How To Wash Cloth Nappies
One of the biggest worries when thinking about making the switch from single-use nappies to reusable nappies is the washing. Most parents gasp at the thought of more laundry loads each week, a lot of people imagine that I must be scrubbing my cloth nappies to get the stains out or that they need soaking in a bath for days prior to going into the machine. I promise you this much, none of this is true. There is nothing difficult about using and washing cloth nappies, they are no different from clothes and you will not need to be tackling it every day either. In fact, I find using and washing my reusables a joy.
Ok, so on to what you will need to wash cloth nappies:
- Non-bio washing powder
- A washing machine
That. Is. It.
We use non-bio in order to protect the bamboo and cotton fabrics as biological powder contains an enzyme that can be damaging to these fibres. We don’t use a laundry conditioner because this affects the absorbency of the reusable/cloth nappies (like it does with towels). A product such as the Ecoegg isn’t recommended for cloth nappies as it isn’t quite tough enough on cleaning and faecal particles can get caught in the centre.
The only part that you may want to tweak will be what wash you do your nappies on. Every machine is different and you may need to work out which cycle is your best wash, which will bring your nappies up the cleanest and which is most effective for you both in terms of performance and for your routine.
How I Wash My Cloth Nappies
I do a wash 2 or 3 times a week. When we have a dirty nappy it is simply placed inside my nappy bin until it is full enough for a load.
I use Persil non-bio detergent but I have also previously used Bambino Mio Miocare Washing Powder which is specifically designed for cloth nappies. I follow the amounts stated on the box (I am in a very hard water area which has horrible effects on my clothes etc)
**My machine at the time of writing this was around 10 years old and not an eco machine**
I start with a cold rinse, no detergent. This is 22 minutes long on my machine. This rinse will remove the bulk of the waste and this is taken away from the washing machine. It is essential that you do this otherwise you will be washing your nappies in dirt as during a wash the water isn’t fully removed.
I then use my best 40° wash on my machine. Mine runs for 2 hours 42 minutes and this is my longest wash cycle that my machine has. This may sound like a long time but I have now got into the habit of doing the rinse and then putting the wash on before I go off and do something or before I go out.
That is all I do. This personally works well for us, I am never bogged down with nappy washes, my nappies come out perfectly clean and doing this a couple of times a week doesn’t impact on my life with 2 kids, a dog and a busy household.
**update: since purchasing the eco-bubble washing machine I now have a new routine:
I now use a daily wash on 20° instead of a rinse cycle. This is still the “rinse” and I do not add powder at this stage. The reason for using this is because as an eco machine it uses far less water than an older machine so I found that it didn’t provide enough in the rinse option to the job effectively enough for the reusable nappies. I then do my main wash on the baby care cycle at 60° and add the bubble soak option. This method gives me beautifully clean cloth nappies.
How Others Wash Their Cloth Nappies
Of course, not everyone will wash their cloth nappies in the same way and, as I said above, this may depend on the type of washing machine and it may also depend on how often they wash etc.
Those who don’t use a 40° usually use a 60° as their standard wash.
You will want/need to do this wash if:
- Your baby is under 3 months
- Your baby has sensitive skin/prone to rashes
- You live in communal areas
- You have more than one baby using the same nappies
- Your baby is unwell
- The brand states that you need to
- The machine isn’t performing well enough on a 40° wash
Don’t I Need To Boil Wash Them?
Needing to boil wash or going for 90° is a cloth nappy myth and your nappies will not thank you for it! This will lead to many issues including damage to the PUL, elastics, fastenings and other materials. Once upon a time, boil-washing reusable nappies was the norm but modern cloth nappies have come a long way since the terry towel days and they do not require soaking, bleaching or boil washes.
