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Washing cloth nappies

Modern washing machines really do take the work out of using washable nappies. Your machine does the work for you! You will soon find a routine that suits you and your baby. In the meantime, I have tried below to answer some questions people commonly have.

My new nappies have arrived - do I have to wash them before using?

Yes!  Every cloth nappy – no matter what type you choose – will need to be washed at least twice before you can use it - but there is no need to dry them between washes. This is because all manufacturers coat their threads with softeners, to make them feel better to the buyer. However, these softeners will reduce the absorbency of the nappy if not thoroughly removed. These washes will also fluff up the fibres and make your nappies look even cuter!  Bamboo and hemp fabrics can take up to 10 washes to reach full absorbency - you can use them after a couple of washes, but they will improve over the first few weeks use.  We recommend using non-biological detergent in powder form - many manufacturers do not recommend the use of liquid or gel detergents.  Never use bleach or fabric softener.

Am I going to need to be washing nappies every day?

No!  You may not have to wash every day – depending on the number of cloth nappies and wraps you have. I had 18 nappies for each baby – which was enough to allow me to wash every other day if I felt like it. You don't have to have a clean wrap every time you change the nappy, either – only once every four or five changes, or if they get pooed on in between, so you won't have as many wraps to wash as cloth nappies.  Wraps are needed with all flat and fitted nappies, if you're using pocket or all-in-one nappies, you change the whole thing each time.

How do you deal with the poo?

Flush it!  At each change, you flush any solid waste down the toilet. If you are using a flushable disposable liner*, then simply flush poo, liner and all.  If any waste has clung to the nappy - or you are using a washable or non-flushable liner - you may have to sluice this, too – it's not as difficult as it sounds! You simply grip firmly onto a corner of the nappy or liner and rinse it in the toilet as it's flushing. Incidentally, if your disposable liner is merely wet, you can wash it in the machine with your nappies – I find they last fine for three or four washes before developing holes. If your water pressure is insufficient, and the toilet sluicing trick doesn't work, then rig up a shower spray (either use your shower, or use a rubber spray attachment over your bath taps), and use this to shower poo off the nappy into a dedicated bucket. This is very easy and effective. You then simply put your rinsed nappy into your storage bucket, and flush away the contents of the sluicing bucket.

*A note on flushable liners - they take a while (from hours to days) to disintegrate in a wet environment - otherwise they would start to dissolve as soon as your baby does a wee.  Therefore you should only ever flush one liner at a time to avoid blockages, or dunk it in the toilet to remove the worst of the poop and then bag & bin it as you would a disposable nappy.  If you have old, narrow drains or a septic tank, we would not recommend flushing any nappy liners.  If the packet does not say the liners are flushable, we would recommend you dispose of them in the bin instead to be on the safe side.

Do I have to soak my cloth nappies before I wash them?

No! If you prefer not to soak then it is perfectly hygienic to store the nappies dry, and a wash at 60°C will be more than enough to clean the nappies and destroy any germs. Some parents use a pre-wash instead of soaking.  A good tip is to sprinkle your dirty nappies with some lavender oil – this helps to mask any odours. I would suggest that you keep your dirty nappies in a bucket or wet nappy bag even if you're not soaking them - this will help discourage curious little fingers from poking around!  

If I do soak my washable nappies, what should I soak them in?

It is not recommended to soak all in one nappies, or any part of a nappy that is intended to be waterproof (the pocket part of pocket nappies, outer shell of hybrids, and most wraps).  

Soaking is beneficial to cloth nappies, as the water dilutes the urine in the fabric, and therefore prolongs the life of the nappy. I put enough water in the bucket to cover the nappies, initially, and top it up as I add nappies – this minimises the amount of fluid swishing about, as each top-up is absorbed, and therefore, reduces the impact of accidents.  It is particularly helpful to soak if you are not washing the nappies daily.

If desired, you can add a couple of drops of tea tree oil to the water, to help combat any smells.  Tea tree oil also has anti-fungal and anti-bacterial properties.  

I prefer not to use cloth nappy sanitising powder as it tends to make velcro fastenings go stiff and scratchy. Sanitising powder also tends to damage the waterproof fabrics in the wraps.

Do I need to use anything special when I wash my cloth nappies?

No. When you come to wash the nappies, drain the water (if you've soaked them!), and put nappies into the machine on 40-60°C. Most wraps can also be washed at these temperatures - check the care label. Use a non-biological washing powder (not tablets), and no fabric conditioner.  You can get specific detergents designed for use with cloth nappies, which may be helpful for some families - particularly if you usually use a liquid detergent for your family washing.  

If your nappies have aplix or hook & loop style fastenings, please remember to close them before washing. This prolongs the life of the aplix and stops it getting stuck to everything else in the wash. Aplix wraps should be fastened and washed inside out for best results.

What detergent should I use for my washable nappies?

