Live Help!

Detergent Build Up (Strip Washing Nappies)

65 CommentsMonday, 4 August 2014

Modern washing machines are incredibly water efficient and use far less water than they used to.  Modern detergents are also very strong. A combination of less water and strong detergents means if you use too much detergent or don't rinse enough detergent residue can build up on your nappies. If you find your nappies start to have a strong smell when they are wet, it is highly likely you have detergent build up if you've been generous with your detergent. This problem is most noticeable when baby is teething and their wee becomes strong.

The good news is it’s easy to cure and can be prevented from returning. To cure the problem you need to follow a process called strip washing. I've read MANY versions of "strip washing" on the internet including using fairy washing up liquid, dish washer tablets, vinegar. The Nappy Lady DOES NOT recommend any of these. Would you wash your underwear in washing up liquid or dishwasher tablets? I wouldn't! Vinegar can destroy fabrics so it should never be used with modern nappies.

Here is how i always recommend you strip wash.

  • Ensure your machine is clean. You should run a maintenance cycle once a month. If you haven't done this lately run this first and check your machine filters are clean.
  • Next put the nappies through a rinse cycle only with NO detergent. If your machine doesn't have a rinse only cycle use a cool quick wash. This is to get them nice and wet already so there is more water held in them for the main washes.
  • Next wash using a FULL dose of detergent and wash at 60 degrees on a long cycle (approx 2.5-3hours) and ideally additional water (sensitive or sometimes called super rinse)
  • No need to dry in between for the second wash, use 60 degrees on the longest possible wash as above with NO detergent and ideally additional water( sensitive or sometimes called super rinse)
  • Finally put your nappies through a rinse cycle again as in step 1. If you see any detergent bubbles in the rinse keep on rinsing until you don't see any more.

This should sort them for the short term.

Preventing Detergent Build Up

Ongoing to prevent this happening again we would suggest doing a cold rinse cycle then put your nappies on a long wash at 60 degrees. You shouldn't fill your washing machine drum more than 3/4 full when wet.  If you over fill your machine the nappies won't agitate enough and nappies need a good jiggle to get clean.   Fine the recommended dose of detergent on your packaging for your type of water and halve it as your drum isn't a full load it's maximum 3/4 full.   Start with this amount and monitor how the washing goes and increase the amount of detergent slowly if you feel it is required.

Ensure you run a maintenance cycle on your machine monthly.

If you dry pail your nappies try to rinse them before they go in the bucket or at least the overnight nappies as these are the worst.

Monday, 15 June 2015  |  22:53

hi there
i don't know what you mean by a strong smell, could this be a strong urine/ammonia smell? I've only been using cloth diapers for about a month and I noticed lately that the diapers smell very strongly of urine. It wasn't like this in the first couple of weeks. How long does it take for detergent to build up? I really thought I wouldn't need to do a strip wash until I'm a few months into using cloth diapers so I'm a bit surprised. Also, would I need to was dirty nappies with detergent prior to strip washing or is this strip was done only on clean nappies? Thanks.

Tuesday, 15 September 2015  |  11:57

Strong urine smell can also be from teething and this can be made even worse if there is teething wee and detergent build up. Not using enough detergent or a long enough/hot enough wash can also cause strong smells.
There isn't a set amount of time it takes to build up detergent it depends on the brand of detergent you use, how much you use and the efficiency of your machine. We have had hire nappies that have been new, loaned for 2 weeks and have come back with horrendous detergent residue. For this reason we recommend you use a half dose of detergent to start with as many machines have detergent residue in them anyway and many people frequently overdose the amount used.

Natasha Holder
Friday, 20 November 2015  |  13:14

Our baby is 4 weeks old and we wash our nappies every other day with non bio powder (level tablespoon) on 40 degrees. We tend to rinse the nappies with poo on them before they go into the nappy bucket. We have found the nappies/nappy bucket (dry pail) starts to smell a bit this from detergent build up? The temperature being too low? Or a combination of both? The cycle we put them on is approximately 1 hour 15-should it be a longer cycle?

