The Ultimate Guide to Washing Cloth Nappies is designed to prepare you for success in your washing routine to making cloth nappy-ing a success. The Cloth Nappy Doctor will take you through all stages of washing cloth nappies and some of the most common trouble shooting issues. So lets get started.
(Always follow manufacturers instructions)
Prepping your cloth nappies
Your very first step is to prepare your cloth nappies for use. This process increases their absorbency, relaxes the fibres and removes any residues left behind from manufacturing.
There are two general ways to prep your nappies. Depending upon the materials in your cloth nappy, will determine the method used.
If you nappies are entirely synthetic, for example microfibre inserts and PUL covers, then you only need to washed once before use.
If you have natural fibres, such as bamboo, hemp or cottons, there are two methods you can use.
The first is to wash cloth nappies 3 to 5 times.
- For the first wash, use your normal washing detergent with warm to hot water, not greater than 60 degrees. Nothing that contains bleach or fabric softeners. Wash the entire nappy. Any PUL covers only need to be washed once.
- Washes number 2 and on-wards do not need any washing detergent, but warm water will help the process of absorbency. You don’t need to add the separate PUL covers at this point. They don’t need to increase their absorbency!
- There is no need to dry in between washes.
- When you have reached your final wash, hang your cloth nappies out to dry.
- Now your ready to go!
- Only soak the inserts. DONT SOAK PUL covers! This can equate to the first few washes of the above, but saves water and electricity. Just be aware that it will take a few machine washes to reach full absorbency. Anywhere between 6-8 washes is standard.
- After the nappies have been soaking, do the first wash. Use your normal washing detergent with warm to hot water, not greater than 60 degrees. Nothing that contains bleach or fabric softeners. Wash the entire nappy, including covers.
If you decide not to do multiple washes for your natural fibre nappies, that is fine. You can wash them once and start using them straight away. Be aware that their absorbency will increase after each wash.
Ultimate Guide to Washing Cloth Nappies
Prepare: Put the solid poo in the toilet and rinse any other solids off. Ensure all inserts and booster are separated from the cloth nappy. Ensure all velcro parts are attached to their washing tabs to prevent tangles in the wash.
Prerinse: Either rinse your nappies by hand after each change or do a gentle prerinse cycle in your washing machine. This will assist in diluting the urine and removing any solids.This will increase the longevity of your cloth nappies if your baby is a heavy wetter, has acidic urine or it is at least 48 hours the cloth nappies have been soiled.
Washing cycle: Add you washing detergent and the recommend dose for a full, dirty load. You may need to alter the amount of detergent you will need depending upon the hardness of your water, the temperature of the water, size of your machine and the detergent used.
Cloth nappies can be washed in cold water with the correct detergent and machine cycle. However washing in warm to hot water is more efficient at cleanliness. It is recommended not to wash cloth nappies at greater than 60 degrees, as it may put excess strain on elastics and materials.
Things to consider when perfecting your ultimate cloth nappy wash routine
- Choose a detergent appropriate to hard water if you have this.
- Dont overstuff your machine. You must have a great ‘cloth nappy stew’. This means that the nappies can move around the machine easily providing just the right agitation for cleanliness AND that detergents dissolve appropriately. To ensure you don’t overstuff, don’t push down the washing you are filling the machine. Lightly place items in. You will know if your agitation is not correct as the nappies dont clean or their is powder detergent not dissolved.
- Get really well acquainted with your washing machines instruction manual. Seriously, grab a cup of coffee and read it.
- Everyone has different needs as to their wash routine. Don’t be scared to experiment, keeping the basics correct as in amount of detergent, agitation and water volume.
- Use a quality detergent, it will keep your nappies clean and improve their longevity.
- You can use eco detergents, but be aware you may need to double or even triple the dose to obtain enough washing power.
Drying Cloth Nappies
The best place to dry cloth nappies is in the sun. The sun is a great bleacher and sanitiser. If no sun is available, try undercover with a breeze or near a window.
To preserve the elastics, hang your nappies from the sides (ie one top and one bottom flap). This will help prevent the elastic from stretching under the weight of being wet.
If your nappies are not drying, they can be put in the dryer on your lowest setting for a short cycle. Don’t do this often as it can ruin the PUL and elastics, and decrease absorbency with material wear and tear.
