Washing & Laundry Care of Reusable Cloth Nappies

There is, sadly, still the belief that washing real nappies is a major chore. For past generations washing cloth nappies tended to mean soaking in bleach, boiling on the hob and lines of nappies on the line. 

Well things have changed!

There's no getting away from the fact that reusable nappies need to be washed but it's considerably easier than you might imagine and you will, very quickly, get into a routine.

Many of the nappies on our website have laundry instructions detailed on their relevent web pages but here's more general advice on how to look after your nappies.

If you have any questions related to the care and laundering of your cloth nappies please contact us.

Prewashing

Do I need to prewash my nappies?
 

All new reusable nappies should be washed before use to increase their absorbency.

Like new towels, new nappies need to be washed through a few times to fluff them up and improve their absorbency. If baby wets in a brand new nappy the wetness will simply run off the surface rather than soaking in.

A nappy made of natural fibres (bamboo, cotton, terry towelling) will reach its maximum absorbency after about 3-4 washes, hemp may take 5-6 washes. There is no need to dry the nappies between washes.

Nappies made of man-made fabrics (micro-fibre, micro-fleece) can be washed just once or twice before first use.

Wash deep coloured nappies and white nappies separately for the first 1-2 washes to avoid colour run.

It is advisable to wash waterproof wraps before their first use to be sure that they are thoroughly clean.

Please bear in mind that nappies cannot be returned once they have been washed.

Change time

What do I do with soiled nappies?
 

OK, baby has pooped. Here's what to do.

If you are using flushable liners you simply remove the liner and the poo, as one, and flush them down the toilet. If there is any poo remaining on the nappy itself, this can be removed with a bit of toilet paper.  The nappy is now ready to be stored in a nappy bucket or waterproof bag ready for the next wash.

NB. Flushable liners (such as 'Spunlace' and 'Softy') should only be flushed one at a time. If just wet, they can be rinsed through, dried and used again. Wet-only liners can be composted.

If you are using a washable nappy liner, hold the liner over the toilet and the majority of the poo will simply fall off into the toilet. More stubborn soiling can be removed by sluicing the liner in the toilet. Washable nappy liners should be placed in the nappy bucket with the nappies ready for the next wash. Due to the watery consistency of newborn baby poo (especially with breastfed babies) the liners can be washed without removing the poo first - the poo will wash out easily during the wash cycle.

Liners, both washable and flushable, can be wetted and used as wipes. Washable fleece wipes are a great cheap and green alternative to commercial baby wipes.

Storing

How do I store dirty nappies?

Dirty nappies will need to be stored in either a lidded nappy bucket or in a waterproof nappy bag ready for the next wash.

You'll generally need to wash every 2-3 days but this will depend on how many nappies you are going through each day. If you have a newborn, using reusable nappies full time, you will probably need to wash around every day and a half. As baby gets older you won't need to change nappies so frequently and so you'll probably only need to wash once every 3 days.

Nowadays there is no need to soak your nappies; just place them in the bucket or bag and store them there, dry, until you're ready to wash. If you're using a bucket, a mesh bag will be a great help when transferring the nappies to the washing machine.

If you are using pocket nappies, you may need to pull out the insert of the nappy before it goes into the washing machine as not all cycles will agitate the inserts enough to cause them to come out on their own. Please note that Smartipants nappies have been designed specifically to allow the inserts to come out on their own.

Nappies with velcro should have 'fold-back tabs' - these prevent the velcro from sticking to other things in the wash.

Washing nappies

How do I wash my cloth nappies?

When you are ready to wash (generally when the nappy bucket is full or after a maximum of 3 days), place the nappies in the washing machine. A mesh bag contained within the bucket will make transferring the nappies easier - but make sure that the bag is left open so that the nappies can be released into the wash!

Washing instructions can differ for different nappies, and people often follow their own system but as a rule it's good practice to prewash the nappies on a cold cycle to remove the urine and any poop from the nappies, and then do a proper wash.

