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.

Wash Routine Basics

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.

As the name suggests, Clean Cloth Nappies™ are the experts, we have optimised and simplified the process to help you wash your cloth nappies and diapers.

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

Join the Clean Cloth Nappies ™ Facebook Group to learn more.

1. Detergent

Choose a quality detergent, using suggested quantities, as recommended in our Detergent Indexes, AU/NZ and UK.

2. Remove and rinse

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

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

If you don’t pre wash 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. Pre wash cycle with detergent, within 1-2 days in 40-60°C water

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

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

Nappies only need one pre wash. Loading does not matter for pre wash.

Smell test- If non-absorbent covers (eg those made of PUL fabric without absorbency) are clean, smell and stain-free after this daily pre wash 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.

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

Pre wash daily if main wash is on day 3+.

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

See the Front Loader Wash Routine, Top Loader (Traditional) Wash Routine and Top Loader (High Efficiency) Wash Routine pages for more information about cycles and loading.

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.

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

For more information on what is in detergents and the function of the raw materials see our information on Mainstream Detergents, Fragrance in Detergent, Enzymes, Optical Brighteners and Plant based, Sensitive & “Eco” Detergents, and the WashWise information sheet on Laundry Detergent Ingredients.

Wash Routine Basics Template

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

Daily Pre Wash

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

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

Nappies only need one pre wash. Loading does not matter for pre wash.

Smell test- If non-absorbent covers (eg those made of PUL fabric without absorbency) are clean, smell and stain-free after this daily pre wash 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.

There is no need to dry nappies between pre wash, 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.

A daily pre wash 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

Why do I need a separate pre wash cycle?

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

Choose a short cycle, approximately 30-60 minutes that agitates, rinses and spins, include detergent (see the Detergent Index for quantities) and dry pail as normal.

Most ‘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 pre wash cycle.

Frequently asked questions (FAQs)

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

I’ve heard the pre wash described as poo and wee soup, how can non-absorbent covers be clean after pre wash?

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

When Clean Cloth Nappies began our standard recommendation was pre washing 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 pre wash that lasts for at least an hour. The increased effectiveness of pre wash 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 pre wash 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 pre wash 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 pre wash 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.

Support Us

Join the Clean Cloth Nappies ™ Facebook Group to learn more.

If you love our work and resources, please become a website member.

We thank our website subscribers for supporting Clean Cloth Nappies™ and our work helping people use cloth nappies. To date our Facebook group members have collective save around 421 million nappies from landfill!

There are two options for a digital Clean Cloth Nappies™ Membership:

  • AUD/$30 for an annual Membership
  • AUD/$15 for 3 months, for a quarterly Membership

The Annual and Quarterly digital Membership subscriptions provide you with unlimited access to the following Member only website pages:

  • Machine Index search your washing machine to see what cycles work best.
  • Detergent Index (AU/NZ/UK) search the index for the best performing detergents.
  • Sanitise information (AU/NZ/UK) use this game changer information to remove stains and smells from your cloth nappies, diapers, clothes and general laundry.

References

  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 <https://sfamjournals.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/jam.13402>.
  3. M. Honisch, R. Stamminger, D.P. Bockmühl, Impact of wash cycle time, temperature and detergent formulation on the hygiene effectiveness of domestic laundering <https://sfamjournals.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/jam.12647>.