Washing Your Cloth Nappies: The Uncomplicated Version

Starting out with cloth nappies can be completely overwhelming. There is so much information out there. This is great in some ways, it allows people to find information specific to their situation. Sometimes it's easier to just be told what to do though right? 

I'm going to share the basic tips for getting started, based on my experience using cloth through 5 children, including currently with my 10 month old triplets. The best piece of advice I can give you, is pick ONE person to copy, then tweak any parts that don't work for you. Whether that's me, or a friend using cloth. There is not one right way to do cloth nappies, just like there is not one right way to parent.

I'm going to keep this blog focussed on the very basics. It serves the purpose of telling you everything you need to know to start. Honestly, this is usually as complicated as it ever gets. You might find I tell you to do one thing, but someone else said do another. This is to keep it simple. As soon as I start typing too many options, it will start to become overwhelming, so lack of choice is on purpose in this blog.

So, lets get started! 

What do I need to start?

  • A washing machine
  • Laundry powder/detergent
  • A medium sized wire basket
  • Cloth nappies

Common but optional extras:

  • A pair of reusable rubber gloves
  • A scrubbing brush with RUBBER bristles
  • Your choice of stain removing powder/bar
  • A second wire basket

How do I choose what laundry powder to use?

The incredibly easy answer: Whatever you use now.

The longer answer: If you want to pick my brains, get in contact via my Instagram at @fivelittlefootprints or email me at fivelittlefootprints@outlook.com 

If you are interested in a comprehensive list of detergent choices including those that have been scientifically tested click here. You can either scroll to the bottom of the page for a basic list (the first coloured table) or there is a link at the top of the page with loads more information.

I use OMO ultimate because I can get it in big boxes close to home. 

Okay now you're shouting 'but just tell me what to do!'

In that case, pick OMO, it works for me, and I don't ever need to use a stain removing powder with mine.

Wash routine

The wash routine of almost every cloth nappy parent out there is different. So what I'm going to do is tell you what I do, and then below it, give you an idea of what that might look like with a singleton.

My routine (don't read this if you just want to keep it really simple, scroll down):

  1. Change the babies nappies. Put them down, and go throw the dirty nappies in the basket in the laundry.
  2. In the evening when I have time, I put my rubber gloves on, and put all wet nappies into the machine, separating any snapped in inserts from covers and closing any velcro tabs.
  3. Roll any formed solids that I can into the toilet (If you wait until the evening to do this, it is easier for the formed solids to just roll straight off into the toilet).
  4. Rinse any looser solids off under the laundry tap (yes your laundry sink and toilet water meet and go to the exact same place). Squeeze the water out and throw into the machine too.
  5. Steps 2-4 take 5 minutes max.
  6. Quick rinse: Turn on the quickest rinse cycle I have. it's 15 minutes long. I use 'hot' because my machine is very old. Don't go over 60 degrees.
  7. Prewash: Fill the machine with kids and baby clothes. The more agitation the better the nappies clean. I like to have my loads pretty full for the two cycles, for agitation and also efficient water use. Alternatively if you aren't adding clothes to the cycle, make sure you adjust the water level, and you can also skip step 6. 2 scoops of laundry powder, 1hr06m hot cycle.
  8. Wash: 2 scoops of laundry powder, hot cycle, long cycle. Technically you should select the longest cycle your machine does, but I don't, I find a 1hr40m cycle does the job.
  9. Hang on line.

A simple routine for you:

  1. Change nappy, throw in pre-wash basket.
  2. Once a day, when you have time, roughly rinse soiled nappies, squeeze out well, throw back in pre-wash basket.
  3. Every second day pre-wash: Throw all nappies in machine, with inserts unsnapped and soiled nappies rinsed. Adjust water level, use the recommended amount of powder for your brand (written on the box). 40-60 degree cycle, short-average length cycle.
  4. Transfer load to main wash basket.
  5. Every 4th day main wash: on day 4, you should have a main wash basket with 1 load of nappies that have been through a pre-wash, and a pre-wash basket of dirty nappies. Pre-wash the dirty basket as per step 3. Then, add the basket that has already had a pre-wash, into the machine. Use the recommended amount of powder for your brand, adjust water level if it isnt a full load, then turn on a long 40-60 degree cycle.
  6. Hang out to dry

The simple routine above should see you:

  •  Rinsing soiled nappies once per day, taking up 5 minutes of your time max.
  • Pre-washing every second day, taking up 1 minute of your day.
  • Main washing every second day, taking up 1 minute of your day.
  • Hanging out washing every 4 days, taking 10 minutes of your day max.
  • That's only 6 minutes max a day most days! Rinsing actually takes less time if you only have one bub, there are more soiled nappies in my daily basket with three.

Finally, a few dot point tips to keep in mind

  •  New nappies need to either soak overnight, or be washed 2-3 times before they reach peak absorbency. Personally I wash them once and just keep in mind they may need changing more often to start with. 
  • DRY PAIL. This is probably the most important tip. Nappies shouldn't be placed into a bucket full of water to soak until wash day. They must be placed into some form of dry basket that has air ventilation through the sides and top. Nappies can be placed straight in the basket, and rinsed nappies should have the water squeezed out before placing back in the basket.
  • If you read your laundry powder instructions, you'll notice that 1.5-2 scoops is usually the recommended amount. Not using the right amount means it can't work properly and your nappies won't be clean.
  • Check the warranty for your nappy brand, some will say a maximum of 40 degrees and others 60 degrees for washing.
  • Some people like to use a bit of a stain removing powder like napisan on each of their soiled nappies. They sprinkle it on the insert, rub it around with a rubber bristled brush under warm water, then add to the basket as usual. I've never needed to do this.
  • You can follow my triplet routine if you'd like to keep on top of your washing more. It’s also a great routine for those only doing part time cloth. If you do the top routine every second day, you’ll be able to keep on top of washing nappies, but also keep the loads full even when you only have a few dirty nappies to clean.
  • Always check the warranty information for the particular brand you are using. I cannot guarantee that the above information is within warranty guidelines for every brand. You may need to lower your wash temperature or change the time between washes for your chosen brand.
  • Newborns require more frequent changing due to frequent loose stools throughout the day and night. They are the hardest to cloth. If you are struggling to do cloth with your very young baby, don’t give up! You can cut back to just using a couple of nappies a day (use my wash routine in this case) or give it some time and try again.
  • Cloth nappies smell less than disposable. As a general rule, it’s usually hard to tell if a baby has soiled a cloth nappy. If you are finding your nappies quite smelly, get in touch so we can fine tune your wash routine. 

Finally, get in touch via Instagram at @fivelittlefootprints or email fivelittlefootprints@outlook.com if you need any help  at all. You can also find the ‘Five Little Footprints Community’ group on Facebook. There are plenty of parents on there happy to chat about cloth nappy troubleshooting. We also love to see your baby rocking their cloth nappy in the group!