A Beginner's Guide to Using Your Cloth Nappies

Friday, 7 January 2022

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Understanding Your Nappies

Using cloth nappies is not hard, just different from using disposables. You need to bear in mind that a cloth nappy will usually comprise of a number of parts, and understanding these will help you further understand the different types of nappy. Starting from the outside and working in, you have:

Waterproof layer: this can be a separate waterproof wrap, or sewn in to an all in one or pocket nappy
Absorbency: absorbs the wee and catches the poo. This can be a shaped fitted nappy, an absorbent inner layer, or loose inserts     
Liner: the layer nearest baby's skin. Helps to catch any solids and acts as a stay dry barrier against baby's skin.

At night, you may also need to add extra absorbency in the form of a booster, so that the nappy will last 12-14 hours without a change. This is just a pad of fabric (usually bamboo or hemp), effectively an extension of the nappy.

Examples of each of these parts are below:

Mother-ease Airflow Wraps
£9.99  -  £17.99  (420)
Tots Bots Bamboozle Stretch NAPPY
£7.79  -  £15.99  (251)
Mother-ease Sandy's Boosters
£4.00  -  £4.99  (51)
Bambinex Paper Liners
£5.50  (147)

How to Care for your Nappies

It's very simple! When you take the nappy off your child, flush any poo down the toilet and put the nappy and any washable liner in a nappy bucket. If using a two part system, you don't need to change the wrap with every nappy, only if it gets soiled, or at the end of the day (or night). If any poo has missed the liner and the nappy itself has got soiled, you will find it best to rinse it through before it goes into the nappy bucket, to stop any stains from setting.

Before your nappies go into your storage bucket/bag make sure all hook and loop fastenings are done up so that they cannot catch on stray loops, otherwise your nappies will all end up in a big ball. Some fastenings come with laundry tabs and can be folded back on themselves. Otherwise you can simply do the nappy or wrap up on the widest setting and turn it inside out. This also protects the loop (soft) velcro, as well as stopping the hook velcro from doing any damage.


Storage before washing

Traditionally, nappies would be soaked in a bucket before washing but we do not recommend this now. Just place your nappies in a dry bucket (known as 'dry pailing') until you're ready to wash them and then your washing machine will do all the hard work. It is much easier to load the nappies into the washing machine from a dry bucket, and prolonged soaking can lead to damaging parts of modern cloth nappies (elastic, PUL etc). There will be no significant smell from the nappy bucket when the lid is lifted. Do not leave your soiled nappies in the nappy bucket longer than 2 days before washing as extended time left soiled will eventually damage nappy fabrics.

Examples of our best selling buckets and mesh bags are below:

Nappy Bucket
£11.99  (90)

Washing and Drying Nappies  


Step 1. Loading the Machine - Washing Load Size

Modern washing machines come in all different size drums now so there is no hard and fast rule I can tell you as to how many you should/could get in a machine.  You can also for example get more newborn sized nappies in a washing machine drum than you can big toddler nappies.  As a guide you should be aiming to have your washing machine NO MORE than 3/4 full when dry. This will then mean that the machine looks around half full when the nappies are full of water. If you put too much into your drum and jam it full, your nappies won't have enough water to fully wash them and there won't be room for them to move around and agitate - nappies need a lot of jiggling to get washed. If you put too few in then this can unbalance your machine so they don't spin properly but can also lead to excessive detergent bubble formation. If you don't have enough nappies to make up a wash add in mucky bibs, muslins or anything that would benefit from a deep long wash (husband's football kit was known to go in occasionally!)

Image of Washing Machine Load Size 2 Image of Washing Load Size 3
White Line When Dry. Turquoise Line When Wet. When Dry When Wet


Step 2. Rinse Cycle

When the time comes to do a wash, put the nappies in the machine and do a cold rinse cycle or quick wash cycle without any detergent. A rinse or quick wash cycle is much better than using a prewash cycle. Modern washing machines are so water efficient they often reuse water from a prewash cycle and we don't want any of this dirty water reused for the main wash. With a rinse or quick wash dirty water is always fully drained away. This first wash cycle removes any remaining solids and flushes away urine.


Step 3. Main Wash Cycle

Next simply run your longest 60 or 40 degree wash depending on your nappy brand's temperature recommendation. Use an approved detergent for your nappy brand and dose (see below for dosage). This is USUALLY a non bio powder washing detergent however do check your nappy brand's specific detergent/ingredients guidelines. Recommended spin speed 1000rpm.

The wash cycle should be the longest cycle you can find on your machine and not one of the economy quick washes. These are heavily soiled items so need a long deep wash. Generally a cottons cycle should be used as it uses more water.  If you have an 'extra water' function on your machine please use it; modern washing machines are ULTRA water efficient which is generally great but when you're washing approx 15 nappies that hold 500ml each you need a lot of water to ensure they are thoroughly flushed through. 


Detergent Types and Dosage

Lots of people get very hung up on the amount of detergent they should use, in our experience people tend to over dose and forget to regularly run a maintenance cycle on their machine leading to detergent residue in their machines too. Our guide as a starting point is to read the packaging of your detergent and find the recommended dose for your water hardness and drum size and then use around 3/4 of this recommended dose.  You haven't got a full drum (see step 1) so a full dose of detergent is normally too much.

Using too much detergent can result in residue building up in the fabric which can cause sensitivity, damage to the nappies, smells and leaks. When your nappies come out of the machine they should smell of nothing. If you can still smell detergent this is a sign you've used too much. If after washing they smell unclean this is a sign they've not been washed long enough, wrong dose of detergent used or too many in the machine (and/or your machine needs a maintenance cycle run).

