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, so cold water is all that you need. It's usually called something like 'rinse and spin' on the washing machine.
If you don't have many nappies to wash, it's best to top up with clothes and small towels at this point, the drum should be two thirds to three quarters full, basically you want a gap at the top to make sure there's room for agitation, but too empty will waste water and money which nobody wants.
Use a a full dose of powder detergent, don't scrimp - nappies are dirty so treat them like they need a good clean! Take a look at my detergent example below to work out the best dose for your machine. You can use an additional cleanser such as Bambino Mio Miofresh, but this isn't needed. Don't use any fabric softener as the oils will affect the absorbency of the nappies.
If you're using non-bio powder, then put the nappies on a 60c wash, and for bio powder, use a 40c wash. This should last for around 2-3 hours, usually the cottons/whites cycle on your machine is great for this. You'll want the wash to be bubbly during the main wash, but no foamy bubbles left on the final rinse.
Agitation bubbles are fine though - these are the bubbles that appear and pop almost immediately after the water is agitated/mixed about (like when you pour a glass of water from the tap).
Most people choose to air-dry their nappies, this will keep them lasting for a long time, save energy and protect the warranty of your nappies. There are plenty of ways to do this efficiently, line drying in summer being the most obvious. Lots of people like to buy sock hangers for easy drying, they can be placed outside in summer, or inside on a curtain rail above a radiator in winter/evenings.
Another option is a heated airer, these are inexpensive to run and also help to heat up the room as well. Place a fitted sheet over the heated airer for even faster drying.
You can tumble dry reusable nappies on low/gentle if you don't have the space for this - this is done at your own risk as most warranties don't cover tumble drying. Tumble drying may reduce the life of your nappies a little as it is quite a harsh method of drying. If you are going to tumble dry, I highly recommend only tumble drying the inserts.
Don't place the PUL/TPU (the outer waterproof layer) directly on any heat source (such as a radiator, tumble dryer, or heated airer) as it could melt. Because the wraps aren't absorbent, they will air dry in a couple of hours anyway so don't really require any heat.
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. 10p/hour to run (as of Jan 2023) and help to heat up your home too! Speed up drying further by placing a fitted sheet over the top.
- Place a standard airer near a radiator, perhaps even with a fitted sheet over the two to form a makeshift heated airer.
- Run an extra spin cycle on your machine after the nappy wash has finished, on my washing machine this costs me around 5p in electric (as of Jan 2023) per extra spin cycle.
- Use a dehumidifier, particularly useful if you have an older house that gets quite damp.
Which is the best detergent for cloth nappies?
You should use a standard boxed powder detergent (bio or non-bio) to clean your nappies. Any main brand/supermarket version will do such as Asda, Ariel, Morrisons, Fairy etc.
Liquid detergent may work in very soft water areas, but it's unlikely to work for most as it doesn't give as good of a clean as powder. Pods are never recommended as it's nearly impossible to know the exact dosage being used, resulting in too much/too little detergent, and most contain fabric softeners which affect absorbency. Both cost a fair bit more than powder so it's not really worth the risk.
'Eco' powders rarely work as well as standard detergents, so aren't recommended for reusable nappies. If you want a cruelty free/vegan formula then we recommend Co-op, Waitrose Essential or Iceland's 'Easy' brand washing powder.
When working out a dose, you need to account for three things:
Water hardness - you can find your water hardness here if you are unsure. Hard water contains more minerals so requires more detergent to offset toe effects of these minerals.
Heavy soiling - nappies are very heavily soiled, so require the largest dose of powder for your water hardness.
Drum size - modern machines are typically larger than the chart on the back of your detergent box will be calculating for. If you look below the chart, you'll often see a little sentence stating that if your machine is over 6 or 7kg, you should use a certain amount of extra powder per wash.
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 generally recommended to wash at 60 with non-bio for newborn babies and infants who have just had live vaccines.
On the side of your detergent box there should be a dosage chart like the one shown, the quantities will vary by brand so please refer to yours. If I have a 7kg machine, then according to this box of Fairy Professional that I buy from Costco, I would need:
205ml of powder for hard water and heavy soiling + an additional 40ml as my machine is over 6kg = a total dose of 245ml of powder.
I recommend measuring out the correct dose, and then drawing a line with permanent marker on the scoop/cup you will be using for the detergent, so that you can quickly fill it to the line on future washes.
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, strong scented 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. After this, try lowering your powder incrementally until you find there are no bubbles 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. Your detergent brand may have changed he formula of their powder and therefore the dosage could have changed without you noticing.
Does the poo go in the washing machine?
Don't worry, no solid poo goes in your washing machine!
If baby is exclusively milk-fed then yes the liquid poop can just be washed, it is harmless and entirely water-soluble. If baby is eating any solid foods or purees 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 or 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 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 the nappies have a good rinse first with lots of water.
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 non bio powder 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 outdated '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. Luckily bleach routines are becoming a thing of the past, so let's leave them there.
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.
Nappies washed without bleach are typically known to last many years of use and multiple babies, but nappies washed with bleach will typically be damaged beyond repair in less than a year. Bleach damage is very unique to nappies, leaving a pink/orange tinge to natural fabrics, and leaving the PUL stiff and cracked, retailers are able to spot it a mile off.
How do I remove stains from my reusable nappies?
If your nappies come out of the wash with a few stains on them, the best thing you can do is place them in the sun and let the UV rays work their magic. In the summer you'll find the stains disappear within a few hours, in winter it may take a full day. I recommend this method for any baby clothes that get stained too! Honestly, don't knock it until you try it, you'll wonder why you ever bothered with expensive stain removers!
Can I use a liquid/gel detergent or pods?
In soft water, liquid detergent may be okay for some. I personally have not tried this as we live in a hard water area, but have heard 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.
Take a look at our Nappy Advice Blog
for loads more advice on how to use reusable nappies. If you still do not have an answer then please contact us
via social media or at email@example.com and we will try our best to reply within 48 hours.
Thank you to Sarah from Bristol Cloth Nappy Library for her advice too!