Strip Washing Nappies

41 CommentsMonday, 4 August 2014

What is strip washing?
Strip washing is giving your nappies a more intensive wash than usual. It is designed to ‘reset’ any issues that might occur. Strip washing should not be needed regularly. If you find you need to strip wash frequently then it is likely that something within your machine routine is causing the problem.

Why would we need to strip wash?

Strip washing can be needed for a few of reasons. One would be that there is ammonia left within the nappies that is building up over time. Another reason could be that detergent residue is left on the nappies.

Detergent Residue -Modern washing machines are incredibly water efficient and use far less water than they used to. Modern cloth nappies are super absorbent and soak up lots of washing water plus need more for rinsing.  Modern detergents also tend to be very strong. A combination of less water and strong detergents means you risk detergent not being rinsed away and leaving a residue on the nappies.

Ammonia Build Up -In addition should you not use enough detergent, the machine is overfilled or the machine doesn’t use enough water then this could lead to a build up of ammonia within the nappies as the nappies will not have been thoroughly washed out each time.

Signs that you have a build up within your nappies and they could benefit from a strip wash include:

  • smelling when wet – this is often described as a barnyard or hamster cage smell
  • smelling of ammonia or urine when clean
  • smelling as soon as your baby wee’s  (although during teething this can just be a sign of strong wee being produced by baby)
  • redness when the nappy is removed
  • your baby has a persistent rash
  • loss of absorbency
  • natural fabric nappies appearing to ‘repel’ water (this often happens after washing using liquid detergent)

Another time that we would suggest strip washing is when buying preloved nappies. This is because you can never be certain how they have been washed before.

The good news is these problems are 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 or bleach. The Nappy Lady DOES NOT recommend any of these. All of these methods will invalidate brand warranties and risk damaging your 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.
  • Load the nappies into the machine. You need to ensure that the machine is no more than ¾ full when DRY. Strip washing can be done with a smaller load and still be effective.
  • Next put the nappies through a rinse cycle only with NO detergent and use a low spin. 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 (the amount for heavy soiling, adjusted for your water type & machine size) and wash at 60 degrees on a long cycle (approx 2.5-3hours) and ideally additional water. We usually find a cotton wash the most effective.
  • 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 the need to strip wash

Ongoing to prevent this happening again we would suggest doing a cold rinse cycle (with a low spin) 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 dry. If you over fill your machine the nappies won't agitate enough and nappies need a good jiggle to get clean. Similarly, if you have a very efficient machine and it weighs the load then underloading can cause the machine to use less water. The low spin on the initial rinse can help to make the load heavier and the machine use more water.

Find the recommended dose of detergent on your packaging for your type of water and machine size. You then need a proportional dose to your load size. This gives you a starting point and then adjust the dose up or down as you feel necessary. In general people in a soft water area can use less detergent, whereas people in a hard water area sometimes need a full dose even if load isn’t a full size.

If you are struggling then ensure that you wash on alternative days. In our experience people leaving nappies for longer often struggle to get them clean and frequently experience ammonia build up.

Adjusting the load size can also make a difference. For a machine that uses a set amount of water it’s finding the right load size, for some machines this is less than ¾ full when dry. For a machine that weighs the load then you may need a fuller load to make it heavier and ensure that the machine uses the maximum amount of water.

Ensure you run a maintenance cycle on your machine monthly.

As a last resort, if you dry pail your nappies you can try to rinse them before they go in the bucket or at least the overnight nappies as these are the worst. However, we don't recommend this is done as standard as leaving nappies wet can cause elastic to deteriorate faster.

If you have any questions regarding strip washing or would like any assistance with strip washing or your usual washing routine then our advice team is always available to help and can be contacted on 

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 wonít 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 Iím 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. Iím 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  |  11:57

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

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  |  21:07

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, 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, 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.

Frances Plant
Thursday, 27 September 2018  |  8:38

I have two in nappies so generally do a wash a day otherwise Iíd be completely inundated with dirty nappies. I do a rinse and spin wash at 60 for 2 hours (thatís the longest my machine does) with extra water (60ml fairy) and then another rinse and spin. The day nappies donít have a strong wee smell but my daughters nappy in the morning stinks! Is this from a build up? Or is the night nappy quite normal to be smelly in the morning?

Thursday, 23 May 2019  |  18:29

60ml of powder does sound like a small amount and it could be ammonia build up that you have. When washing you need half the amount of powder for heavy soiling, adjusted for your water type and machine size. Then adjust the powder as you feel necessary if the nappies aren't fresh/clean. I would suggest strip wash as per our guidelines then amending your wash routine.