Some people do like to do an extra rinse cycle at the end in order to remove any residual detergent. If you have time this is a sensible thing to do every now and then as detergent build-up will reduce the absorbency of your nappies and can also cause nappy rash. Which goes on nicely to my next point…
Strip Washing Nappies
What is strip washing? Strip washing nappies is removing that build-up or detergent or perhaps of bacteria, fungal spores and so on. You may find that you’ll need to do this more often in a hard water area due to the build-up it brings (damn you hard water!) or if your little one keeps getting ill, if they are teething (the saliva can make the urine really stink) or if they are continually getting a nappy rash– most cloth nappy children do not suffer from nappy rash so if they start to get rashes it is usually an indication that something is wrong.
- Rinse cycle.
- Wash on 60° with a full dose of detergent on your best wash. If you have super rinse choose this option also.
- Wash on 60° with no detergent.
- Rinse cycle again. If you continue to see bubbles of detergent give it another rinse to fully remove this build-up.
Drying Your Cloth Nappies
The best way to dry your nappies would ideally be out on a washing line. They dry quickly this way and they also get aired at the same time. I usually dry mine in our spare bedroom though because let’s face it, we can’t ever guarantee the British weather! I use clothes airers and allow them to dry in their own time. I have used a radiator in the past and as long as the heat is quite low, you should be ok. I have also used tumble driers on holiday and even though it isn’t recommended as a common practice I personally didn’t see any issues over the two weeks in Florida and my TotsBots Bamboozles (nighttime nappies) came out really soft and fluffy. Also, not everyone has the option of drying in their rooms and a tumble drier is the only solution. The only thing I can say is that over time you will most probably see wear and possibly increased leaks due to the heat damaging the fibres and PUL.
Other options are to dry over a bath, in an airing cupboard, over an AGA, installing a ceiling airer or terry towels and pre-folds can be ironed dry (no other makes can be though). For more tips on drying cloth nappies in the winter check out this post.
Cleaning Your Machine
You should ideally be cleaning your washing machine once a month– even if you aren’t a cloth nappy user!
A simple method is:
- Wipe the door inside and the rubber seals with warm soapy water to remove any stubborn residue, limescale or detergent.
- Wash out the drawer using warm soapy water.
- Clean the filter.
- Add 1 cup of white vinegar in the drawer.
- Sprinkle bicarbonate of soda inside the drum.
- Put your machine on a hot wash.
Voila, one sparkling clean machine.
If you have limescale issues as I do, then simply do a wash using citric acid. This is a natural de-scaler and is gentle on your appliances.
I hope that has made things a lot clearer and helped you to decide on how to wash your cloth nappies. Maybe you have other tricks or tips for me? Let me know because I am constantly learning too.
*This article contains Amazon Affiliate links. For further information please refer to my disclosure page.
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5 thoughts on “How To Wash Cloth Nappies”
Brilliant article and shows how easy cloth nappies are to wash. I used to add a couple of drops of tea tree oil into my nappy bucket too. Off to share this widely now 🙂
I have been following your washing routine for a year and I don’t think its working could you help?
I’ve done exactly what you say, i clean my machine regularly too, and even wash at 60. Doing an extra rinse at the end doesn’t seem to make much difference but I’ve done it when increasing my detergent to try and get my nappies to stop smelling.
My problem is that my son has had thrush 4 times which I can’t clear up unless I take him out cloth nappies. If I keep him cloth when he gets thrush then the fungal treatment doesn’t work and it gets infected!
I feel so guilty. I know its the nappies because every few months I really notice a smell. They don’t smell bad, just a little bit, enough that i notice when they come out. I’ve started doing a main wash twice to make them smell fresher. But that’s not good for the environment at all surely !?
I wash every 2 days and use the same nappies as u, baba and boo, totsbots and some bumgenius too.
Wondering if you could help seeing as it’s your routine I’ve followed…
Getting tempted to swap to bio and try and different routine. Do you think that is a bad idea as you’ve said to only use non bio?
Has bio detergent been tested at all? If so by who? Just wondering where nappy info comes from and if its just me struggling.
I have massive mum guilt from my son getting thrush so much and tempted to just quit and use disposables.
I thought the bambino mio was awful so using persil like you said even though this doesn’t seem like an eco-friendly product either. I am vegan so it’s already upsetting to be using a not cruelty free brand.
