If there's one thing that we're all in agreement about, it's that washing nappies should be EASY. Reusable nappies are becoming more popular by the day, with many parents turning to them for environmental reasons. With the added benefits of reducing nappy rash and saving £££'s, it's easy to see why they are gaining popularity FAST.
It really is as simple as popping them in the washing machine and walking away, we're not kidding! Here's our step-by-step guide to washing cloth nappies:
If your child is exclusively milk fed then there is no need to dispose of the poo as it is water soluble.
If your baby is weaned/weaning you should dispose of excess poo down the toilet. (spoiler: this should be done for disposables too!)
Put all nappies, wipes and wet bags into the washing machine and run a cold rinse with no detergent. The only goal of this stage is to remove excess wee/poo.
If you don't have many nappies, feel free to top up with clothes at this point, the drum should be 2/3 to 3/4 full. Use a a full dose* of non-bio powder detergent, do not use fabric softener. Put the nappies on a 60c wash for around 2-3 hours, usually the cottons cycle on your machine is great for this.
*please read our detergent guide below to work this out.
Most people choose to air-dry their nappies, but you can also tumble dry them on low/gentle if you don't have the space for this. Don't place the PUL/TPU (plastic wrap material) directly on any heat source (such as a radiator) as it could melt.
If you find air drying is taking too long then here's a few ideas to help speed things up:
- Use a heated airer, they cost approx. 4p/hour to run and help to heat up your home too! Speed up drying further by placing a fitted sheet over the top.
- Place a standard airer next to a radiator, perhaps even with a fitted sheet over the two to form a makeshift heated airer.
- Use a dehumidifier, particularly useful if you have an older house that gets quite damp.
You should use a standard powder detergent (bio or non-bio) to clean your nappies. Any main brand/supermarket version will do such as Asda, Ariel, Morrisons, Fairy etc.
When working out a dose, you need to account for three things:
- Water hardness
- you can find your water hardness here
- Heavy soiling
- nappies are very heavily soiled
- Drum size
- modern machines are larger
Wash at 60°c with non bio, or 40°c with bio. This is because the enzymes in bio powder denature if they get too hot, resulting in a less effective detergent. It is recommended to wash at 60 with non-bio for newborn babies.
On the side of your detergent box there should be a dosage chart like the one shown, the quantities will vary so please refer to yours. According to this box, if I wanted to wash my nappies in a hard water area with a 7kg washing machine, I would need 205ml of powder per wash. This is 170ml for hard water, heavily soiled clothes and an additional 35ml for a 7kg load.
I think I have detergent build up?
In soft water areas this is entirely possible, signs of detergent build up include a very bubbly final rinse, loss of absorbency, smelly nappies and stiff fabrics. You can remedy this with back-to-back rinse cycles until the bubbles clear. try and lower your dose incrementally until you find that there are no excess suds in the final rinse.
In hard water areas, detergent build up is highly unlikely as the high levels of minerals present in the water use up a lot of the detergent, leaving only some detergent left to clean the nappies. By lowering your dose it is unlikely that any detergent will reach the nappies at all, causing stinks and stains that develop over time. If your nappies are smelling it is probably due to too little detergent or not enough water, check our detergent guide above to see how much you should be using.
Does the poo go in the machine?
If baby is exclusively milk-fed then yes, it is harmless and entirely water-soluble. If baby is weaning or eating any foods then you should dispose of poo in the toilet first (spoiler - this should be done for disposables too), then place the nappy in the bucket/wet bag ready for wash day. You can use reusable/disposable liners to make the job easier if you wish.
Why rinse the nappies first?
Rinsing the nappies gets rid of the majority of the wee/leftover poo before the main wash begins, allowing the nappies to be washed in cleaner water as often washing machines can recycle the original water for the majority of the wash. If you are adding other items such as clothing we recommend doing this after the rinse so that they have less contact with your baby's wee/poo.
Why shouldn't I use fabric softener?
Fabric softener/conditioner is known to drastically decrease the absorbency of nappies due to it's fatty/oily nature, creating a hydrophobic coating on the nappy fibers which repels moisture. It can be hard to strip fabric softener from nappies, try two 60 degrees C washes with detergent in a row or leaving your nappies hanging out in the rain for a day or two (free rinse!)
Can I use laundry cleanser?
Laundry cleanser (such as dettol or miofresh
) on occasion is not known to harm nappies. You may want to use cleanser on preloved nappies or during illness/live vaccinations, but 60c with the correct detergent should do the job alone. Please refer to individual brand washing guidelines as using cleanser may invalidate your warranty. Note: Laundry cleanser is NOT
Can I bleach my nappies?
No! Please do not follow 'advice' regarding this, bleach is not only harmful to your nappies but also to your baby's sensitive skin, many nappy libraries have seen the detrimental effects of incorrect bleach dosing resulting in scars. If you feel that you must properly cleanse your nappies then please use a laundry cleanser instead. Bleach will invalidate your warranty, possibly burn baby's skin and also irreversibly damage the PUL and elastic in your nappies causing many leaks. It's a very dangerous substance and very tricky to dose right, combined with lots of misinformation out there, it's always best to avoid bleach. It is incredibly RARE that bleach will ever need to be used on nappies, and even then it is an absolute last resort which should be advised and checked by a professional.
Can I use a liquid/gel detergent or pods?
In soft water, liquid detergent may be okay for some. We personally have not tried this but have hear success stories with it. Be sure to check that your liquid detergent contains no softeners which will decrease nappy absorbency.
In hard water we only recommend powder detergent due to the water's high mineral content. It is best to stick to mainstream/supermarket powders rather than eco brands which don't have the same cleaning power in them.
Pods aren't typically recommended as it's almost impossible to work out the correct dosing required, as well as usually containing fabric softeners too.
Can I use bio powder instead of non-bio?
Technically, yes. We say non-bio as infants often have very sensitive skin, and non-bio cleans the nappies perfectly well at 60C. If you would prefer to wash with bio it is worth noting that the enzymes are denatured at 60C so you should wash at 40C to get the full effects. It is also worth noting that many machines won't reach the full temperature stated, so your 40C wash may be more like 32C in reality, which is another reason we recommend 60C.
Do some brands of powder work better than others?
We have personally found a difference in our hard water area but it is up to the individual user. We have struggled with the new ALDI formulation, but have spoken to others who get along just fine with it. It's completely up to you which brand of powder detergent you use, but feel free to let us know if you notice a significant difference and just try another brand to see if things improve.
I'm still having problems/my question isn't answered here.
If your question is about another aspect of cloth nappies then please check the FAQ sections of our other posts. If you still do not have an answer then please contact us
via social media or at firstname.lastname@example.org and we will try our best to reply within 48 hours.
Thank you to Sarah from Bristol Cloth Nappy Library for her advice too!