If you live in wet/cold or humid climates of Australia, there are three choices when making your cloth nappy choice: 1) Purchase cloth nappies which can withstand going in the dryer and does not affect their warranty; or 2) Purchase a bigger stash of cloth nappies to allow for extra days for your cloth nappies to dry, or 3) choice flats or prefolds and covers as this style of cloth nappy can be one of the easiest to care for.
What about the environmental impacts of using a dryer?
Using a dryer is generally a huge no, no when using cloth nappies. It can destroy elastics, de-coat PUL and decrease fluffiness of cloth nappies. Not to mention the environmental impacts. But it can be a very handy option when you have been waiting days for your cloth nappies to dry, or you need them now.
This advise is based upon my own experience for decreasing the use of a dryer, but ensuring getting your nappies dry asap.
- Give your cloth nappies another spin cycle in the washing machine to make sure all of the water is out of them. Max 800 RPM, there is no need to over-spin the nappies.
- Find the sunniest and driest room in your home to dry cloth nappies in. This will usually be on the north side of your home.
- Once you have washed them, give your cloth nappies a short, cool spin in your dryer. This will usually be enough to get them dry with one day.
- Let your cloth nappies dry for one day, then give them a short/cool spin in the dryer to finish off the drying process.
- Make sure there is lots of airflow around all pieces of the cloth nappies. Don’t bunch them up to save space on your washing line. Also don’t fold inserts over the line, hang them with pegs from the top.
- Clothes horses are great for cloth nappies. I keep one just for cloth nappies and rotate them according to dryness.
How to Store your Cloth Nappies Before Washing
While your waiting to build your cloth nappy load for a wash, they are to be stored by dry pailing. Dry pailing refers to placing them in a breathable location without soaking. There are lots of ways to store your cloth nappies ready to wash:
- In a basket with an open weave helps to promote airflow to prevent smells or mould development.
- In a wetbag located in the laundry, bathroom or next to the change station. A wetbag is breathable, but can be closed.
- In a hanging wetbag which is a larger wetbag designed to hang off a door or changetable.
- A bucket with the lid askew/off. This is the best option if you find you must rinse often or soak for any reason.
- Straight into your washing machine, keeping the lid up for air flow, ready to wash.
- Any combination of the above is fabulous as well to allow for changes to your child as they grow, sickness or starting solids.
We have made it through the basics of washing cloth nappies. How do you feel? Its quite simple, isnt it?
Lets move onto some common troubleshooting areas for easy reference.
If your cloth nappies have a urine odour, check the following:
- Ensure you are using the full recommended dose of detergent, too much can make the fabric smell,
- Ensure you have fabulous agitation during the wash cycle, or a good ‘cloth nappy stew’.
- Do not use detergent that has any extra’s will lead to fabric starting to smell as it can build up.
- Make sure you have lots and lots of sun exposure. It is fantastic for bleaching and ridding smells, especially in a good breeze.
- Ideally, wash daily.
- Ensure your nappies are completely dry between uses. If you use a wet nappy, smells increase dramatically.
If your storage bucket smells, here are some tip to assist:
- Leave the lid off or use a lid that swings. This helps with air circulation.
- Rinse the nappies before dry pailing to decrease the toxicity of urine.
- After you have put the cloth nappies in the wash, wipe the bucket with an old rag with a few drops of eucalyptus or tea tree oil. Just throw the wipe in with your cloth nappies. If you are feeling extra special, try a few drops of lavender.
Read further for information on how to manage smells.
Do I need to strip wash?
In short, you should never need to strip wash. From my investigations it appears that strip washing came into fashion around the same time that microfibre came into mainstream usage in cloth nappies. The structure of the fibre in microfibre are fabulous at wicking moisture, but also great at holding onto molecules that cause smells. A remedy to this issue was to strip wash nappies repeatedly, using large volumes of water.
If your wash routine is sound and you wash often, then strip washing is not necessary. Strip washing would only be necessary if you experience continuing smelly nappies that have not been fixed with a better wash routine or you have bought secondhand cloth nappies that need to be sanitised. There are methods to strip and sanitise cloth nappies that can be found around the internet.
The best way to strip wash is to use one of the following methods:
- a combination of washing soda, borax and laundry detergent in a 1:1:2 ratio.
- Napisan and laundry detergent in a 1:2 ratio.
- A product designed to strip.
