A Beginners Guide to Using Your Cloth Nappies

9 CommentsSunday, 3 February 2019

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Understanding Your Nappies

Using real 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; the nappy itself provides the absorbency, whilst the outer wrap (cover) provides the waterproof layer. On some nappies, these may be a single combined "all in one", like a disposable is.

On top of the nappy, you would normally use a washable or disposable liner. The liner acts as a barrier to catch any poo, which can then be flushed down the toilet. At night, you may need to add extra absorbency in the form of a booster pad, so that the nappy will last 12-14 hours without a change. This is just a pad of cotton or bamboo effectively an extension of the nappy.


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. You do not 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.


Drypailing v Soaking Storage

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 (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 you can also keep your nappy wraps in the bucket along with the nappies. 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. The longer nappies are left between washing the longer nappies are exposed to ammonia.

If you decide to go against our advice and soak your nappies you should only use plain water. Soaking does effectively pre-clean the nappies a bit, which helps keep stains from setting. However, the downside is that the nappy bucket will smell when you take the lid off, you also have to dispose of the dirty water and soaking can damage modern fabrics and fastenings. It is also important to remember never to soak your wraps as this will cause them to lose their waterproofing. Use of soaking agents including vinegar, bicarbonate of Soda, Napisan, bleach or harsh stain removers should never be used as they can corrode the nappy fabric and cover binding and effectively destroy your nappies. Please note that if any of these products are used on the nappies or accessories it will invalidate your manufacturers product guarantee. Bamboo is an especially delicate fabric and is particularly susceptible to harsh chemicals.


Care of Motherease Nappies and Wraps

The binding on the Motherease products are the reason they are so fabulously waterproof so it's important to treat the binding with respect and make sure it can't get caught on velcro in the wash.  When washing your Motherease wraps always protect from any velcro items. Place them in a mesh washing bag separate from anything that could catch on the binding like Velcro to keep them in excellent and reliable condition.   Do not use laundry detergent products containing sodium percarbonate,  hydrogen peroxide (oxygen bleach) or optical brighteners these ingredients are often listed. When combined with uric acid and ammonia a reaction occurs causing natural fibres to dissolve. These ingredients are also harsh on nappy covers and cover binding.  We sell the Motherease approved Country Breeze and Laundry Magic stain remover on our site.

Step 1. Loading the Machine - Washing Load Size

Modern washing machines comes 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 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.   If you put too many into your drum and jam it full, your nappies won't have enough water to fully wash them and there won't 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!)

Step 2. Rinse Cycle

When the time comes to do a wash,  put the nappies in the machine and do a cold rinse cycle without any detergent, a rinse cycle is better than a prewash as modern machines are so water efficient they often reuse water from a prewash cycle whereas rinse cycle water is always fully drained away.  Cloth nappies will be heavily soiled so we don't want any of the water used from the first rinse reused in the main wash.   The rinse 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 brands temperature recommendation, this is normally a cotton wash  and never an ECO cycle. Use an extra water function if your machine offers this. Use an approved detergent for your nappy brand and dose (see below for dosage). This is USUALLY a non bio powder washing detergent however you must check your nappy brands specific detergent/ingredients guidelines (see below).   Recommended Spin speed 1000rpm

The Nappy Lady believes for hygiene reasons you SHOULD wash at 60 degrees in any of the following circumstances however be aware of any warranty temperature limits:

  • If your baby is under about 3 months old (whilst they have no real resistance of their own)
  • If using Eco Balls rather than detergent (using ecoballs/ecoeggs doesn't invalidate any product guarantees however we find they really aren't good enough for washing nappies even at 60deg)
  • If your baby has any history of repeated rashes or skin sensitivity
  • If you have two or more babies using the same nappies
  • If you live in a commune or other "open" community (your baby will not become resistant to unfamiliar bugs)
  • If your baby is unwell
  • Petit Lulu Nappies insist on washing at 60deg.

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.  If you have the choice of cotton or synthetics on your machine, the cotton 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 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 half to 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 your nappies 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).    The first thing we do when we have returns, especially faulty ones, is to sniff the nappies (glamorous job being a Nappy Lady).  In the vast majority of times the "faulty" nappies reek of detergent and we can feel it built up on the fibres.    


Bio V Non Bio

The reason we recommend non bio and not biological detergent is NOTHING to do with skin sensitivity but to do with protecting bamboo and cotton fabrics. Some biological detergents contain an enzyme called ‘cellulase’ which can have a degrading effect on cellulose fibres like bamboo and cotton and this can be particularly severe if combined with the levels of heat used when tumble drying. Using Biological can invalidate some manufacturers warranties.


