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Washing & Drying Nappies

79 CommentsWednesday, 22 July 2015

How to Wash and Dry Your Cloth 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 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 .  You can also keep your nappy wraps in the bucket along with the nappies and there will be no significant smell from the nappy bucket when the lid is lifted.

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, Nappisan, bleach or harsh stain removers should never be used as they can corrode the nappy fabric and effectively destroy your nappies. Please note that if any of these products are used on the nappies or accessories it will invalidate any product guarantee. Bamboo is an especially delicate fabric and is particularly susceptible to harsh chemicals.

Step1. 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. This is 3/4 full when the fabrics are wet.  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 occassionally!)

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.

Step3. Main Wash Cycle
Next simply run your longest 60 or 40 degree wash with non bio powder washing detergent (NOT ECOVER - see below).

You SHOULD wash at 60 degrees in any of the following circumstances:

  • 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
  • If your baby has any history of repeated rashing 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

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 VERY 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. 

Lots of people get very hung up on the amount of detergent they should use, in our experience people always tend to over dose and forget to run a maintenance cycle on their machine regularly leading 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 halve it.  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.    

The reason we recommend non bio and not biological 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.

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.

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

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 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.  f you do have to tumble dry make sure you only dry any bamboo fabrics or waterproof layers low.
  7. Radiator - nappies will feel quite hard, but can be shaken out to soften them up a bit.
  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.


Lucy Woodman
Saturday, 1 August 2015  |  21:56

Hi, what's your opinion on soda crystals for softening hard water?

Monday, 3 August 2015  |  10:25

Hi Lucy, We don't recommend using soda crystals as some manufacturers have expressed concern over the impact on some fabrics such as bamboo.

Friday, 6 May 2016  |  7:33

Hi - would you use fabric conditioner? I know with towels it's not good to use other than occasionally, would the same principle apply here?

Wednesday, 11 May 2016  |  14:46

Hi Jennie,
Definitely no fabric softener as it coats the fibers and reduces the absorbency of the nappy.

Jennie Duck
Wednesday, 11 May 2016  |  17:30

Thanks Sharon. Also, is it ok to put microfibre and bamboo and fleece in the same wash? I've read some things saying you should be careful what microfibre goes in with, especially terry cloth as it can impact the quality of the microfibre.
Any thoughts?
Thanks, Jennie

Thursday, 12 May 2016  |  18:13

Hi Jennie, No it's absolutely fine to put bamboo and microfibre together. Hemp and organic cotton have natural oils in them for the first few washes which can coat fibres so sometimes people wash them separately.

Sunday, 3 July 2016  |  19:27

Hi there, my Motherease are now onto baby number 4!!! I still wish to continue using them but the smell is really bad now when they are wet and I definitely don't want to buy anymore as I am not having any more babies!! Can you advise what is the best way to give them a really thorough wash to eliminate the smell and help me to get another year or so out of them!!! Thanks.

Tuesday, 31 January 2017  |  21:29

How about using Dettol for laundry in order to kill the bakteria?

Monday, 6 March 2017  |  11:53

Hi Anna, No we don't recommend Dettol for laundry. Some manufacturers have concerns over it with regard to damaging nappy fabrics and elastics. There is also concern over the over use of anti bac products with regard to anti biotic resistance.

Sunday, 6 September 2015  |  21:12


What about soap nuts for washing nappies?

Tuesday, 15 September 2015  |  12:01

Yes you can use soap nuts with your nappies. Some people swear by them while others find they don't give them a deep enough clean. Always worth a try and see what you think.
Wendy The Nappy Lad

Sunday, 20 September 2015  |  12:39

Do I need to soak soiled nappies and wraps in the nappy bucket if I am washing them every other day? If so what is best to use? Thank you.

Monday, 16 November 2015  |  11:39

We recommend you DON'T soak modern nappies as it can degrade the fabrics especially bamboo. It can also affect the PUL waterproof layer of the wraps so never soak these either

Thursday, 22 October 2015  |  17:52

Hi Wendy, could you use Castile soap to wash nappies?

