Washing Guide For Cloth Nappies

We would like to begin this post by stating that these are the recommended washing guidelines for HARD WATER areas. If you are unsure of your water hardness then please check here to find out. Thank you to Sarah from Bristol Cloth Nappy Library for allowing us to share her advice.

Modern washable nappies do not have to be rinsed, scrubbed, boiled or soaked as the traditional terry squares used to be. A good wash routine is easy to get into and will prevent the most common issues of smells, stains and poor absorbency. Here we have outlined the recommended washing guidelines for hard water areas, as provided by Bristol Cloth Nappy Library.


The basic routine:

  1. Cold rinse or prewash. (30 degrees C or below)
  2. Long 40/60 degrees C wash with a full hard water/heavy soiled dose of washing powder.
  3. Air dry if possible. Items with PUL or elastic should not be exposed to direct heat. You may tumble dry items without these such as wipes, terry towels or boosters.


In more detail:

Changing: 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 must dispose of excess poo down the toilet. Now remove any inserts at this point as it is much easier to do sooner rather than later. Just lay any boosters/liners/cloth wipes inside of the nappy, and fold in the aplix (velcro) onto the laundry tabs if applicable. Then place into a wet bag or nappy bucket for safe keeping until wash time. 

Rinse: Unzip the wet bag and place into the washing machine, or empty the nappies from the bucket. Run a rinse or prewash without detergent, this should be below 30 degrees. It doesn't matter which you use, whichever your machine can do.

Main wash: If you don't have many nappies, feel free to top up with other items at this point, but don't fill the drum more than 3/4 full as the nappies need room to agitate. Use a a full hard water/soiled dose of powder detergent, and do not use fabric softener as this affects the absorbency of the nappies. Put the nappies on a long 40/60 degree C wash, we recommend a 60 degree wash at least once a month depending on individual nappy washing guidelines.

Drying: We recommend air drying everything either on a washing line or airer, but if you cannot do this then you can tumble dry everything on a low heat. Only cotton and microfiber can be tumble dried on hot.



I've read about detergent build up, why should I use a full dose of detergent? In hard water areas, detergent buildup 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. Therefore 'detergent buildup' is not applicable in hard water areas so please don't follow this advice.

Why rinse the nappies first? Rinsing the nappies gets rid of the majority of the wee/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 if known to drastically decrease the absorbency of nappies, 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 in a row or leaving your nappies hanging out in the rain.

Can I use laundry cleanser? Whist not recommended for full time use, laundry cleanser (such as dettol) on occasion is not known to harm nappies but it is ultimately your decision. You may want to use cleanser on preloved nappies or during illness/live vaccinations, but 40/60 degrees C with a full dose of powder should be adequate cleansing alone. Please refer to individual brand washing guidelines as using cleanser may invalidate your warranty. Note: Laundry cleanser is NOT bleach.

Can I bleach my nappies? No! You should absolutely never bleach your nappies under any circumstances. Please do not follow 'advice' regarding this, bleach is not only harmful to your nappies but also to your baby's sensitive skin. 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.

Can I use a liquid/gel detergent or pods? We only recommend powder detergent. Liquids, gels and pods are not as effective at cleaning nappies and often contain softeners which lower absorbency. Pods also make it difficult to know how much detergent you are using which can result in stinks/stains if not using enough, or waste money if you are using more than you need.

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. If you would prefer to wash with bio it is worth noting that the enzymes are denatured at 60 degrees C so you should wash at 40 to get the full effects (with a monthly 60 degrees wash still).

Do some brands of powder work better than others? We have not found a difference between brands personally, we love Lidl's own brand but have also had great result with Persil for example. 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.

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 thefriendlyecobristol@gmail.com and we will try our best to reply within 48 hours.


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