For the strip wash, when you say a FULL dose of detergent do you mean the recommended amount show on the box?

Thanks in advance.

Friday, 20 November 2015  |  15:49

Hi Natasha,
For a baby under 3months old we recommend you wash at 60deg anyway. The nappies should also be put on the longest wash you have so normally this is 2.5-3hours long as they are heavily soiled items. It's highly unlikely that the smell you have is due to detergent build up as the nappies are so new. I would wash them higher at 60deg and put them on a longer wash. Before you put them on the main wash do a rinse cycle as this also helps to flush then through first.

For a strip wash (we don't think you need to do this). A full dose of detergent is based on what the detergent packaging recommends.

If your problems continue please email us at and we'll check your new method more thoroughly for you.

Wednesday, 2 December 2015  |  22:23

My baby hasn't been born yet but we are planning on using Pocket Nappies, Do you only strip the Inserts or the whole Nappy? Most labels say wash on a 30 degree wash, wouldnt it ruin them if was to wash them on a 60?

Wednesday, 9 December 2015  |  11:24

You only strip wash if you have a problem with detergent build up, if you can avoid detergent build up you may never need to strip wash them. If you need to strip wash it's normally just the inserts but for pocket nappies serious detergent build up can lead to the covers needing to be strip washed too.

Katie Chegwidden
Tuesday, 7 June 2016  |  19:46

Just wondering if you should only strip wash clean nappies or can the process be done on dirty nappies?

Thursday, 28 July 2016  |  12:38

Strip washing can be done on dirty or clean nappies.

Wednesday, 10 August 2016  |  12:36

Hi. My machine only has those pre set settings, only thing we can change is temperature and spin. I normally use the baby/toddler settings then 60 degrees. How do I strip wash in this case, I don't think the cycle is long enough to do a strip wash, only about an hour I think. I am not getting satisfied with cold rinse, normal wash then rinse twice. Thank you!

Wednesday, 10 August 2016  |  13:45

Try one of the cotton cycles instead of the baby cycle. You'd be looking for a heavily soiled cycle ideally 2-3hours long

Thursday, 29 September 2016  |  15:23

If I am strip washing clean nappies do I need to do the stage with full dose of detergent?

Thursday, 29 September 2016  |  15:51

Yes i would do both stages as then you're treating for not enough detergent been used or too much. Unless of course you know you've been using too much all along...

Wednesday, 12 October 2016  |  9:50

I have pre-loved Charlie Banana + inserts on washing instruction it says 40 degrees, Could I risk it and do stripping twice ( as your recommendation) in 60 degrees? The ammoniac smell is quite strong :(
Thank you

Wednesday, 26 October 2016  |  10:33

You can prewash them at 60deg however this is at your own risk as Charlie Banana do state that the maximum temperature is 40deg. I have known people (including myself) wash charlie banana at 60deg without any problems however i have also seen some delaminate at this temperature.

A long full dose of detergent wash with lots of rinsing should be sufficient at 40deg.

Friday, 21 October 2016  |  10:54

My 7 months old has getting nappy rash, could it be from detergent build up or allergy to the nappy?

Wednesday, 26 October 2016  |  10:41

Hi Lisa, Highly unlikely to be an allergy to the nappy. All fabrics used (well if you bought from The Nappy Lady) would have been fully approved for use next to babies skin and meet the highest of safety standards. Key things we find as the cause of nappy rash are teething, not washing thoroughly enough or not changing frequently enough.

Sarah Ingham
Wednesday, 23 November 2016  |  19:40

I have bought some second hand bumgenius freetimes and elementals. They all have a musty smell. I have tried strip washing them and washing with a full dose of detergent. They smell ok straight after washing, but over a couple of weeks they smell musty. Any advice/ideas?

Wednesday, 23 November 2016  |  19:51

Hi Sarah, It might be your normal daily wash routine that isn't thorough enough. You should be doing a rinse cycle, then a long 60deg (2-3hour) washing cycle with at least half the recommended dose of non bio powder detergent. If this still doesn't help drop us an email and we can delve deeper into the problem for you.