Powder detergents are best to use with cloth nappies. Liquid detergent and fabric softener can gradually build up on the fibres of the nappy, which will affect their absorbency over time. We DO NOT recommend the use of Ecover with any cloth nappies as we find it frequently causes skin issues and problems with elastic in the nappies as it tends to build up on fibres very quickly.


Step 4. Drying Nappies

Dry nappies. Ideally air dry but if you tumble only do this on low. Click here for full details of how to dry your nappies.


How Often to Change

During the day, every 2½ - 4 hours, depending on baby's age and how heavy a wetter they are, but always straight after a poo. At night, if you add extra absorbency, the baby can stay in the same nappy for 12 hours or more (unless they poo).

How Often To Change A Nappy Graphic


Nappy Rash

Despite the advertisers' claims, most rashes have nothing to do with wetness. Most babies are not bothered by a wet nappy at all, although some find it itchy when teething. Research shows that the type of nappy used is irrelevant as a cause of nappy rash, as this arises when stale urine comes into contact with the bacteria in poo, producing ammonia. A child using cloth nappies may be less likely to have nappy rash, simply because the parents are usually more aware of proper cleaning of the whole nappy area.

Important things to note: Always change nappy straight after a poo. Always clean the whole nappy area, not just the genitals. Some children will simply be more susceptible to rashes than others, and it can also be quite common during bouts of teething. If baby is suffering with a rash or soreness, use fleece liners to keep baby’s bottom dry and change nappies more frequently if need be. Please be assured that it’s quite normal for some babies to experience a certain amount of redness when first switching between single use and cloth nappies (as would a baby who normally wears cloth nappies but may use single use on holiday, for example). This is just a contact reaction as their skin readjusts, and usually clears after a few days in cloth nappies.

Note that not all rashes are nappy rash - if you are not sure, it is almost certainly NOT nappy rash. You will know it if/when you see it. A bit of redness may be an early sign, if left uncleaned, but is not in itself nappy rash. Consider other causes of rashes as well, such as sensitivity to washing powder, allergies, sweat rashes or thrush.


What to use for cleaning baby’s bottom

You can use cotton wool, packs of disposable wipes or reusable cloth wipes. Reusable cloth wipes are very environmentally friendly and cost nothing after initial purchase. They just go in the bucket with the dirty nappy. Also, unlike commercial wipes, you can control what you put on baby's bottom.

If not using commercial wipes, you may like to use the following recipe to add cleanser to your wipes or cotton wool. You can even put this solution into a spray bottle and use it when out and about. This solution is very soothing, and can also help with healing if your baby has any redness or nappy rash.

  1. Place a camomile teabag in a suitable container; add boiling water and leave to cool.
  2. Once cool, remove teabag and add approx. 1 tablespoon of olive oil.
  3. Add 2-3 drops of Lavender essential oil (after 3months old)
  4. Mix well and place washable wipes into container. You are aiming to put enough wipes in to soak up all the liquid, and leave them nice and moist for use, without being sopping wet (you can squeeze them out before using if too wet).

After use, place in nappy bucket.  There is no need to hang out on line to dry, just smooth into a pile ready to use again.

See some of our favourite washable wipes:


Top Tips

  1. New nappies should be washed a couple of times before use to build up to full absorbency.
  2. Rinse soiled nappies through, wring out and keep in the nappy bucket damp until ready to wash to help stop stains from setting.
  3. If you tumble dry your nappies for 10 minutes at the end of drying, they will stay much softer without you adding much to the cost of laundering.
  4. Shake nappies out thoroughly before hanging to dry. This will help with both drying speed and softness.
  5. When you put the wrap on, feel around the top and the legs to make sure it completely covers the nappy, otherwise the wet will wick out onto clothes.
  6. Consider folding any inbuilt or additional boosters so they pad precisely where your child wees: at the front for boys, in the middle for girls.
  7. When you undo a dirty nappy, hold the liner from the underside and wipe off as much poo as possible before moving onto cotton wool or wipes.
  8. To avoid bulk for a newborn baby, use muslin squares instead of your main nappies. See below for a video guide.
  9. Cheaper underclothes (eg Tesco) have a more generous cut over cloth nappies. Use a popper vest to stop the nappy from being dragged down by trouser waistbands etc. It is possible to purchase vest extenders which make it easier to fit vests around a cloth nappy if need be.
  10. For a good stay dry layer and a larger poo catching area, go for a fleece liner – poo drops off into the toilet easily and you can use the liner as the main wipe. Ideal if baby is sensitive to wee, and also reduces staining through to the nappy or soiling onto it.
  11. Some disposable paper liners can be washed and reused a few times, to save money.
  12. Babies do not tend to poo in their sleep, only when they wake, so if they go to bed with full bowels they will fill their nappy shortly after waking.
  13. Some babies react to a particular powder, so you may need to experiment with brands.


Muslin Fold for Newborns

Fasten with a Nappi Nippa to give a compact fit. Folding the corners further than the centre in step 1 makes a smaller nappy which is just as tidy. Using a terry is more bulky, but more absorbent. The beauty of this fold is that even a 60cm terry can be folded down to a size small enough for a newborn, with all the fabric spread evenly.

Examples of muslin products for newborn are below:

Muslins (Muslinz)
£16.99  -  £17.95  (72)
Mother-ease Airflow Wraps
£9.99  -  £17.99  (420)
Nappi Nippas (Snappis)
£2.99  -  £6.95  (95)




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