Washing Cloth Nappies

Washing Cloth Nappies

The thing that puts most people off using cloth nappies is the thought of soaking and washing them. It is true that cloth nappies will take a little more work, however it is simply a matter of getting into a routine and it will only take 10 to 15 minutes of your time per day. Modern washing machines and detergents mean that there is very little work in keeping nappies clean. There is also a method which does not involve soaking, called Drypailing. This is used by most modern cloth users.


Drypailing means you can put your nappies straight into an empty bin or nappy bucket after disposing of any solids. When the bucket is full you simply empty it into the washing machine and wash, using only half the detergent you would use for a similar sized load.

If the lid is kept on the bucket no smells can escape. It can of course get a bit smelly inside, to counteract this you can put a few drops of tea-tree or lavender oil in the bottom of the bucket. I also keep a toilet brush next to my washing basin and give it a quick swirl with some hot water every few days.

The Nitty Gritty of Washing

Removing Solids

Fleece liners make easy work of removing solids from nappies. Except for runny newborn poo, which will wash out as it is mostly liquid, most solids will just slide off the fleece into the toilet. I choose to rinse off any dirty nappies with a device called The Little Squirt. This attaches to your toilet system and makes a simple task of cleaning solids into the toilet, where it is meant to go. Alternatively you can hold the nappy low into the toilet and flush or use a dedicated spatula.

If you use disposable, bio-degradable liners it is even easier and the liner and any solids can be removed and flushed down the toilet. Please note that not all liners are bio-degradable and able to be flushed.

The Washing Machine

As stated above there is no need to soak your nappies. I simply empty my nappies into the machine and do a warm wash with half detergent. I sometimes do an extra rinse to get rid of any detergent build up. You do not need to sterilise the nappies or use any harsh chemicals to get them clean. 

Do not use commercial fabric softeners. These coat the nappy fabric and will reduce its absorbency.

If you wish to soak your nappies in the washing machine, firstly put your nappies through a rinse cycle, then fill up with a hot wash and add the powder. It is not necessary to use a nappy soaker, ordinary detergent will do, using half the amount you would use for a similar sized load. Once the washing machine has rinsed for a few minutes turn it off and allow to soak overnight. In the morning you turn it on and allow it to finish the cycle.

Fabric Care

Smelly Nappies

Smelly nappies are usually due to a detergent build up or with super absorbent fabrics such as hemp, liquids are absorbed to the core of the fibre and need a hot wash to be removed. If you nappies are a bit smelly do a hot water wash with NO detergents but with half a cup of bicarbonate soda in the wash cycle and quarter cup of white vinegar in the rinse cycle. Keep washing until the water runs clear.


Hemp is one of the most absorbent fabrics for nappies. In order to reach its maximum absorbency it needs to be washed 5 to 7 times in hot water before use, drying between washes. This removes the natural oils in the fabric and increases its absorbency.

Hemp is naturally antibacterial and anti-fungal making it the perfect fabric for nappies. It does not require harsh chemicals or pesticides to grow which means it is environmentally friendly. Hemp is 10 times stronger than cotton, making it more durable and it is more absorbent than cotton meaning less fabric is required which means less bulky nappies.

PUL or Polyurethane Laminate

PUL is a breathable waterproof fabric that is used for nappies covers. It can be washed in your normal washing machine cycle however you should not use vinegar in the rinse cycle if you are washing PUL. PUL covers do not need to be washed after every use. I suggest washing your PUL covers after 4 uses unless they are wet or soiled. They will be almost dry when removed from the washing machine.


Your wool covers will only need to be washed every couple of weeks and aired between wears.  Unless otherwise stated in the manufacturer's instructions, wool should be hand washed in luke-warm water using a suitable wool wash.  Gently rub the cover together to loosen the fibres.  To dry, gently roll in a towl to absorb excess moisture and lay flat in the shade to dry.

Your wool covers will need to be lanolised every 4-6 weeks to retain their water resistance.  If you have a heavy wetter you may need to lanolise more often.  Lanolise by dissolving a teaspoon of lanolin (available from chemists as Lansinoh) in hot water, add cold water until luke-warm before adding your cover.  Soak for 20 miutes and dry as normal without rinsing.  Your wool cover will require lanolising before use.