Generally a 40-60 degree wash is recommended (see instructions on the label for more detail) but most people do a 40 degree wash with just the occasional 60.

Use non-biological washing powder. You will only need a very small amount of washing powder (around a table-spoon is sufficient). Using too much detergent will simply make your reusable nappies stiff and the build up of residue may lead to smelly nappies and nappy rash. If you can see soap suds in the machine during the final rinse, then you have used too much powder.

We now stock Tots Bots POTION laundry powder. This has been specially designed to wash cloth nappies at lower temperatures.

You should avoid fabric conditioner when washing real nappies, as this can affect the absorbency of the nappies and may lead to skin irritations.

You can place other washing in with the nappies to avoid operating the machine on a half load. Include sheets, babygros etc in the wash.

If your real nappies have aplix (velcro), it is important to fold the tabs back on themselves, otherwise the nappies will stick to each other and to other garments in the wash.

Always wash according to manufacturer washing instructions.


How do I clean my waterproof wraps / covers?
 

Waterproof covers do not have to be washed after every use. Unless a nappy has become very wet, or the wrap has become soiled, it should only need changing after every 2-3 uses. Most wraps can be washed in the machine at a maximum of 60°C, although wherever possible it is best to wash on a cooler temperature or by hand as continued machine washing will accelerate deterioration of the fabric.

Wraps dry quickly and are best dried naturally. To avoid damaging the waterproof coating, avoid hanging them directly on radiators and do not wring them.

See manufacturers instructions.

Drying nappies

How do I dry real nappies?

Reusable nappies can be dried either on the line, in a tumble drier, over an airer or in the airing cupboard.

Line drying: the cheapest and most environmentally friendly option is to dry cloth nappies on the line. This will maximise the life of your nappies, while the sunshine will deodorise, sanitise and naturally bleach them. If you do not have a tumble dryer (or want to minimise the use of one) it's worth considering quick-drying nappies such as BumGenius V4, Tots Bots Easyfit, FLIP stay-dry, Bambinex Teddy etc. During the winter months nappies can be dried in airing cupboards, on free standing airers or airers that hang from radiators. It is not advisable to hang nappies directly on radiators as this can scorch and thus damage the fabric.

Tumble drying: putting a clean dry towel in the tumble drier with your nappies will reduce the amount of time it takes to dry them, as it will absorb some of the condensation. Dry on a low-medium heat. Try to avoid drying nappies (especially bamboo nappies) on a high heat as it can alter the texture of the fabric and may prevent the effective use of Nappi Nippas. Always tumble dry according to manufacturer instructions. Waterproof wraps (and nappies with a built-in waterproof layer) shoudl not be put in a tumble dryer as this can damage the waterproofing.

Always ensure that nappies are thoroughly dry before being stored away.

Smelly nappies?

What do I do if my reusable nappies get smelly?

Smelly nappies are only rarely an issue, but if your nappies suffer from it you’ll know about it!

The sharp ammonia smell is, in the main, as a consequence of teething. When teething, wee tends to change and can result in the build up of ammonia in the nappies.

If you're using too much washing powder this can lead to a build-up of detergent in the nappies that can 'soak up' this smell.

It’s likely to only be a temporary thing but it can last a few weeks and can come back during future teething periods, so here’s what you can do about it:

  • Give the nappies a cool wash before giving them their main wash. High temperatures can seal the smells in, so it’s a good idea to wash them on a cool setting first.
  • Cut right back on washing powder. A build-up of detergent can lead to a build-up of smells, so limit the detergent to about 1 tablespoon per wash - no more. If there are still soap suds in the wash during the final spin you have put too much powder in and need to cut down further.
  • Get the nappies out on the washing line as much as you can.
  • If you are still having stink issues, run a hot wash cycle with no detergent.
  • People have said that putting nappies out in the rain can help!


For most people, the smelly nappy issue will disappear within a couple of weeks.