Monday, 16 November 2015  |  11:45

No to castiles soap as it can leave a film on the fabric which causes liquid to bead more than other detergents.

Karla White
Saturday, 28 November 2015  |  17:13

Hi I saw online somewhere that you can add a few drops of lavender oil to the wash. Is this true/safe/recommended?

Saturday, 28 November 2015  |  19:18

Hi Karla, Yes you can put a couple of drops of lavender oil in the wash it helps to scent the nappies and has been claimed to help sanitise them but this does depend on the concentration of the oil. I used to always put essential oil in with mine.

Tuesday, 8 December 2015  |  5:29

When you say don't 'soak' nappies between washes, do you mean they go in the bucket dry or just water with no detergent?
Is there a particular nappy detergent I should be using in a half load purely nappy wash, nappysan etc or normal non bio washing powder?

Wednesday, 9 December 2015  |  11:26

Not soaking nappies mean you store them using a "dry pailing" method. This means keeping them in the bucket without any water or any sanitiser, they are just kept dry as they were when you took them off.
Non bio powder detergent is best. The only one we don't like is Ecover.

Louise Woodhouse
Wednesday, 26 October 2016  |  9:29

When you dry pail does this mean you shouldn't rinse any poo off the nappies after you take them off. Ie leave all poo on there?? I wasn't sure if you still rinse off the poo and leave the nappy in the nappy bucket (so they will be wet from the rinse but not soaking in water) Cheers!

Wednesday, 26 October 2016  |  10:28

Hi Louise, No it's fine to rinse the poo off first before it goes into the bucket and this can help prevent staining and damage to the fabric especially if you tend to only wash every 2days+. They will be wet in the bucket from the rinse but not soaking wet.

Sunday, 28 February 2016  |  9:17


I live in a place where the washing machine only has cold water. What can I do to ensure the nappies get a good clean?


Thursday, 28 July 2016  |  12:40

Cold infill machines are fine as they self heat the water. If you can only cold wash your nappies then hand washing in boiling water occassionally having presoaked them would be the best option.

Helen Cowan
Thursday, 24 March 2016  |  0:36

Hello just wondering if non bio liquid is any good, or if it must be powder?

Wednesday, 27 April 2016  |  11:25

Hi Helen, powder is better than liquid as it washes out of the fabrics better and is preferred by many of the main manufacturers. There are a few liquid brands that have been made especially for use with nappies such as the bumgenius liquid. This is ok

Thursday, 21 April 2016  |  21:01

Hello Wendy, have you found that Ecover liquids give the same problems with build-up and skin irritation as the powder?

Wednesday, 27 April 2016  |  11:29

Hi Rosemary, We do not recommend any of the ecover range due to it leaving a residue on the fabrics. We've found this to be a common cause of rashes and in some cases has degraded fabrics and elastics.

Friday, 22 April 2016  |  9:25

Hi, this advice is really useful and has prevented me from ruinng my lovely minky wonderoos. However, after two months of use they are starting to smell of wee even after washing.

I have been washing 5-7 daily using persil non bio and now waitrose own powder, adding an extra rinse to the 40* wash cycle, and largely drying them indoors overnight near to a radiator and window (with the pockets inside out and away from the radiator). I dry them outside to remove stains and freshen them whenever he weather is good and I am at home.

What can I do to wash out the urine more effectively and remove the smell? Should I be washing them at 60* periodically? ( this takes 2 1\2 hours in my machine) or would this harm the pockets? Should I be using more detergent ( I halvedthe amount I used but use very little anyway) we also have very hard water.

Advice would be very helpful, thanks!

Wednesday, 27 April 2016  |  11:31

Hi Helen, A urine smell to the nappies means they aren't getting a deep enough clean. Your main wash cycle should be approx 2.5-3hours long. Also an occassional 60deg washgives the nappies a deeper more thorough clean which can be really helpful especially when baby is teething.

Wednesday, 27 April 2016  |  11:24

Hi Steph, With a machine that only has cold water and no heating option you will need to separately wash the nappies in hot water such as in a bowl of previously boiled water (allowed to cool to no hotter than 60deg) to give them a deeper clean.