Sarah Channing
Wednesday, 23 November 2016  |  22:21

Our local nappy library lady advised using full dose detergent as our area has very hard water. What would your advice be? We have not actually tried the nappies on our baby yet (we have been using little lambs and teenyfits on our newborn so far), but I have been put off by the musty smell. I have done the above a few weeks ago as a full strip wash. It is difficult as I don't know how they were looked after before we bought them.

Thursday, 1 December 2016  |  17:06

im about to do a strip wash as recently the nappies have all been smelling really strong of ammonia, and not only the long night nappy ! my son is teething, not his 1st tooth, more like the 11th one! but i tried a new nappy (prewashed and given to me by a friend so not my prewash) today and when i changed it after a wee, it didnt smell at all... so my nappies are in trouble. im just wondering what ive been doing wrong then cause im using cloth nappy since birth, so 17months on, and the smell started a few weeks ago. i think i cant figure out how much detergent to use, it's a non bio powder and the box gives dosage in ml but no little pot to measure it so im never sure what half the dosage is exactly... i recently changed powder too, but the smell started before, although is a non bio with so called wash boosters bad ? Should we always wash nappies on the longest cycle? Cause I've been using the coton but "eco" cycle which lasts for 1,5h roughly.. finally, when you say cycle, does that include the spinning ? Is too much spinning bad for the nappies or essential in between rinse cycles?

Thursday, 19 January 2017  |  15:50

eco cycles are never good for nappies as they tend to use less water. A full wash should be a good 2-3 hours long and ideally with extra water as these new eco machines use so little highly absorbent fabrics like nappies aren't getting rinsed enough.

Monday, 5 December 2016  |  10:04

Hi, I have done a strip wash like you suggested to me after an email, but the nappies still smell after being in contact with wee, even for less than an hour, I think the smell is not as bad but it's still a bad smell. I have tried some second hand Terry squares I had never use before and even after a whole night, they didn't smell at all... They're 100% coton, but I have some 100% coton nappies/boosters in my stinky stash so I can see how my daily routine wash is probably the issue. Is it inevitable that nappies will smell eventually no matter what? Or do I need to do another strip wash? Also, if I rinse the nappies before storing them in a dry pail (I wash every 2days), do I need to run a rinse cycle before the wash? Would you recommend non bio Persil powder ? The box says "with wash boosters" or something. Is it bad? I used to use the non bio Fairy powder but I have to say, the other brand smells "stronger of clean" if I can say it like that, but maybe it's more prone to build up in the nappies then.. I'm a bit desperate about finding the proper wash routine as I thought I was doing it right (dry pail, wash every other day, rinse cycle before, wash at 40, no tumble dry, extra rinse sometimes) but apparently not because my nappies are badly affected! I now rinse the nappies after a change and I used to do the eco coton cycle but now I run the normal coton cycle, the wash time is at least 1hour, then with the rinse and spin, the whole cycle is about 2hours, is that good?
Above all, I'd like your opinion about the life of nappies, do they have to smell when they've been used too much (95% of my stash was second hand) or is it "just" a detergent build up issue? Sorry about the long comment...

Thursday, 19 January 2017  |  15:52

you need to be using a standard not eco cycle. Rinse first and then a long 2-3 hours 60deg wash. You can do a final rinse at the end.

Thursday, 19 January 2017  |  15:47

Ongoing we often find a full dose of detergent leads to detergent build up whereas half doesn't. Depends on how many you put in the drum too, we aim for half to third of a drum so you're not on a full load. If you have second hand nappies and they still smell after washing try putting them out on the line to dry this can really help.

