A simple guide to washing reusable nappies

Updated: Sep 12, 2020

Baby stood in front of Indesit washing machine wearing a Motherease Wizard Uno reusable nappy in Foxy print

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There is a lot of different advice out there for washing nappies. My routine has derived from the advice I received from the UK Nappy Network website when we first started. I have continuously tweaked the routine to fit it with our lifestyle, washing machine, drying facilities and nappy selection.

This is the routine I follow to clean our nappies which are a mix of bamboo, hemp, microfibre, all in one, all in two, pocket, shaped and wraps:

Store dirty nappies in a dry pail or wet bag - post-weaning, rinse/scrape any poo down the toilet, pre-weaning all nappies can go straight in the bucket because both breast milk and formula poo is water soluble.

Fill the machine 3/4 full - this allows for a good amount of agitation to the nappies which is needed for effective cleaning. Much less and there is not enough for your nappies to rub against, much more and they won’t move at all. If you need to you can add non-nappy items to this wash, for example: cloth wipes, muslins, baby clothes, small towels, anything which can withstand a 60° wash (when adding towels make sure it is nothing larger than a hand towel, bath towels can encase your nappies and prevent agitation).

Run a rinse cycle - most machines reuses the water from and rinse or pre-washes within the main wash cycle, so it is important to a separate rinse cycle first. This cycle is not doing any cleaning so detergent isn’t required, although some people do choose to add a small amount. This cycle is purely removing the bulk of the poo and wee and taking the dirty water out of the machine before you wash your nappies.

Add detergent - start with a full dose of any non-bio powder detergent. Powder is best because it is more easily rinsed from the nappies, liquid detergents can coat the fibres and affect the absorbency. Non-bio is recommended because most bio detergents contain an enzyme called cellulase which is not always listed on the ingredients (it’s often just referred to as a cleaning enzyme), cellulase can breakdown the cellulose protein in bamboo causing damage to these nappies.

Select the longest 60° cycle - this should be a minimum of 2½ hours, you want as much water as possible to go through the machine when washing nappies so avoid any eco settings and if you have buttons for adding extra water/wash/rinse/soak etc. push them all. Once your baby is 3 months old, if they are well and you are only using your nappies on one child it is safe to reduce the temperature to 40° if you wish. It is always recommended to check the manufacturers guidelines before choosing your temperature, some advice their nappies may only be washed at a maximum of 40° to keep your warranty (personally I wash everything at 60° and to date haven’t had any issues, although for some brands this does mean I have voided my warranty).

Reduce your spin to 800 - this is plenty to get enough water out, faster speeds than this can over stretch your elastics, reducing the total life length of your nappies, and for some fabrics can cause bobbling.

Hang to dry - hanging AIOs PUL side down and opening AI2s out allows them to dry faster. Any AIOs with an attached booster, hang by the booster so the weight of it doesn’t overstretch the elastics. Most brands advise you can tumble dry on a low heat, purely cotton fitted or flat nappies can be tumble dried on any heat, PUL, bamboo and hemp must always be tumbled on a low heat or it can damage the fibres. Never hang your nappies on a hot radiator - the general rule is if you can keep your hand on the heated surface for a prolonged time it is fine for nappies, if you can’t, it’s not. On those rare heat wave days where the temperature soars past 30° hang your nappies in the shade if you are line drying outside (for the same reasons as above).

A good and regular wash routine will keep your nappies fresh, whilst preserving their longevity. There is no need to add a sanitiser to your regular wash or for strip washing, however if you do wish to then the following sanitisers have been marked as cloth nappy safe by the UK Nappy Network: Violets Natural Bleach, Bambino Mio Fresh, Bio-D Nappy Fresh, Bio-D Laundry Bleach. Always double check the manufacturers guidelines before washing your nappies.

Modern cloth nappies hanging to dry in a garden

Top Tips:

  • If your machine is shortening the wash cycle when it starts because of the weight, shorten or remove the spin from your rinse cycle, to leave the nappies wet and heavier.

  • The UK Nappy Network has a fab page on all the dos and don’ts of detergent use.

  • Always check any specific detergent notes on your nappies before washing them, for example, Motherease specifies no detergent with optical brighteners which most non-bios contain.

  • If you can still see bubbles at the end of the wash or your nappies are coming out smelling of detergent, you are either using too much or your wash cycle is too short and you may want to run an extra rinse.

I hope you have found this helpful, this is just my routine which I’ve adjusted throughout my journey. Every machine, nappy combination, and detergent is different, there is no one way to get your nappies clean, troubleshoot any problems either by messaging me or ask your local library or The Nappy Gurus who all offer free advice to find the routine which works best for you.


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