Tuesday, 4 October 2016  |  6:22

Hi. Thanks for the thorough info. I live on a very dry climate and things dry quickly. Are there any adverse effects on baby / reason not to simply dry nappies which have only been urinated on and reuse (just once) to reduce washing? Thanks

Wednesday, 26 October 2016  |  10:31

Hi Beth, You MUST wash soiled nappies between uses. Allowing the urine to dry and then reusing the nappy will mean that the babies skin is going to be in contact with old stale urine which is going to lead to sore skin, bad nappy rash as well as poor hygiene.

If you got urine all over your clothes would you just let them dry and rewear or wash them? Treat babies clothing and nappies the same as you would your own.

Katherine Hassell
Wednesday, 11 May 2016  |  12:59

Hi, I use dettol laundry cleanser on our towels and occasionally on soiled work clothes etc. Can I use a small amount of dettol on my nappies?

Wednesday, 11 May 2016  |  14:49

Many of our suppliers do not like dettol cleanser used on their products and we recommend it is NOT used. Aside from product damage there is growing concern about overuse of disinfecting products being so readily used and leading to bacterial resistance so we try to avoid wherever possible.

Thursday, 12 May 2016  |  18:13

Hi Jennie, No it's absolutely fine to put bamboo and microfibre together. Hemp and organic cotton have natural oils in them for the first few washes which can coat fibres so sometimes people wash them separately.

Lyndsey Kindred
Thursday, 19 May 2016  |  1:13

Hi, I just wanted to clarify something about dry pailing. Do they go in the budget just as they are, no rinse at all, or is it OK to rinse out the wee first? I can't see stains coming out of mine if I didn't at least rinse off the pooy bits! I've had mostly pocket nappies, which I wet pailed in mioboost, but they have been leaking after a year of use, I've invested in some bumgenius elementals and want to take the best possible care of them so they last us the rest of the way! So far I have been rinsing them under the tap then squeezing out the absorbant bits and putting in the bucket just them,no soaking solution, is this OK? I use a half measure of persil non bio as detergent, and occasionally put a dose of mioboost powder in. Is this OK? Thank you very much.

Thursday, 28 July 2016  |  12:35

Hi Lyndsey, It is fine to put them in the bucket as they are (unless covered in poo) but it's also fine to rinse wet nappies. Nappies with lots of poo left on them should always be rinsed first.

Saturday, 4 June 2016  |  22:09

I've just started using reusables, washed soiled inserts at 40 degrees using little violets powder and the inserts are very visibly stained shouldI be aiming to achieve clean white inserts (ie should a try a different powder or cycle) or is some staining inevitable?

Thursday, 28 July 2016  |  12:37

For a young baby preweaned their poo stains very easily. Sunlight is the best thing for stains if they bother you. Stains don't mean the nappy isn't clean it's just that the poo has such a strong colour. See our article on sunlight and stains but it really works!

Thursday, 13 October 2016  |  22:41

Is it OK to dry microfiber and bamboo nappies on an electric heated clothes dryer?

Wednesday, 26 October 2016  |  10:35

Yes it's fine to dry both of the heater airers like you can find in Lakelands. Bamboo can burn and lead to balding if it gets too hot which is why bamboo should never be dried on a radiator. General rule is if the heater you are going to dry your clothes on is too hot to leave you hand pressed against it for several mintues (like a radiator) then it's too hot for your nappies.

Anna Roycroft
Tuesday, 1 November 2016  |  10:41

hi, could you use vinegar as a natural fabric softener on nappies? if yes, how would you use it?

Wednesday, 23 November 2016  |  19:45

No you MUST NOT use vinegar it can degrade the fabrics.

Friday, 4 November 2016  |  21:18

Hi! I am really in trouble now! Because I use ONLY ORGANIC WASHING DETERGENT! Usually my own (soda, vinegar and lavender oil) but I would never use this comercial stuff. is there any other solution?

Wednesday, 23 November 2016  |  19:47

Try using Violets (we sell it on our site) It is very gentle and natural.

