Washing Cloth Nappies

How to wash cloth nappies 

The first thing to remember when starting out with cloth nappies is that washing and drying is not an exact science – everyone out there will have their own methods and tips for an effective clean and certain things that they will never do – but the important thing is not to get bamboozled by all these suggestions and to remember that there is not a great deal that can go wrong (aside from putting a woolly on a boil wash!) 

These are guidelines based on my own experience – you should always check labels first and I am afraid I cant be held responsible for any problems with your nappies – although I can *try* to help if you want to message me!  

Before you get to the washing machine 

Before your baby starts on solid food, all their waste is water soluble, so a soiled nappy can go straight into the wet bag / bucket and then into the wash.  You may want to rinse them out if you think it’s going to be a while before you’ll get to wash them or if you want to avoid stains.  Seriously – the first six months with cloth nappies is a dream!  Once you start weaning however, you will need to flush any solids down the toilet first.  During and after weaning, you might like to use either a paper or fleece liner to help dispose of poo before washing.  Fleece also helps wick moisture away from the bum so can help with rashes, too (as long as baby is not allergic). 

I’m not going to lie – weaning poo is not the greatest time for cloth nappy users!  I have a washing up bowl in the bathroom, which I used to clean the worst of it off the nappy before washing.  This means I can use the shower to spray into the bowl and then dispose of the dirty water down the toilet.  Its not particularly pretty but sadly poo is just part of parenting no matter what type of nappy you choose to use.  Some people like to use a knife or spoon to scrape the offending excrement into the bog instead…!  (Pure glamour) 

Once this is dealt with the nappy can sit in your wet bag or bucket until wash day.

Storing your dirty nappies 

You can either use a wet bag or a bucket or a plain old laundry bin to store your dirty nappies until you get around to washing them. You will not want to leave them more than a 2-3 days no matter how many nappies you have, unless you’ve given them a bit of a pre rinse first or in exceptional circumstances.  If you have between 20 and 30 nappies you can probably get away with washing just a couple of times a week, or every 2-3 days.  Less than that and you will have to wash more frequently.   

A wet bag is just a waterproof bag with a zip that you can hang up next to your changing station and once emptied, you can chuck it in the wash with your nappies.  A bucket does the same job but you need to give it a wipe around each time you empty it to avoid a build up of ammonia.  

Wet bags also work great in your change bag, so you may want to get your hands on a few small bags that you can have on rotation for out and about, too. You will want two at home so that you can have one in the wash and one on the go at all times.

Actual washing!

Your nappies will need to go on a separate rinse cycle before the main wash.  This is so that they can have a preliminary wash and the machine will drain out the dirty water before starting again.  A fifteen to twenty minute cycle is just fine. There’s no need to add any detergent for this; just plain water will do the job. 

Next put them on a long wash cycle with your usual non-bio detergent and lots of water (not an eco setting).  You can add any other small items you’d like to wash but be careful not to overload your machine – the nappies need space to move around in the drum.  

You can choose whether you’d like to wash at 40 or 60 degrees, but there are a few instances where 60 is definitely preferable: 

  • When your baby is less than three months old

  • If your baby has experienced an unusual or persistent rash

  • Your baby has been unwell  (or had the rotavirus vaccine)

  • You are sharing the nappies with more than one baby

If you find there are lots of bubbles left at the end of the cycle, try another cold rinse and reduce the amount of powder you use the next time.

There are a few basic rules that should be adhered to: 

  • Harsh stain removers such as Vanish, Napisan, bicarbonate of soda and / or vinegar, or bleach should be avoided.  To use these products risks damaging the fibres of your nappies (especially bamboo) and they should definitely not be used on wool.

  • Fabric conditioner should also be avoided as it can reduce absorbency.

  • Eco eggs should not be used on their own as they do not effectively remove bacteria.  Give them some back up with a scoop of powder such as MioFresh if you can or wash at 60.

  • Try not to lay nappies directly on a radiator as the intense heat can damage natural fibres and PUL fabrics.

  • The brand Ecover is not generally recommended nor is liquid detergents.  Non-bio powder is generally considered the most effective cleaning agent.

  • Do not wash over 60 degrees. 


Line drying is preferable but nappies can generally be tumbled on low if needed.  Like anything, frequent tumble-drying will degrade the fabrics of the nappies and is not recommended if you would like your nappies to have a long and useful life.  Always check the label first and never tumble wool. 

Some people use heated airers with great success, but these are in no way essential.  If you are short on drying space, you may want to consider flats, pre-folds, or microfibre nappies as they dry very quickly.  


Stinks and stains

 With a good wash routine, stinks and stains should be avoided. If however, you find you have nappies that stink on removal from the machine, or after a short period of wear, there are a few things you can try: 

  • Is it teething wee?  There are occasions when babies do horrendous smelling wee – it could be just down to this so give this some consideration before doing anything drastic with your nappies.  I swear that in recent years we have kind of forgotten that wee sometimes smells – disposable nappy manufacturers have done such a good job in disguising it for us!  It might just be time to change the nappy.  Charcoal boosters can also help with the stink.

  • Have you been using the right amount of detergent? First of all, try increasing the amount of detergent you use and rinsing until all the bubbles have gone.

  • If this doesn’t work, try soaking the nappies for 24 hours in clean water before washing again, or try a full cycle with no detergent before your normal wash.

  • If your normal detergent just isn’t cutting it, you can get specific brands such as Mio Fresh that you can add to your wash to improve cleaning performance.

  • A hotter wash may help – if you normally wash at 40, try 60 for one or two cycles.

  • If you are struggling with stains, first of all try adjusting your wash routine - stains shouldn’t occur if your nappies are properly cleaned.  If you feel you are washing well, but still not winning, the sun will bleach out any stains, even on a cold day and through a window.  Just leave the nappies out and watch it work its magic.

  • Some people swear by leaving nappies out in the rain and bringing them in for another wash.  I think this is just as above, the same as washing with no powder for one cycle.  But if it works, it works! And it will certainly happen once or twice anyway, so you might as well go with it ;)

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