Washing Cloth Nappies
I have been slow to write this blog. It’s the topic in the cloth nappy community that I feel is the most divided. Routines not only vary from country to country but from person to person. I am coming at this topic from two angles, from my personal experience and as a retailer of cloth nappies.
Let's start with the retailers perspective.
As a retailer: I encourage you to follow the instructions specific to the brand of nappies that you have. Deviating from these guidelines can often void warranties if you should run into a problem. For your convenience, I have put together an A to Z list of care instructions per brand. If I have left out any please contact me at email@example.com and I will add them in. So lets start the list shall we? Simply click on a brand name to be taken directly to their care instruction page. Here goes...
*Please note that the use of sanitizers, soda crystals or vinegar negate some brands warranties. Always check with your nappy brand to be on the safe side.*
If you take a look at any three brand's instructions you will see that they differ from brand to brand. It's confusing and conflicting and I may disappoint you if you have come here for the "right" answer. I don't have it. There are some wonderful and supportive groups on social media who are only too happy to help. I ask you to keep in mind that advice given does not have to be taken. Everybody has different circumstances and so what works for some may not work for others.
What I can do is provide you with some information so that you can make your own decision. Read on to learn the basic care for cloth nappies.
Newborn poop- Until they are weaning, newborn nappies can be thrown in the wash as they are. Put the dirty nappy in your storage until wash day. There's no need to soak or rinse if you don't want to. Their milky diet makes their poop water soluble and therefore easy to clean.
Weaning poops need a little more work but how much depends on you. Weaning poos are somewhere in between a liquid and solid state so they don't simply "plop". Here are some options to help deal with the poop-
- You can have a designated poo knife, spoon or spatula next to your toilet to scrape off the poop.
- Or you can just use tissue. Maybe a lot of tissue.
- You can use a shower to cold rinse the poo off into a bucket and tip the contents down the loo. Please note though that a sopping wet nappy will leak out of a wet bag if you use one.
- You can use a powerful spray bottle to wash off the poo over the toilet.
- You can use a disposable liner and pop the poo into your bin. Please never flush a liner down the toilet even if the packaging states that it is "flushable". This can cause problems in sewage pipes down the line.
Solid poop rolls off your nappy when held upright over the toilet with a satisfying splosh. My top tip is to stand back when doing this. Splash backs are no joke.
Whilst I don't believe in hard and fast rules when it comes to using cloth nappies, I will say there are a few common denominators. The first is the repetitive use of fabric softener. I say repetitive because there has been instances where it has been used by accident and nappies have survived. Repetitive use of softener coats the fibres of your nappy and makes them less absorbent just the same as your household towels.
This is an important factor that I used to often overlook. The correct amount of nappies in the wash really does determine the efficiency of your wash. For your main wash, I recommend loading your machine 3/4 full. If you don't have enough nappies for this wash, add small items to bulk it up. Too little in the wash and your nappies won't knock off each other as much and therefore won't be as clean. If your load is too full then the nappies don't have enough space to agitate and again affecting the cleaning of your nappies.
Another common agreed upon "rule" is water. Cloth nappies need a lot of water to be clean. This includes a pre wash. This should be selected as a separate wash to your main wash as in some machines, the pre wash water is re used for the main wash and then you're just washing your nappies with dirty water. This is also true for eco washes.
Bio vs non bio.
Biological powder contains enzymes which help lift dirt and stains. Nappies are the dirtiest items you will ever wash so you naturally want them to be as clean as possible. Often people believe that bio powder causes allergies especially for little babies, people with sensitive skin and for people with dermatological conditions. And so non-bio was born. A washing powder that has omitted the enzymes but replaced them with other substances. The United Kingdom and Ireland are the only countries that have non bio detergent and even the NHS have changed their guidelines regarding the sole use of non bio detergent on baby clothes. Read more about it here. The HSE website still recommends non bio for babys stating that the enzymes cause irritation.
Don't tell my husband but I conducted an experiment without telling him. He suffers from psoriasis. I switched from non bio to bio to see if his skin would be aggravated. He was unaffected.
Some cloth retailers worry that the enzymes in biological detergent will affect the cellulose structure in their nappies and so advocate for non bio. Others will say that non bio won't get your nappies clean enough. My personal opinion, the choice is yours. As long as what you use works for you then go ahead. Liquid or powder. Gel and liquid tabs are not recommended however, as again they affect absorbency.
What about eco detergents? You can certainly try. There are a lot of options but bear in mind that soap based detergents can also coat your nappy's fibres and leave behind a residue, affecting absorbency.
This is the most scientific part of washing cloth nappies but once you know your correct dose, it becomes second nature. Dosage depends on your drum size and the hardness of the water in your area. If you are unsure whether you have hard or soft water, you can buy testing kits in your local hardware shop.
Follow the instructions on the side of your box for the most heavily soiled option. Add the extra recommend dose if you have a larger drum. In my opinion, I believe it's better to have too much detergent than too little so don't worry if you don't get it right straight away. It can be a little trial and error but once you have it down you will be flying it.
So here's my wash routine:
I wash every second or third day and store my nappies in large hanging wet bags. One upstairs and one downstairs.
- Pre wash. I use a 55 minute rinse cycle on my machine. A prewash is important in order to push out the wee and rinse off any poo.
- Main Wash- Long cotton wash for 2.35 hours. This is a common factor also. Nappies need long washes to be cleaned effectively. Wash on 60 for the first 3 months of baby, when their immune systems are still developing. 40 or 60 can be used after that. The choice is yours. Use a 60 degree wash for around 2 weeks if baby has been unwell, has thrush or has had a live vaccination. There's no need to switch to disposables if you don't want to.
- Rinse- A final cold rinse if you have soft water. If you have hard water this isn't necessary as it's been stated that doing so deposits minerals back into your nappies affecting absorbency.
Dry- I air dry my nappies on a foldable clothes horse. Some nappy brands say that you can tumble dry on low. Personally I think this depends on your dryer. my "low" setting wasn't low enough for some of my nappies and my elastics warped. Inserts, boosters and wipes are totally fine in the dryer. Just keep in mind that tumble drying will affect the longevity of your nappies.
Go easy on yourself. No one gets it right straight away. If in doubt, follow the care instructions specific to your brand. If you have several brands that contradict each other, err on the side of caution and go with the gentler routine. If you have any questions, my inbox is open and I'm ready to answer your questions.