Advice on this varies and there are no hard and fast rules - the most important thing is to follow the manufacturers guidance, as failure to do so will invalidate your warranty.  

We believe that a non-biological powder is preferable to a biological - this is because biological powders contain enzymes that can adversely affect natural fabrics such as cotton and particularly bamboo.  You can use any of the non-bio powders available in the supermarkets, or a 'deep green' powder such as Bio D or Clear Springs which are often available in health food shops. Whatever you use, you will need no more than half the usual recommended dose for a full load, and remember if the machine is not full, you should adjust the dose accordingly.  If you live in a hard water area, using a softening agent such as Calgon in your wash will also help to prevent mineral build-up on your nappies.  As a general rule, if the nappies are only wet, and have been used in the last 24 hours, this smaller dose will be fine, if they have got stained, you're not washing daily, or you feel they are not getting quite clean enough with the dose you've used, then try adding a little more next time.  Alternatively, use a full dose of detergent and an extra rinse cycle to ensure all detergent has been removed - though this uses quite a bit of extra water and electricity.

This is for two reasons: first, it is mostly the temperature of the water which kills any bacteria present in the cloth nappies, not detergent, so there is no particular need for lots of detergent; secondly, it is critical that there should not be any detergent residue left in the cloth nappy, as this will redissolve on contact with wee, and will act harshly on your baby's skin to produce a characteristic detergent rash (wide-spread, distinct red spots all over the nappy area). The best way to prevent this is to use less detergent in the first place, and do an extra rinse at the end of your wash cycle to check all detergent is out of the cloth nappy. If you are experiencing staining with your nappies, pop them in a sunny spot to dry - this will usually do the trick.  Persistent stains can be treated with lemon juice (bottled or fresh).  

If you prefer to use a biological detergent (see note below about warranties), follow the recommendations above for a lighter dose, and make sure that the cycle you pick will enable all the residue to be properly rinsed out of the nappies.  A cotton or baby cycle usually uses more water than a synthetic cycle.  Some parents find it helpful to give the nappies the occasional wash in biological detergent, while using non-bio the rest of the time.

Can I use liquid detergent?  We don't recommend it, because powders offer more dosage versatility, dissolve better, and come in recyclable cardboard packaging which is better for the environment than the plastic used for liquid detergents.  Liquid detergents tend to have more chemicals in, because they need emulsifiers.  Powders dissolve better and rinse out better, so are less likely to build up in your nappies.

You can also wash your nappies using Soap Nuts. EcoEggs and similar systems are no longer recommended, as some nappy manufacturers specifically state not to use them.  The presence of a product such as a washing egg or ball in the drum may cause additional wear to the fabric.  

Always check the manufacturers warranty terms for guidance.  Failure to comply with the recommended washing instructions will invalidate your warranty.

We absolutely do not recommend the use of dishwasher tablets for cloth nappies.

Napisan is not recommended, it is too harsh for waterproof fabrics and elastics and may corrode them.

How can I dry my cloth nappies?

Check the label first - while most nappies can be either line or tumble dried, some will specify tumble drying at a low setting only, and others will say not to tumble dry at all.  Incorrect laundry habits can invalidate your warranty, so it's worth taking the time to double check first.

Generally speaking, line drying is the most eco-friendly and cheapest option and would always be the first preference - whether outdoors, or on an indoor ceiling airer.

All in ones and pocket nappies - to ensure that the inside of the nappy is properly dry, you can usually turn them inside out to air them for a couple of hours.

We do not recommend drying nappies on any direct heat source (radiators especially), as the prolonged concentrated contact with a heat source may harm the elastic or fabric of your nappies, causing them to not last as long.  Any part of the nappy containing waterproofing should be kept away from direct heat sources as they may be damaged.

If using fitted or flat nappies, a quick blast in the tumble drier for 10 minutes will help fluff them up again, especially if you live in a hard water area.  However regular tumble drying is not beneficial to most nappies, has a higher environmental impact, and may even invalidate your warranty.

Isn't it all just a load of hard work?

No!  You're going to be changing nappies anyway.  Instead of putting them in the bin, you're putting them in the nappy bucket.  Instead of emptying your nappy bin outside, you will pop your nappies in the washing machine.  I'm not one to make my life harder than it has to be, and even when I had 2 babies in reusable nappies for a year, I truly found that the washing and drying of my washable nappies added no more than ten minutes extra work to my day. When the babies had gone to bed I took the bucket downstairs, loaded the machine and left them to wash. Then, before I went to bed, I took the wraps out and hung them to dry overnight (so I was never, in theory, caught short!) and dealt with the clean nappies according to the weather in the morning. That's all there is to it! When you take into account that cloth nappies usually leak far less than disposables (so you will have less clothes to wash), it balances things out somewhat.

All nappies and wraps will be supplied with full washing and care instructions. If you would like another copy at any time, please just ask!