How to wash cloth nappies and diapers

With help from Clean Cloth Nappies™ it is easy to learn how to wash cloth nappies and diapers and keep them clean! Clean Cloth Nappies™ information has been developed and tested by qualified Chemists and professionals.

Clean Cloth Nappies wash routine

As the name suggests, we are the clean cloth nappy experts. We have optimised and simplified the process to help you wash your cloth nappies and diapers. Download our free cloth nappy resources.

Washing cloth nappies and diapers is easy, use our information to create a wash routine to keep your nappies and diapers smell-free, stain-free and clean.

  1. Detergent choice
  2. Remove and rinse soiling
  3. Prewash cycle
  4. Main wash cycle
  5. Dry

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These recommendations should be adapted to consider your washing machine type and size, detergent choice, water hardness and individual user requirements.

1. Detergent

Choose a quality detergent. Our favourite detergents and dosage recommendations are available to everyone. Our full list of 212 different detergents is available exclusively to our website members. Learn more.

For more information on what is in detergents and the function of the raw materials see our information on how to select a laundry detergent for cloth nappies and general laundry and the WashWise information sheet on Laundry Detergent Ingredients.

2. Remove and rinse

Wipe excess poo off with toilet paper, dunk and flush in the toilet, and don’t let go of the nappy! Or rinse in a bucket in the laundry sink. A very useful alternative to this is using handheld bidet attachments, this makes it easier.

You can remove soiling all at once at the end of the day.

If you don’t prewash daily, ensure you spin out the water and pail. Or hand wring out excess water and leave the absorbent parts of the nappy over the side of the pail. Spinning out water prevents ammonia formation.

3. Prewash cycle with detergent, within 1-2 days in 40-60°C water

Prewash daily if main wash is on day 3+. Using 60°C water is more effective at removing soiling.

It is best to pre-wash multi-layered inserts daily, in particular bamboo. Learn more about prewashing.

4. Main wash cycle with detergent, within 2-3 days in 40-60°C water

Using 60°C water is more effective at removing soiling.

Front and top loaders have different cycle lengths and loading requirements. Machine specific information is detailed on the Front Loader Wash Routine, Traditional Top Loader Wash Routine or High-Efficiency Top Loader Wash Routine pages.

5. Dry

Outdoors on the line, avoid hanging PUL (polyurethane laminate) in the sun. Indoors on an airer, or in the dryer, ensuring there is adequate ventilation to prevent condensation.

Wash Routine Basics Template

Download, fill out, and customise your wash routine using our wash routine template!

The importance of the separate prewash cycle

A separate prewash cycle with detergent, removes excess soiling from nappies, so that the main wash is done in clean water which produces the best results. Loading does not matter for the prewash cycle, only for the main wash cycle.

Choose a short cycle, approximately 30-70 minutes that agitates, rinses and spins, include detergent and dry pail as normal.

Run a daily prewash cycle on subsequent days and complete the main wash when there is enough nappies/laundry to fill the machine.

Front and top loaders have different cycle lengths and loading requirements. Machine specific information is detailed on the Front Loader Wash Routine, Traditional Top Loader Wash Routine or High-Efficiency Top Loader Wash Routine pages.

Nappies only need one prewash. Loading does not matter for prewash.

There is no need to dry nappies between prewash, before main, just dry pail damp. If mould is or becomes an issue, hang over the side of the dry pail to dry out, then pail.

Avoid using inbuilt machine prewash cycles

Most inbuilt ‘prewash’ functions on the washing machine don’t do a rinse and spin following the agitation part of the cycle, or remove the dirty water before the main wash.  If the machine has a separate detergent compartment for prewash, agitates, removes the prewash water, rinses and spins, then try this function in addition to the main wash cycle, instead of a separate prewash cycle. If smells, stains, or other issues occur, revert to a separate prewash cycle.

A note about non-absorbent covers

If non-absorbent covers (eg those made of PUL fabric without absorbency) are clean, smell, and stain-free after this daily prewash cycle, they don’t need to go into the main wash. If they are not clean, smell and stain-free, put them into the main wash. Alternatively, you can put them into main wash only. Learn more about our updated recommendations.

Daily prewash

A daily prewash cycle with detergent reduces the likelihood of ammonia development and reduces smells in the laundry significantly.

A daily prewash is particularly useful for:

  • Multi-layered bamboo inserts
  • Night nappies (either in addition to a separate night nappy hand rinse, or can be put straight into a pre wash cycle in the morning, see Washing Night Nappies for more info)
  • Nappies used for older children who have concentrated urine
  • Anyone that is sensitive to smells in general, or where the laundry is near living areas
  • For larger machines
  • Hot or humid climates
Five modern cloth nappies drying on a washing line in the Australian bush

Frequently asked questions (FAQs)

Additional information to support our advice. Think of this as an “extra for experts” section.

I’ve heard the prewash described as ‘poo and wee soup’. How can non-absorbent covers be clean after prewash?

This depends on how much soiling (poo) goes into your machine, and the effectiveness of your pre wash. A prewash is a complete wash cycle that includes a rinse, drain and spin.

When Clean Cloth Nappies began our standard recommendation was prewashing every second day for half hour at 40°C. With these conditions all parts of the nappy needed to be washed twice to clean out the soiling.

For night nappy users we now recommend a daily, 60°C prewash that lasts for at least an hour. The increased effectiveness of prewash may be sufficient to clean those non-absorbent parts of the nappy.

Absorbent fabrics are different, they absorb liquid, hence need more intensive washing.

How can I gauge if non-absorbent covers need both prewash and main wash?

It depends on how much soiling (poo) you remove to begin with, what temperature you wash at, the detergent type and amount and machine type.

If your prewash is a daily, 60°C cycle that lasts for at least an hour and nappies have minimal or no soiling then non-absorbent covers may only need one wash. A Top Loader may not achieve this, a Front Loader will probably achieve this.

Assessing after every prewash is important. If the covers smell after pre wash put them into main wash. We teach the fundamentals of washing principles so you can make the best of your situation.

Is it better to add non-absorbent covers to main wash or pre wash?

This is your choice, and depends on your judgement. Consider what else you add to your main cycle, whether it is only nappies, or if you add tea towels and whether there is any soiling on the covers.

Regardless, make sure to wash covers within two days to prevent ammonia forming in the elastics.

What is a non-absorbent cover?

A cover with a PUL shell, with or without a lining. This includes pocket nappies with a PUL shell and a stay dry layer. Wet bags and change mats are also non-absorbent items.

Why did Clean Cloth Nappies update washing recommendations for non-absorbent covers?

We actively look for ways to make things quicker, easier and cheaper for people so that they try cloth nappies and continue using cloth nappies.

References and further reading

  1. H. Sinner, Sinner's Circle: Thermochemical washing (1960) Über das Waschen mit Haushaltwaschmaschinen: in welchem Umfange erleichtern Haushaltwaschmaschinen und -geräte das Wäschehaben im Haushalt? In.: Haus und Heim-Verlag, Hamburg; 1960.
  2. D.P. Bockmühl, Laundry hygiene- how to get more than clean <>.
  3. M. Honisch, R. Stamminger, D.P. Bockmühl, Impact of wash cycle time, temperature and detergent formulation on the hygiene effectiveness of domestic laundering <>.