How to wash cloth nappies

Washing cloth nappies is perhaps the matter that raises the most questions. I intend to show you it doesn’t have to be that way, after all, washing nappies is and should be simple. It’s a routine that adapts to us and not the other way round. No counting bubbles in a rinse cycle and you don’t need to bow down and pray to the gods of cloth every time you wash your nappies 😉

I understand that this is a sensitive subject – our babies’ health is a delicate affair for all parents and that is why there are so many question marks and concerns over an effective wash routine. All parents want the best for their children.

Well then, let’s make cloth simple, shall we?

This is the routine I give at my workshops. It’s simple, I’ve been doing it for well over a year and above all it’s never given me any trouble. I’ve never had to “strip” wash my nappies (this has nothing to do with getting my kit off). In fact, it’s worked well for me and all the other parents who follow it. If you have an effective routine right from the start, your nappies will be properly washed.

Of course there are other routines out there and you may have one that already works for you. That’s great! If it ain’t broken, don’t fix it. This is, as I said, the one that works for us and so many other families and I’ll explain why! You do you, always 😊

Cloth nappies are just very dirty clothes. We are talking about human waste here. So let’s get washing. Using what? Plenty of water, detergent in the right amount and high temperatures. These three factors will ensure a proper wash, as well as the mechanical action of the nappies rubbing against one another inside the drum (they’re ever so naughty). Make sure your machine is 2/3 loaded (when nappies are wet) so there is enough room for this mechanical action to happen.

Example of a bucket and wetbag inside

If your baby drinks milk exclusively (up to 6 months) you don’t need to do ANYTHING to the nappies. When you change your baby, simply put them inside the bucket or wetbag until wash day. I recommend that you wash them at least every two days in the summer and in the winter you can extend this to every three days. If your baby is already on solids, I advise you to use a liner. Trust me, they seriously help. To find out more about liners click here. Plop any solids in the toilet and remove any that have been left behind with toilet paper or rinse. Place the nappy in the bucket or wetbag until wash day.

Tip: If you feel any intense smells when you change the overnight nappies, simply rinse them in cold water and wring them well before placing in the wetbag, to remove the more concentrated urine that is typical at night.

Let’s discuss the routine:

  1. Run a short cold cycle without any detergent (anything between 15 and 30 minutes). If your machine doesn’t allow for this option, simply run a rinse and spin. And why do we need this step? Well, if we have stains on our clothes, first we rinse them in cold water to keep the stain from becoming embedded in the fabric with a hot wash, right? Here, we’re doing the same thing … we’re removing any ammonia or poo particles from the nappies and preparing them for the main wash.

Do not use the pre-wash setting of your main wash as this is not only warm, most machines reuse the water from the pre-wash and that defeats the point here.

  1. At this time you can (and should) add any more clothes in order to make the most of using your machine (and to load it 2/3 full). I normally add bath towels, my baby’s bed linen, pyjamas, underwear, some of his bodies, etc… Run a long cycle, the longest you have, at either 40ºC or 60ºC , using detergent (always wash at 60ºC if your baby is under three months old or if you two babies in cloth at the same time). The amount of detergent used needs to be calculated according to your machine’s load capacity and the water hardness in your area (you’ll find the dosage on the packaging). You do not need a calculator – it’s trial and error. You don’t need to stare at the machine, just let it do its own thing. The nappies should come out smelling If they smell of detergent, simply add less next time you wash. If they have a whiff of not being properly washed, add more the next time you wash. If, even so, the whiff lingers, increase the temperature (if you’re not washing at 60ºC) or consider changing detergent. The truth is we’re talking about human waste here and we need a detergent that actually WASHES. If your baby had a “poonami” and soiled his clothes, would you wash them using something you know is a lot kinder and doesn’t wash as well? Or would you wash cold or at low temperature? Probably not. The same applies here! I play it safe, it’s my baby’s health on the line.
  2. Add an extra cold rinse. During this rinse you shouldn’t see a machine filled with suds – this is a sure sign you added too much detergent. Fear not – as I stated earlier on, simply adjust the dosage in the following wash until it is spot on. I still have to make adjustments sometimes, too.
  3. Dry the nappies, preferably on a line. In the winter, our clothes horse sometimes sits in the living room. I use a “socktopus” to dry my hemp and bamboo inserts and boosters, as it really helps speed up drying time. It also helps to place them near a dehumidifer or a heater (close, but not on the heater, especially not the shells and wraps). You can tumble dry inserts (but not shells and wraps) but bear in mind this will cause greater wear and tear, as it does our clothes also.

Clothes horse

And there you have it. Simple, right?

Detergent: use that one that works, what you have at home. I prefer powder, as liquid detergents tend to have additives that can bind to or coat the fibres, affecting absorbency. I do know people who use liquid detergent and haven’t had any issues but please bear in mind the issues don’t come overnight – it could take months for them to manifest. Keep it simple- the more basic the detergent, the better. I use a conventional powder detergent that I buy a the supermarket, I’ve also used another brand of these and they both work fine. I switched to conventional detergents after using one that was sold as being specifically cloth-friendly and it simply didn’t wash my nappies. I realised this because they smelled of wee as soon as I took them out of the machine. So I bought another one and that was that!

DO NOT USE FABRIC SOFTENER, it can coat the fabrics, meaning they repel rather than absorb liquids.

Lastly, don’t overcomplicate what can be so simple… DO NOT IRON your nappies as not only can this compromise their absorbency, frankly, life’s too short to waste time ironing nappies 😉

Extra tip: to make sure there is enough water in your wash cycle, you can add wet clothes (between steps 1 and 2) so they weigh more. This applies to machines that weigh the load and adjust the cycle accordingly. Another option is to simply add water to the detergent drawer. Any questions you have, please share them on the Instagram post!