Saturday, 20 October 2018  |  23:58

Hi! My toddler's nappies seem to smell a bit poppy when they are put away to be re-used. I always use the same system. Dry pail, then wash poopy nappies separately at 30 on a fast wash to clean them.
Then everything in the machine at 60 on an anti-allergy- 3hr 50 - cycle. Then line dried and tumbled for a bit to soften. Is this normal?

Wednesday, 28 November 2018  |  13:33

Hi Wendy,

Is Napisan okay to be used on nappies? I used to add a little onto my main wash but realised it bleaches out my terry squares so I've stopped adding it. However I'm now adding water to it and using it like a spray onto my rinsed nappy in the areas with the stained poo before dry pailing them. Is this okayv I dare not use it on my AIOs or pockets or bamboozles as I'm worried it will be too strong or considered a bleach..appreciate your advice! Thanks!

Thursday, 23 May 2019  |  18:29

We don't recommend napisan in any method as it is known to damage the fabric, pul and elastic of the nappies.

Monday, 10 December 2018  |  10:10

How often would you recommend strip washing nappies like this?

Wednesday, 29 May 2019  |  13:44

Only if smelly, struggling with rashes or regular leaks. With a good wash routine you may never need to strip wash

Rosie Heffernan
Tuesday, 1 January 2019  |  11:23

Hi, I have been given some prelived totsbots from a friend but they smell strongly of stale urine. Iím not sure what her wash regime is...mine is fast wash (30mins with temperature off) with no detergent (as my rinse cycle setting is 50mins!) followed by a superwash (extra water) at 60degrees with detergent and an extra rinse (total 3hrs 15mins). Will I just put them through my wash or do they need a strip wash as Iím confused if this is only necessary if thereís detergent build up...?

Wednesday, 29 May 2019  |  14:04

I would strip wash them as our routine also covers ammonia build up

Alison Hollis
Monday, 7 January 2019  |  12:02

Hi- I hope you can help! I've followed the instructions above and tried revising my wash routine but still getting nappies smelling of smoked haddock once they are wet with urine. 🙁They come out smelling fine and seem clean but nothing I'm trying seems to be shifting it. This is third baby in cloth and I've not had this issue really before. We have bought some preloved stuff recently which initially seemed most noticeable but it is definitely all the nappies. We also have a new machine so I may not have got the hang of a new system yet.
Do you have any further tips or suggestions that I can try?
Finger crossed,

Wednesday, 29 May 2019  |  20:34

Hi Alison, it sounds like the new machine might be too eco and not using enough water. Check the manual to make sure you are using the cycle with the most water. Reducing the initial spin can make the load heavier and trick the machine into using more water

Jade Hutchinson
Thursday, 14 March 2019  |  8:20

Hi, I have heard that if you have hard water too many rinses can cause issues? Is this true?
I have a strong ammonia smell but I donít over do it with the detergent, I make sure the machine is full enough so they get lots of agitation, and there are no soapy bubbles left after my rinse. I donít want to over rinse because I have hard water.
Do you have any suggestions?

Sunday, 7 July 2019  |  10:21

If your nappies smell of ammonia then it is very likely that you are not using enough detergent. Extra rinses will mean just rinsing in water and won't get the nappies clean

Loira Browning
Sunday, 16 June 2019  |  18:39

Hi, I've bought a small amount of pre loved nappies that I'd like to strip wash, especially as some of them smell strongly of ammonia on the first wee. The problem is it's only about 6 nappies, am I right in thinking it's not enough of a load? Will there still be enough aggregation with that small a load? Will I need to amend detergent amounts further.
Thank you

Monday, 8 July 2019  |  20:55

Hi Loira,

I would strip them on their own.

Monday, 1 July 2019  |  15:41

All our wraps have picked up a funky smell. I've strip washed everything and none of the inserts/boosters/night nappies have the smell after the strip wash/dry on the line, but I can't get it out of the wraps!

It's awful, and making the boosters and inserts smell while being stored, and after a few weeks of being used. Is there a way to get the smell out? I really don't know what's caused it!

Wednesday, 9 October 2019  |  12:00

This is very unusual. Do you want to email us with some more details and I'm sure we can help

Elise Gerhards
Sunday, 13 June 2021  |  9:55

I live in Germany and have very hard water. Can I still follow this routine ?

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