How do I wash cloth nappies?
The best way to wash cloth, or reusable, nappies is one of the most commonly discussed topics. It is, as far as cloth nappies go, controversial.
Please be aware this post is not going to give a prescriptive answer on how to wash cloth nappies. Why? Because there is no such thing as a perfect wash routine.
If you have been clothing for years without stinks or stains then it’s safe to say your wash routine works for you regardless of what it looks like written down. Don’t fix what isn’t broken. If you are yet to start, use the information below to make an informed decision.
All washing machines are different, all nappies are different, water differs in hardness levels, detergents perform differently when the circumstances differ, load size differs, how much wee is in the nappies even differs when we think about it. The variables are endless which means there is no one size fits all wash routine! There are a few basics that will stand you in good stead to get sparkling clean nappies.
Each brand of nappies gives different washing instructions. They will, at the very least, give information on what temperature to wash at. Warranties are voided by not following these instructions.
This adds a dimension of complication when a nappy stash is made up of different brands with different instructions. Preloved nappies are no longer covered by warranties regardless of how old, or new, they are. For nappies bought new, following the manufacturer’s instructions will preserve the warranty however, some brands recommend washing at temperatures that are lower than some people are comfortable with.
These days many wash clothes with liquid detergents or pods, others use powder. It is a common belief amongst the nappy community that powder washes more effectively than liquid detergents, but you might find that liquid works just fine for you. Trial and error is the best way to find out.
More important however, is how much detergent goes in the wash. The detergent pack will detail how much to use and nappies should be treated as heavily soiled laundry. It is a false economy to skimp on dosage and is not recommended. Check machine size and ensure dosage is correct. The image is from the side of a box of Ariel Professional powder. It is worth considering that it is very difficult to amend the dosage when using pods or tablets.
Notwithstanding the warranty debate, it is generally accepted that biological detergent effectively at 40 degrees centigrade and non-biological detergent requires a 60-degree cycle. Again, it’s a matter of trial and error. There is no reason not to use biological powder for baby clothes and nappies according to the NHS unless there are specific, known, issues.
A two-wash routine works very well. This means a short wash, or a pre-wash, to wash away the worst of the wee and any traces of poo comes first. No shorter than 30 minutes but closer to an hour is ideal if the machine has a suitable setting. This should be a separate wash rather than the washing machine pre-wash added on to an existing cycle. Some machines, use the same water throughout the pre-wash and the main wash cycles but it is advisable to check with the manufacturer whether this is the case. If in doubt, run two separate washes. Whether a prewash is done daily or straight before the main wash on day two or day three is down to personal preference. Daily pre-washing is not necessary when night nappies are not used but it's a good extra step if they are. A night nappy holds a lot of wee!
The main wash needs to be a long wash cycle, with a full dose of detergent. The manufacturers handbook is great source of information to help decide which cycle to use. Eco wash cycles often use a lesser amount of water and thus in this situation, are not ideal. Lots of water is required as is a long cycle. Look for one between 2 and 3 hours long. For machines that weigh the load and adjust the length of cycle, it might help to add a few extra items like sleep suits and vests into the main wash to fill the machine and ensure the cycle is as long as possible.
In the warmer months, with a washing line, drying nappies is a breeze (no pun intended). When the nights draw in and winter looms washing takes longer to dry. There are a few items that can make life easier. Sock hangers have around 20 pegs and are brilliant for drying inserts, wraps and pocket nappies. Hang above, or near to, a radiator if you can. An airer is of course helpful, brilliant for drying flat nappies like muslins or terries. Give each nappy a good shake and hang neatly to achieve quicker drying. For homes where space is premium there are airers that hang over the backs of doors or on radiators which can really help save space. A helpful piece of kit, if funds allow, is a dehumidifier. It will cost in the region of £150 to buy one with a decent size tank and be able to take plenty of water from the atmosphere, but they do really help prevent laundry backlogs during the winter. We have written more about drying in this post here.
Bleaching preloved nappies is a common method of ensuring nappies are completely clean between one baby and the next. Choosing this method runs the risk of shortening the life span of the nappies and the decision taken must be based on the balance of risks. We do not advocate using bleach but if this is your choice then please ensure you seek advice on how to do it safely.
Drying nappies directly on radiators is not advisable. Anything with PUL (the water resistant layer) should never touch a heat source. Similarly, bamboo and hemp don't fare well on direct heat. Hanging to dry near to the heat is fine, great in fact, but never in direct contact. Melted PUL is failed PUL. That said, items that are simply cotton such as cotton terry nappies or muslins, are fine to go on the radiator in the same way as you might dry towels.
Wash Routine Template
Once a routine has been decided it can be written on our FREE to download, 2 page, Wash Cycle Info and Planner. One page is for the routine and the other is a one week planner to mark on wash days. This way, all the adults in the house can wash the nappies. Laminate it, wipe clean and rewrite whenever anything changes. Just use a white board pen or other wipe clean option.
Using the information here you can begin to work out your wash routine. To recap, the key considerations are;
- How often to wash
- What detergent to use and how much
- Which cycles to use for the pre-wash and the main wash
Washing cloth nappies need not be complicated, create your routine and make a start. If your nappies aren't getting clean consider making a tweak; perhaps a different detergent, or more frequent washing. Double check the dosing is correct and the cycles are long enough. Problems are usually easy enough to iron out.