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Nappy Washing Instructions

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How to wash reusable nappies

Everyone has different ways of washing nappies as they adapt their washing routine to their own machine and water type. People in a hard water area might need a bit more detergent; those with more modern machines may need to select the wash cycle that uses the most water. Sometimes this is called an allergy setting or a super wash, but do check the washing machine instructions to make sure that the temperature will be suitable for nappies. Another option is to pour a jug of water in on top of the nappies before starting the wash. Don't be tempted to add extra water through the drawer during the cycle as this can unbalance and possibly damage the machine.​

A basic washing routine

  1. Cold rinse in machine (removes and breaks up solids, loosens stains)

  2. Use your usual non-bio detergent (the enzymes in biological detergents can damage bamboo)

  3. Start with the recommended dose of detergent on the pack then adjust until you have no suds in the final rinse of the cycle, but at least 3cm suds in the main wash part of the cycle. If you can't achieve this by adjusting the dose of your current detergent, you may want to try a different detergent.

  4. Don't use any fabric conditioner (it coats fibres and prevents proper absorption)

  5. Wash at either 40 or 60 degrees (60 is recommended for killing germs and thrush)

  6. Use an intensive wash cycle, not a quick wash or an "eco" setting (nappies need a lot of jiggling around to ensure they are clean AND properly rinsed)

  7. Cold rinse in the machine if you're unsure whether all detergent has been removed

  8. If there are any bubbles left after the final rinse you will need to rinse again until they are gone to prevent detergent build up

  9. Line dry. (See below. For faster drying, stand airer by radiator and set up a small fan blowing gently up the middle. This can cut drying time by more than half)

Always wash at 60 if:

  •     Your baby is under 3 months

  •     Your baby has repeated or unusual nappy rash

  •     Your baby is unwell at all

  •     You have more than one baby using the nappies



To find your correct detergent dose

If there are any bubbles in the final rinse of the cycle, you will need to rinse again until they are gone, then reduce the detergent dose next time to prevent detergent build up. If you have less than 3cm of suds in the main wash, increase the detergent dose slightly next time. This way, you will find the right amount for your water type and machine.

Hints and trouble shooting

  • Using too much detergent on a regular basis can cause a build up in the nappies which can lead to nappy rashes, smelly nappies or nappies that leak. Ensure your washing machine is also cleaned regularly.

  • You do not need to use a specific powder for your nappies, your usual detergent should be fine.  Start with a full dose and reduce if needed.

  • Do not use bicarbonate of soda, bleach, vinegar or Napisan as over time they can damage the PUL and elastic in the nappies.

  • It is not necessary to wash nappies at a higher temperature than 60 and doing so could shorten the life of the nappies.

  • Line dry nappies where possible. It is more hygienic and better for the longevity of the nappies. If you must tumble them check that your nappies are safe to tumble before you do so and never tumble on hot.

  • Do not dry bamboo on a radiator that is too hot to touch. This will damage the fibres and eventually they will start to fall out (this damage usually looks like a slug has been munching your nappy!) It is best to use an airer near a radiator.

  • If nappies are still smelly after washing then initially it may be caused by using too little detergent or detergent build up. For either though, the solution (a "strip wash") is the same: in a clean washing machine, use a full dose of detergent in a 60 wash and then rinse until all the bubbles have gone.

  • If this doesn't solve the problem, soak the nappies in ice-cold water for 24 hours and then repeat. Once nappies are stripped, you will need to ensure that you are rinsing all the detergent out every time you wash to prevent the problem reoccurring, and if they then start to smell again then you may need to switch detergents.

  • If nappies smell strongly of wee when in use, it could be down to "teething wee" which also often causes nappy rash. Charcoal impregnated microfleece reduces acidity and helps with the smell and the rash. You can buy "charcoal bamboo boosters/inserts" which are microfibre wrapped in charcoal impregnated microfleece, or you can buy/make charcoal impregnated microfleece liners.

  • It is worth noting that hemp nappies can have a strange smell to them and that some detergents leave clothing and nappies unscented which can be odd when first using them as we are so used to detergent scenting our laundry.



This list of things to avoid with cloth nappies is taken from manufacturers' and retailers' websites.

  • Detergents with "cellulase" in the ingredients

  • Vinegar

  • Calgon

  • Any fabric conditioner

  • Bleach (apart from where listed as safe)

  • Napisan

  • "Vanish" and other harsh stain removers

  • Oxy-action stain removers

Sustainable Overton volunteer Laura tried reusable nappies with her children. To read about her experience on our blog, please click here.

The small print:

The above information is a collaboration between nappy libraries, retailers, manufacturers, distributors and nappy organisations.  These are general guidelines only; they apply to most brands and types of nappies.  However, do check the labels or instructions on your own nappies to ensure that they can be washed like this, some may be especially delicate.


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