In all of the above cases, follow the instructions on the products, these are given as a guideline only. There are various ratios suggested around the internet, these are a good starting point.
The old method of using dishwashing detergent is no longer valid. In majority of cases it causes excessive bubbles and does not necessarily ‘strip’ the cloth nappies.
Further reading about why you may need to strip wash and reasons not to do it.
Stains and cloth nappies go hand in hand. There is a spectrum of what is considered acceptable in terms of stains. On one end of the spectrum is that all nappies should be bright white, no stains, and at the other a few stains are ok. I sit in the middle of these spectrums. I don’t overly fuss about extremely white and bright washing, I ensure its clean. But then I dislike like stains, they look unsightly. If I have a stain on my nappy, I work out what it is and treat accordingly. For example;
- if it is a Panadol stain, there is no way to get this out without some seriously bleaching which is not beneficial for cloth nappies or for my kids skin. I let this type of stain from a chemical fade in the sunlight. They are usually a gray-ish splat on the nappy.
- if the stain is due to a change in my childs’ diet, then I spot treat with an appropriate soap/method, then wash as normal. Usually it coms out first go or if I missed it, I will treat it as I pull it out of the wet washing.
- if its due to sickness, I will soak the nappy in some washing detergent overnight to help soften the stain.
Now these methods are not fool proof, but handed down from grandma, to mother to daughter. Its a quick way to manage stains, and has worked well for me throughout the years.
If you like more information then an internet search is your best bet. Understand what your stain is comprised of, is it water based, chemical or oil? And then treat accordingly.
Here are some remedies to the most common stains to be found in cloth nappies:
Meconium (newborn first poo): Even though this poo looks tarry, it is actually very water soluble So you don’t need any liners to protect your cloth nappies. However if you do have a few stains try the following:
- Make a paste of your normal detergent and lightly scrub into the stains to lift the fibres and the meconium. Rinse in warm to hot water and wash as normal. This is assuming the stain is fresh.
- Rub a little Sunlight/Velvet soap on the stain and gently work into the fibres. Rinse really well to remove all of the soap and wash as normal.
- Old meconium stain, you can try the above several times with hot water in the offending area. Or make a paste of bicarb and paint on the area. Don’t get it on the PUL or leave too long. Use a soft tooth brush to work the offending area. This should at least lighten the stain.
Breastfeeding poo stains: These are completely water soluble and you don’t need any liners, but can cause staining. There is a range in which breastmilk will stain or wont Out of my 4 children, only my Skinny Boy stained the cloth nappy. The staining cold have something to with your child metabolism or the composition of your breastmilk.
- You can leave these nappies (not PUL) to soak before washing in your regular detergent, just a tablespoon will do,. Swirl around. But this is not necessary.
- With all honesty a nice warm wash and lots of sunlight will get this stain out. Use an appropriate cloth nappy detergent.
Sorbitol stain from panadol:
- These lovely grey stains are hard to move. They will disappear over time, but they need regular, daily washing and sunning.
- If you know you must use panadol, buy one without the sorbitol, it is only a sweetener.
Food stains: Oh these are the best, especially spag bol!
- An oil based stain will need a good gentle scrub with washing detergent and hot water.
- Tomato sauce stain can be lifted with Sunlight/Velvet soap as above. Make sure you rinse well, then wash as normal.
- Spinach or green stains, use same procedure as tomato sauce!
- Then put them in the sun.
Cloth nappy creams: Let say you had to use a cream which was not safe for the cloth nappies and you forgot to use a liner. DON’T PANIC. I have done it, but have fixed it.
- You need hot water and washing liquid or a paste of washing powder. Put the paste or liquid on the area and massage in . Leave to soak in hot water for about 10-15 mins. Rinse and work fibres gently with your finger tip or soft tooth brush. If there is still some residue, repeat until all gone. Wash as normal.
At the end of the day, stains are completely normal. You cannot determine which cloth nappy will be stained. Just remember cloth nappy-ing is about the love, welfare and best option for your child. Its not about having perfect looking wee and poo catchers. Take the stress off yourself and enjoy the time with your children. Let the sun do the work instead!
As long as your nappies are clean and hygienic, dont stress the stains. Most stains will fade or disappear with time. Washing and sunning them everyday always helps.