Wednesday, 15 March 2017  |  5:07

Hi, we have strip washed our nappies and have been continuing to was with a pre rinse at 60 with half the amount of powder but the smell persists. I don't think it's quite as bad but still notice it even through her sleeping bag. Is there anything else I can do? I hope to start hanging them on the line soon. They have been smelling since she was about 8 weeks old and is now 12. She is dribbling a lot but no sign of a tooth yet. Is there a particular detergent I could try? Currently using the powder that came in the totsbots peenut kit but we had been using non bio liquid. Thanks

Monday, 20 March 2017  |  14:26

Swap to a non bio powder rather than a liquid as it washes out better. If the smell is just at night time rather than day this can be a sign of how concentrated the wee is and also tends to happen with teething. Once the tooth comes through the strong wee normally stops it's all the period before hand when the teeth are moving round that the strong wee and teething symptoms show. When you do your rinse this is normally a cold rinse, it's just a rinse and spin in the machine and then a long separate 60deg wash.

Saturday, 13 May 2017  |  9:34

The bumGenius nappies we bought from you recommend a monthly bleach but im struggling to find bleach which isnt toilet cleaner. Any ideas where i can get it? They have become super ammonia infested and a strip wash hasn't really solved it.

Wednesday, 17 May 2017  |  12:18

Please email us direct as to become super ammonia infested sounds like you've not been washing them properly. Bumgenius refer to American laundry bleach which is different to things over here. We have never got to the stage any of our customers have had to bleach their nappies.

Tuesday, 6 June 2017  |  16:06

I need to do a strip wash as the nappies we bought BTP brand new from Bambino Mio and the pre-loveds from Bumgenius are suffering from teething wee smell, especially the overnighters.
In the instructions for a strip wash, you say to use powder. Should nappies always be washed with powder rather than liquid detergent as I tend to use both depending on what I have at home.

Amy Hills
Tuesday, 20 June 2017  |  11:43

SOme of my nappies say to only wash at 30 degrees (Little BLoom). Will I damage them by washing them at 60?

Tuesday, 11 July 2017  |  10:03

Hi Amy,

Little Bloom would be destroyed if you wash above 30deg. I'm afraid their pul isn't very reliable or long lasting which is why we don't stock them.

Tuesday, 11 July 2017  |  9:46

Always try to use powder detergent as manufacturers find it washes out much better.

Monday, 2 October 2017  |  2:52

i live in indonesia and cannot change the temperature on my washing machine. how do i strip my nappies without a washing machine? i can boil water on the stove and can handwash in that but cant use hot water for a long wash in the machine. what do you suggest?

Saturday, 7 April 2018  |  11:57

Yes for hand washing boiling the water first is the usual method. Lots and lots of rinsing.

Tuesday, 24 October 2017  |  9:50

Hi, I have brought some second hand close parent pop in nappies. I washed them when I received them like I do my other cloth nappies. However once dried the soakers and boosters are really rough and stiff and have a strong smell of detergent. Could this be from missuse? Or over washing? Or use of softeners? Im worried they will be too rough to use on my little one. Is there a way I can get the detergent out?
Many thanks for your help

Saturday, 7 April 2018  |  21:07

Over use of detergent won't help but it's also likely they come from a home with hard water and no tumble drier to soften them up. I'd give them a long wash without any detergent to help remove it and a spin in a tumble drier if you can.

Saturday, 6 January 2018  |  7:04

I'm just doing a strip wash and wandered if I am supposed to strip wash the wraps too?

Saturday, 7 April 2018  |  21:12

Yes you can do. it can help keep bindings nice and fresh.

Saturday, 17 February 2018  |  17:43

I have recently bought preloved wraps off the nappy lady buying and selling group. PUL seems to be failing on both motherease airflows. The lady I bought them off has suggested doing a strip wash thinking this will help. My understanding is that a strip wash wont help PUL that has gone? Can you confirm please?

Saturday, 7 April 2018  |  21:21

Strip washing definitely won't help failing PUL. Motherease do tend to last forever so always check it's not the nappies first as we normally find the nappies need more boosting. Try our tea towel test for failed PUL as well (details in the concerns and problems section).

Sarah BB
Wednesday, 14 March 2018  |  12:24

My son is teething and Im pretty much having to do a strip wash every time I wash my nappies now otherwise they smell really strong of ammonia. Most of my nappies are brand new bumgenius with a few second hand bamboozles for night use. They are particularly smelly! They seem to smell as soon as they are wet but come out smelling fresh as long as I do the strip wash! Is it probably just because of teething wee?

