vinegar / baking soda with water and spray the solution onto the stain before machine washing).

Lastly, it’s worth noting that diapers can typically be exchanged and returned from most big box retailers, provided you have the receipt and the items are in good condition and resellable.

You may or may not need proof of purchase as exceptions can be made at the manager’s discretion, although you should keep in mind that no retailer is likely to accept the return of an opened pack unless they are faulty.

Nick is a passionate dad who co-founded Rockinbaby to share his parenting journey with other new parents. He has a BSc and MBA, and works as a senior marketing professional. In his spare time Nick loves watching sports, staying fit and traveling. Learn more about Nick here.

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