How to use Biological Detergent Safely and Minimise Damage

If you have to use biological detergent as it's all you can find your Country or area or for any other reason then do the following!
1. Check your nappy warranty if the manufacturer specifically advises AGAINST biological detergent then you will need to accept you will invalidate your warranty and you're using bio at your own risk. 
2. Check the ingredients VERY carefully. Choose a biological detergent WITHOUT CELLULASE as at this time cellulase is the enzyme identified as the main problem.  This is easier said than done as many just list "enzymes" on the box rather than each specified enzyme. However some of the bigger brand names do list on the full ingredients and actual enzymes used on the box or online.
We don't supply a list of Cellulase free biological detergents for the simple reason manufacturers change their formulas.



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.

Fabric Conditioner

Do not use fabric conditioner, as this will affect the absorbency over time.


Spin Speed

A washing machine with a higher speed spin will reduce the amount of drying needed. However, I would recommend that you keep the spin speed around 1000 revs, because higher than this may damage some nappies, or at least make the fabric go tatty. You will know from your own experience of washing your clothes how fierce your spin facility is!


Step 4. Drying Nappies

In general order of preference, these are the best ways to dry your nappies:

  1. Outside on the line - the sun is a natural bleach.
  2. Ceiling drying rack.
  3. Airing cupboard.
  4. In front of an Aga or other similar oven (or old fashioned stove).
  5. Freestanding or an overbath dryer - a dryer is best stood in a well-ventilated room such as a conservatory or bedroom, as bathrooms often have too damp an atmosphere to dry effectively.
  6. Tumble drier - makes nappies feel nice and soft, but works out expensive and also shortens the life span of your nappies by taking out the pile gradually. You will need to remember to empty the filter regularly of all the fluff. Or you could give your nappies no more than 10 minutes in the tumble drier and then finish them off in one of the other ways listed, to get some of the softness without the cost. Other people swear by keeping the 10 minute tumble dry for the end of the drying period, rather than the beginning, but that is difficult to time. Tumble drying should be avoided for any waterproof PUL covers which includes all in ones.  If you have no choice but to tumble dry make sure you only dry any bamboo fabrics or waterproof layers low. If you have all in ones
  7. Near a radiator - nappies will feel quite hard, but can be shaken out to soften them up a bit. Never dry directly on a radiator.
  8. Terries and prefold can also be ironed dry - many shaped nappies cannot be, either because they are too thick, or they contain some material which should not be ironed. This option is bottom of the list because it involves the serious disadvantage of requiring some effort on your part! Never iron wraps.

Note that you should not dry any clothes in a room used by anyone with a sensitivity to house dust mites, as these love to breed in the warm air produced by damp clothing.

With washing, all nappies will get stiffer than they were when new, although it does help to live in a soft water area (eg Wales!). Shaped terries with a stretch agent (eg Motherease) in them or microfibre nappies such as the Teddy will tend not to go as hard as old fashioned terries. Bear in mind, however, that your baby will not feel the material directly against their bottom anyway, because there will be a liner on top. Also, as soon as baby wees, the whole thing softens up.

Nappy Brands Specific Washing Instructions Charlie Bananas washing instructions are found here.
Baby Beehinds Washing Instructions are found here.
Bambino Mio's Washing Instructions are found here.
Bare and Boho washing instructions are found here.  
Blueberry washing instructions are found here.
Bubblebubs washing instructions are here.
Bumgenius washing instructions are found here.   
Charlie Bananas washing instructions are found here.
Close washing instructions are found here.
Disana care guides are found here.
Grovia washing instructions are found here.
Kangacare washing instructions are found here.
Little Lambs washing instructions are here.
Milovia washing instructions are found here. 
Petit Lulu washing instructions are found here.
Smart Bottoms washing instructions are found here.
Thirsties washing instructions are found here.
Totsbots Washing Instructions can be found here.

You'll find all the individual nappy brand warranties in more detail here. Ensure you double check this page before you start washing your nappies so you don't accidently void your warranty by using the wrong detergent or washing methods.


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).

You will find that it is not necessary to use creams on a regular basis. We recommend cream just during the early weeks with a newborn and during teething.  If baby does get nappy rash change more frequently and consider using cream or a suitable wash solution. A cup of honey and camomile tea (from teabags) makes a very effective and soothing antiseptic wash without chemicals or stinging. This has almost miraculous properties and is worth trying first if needed.


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 real 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. Diet also affects it, so consider keeping a food diary if your child seems to be sensitive. During teething is when children are most likely to develop nappy rash, but a lot of this is because they are more susceptible to dietary factors - consider oranges, tomatoes and avocados in particular as likely suspects during this time. Use fleece liners to keep baby's bottom dry, to prevent soreness worsening. Change nappies more frequently if need be.

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. Talk to your advisor if you have any concerns.


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:

  1. Place a Camomile T-Bag in a suitable container; add boiling water and leave to cool.
  2. Once cool, remove T-Bag 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).

