Cloth nappies... How do you clean them?

Updated: Jun 22, 2020

Cloth nappy laundry doesn't need to be a pain, modern nappies and washing machines make it so much easier than the way your grandmother did it (also, no need to soak them!)

We currently have 2 baby humans in cloth nappies but, although the dirty ones add up quickly with the both of them contributing, it doesn't actually add a whole lot more work. Sure, disposable nappies are quicker, but at what cost?

Did you know that on average, in the first year alone, a baby goes through around 2700 nappies?! That equates to roughly half a tonne in waste to the landfill, that's just one bub, for one year. With the average age of toilet training being 2.5, that amounts to 1.25 tonnes of waste just for the convenience of disposable. Worth it? We don't think so.

The cloth nappies we landed on using are the pocket nappies. We find them best with both of our babies because of their versatility - you can adjust the absorbency to what you need, they dry quicker, and they are the most cost efficient. But no matter what type you use, or even if you mix types up a bit, they can all be washed in the same load and in the same way.

We have tried many, many methods of washing cloth nappies, and have done heaps of research on it, and as you'll be able to see with a quick Google search, there are a billion different ways people clean them.

The Wash

This is our method the most efficient and effective method to clean cloth nappies - really though this is jut the method that works for us and we have found that cleans the best with the least effort.

You'll need to do a pre-wash and a main wash. The pre-wash can be done on the washing machine's "quick wash" type setting using half of the detergent as recommended on the detergent package (i.e. package says line 4 for full load, so you'll use line 2).

  1. Dump all of the nappies & inserts in the machine, put the detergent in, and start that quick wash/pre wash load running.

  2. For the main wash, leave the nappies in the washer, start a new cycle on the "heavy wash" type setting with the full recommended dose of detergent. Your main wash should be at least 60°C (140F). No need to do any extra rinses, especially if you have hard water.

  3. Drying can be done by using a clothes dryer or hanging them out to dry. You can also safely use your drying machine. Household dryers simply cannot get hot enough to ruin the elastics or waterproof material within the nappies so they are good to go (unless, of course, you have a poor quality or faulty dryer).

No matter which way you wash yours, there are a few variables in play that can affect how clean your nappies comes out. Water hardness, detergent, wash temperature etc. and here's how to deal with some of them:

Water hardness

You'll want to test your water's hardness level. You can do this by using water testing strips found by the fish section at pet stores or with a spa/pool testing kit.

Water that is too hard will cause mineral build up in the fabric which eventually leads to repelling (where the nappies become nonabsorbent). On the other hand, water that is too soft causes an over abundance of soap suds in the wash, which will not clean the nappies as efficiently.

If your water is soft, no worries, just use less detergent and you're good!

If you find that you have hard water, you'll need to use a laundry soap/detergent like Persil, Almat, Biozet, Drive, Trimat Advanced, or add a product like Borax (also known as sodium borate, sodium tetraborate, or disodium tetraborate) to your wash routines at half the recommended dose for the pre-wash and a full dose for the main wash.

Laundry soap/detergent

You need to use products with a good surfactant. Homemade detergent is not sufficient to clean nappies properly. We use Persil and find it great.


  • Nappies and inserts can be washed together.

  • Spray, dump, or scrape off solid poos ASAP. The longer it sits, the harder it'll be to get clean. This isn't necessary for babies who are exclusively bottle or breast fed, as their poops are water soluble and should wash right out in the pre-wash.

  • I find it easiest to remove the dirty inserts before I put them in the laundry hamper (designated nappy hamper with 'breathing' holes).

  • Do not wash your regular clothes in with the pre-wash. If it does not fill up the machine to make a full load you can add items to the main wash to fill it up to help them wash better. Use nothing larger than a baby receiving blanket.

  • "Sunning" or hanging in direct sunlight to dry is one of the best ways to get rid of any staining (but it can make your inserts a bit crispy feeling).

  • Most nappy creams will cause staining on nappies, this is where a liner will can in handy (you can also use these to dispose of solid poos easier) liners can be bought in rolls or you can make your own reusable ones out of micro-fleece. If you choose to buy them, even if the package says they're flushable, they are not. They are not biodegradable, and will cause issues in both sewerage and septic systems.

  • If your baby has a yeast infection on their bum area, nappies should be bleached after use until the yeast has cleared. To bleach your nappies, do your pre-wash as usual, then soak them in bleach water using 1/4 cup for front loaders and 1/2 cup for standard top loaders. Follow up with the usual hot main wash.

I know that seems like a whole lot of information and a bunch of things to remember but once you've got it down it becomes really simple and almost automatic!

You'll save lots of money, help the environment by not going through as many disposables (which just end up in the landfill), there's no nasty chemicals in the cloth nappies which is better for bubs bum, and let's face it - they are way cute!!!

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