Saturday, 7 April 2018  |  21:29

Teething wee is HORRID stuff so strong and acidic. While he's teething if you have a bad stinky nappy take it to the toilet hold it in the nappy bowl and flush. This will help flush out a lot of the teething wee before the nappy sits in the bucket. This helps it stop setting. Then keep doing your rinse and spin cycle first followed by the longest 60deg wash you can ideally with additional water.

Reema Furniss
Sunday, 18 March 2018  |  11:05

can you use a washing tab? I use fairy non bio. thank you

Saturday, 7 April 2018  |  21:30

You can use powder tablets but you don't get the same level of dose control as you get with loose powder. Liquid tabs are a no no as liquid doesn't wash out as well and think of the plastic surrounding the tablet.

Friday, 23 March 2018  |  17:48

Hi. Im still using my reusable nappies for my 2 year old. They have been smelling worse as time goes on. We have done a strip wash numerous times. Usually it improves it, but they still smell no different this time. Can I fix them? Or is it too late

Saturday, 7 April 2018  |  21:32

Email us with details of your washing routine as something isn't quite right for this to be happening.

Saturday, 7 April 2018  |  17:52

I accidentally washed all my covers at 90 degrees..!!!! Have I delaminates then?! Anything I can do??

Saturday, 7 April 2018  |  21:08

eeeekkkkk there is nothing you can do but hope they have survived. Main brands usually do as they use high quality fabrics but cheaper nappies may be damaged.

Tuesday, 24 April 2018  |  16:51

Nothing strips stinky nappies like leaving them on the line in the rain! Safe for the fabric and completely free.

Friday, 13 July 2018  |  23:40


I have a 4 month breastfed baby who is dribbling slot. I've noticed this week that the nappies and wraps smell strongly of ammonia.

My usual routine is, dry pail and wash every other day. I always rinse by hand and soak soiled nappies overnight.

I squirt a little non bio liquid into the drum and wash nappies on a 40 degree 20 minute eco wash.

Every few weeks I'll wash nappies on 60 degree Cotton wash as opposed to a eco 40 degree wash.

What do you suggest for the frequency of strip washing and daily washing. Also what do you suggest regarding dry pailing as that smells fishy too even with the top off.

Friday, 24 August 2018  |  14:05

Hi Zara, a 20min eco wash really isn't a long enough cycle to thorougly wash nappies. This could be your initial rinse cycle but then you should be aiming for a 2-3 hours long wash. Detergent should be a powder non bio as it washes out much better than liquid.

Friday, 10 August 2018  |  23:06

Hello, my nappies often come out of the wash with a wet dog sort of smell. This mostly disappears when the nappies are dry. Is this due to too much or too little detergent? I live in a hard water area and my normal routine is a cold overnight rinse with no detergent followed by a long 60 degree cottons wash with a half dose of non-bio powder. Ive read conflicting advice about whether extra rinses are beneficial as hard water redeposits the minerals so would welcome some tips. Thanks

Friday, 24 August 2018  |  14:19

Hi Zoe, How long your wash cycle is and how many nappies you're washing in one go will also play a part in washing effectiveness. You might need to use more detergent or you might not! I'd need to know a bit more to make sure you're using the right length of wash cycle first (ie a 2-3 hours one) as if you're using a quick 60min wash then that will be the issue rather than how much detergent. Drop me an email and we can chat in more detail.

Friday, 14 September 2018  |  22:04

Hi I have recently bought some used cloth nappies. Online it says to strip them with bleach if they are for a new child. Is this needed or will a strip as detailed above with just detergent make them clean enough and safe for a new child to use?

Thursday, 23 May 2019  |  16:02

Stripping with bleach will damage your nappies will damage them which is why we DO NOT recommend it. Our method is enough for them to be fine to use on a new child.

Nappy help & expertise since 1999