Preventing and Managing Mould
There is some serious discussion about how to treat mould. Choose the method that works for you and suits your personal ethics and needs, is my best advice. Below are our recommendations.
2. Do an extra spin cycle to ensure there is as little water as possible in your cloth nappies.
3. Put them out to dry immediately. Dont leave them sitting in the washing machine.
4. Wash at least every second day.
5. Dry in the sun. Yes this obvious, but move your clothes line if you must.
6. If it is winter or cloudy, find the hottest and driest part of your house and dry your cloth nappies on a clotheshorse. This may be your bathroom.
7. Dont use a cloth nappy if it still feels damp, this will lead to smell and absorbency issues later.
8. Make sure there is good air circulation around your cloth nappies while you are storing then between changes. Dont stuff them into drawers or shelves. They should be able to stack neatly without being squashed. Even consider stacking them open, not folded in half.
9. Give your cloth nappy bucket or wet bag a weekly clean.
- Soak in a diluted solution of vinegar and water (1:4) – only soak the parts of the nappy which are affected such as the inserts or the bamboo outers (fitted nappies). Don’t put the PUL shells or elastics in vinegar solution, as this will affect their integrity.
- Put lemon juice on the stains, which is similar to vinegar. There is no need to dilute, but dont soak the parts in lemon juice. Rinse thoroughly.
- If the mould is particularly hard to move, try a past of bicarb and water which is left to dry on the stains, then do a soak in the vinegar solution as above.
- Soak the parts in bleach solution.
- Mould and mildew do not like oil of cloves. This essential oil will kill mould and inhibit its regrowth. Make up a spray bottle solution of 1/4 teaspoon of clove oil to 1L water. Spray it on the affected areas and then reapply every 3 months or monthly if in a mould prone area. But be VERY careful, as this can irritate the skin if it comes into contact. It must be heavily diluted. If you are unsure, do not use. It is used to prevent mould growth, not treat it on nappies.
- Eucalyptus oil can also be applied as a spray to prevent mould growth. Add a 1/4 teaspoon of eucalyptus oil to a 1 L water, and apply to affect areas. Again this is an essential oil, so if you are unsure, do not use.
- Dont forget to check your washing machine. Give your machine a cycle with a cup of vinegar and hot water with no clothes in it. Spores can live in the seals or even the lint catcher.
- Also wipe out your cloth nappy bucket with one of the above methods
Managing Yeast and Fungal Infections
Your baby has a fungal or bacterial infection along with nappy rash? Oh we feel for you and baby. Its hard, its takes commitment to treat and manage. It hurts your precious baby. We have been there. Let us provide you with a course of action for fungal infections in cloth nappies.
- Use a barrier cream that is designed for yeast infections, if you can.
- Consult your doctor for a stronger medication to treat the infection.
- Use a liner to decrease contact between the cloth nappy and the skin. Even consider making your own fleece liners for this purpose and discarding after each use. Fleece liners are thicker and provide a better barrier than disposable. Or use 2 disposable liners. Please experiment to find what works for your baby, ensuring your not increasing the occurrence of leakage with the double disposable liners.
- Change your baby’s cloth nappy as often as possible.
- Don’t use a powder during this time as the bacteria and fungus can feed on it and spawn more.
- Firstly wash your washing machine with the hottest cycle it can to disinfect it of any nasties.
- Wash your cloth nappies and any other items that may have come in contact with the infection using the following steps
- Fill your machine with warm to hot water, no more than 60 degrees.
- Add the maximum amount of an anti-fungal agent to your washing machine, such as anti-fungal rinse, oxygenated bleach or chlorine bleach (we have mentioned all three of these products, as different brands recommend different strategies).
- Add your infected cloth nappies and allow to soak for 15 minutes.
- Wash your cloth nappies with the regular amount of detergent.
- Rinse well, very well.
- Dry in the sun as it helps to sanitise or your dryer. We do not want the cloth nappies to stay wet for an extended period.
- Repeat this process for each wash until 5 days post the rash clearing up.
- Don’t mix your detergent with your chosen anti bacterial option.
- Wash your cloth nappies at least every second day. Don’t leave that yeast sitting around breeding.
Next Steps after the Ultimate Guide to Washing Cloth Nappies
(Remember to always check with your brand to ensure any washing routines you use that are alternative to their instructions.)
Good luck on your cloth nappy journey!