Would appreciate if you could recommend a suitable alternative.
Hi Jenny, oh goodness I am so sorry you’ve been having such a tough time with it all. Can I ask have you performed the strip wash after each bout of thrush? This will help to remove any buildup which could well be leading to the issues. I would also (if you haven’t) definitely seek medical advice for the thrush and just check if there is something causing it and see what a GP recommends.
Please don’t feel guilty for trying and hitting problems, honestly there could be several factors here which can be ironed out. The water condition in your area can play a part. I have hard water so I have to use a large dose of washing powder and a long wash to get mine clean. I also find if I over fill the drum, they don’t have the space to become agitated enough so they don’t clean as well. 3/4 full is perfect for us and our machine. I updated the post with the fact I have since changed washing machines and that I now have to wash on a 60 rather than a 40 as it is an eco machine and uses less water, if yours is the same you may be finding this too. It is great that machines are becoming more eco friendly but it’s not great for nappy washing as they need that water to really clean deep down. My machine has the option of a bubble soak too and I add this as well as this gets them sparkling white. My old machine clearly used a lot more water and performed well on a 40 so this just goes to show that it can really depend on what your machine offers you.
I have read from nappy brands that bio powder breaks down the nappy and they don’t recommend using it. I do know that some Facebook groups recommend it and it is a personal choice as to what you use but if you don’t want to void any guarantees, I would follow the nappy brand’s advice.
Again, detergent comes down to personal preference, eco eggs however are not recommended and I have also heard that other eco brands just aren’t enough to tackle cloth nappies. Most cloth nappy Mums tend to use a powder you can find in the supermarket aisles from what I have read.
I would definitely start with a strip wash, I would see how clean they come out after that and if you still see bubbles, keep rinsing. If you are very concerned, you can contact the brands for advice too, Baba and Boo have a fantastic customer service team who are always more than happy to help and as they make them, they will have more experience than me. There is more advice on websites like The Nappy Gurus, The Nappy Lady and if you have a local nappy library they may be able to take a look at your nappies in person? I hope you can find a solution.
Thanks for replying. I have strip washed many times and feel like they’re clean but they just keep getting bad again which is why I thought it was the wash routine. Have been to the doctors load of times and saw a specialist who said there wasn’t any medical problem. Before it comes back, it starts to get red in the morning which is when he wears the nappy the longest.
Because the smell comes back too it seems that it must be the nappies getting an ammonia build up.
I have tried the things you said, I don’t think I have an eco washing machine but I use plenty of detergent and never under fill or over fill. I’m still doing a cold rinse and wondering if maybe that isn’t doing anything.
I asked the nappy lady group and they said to change detergent and strip washed. Someone also said use bio and someone said silk liners.
I thought tht enzymes are for breaking down food, like in your body? Not sure why they would harm nappies if they are not harming clothes. I’ve never used it before cos too scared cos I have very sensitive skin.
My nappies were all second hand, most velcro on totsbots is already not very sticky so not sure if it would have a warranty?
Just wsd thinking of trying ecover bio or maybe splosh or smol to see if it helped get them clean.
How often is it OK to strip washed them? If I have to do it a lot does that mean by washing routine isn’t right?
Ahh ok if they are secondhand I am not sure about warranties with them but as I say, Baba and Boo are fantastic and always willing to help as are Totsbots. Also if they were secondhand, perhaps the previous owners didn’t perform a good strip wash before selling them on? I think you can strip wash as often as you need to, I know I did it quite a lot when William was ill once as I just wanted to ensure they had a deep clean but it shouldn’t be apart of your weekly wash to should just be done when something is wrong. I haven’t used any of those washing powders so I can’t personally comment on how good they are but it is always worth a try. It can be the case of trial and error sometimes to work out what works for you. Liners will help to keep the nappy cleaner so you may then get a better result from that, I would definitely take their comments on board especially if you got advice from the staff there? You could also email The Nappy Lady herself for advice as she has years and years of experience.