To strip wash or not to strip wash? That is the question.

strip washing cloth nappiesI have a little problem with strip washing. In fact I tend to go off like a frog in a sock when I really get into a conversation about it. This is not an anti-strip washing blog, I believe that strip washing is on occasion something than should be done… but as a last resort. There are many out there that will completely disagree with me and I’m okay with that. I’ve had three kiddos in cloth fulltime and I have never strip washed a single nappy… ever! I have had leaks and absorbency issues but none of them needed a strip wash to cure it.

Okay let’s be fair…. I’m not actually against strip washing in its entirety, it does occasionally have its place. I am against many of the reasons, the frequency, the fact that is is touted as a cure all and well, the use of commercial dishwashing liquid… but I’m very happy to explain why.

Let’s go with the two most frequent reasons people tend to strip wash:

“My nappies smell”…… Nappies smell for many reasons none of which actually requires a strip wash. Nappies can smell because

1) you are using too much or too little detergent in your wash,
2) because you are not allowing the nappies to dry completely or
3) because they need nature’s deodoriser (sun and breeze).

Before strip washing have a look at your machine size and your laundry detergent of choice, read the instructions on how much to use for a full load. Always try to dry nappies on the line, in the sun if you have some for stain removal but just breeze under a patio will take care of most smells. Allow them to dry completely.

Microfiber in particular will get very smelly if not allowed to dry completely. Some pocket nappies are lined with microfiber on the inside of the pocket, if you turn them inside out you will find the microfiber will dry 100% and smells will be gone. Your inserts can safely be dried in the drier however be aware that if they are already a bit pongy then this will not eradicate the smell. You can still dry them in the dryer but hang them up in the breeze for an hour after to eradicate any lingering smells. I promise, sun and wind will make your nappies smell lovely.
“My nappies are leaking”…… This is the most cited reason for strip washing but there are so many other reasons that your nappies could be leaking. Laundry detergents that contain vast amounts of whiteners brighteners and enzyme mixtures of varying degrees and fabric softeners are not recommended for use with cloth nappies not just because they are not good for the fabrics but because they contain hordes of chemicals which are really not great for your baby’s’ skin.

The biggest culprits in a cause of build-up and a problem with absorption are commercial nappy creams. Majority of the creams and lotions you buy from the supermarket are not safe to use in your nappies. Liners do not stop this build-up as they are porous and the lotion still seeps through to the nappy. There are so many nappy safe creams and powders (and I’m a big advocate for powder) out there now that it’s really not necessary to use the chemical laden commercial creams. Even with strip washing these are almost impossible to get out and back to normal once the fabric is clogged. Many of the creams contain castor oil which is thick and gluey, it sticks and stays stuck to the fibres.

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strip wash cloth nappies

FIT Test

Ok so not everyone uses commercial creams and they still complain that their nappies are leaking. The first thing you try is the fit test.

  1.  Lay your bub down on her back and put a new nappy on, gently lift their legs up to their tummy while checking the leg holes for any gaps. No gaps?
  2. Great, with bub laying down run your fingers around the waist band of the nappy front and back, it should be firm but not tight. If you can see a gap or you are able to pull the nappy away from the skin to easily make a gap the nappy needs the waist adjusted.
  3. Next check that all the inside bits of the nappy are on the inside. You should not be able to see any of the boosters at all from the outside of the nappy, any bit however small hanging out has the potential to wick onto your babies clothing or bedding.Once you’ve tried all that and are still getting leaks try the absorption test.


Some babies wee a lot, all at once but generally never more than about 400 ml (the average adult only wee’s 500 ml at a time so 400 ml is a super heavy wetter for a baby) So open your freshly washed and dried nappies that you are getting your leaks from (you need two). Grab two small cups of water containing not more than 400 ml of water. The first cup pour it slowly onto the first nappy like a dribbly wee, watch what it does, does it absorb into the nappy? The second cup pour over pretty fast (but don’t just upend it) which is like a fast flowing wee. (Do not pour from distance in either instance, the lip of the cup should touch the nappy, we are trying to recreate what a wee does in the nappy.) Make the same observations.

So now some scenarios:

‘water absorbs into both nappies just fine’ – You do not have an absorption issue, you need to check the fit (see FIT test above), change bub more often and or add a small booster to the nappy

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‘water absorbs fine into the first nappy but spills over the second’ – you have a bub who wees quickly and in great volumes. The nappy cannot take the sudden influx of liquid. This does not indicate an absorption issue as such. The fabric is still absorbing but the volume is too great and it cannot absorb quickly enough. In this instance you would try a microfleece liner (or two) in the nappy that is well washed as it will quickly absorb and draw in the moisture.  Ensure you have pressure against skin.

‘Water flows off both nappies’ – Here is where it gets tricky as you may have an absorption issue. The first thing to check is the cream issue I mentioned earlier, if your nappies are clogged with cream I recommend replacing the top booster entirely. It is very easy and economical to replace a booster, not so much if you have to replace an entire nappy. Before strip washing I would recommend a pre rinse, followed by a warm wash, followed by another warm wash followed by a day in the sun and wind. Then give the absorption test another go. Only after all this would I suggest giving your nappies a strip wash and even then I would recommend you only wash the boosters. There is absolutely no reason at all that I can see for washing the shell. Should your absorption issue be with a fitted nappy I would still try just washing the boosters and checking the absorption before strip washing the absorbent outer. The strip washing is not fantastic for your elastics and is something I would avoid if not completely necessary.

A last word on dishwashing liquid…. (And this is simply my opinion). Now I was always taught that dishwashing liquid was for dishes. We spend all our time as parents trying to be eco-aware, trying to do different things and find different ways, use different products to try and keep our world safe. We gasp over the chemicals used in our daily life especially in products we use on our children but then we use dishwashing liquid in our wash. I’m not an expert and I have to admit that when doing a search of dishwashing liquid there are loads of words like mild and dermatologically tested. There are some very mild dishwashing liquids on the market, they are ecologically sound and contain no chemicals, why not give these ones a go rather than the harsh commercial varieties?

Strip washing does have a place, but if build-up is not the issue to start with the consequence is normally very frustrated parents. I love the cloth community and I love to try and share, I’d love to hear what you think and if any of this has helped!


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