It is best to make up enough to last two to three days at a time. 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. This solution is very soothing, and can also help with healing if your baby has any redness or nappy rash.


Top Tips

  1. New nappies should be washed a couple of times before use as this improves absorbency. Never use fabric conditioner, as this reduces absorbency, and never soak or wash them in Vinegar or Bicarbonate of Soda, which can damage the fabric over time.
  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. Wraps (covers) should not be soaked in the nappy bucket, as this can affect their waterproofing, but can be kept in there if dry pailing.
  4. If you tumble dry your nappies for 10 minutes before air drying them, they will stay much softer without you adding much to the cost of laundering.
  5. If you live in a hard water area, nappies will gradually become hard. It helps to keep your washing machine clean if you run a maintenance wash or 80 degree hot wash with no laundry every months. You can also wash the nappies without powder occasionally, to help to remove any build up of detergents.
  6. Shake nappies out thoroughly before hanging to dry. This will help with both drying speed and softness.
  7. When you put the wrap (cover pants) on, feel around the top and the legs to make sure it completely covers the nappy, otherwise the wet will wick out onto clothes.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. To avoid bulk for a newborn baby, use muslin squares instead of your main nappies. See the fold instructions on the last page.
  11. Cheaper underclothes (eg Tescos) have a more generous cut over real 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.
  12. 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.
  13. Some disposable paper liners can be washed and reused a few times, to save money.
  14. You will need at least three cover pants in each size, to allow for one in the wash and another for accidents. It therefore makes sense to buy a cover pant that is adjustable over a reasonable range of sizes. If you use pad folded prefold nappies, you will normally need 5 covers at each size, to allow for messy wraps.
  15. 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.
  16. Some babies react to a particular powder, so you may need to experiment with brands. Be cautious if using Tee Tree oil as some children can be very sensitive to this, particularly when under 6 months of age.


Muslin Fold for Newborn's

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.


If you have a Problem with your Nappy System...

Talk to The Nappy Lady! We may be able to advise you on where you are going wrong. Good cloth nappies should be more reliable than disposables, not less.

Louise Wardle
Wednesday, 12 June 2019  |  21:54

Hi Wendy

I have been using totsbots easyfit stars for a few months now. I tend to wash every 2 days with non bio powder and always do a rinse cycle before the main wash. I do a long cotton wash at 60 degrees with 3/4 a scoop of powder. There is usually about 10 nappies in the wash so the drum is nowhere near full but after every wash the nappies are still smelling dirty with a strong urine smell. What am I doing wrong? Incidentally they are also leaking a lot at the minute around my little boys legs (he is just 18 months old and in the middle rise as he is quite small). Could this be do it with them not being washed properly? Many thanks.

Monday, 8 July 2019  |  20:51

Does your machine weigh the washing and adjust the water usage? Turn the spin down low and add extra items to the wash so the load is heavier, this should help

Sunday, 8 November 2020  |  14:16

Hi, Iíve just started out using cloth nappies (baby is 15 weeks) and Iíve a few different brands (some preloved, some brand new).

The bambino mio ones just leak and I canít figure out why, even after just an hour so not excessive amount of wee.. is there any tips please?

Also, Iím not sure how to really deal with newborn/breastfed poo, it often leaks around the side of the fleece liner so the nappy has some on as well as the liner covered, none seems to flush off down the toilet and Iím worried about staining as itís so bright yellow. Iíve got a couple of brand new liners which already have faint marks on and this was after 2 prewash rinses and a 60 degree cotton (2.5 hour) wash. What am I doing wrong please?

Thursday, 26 November 2020  |  15:53

Hi Claire, if you can email us we can go through some options with you

Danielle Tinker
Tuesday, 10 November 2020  |  13:50

I use totabots easy fit and when I take them. Off my daughter has lots of marks all over the area where the nappy has been from creases in the fabric. How do I stop this?

Thursday, 26 November 2020  |  17:00

Hi Danielle, this is nothing to worry about and is just where the fabric touches the skin. Similar to how you can get pillow marks on your cheek after sleeping. You could try loosening the nappy but if it's too loose then it may leak.

Suzanne Marsden
Saturday, 30 January 2021  |  16:12

Do I use a liner with the newborn muslin squares?

Monday, 8 February 2021  |  7:23

It's not essential but without it the moisture is against the skin. We find that for a newborn fleece liners work better.

Chloe Eccles
Tuesday, 8 June 2021  |  12:44

Hi, I currently use cloth nappys for my 7 month old and have done for the past 4 months now, and they are great! Only thing is my 3 year old has no interest in the potty/toilet what so ever, and she wants the same nappys as her sister, which isn't a problem, I've don't a abit of research and found some XL sizes that would fit her, im just wondering what the most absorbent insert/nappy I would need for her?

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