Cleaning factors: removing soiling, stains and smells

The more soiled and stained an item is, the more detergent and stain removal products (chemicals) are needed to get it clean. Learn how to adjust the detergent dose to achieve stain and smell-free washing.

Each wash cycle is different, the level of soiling is never identical. You might have the same cycle length and water temperature but the the soiling and staining of each load is different. This means you need to be mindful of when to adjust the detergent dose (and chemical factors).

~ Anastasia, Environmental Scientist and founding Facebook group admin

The difference between stains and soiling

We often use the words ‘stains’ and ‘soiling’ interchangeably, in reality they are two different things. With cloth nappies soiling is remaining bodily fluids. Staining is an area of discolouration that remains after washing after the soiling has been removed.

Removing soiling

Using enough quality detergent (chemical), improving machine loading (mechanical action) and increasing water temperature are the first options for removing soiling.

Your water hardness also determines how much detergent your laundry needs. Harder water requires more detergent. If you have very hard water, it may be more economical to use water-softening agents in addition to increasing the detergent dose.

In soft water, increasing the amount of detergent or using a laundry booster is likely to cause excess suds. Consider using a liquid detergent or adjusting the other cleaning factors in this case.

Removing staining

Residual food stains (such as tomato sauce) on clothing or sorbitol stains on nappies are different from soiling. These are oxidisable stains, which are caused by leftover pigment. This distinction is important as even though the items are stained they aren’t necessarily dirty

Non-oxidisable stains 

A non-oxidisable stain is one which can’t be removed with chlorine bleach or oxygen bleach (laundry booster). A common non-oxidisable stain is pen or marker ink. These types of stains require specific solvents to be removed. 

Another common non-oxidisable stain which appears as grey or white marks on nappies, is embedded rash cream. Applying a bar of soap to the stain, increasing the wash temperature to 60°C and the cycle length, is the best method to remove this type of stain. 

Choosing a stain removal product

Some stains will remain, even after adjusting the wash cycle length, water temperature, loading and detergent. This is when additional laundry stain removers help.  

Everyone has different priorities for time, effort, and cost so each method meets different needs. 

Effective stain removal products include: 

  • Bar soap
  • Stain removal spray
  • Laundry booster
  • Chlorine bleach

Adding the correct amount of diluted chlorine bleach to prewash is the most affordable, environmentally friendly and low-effort way to achieve consistently clean nappies. This works for all water hardness and machine types. 

Chlorine bleach is the most effective and efficient way to remove poo stains. 

ProductIn-washCostSoft waterHard waterSustainable1
Bar soap💲✔️✔️✔️
Stain removal spray💲💲💲✔️✔️
Laundry booster (oxygen bleach)✔️💲💲varies2✔️
Chlorine bleach✔️💲✔️✔️✔️
Stain removal comparison

1. Evaluated based on packaging (use-to-plastic ratio)

2. Using laundry booster in soft water may cause excess suds

Adding bleach to prewash is my number one tip for reliably clean nappies each and every time. It is the easiest, cheapest and most sustainable way to prevent stains, smells and ammonia. This simple addition solves the vast majority of issues that CCN members come to us with.

~ Anastasia, Environmental Scientist and founding Facebook group admin

Preventing smells and stains checklist

If you are getting soiling or smells on your cloth nappies make sure to:

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