Wednesday, 16 November 2016  |  22:10

I'm coming from the US. My nappies are stinky after being washed. Is it due to the smaller machines with less water?
Please help since I am almost ready to change to dispossable ones

Wednesday, 23 November 2016  |  19:48

Hi Dora, Yes our machines over here are far more water efficient than US machines so you will need to wash differently. Do a rinse cycle first and then a long 60deg wash (2-3hours long) with half nonbio powder detergent.

Wednesday, 7 December 2016  |  17:50

I am using bum genius nappies (been using them for 5 1/2 years over 3 children) and have found that the microfibre inserts have become extremely stiff and crunchy. We do live in a hard water area, is it due to this and is there anything I can do to soften them again? The hemp inserts I use are fine. Thanks

Thursday, 19 January 2017  |  15:55

you can try tumble drying them and that often softens them back up. If this doesn't work then they are unlikely to be saved and you'd need to replace the inserts.

Adiza Rabiu
Saturday, 17 December 2016  |  11:11

Please when you say you don't recommended using calgon for fitted nappy, what can I use instead as I live in a very hard water.

Thursday, 19 January 2017  |  18:39

We don't recommend any chemicals to soften the water if used directly in the machine as requested by manufacturers. tumble drying on low softens fabric or even rubbing the fabrics together when they come out of the machine can help. Also think about how you dry nappies. If you dry in dry heat such as an airing cupboard this can cook the fabric making it even harder. If you dry in moist air like a bathroom or kitchen this drys the fabric softer.

Carly Fordham
Thursday, 22 December 2016  |  21:43


Just to say I have been using Ecover ZERO – Non–Bio Washing Powder since 2012 with my first son and now with my second son. Haven't had any issues.

Thursday, 19 January 2017  |  18:40

That's great. However manufacturers have found issues with ecover so our advice is to not use it as otherwise you will be invalidating a product warranty.

Saturday, 21 January 2017  |  0:23

I usually don't separate out nappies from my main wash, however I read elsewhere that I shouldn't wash nappies with breast pads, or really anything that will go near baby's mouth. I'm now not sure whether I should be washing baby clothes, e.g. vests with mitts, with the nappies. What do you recommend?

Monday, 6 March 2017  |  11:49

If you're mixing your washing i'd wash them at 60deg but most people do wash nappies separately if washing every other day. You don't want the machine full as you need room for the nappies to be able to move around. If you do wash with other things at least do a rinse cycle first with just the nappies so a lot of the urine has rinsed away.

Sunday, 7 May 2017  |  22:19

Hi, I'm residing in Ethiopia and the washing detergent choice is very basic. Ariel and a few other weird ones but all biological. Everywhere I read the nappies are washed in non-bio, are there any where this doesn't matter.

Monday, 15 May 2017  |  10:50

Hi Nina, As long as you haven't got bamboo fabric biological is fine. Biological can eat away at bamboo fabric which is why it should be avoided.

Trisha Jukes
Monday, 8 May 2017  |  12:54

Hi! What kind of cycle on my machine should I use? The daily wash function is only between 1hr to 1hr15 depending on how many rinses/spin speed/temp.

Something like the cotton setting is 3hrs to 3hrs 30.

Many thanks. I love uoir website, so helpful.

Monday, 15 May 2017  |  12:11

Hi Trisha, The cotton 3-3.5 hours is the wash cycle that you need. Nappies needs a lovely long wash to ensure they are thorough clean.

Tuesday, 16 May 2017  |  9:20

Hi, thanks for tbis article, super helpful.
I dry my prefold on a rack with a dehumidifier which I leave on all night. Would that do amy damage to them?
Also. Another question, is miofresh ok to use in every wash for the prefolds and covers?
Many thanks.

Wednesday, 17 May 2017  |  12:20

Hi Nicoleta, Yes it's fine to use a dehumidifer to help dry the nappies it really does make drying washing quicker. Yes you can use the miofresh each time, it's not normally needed for the wraps.

Gemma Allen
Thursday, 8 June 2017  |  8:44

I am washing my nappies in fairy non bio powder every other day with a scoop of mio fresh using a cotton wash with a pre rinse and extra rinse after but recently they have started to have a wired smell. Not sure how to describe the smell but it doesn't smell like urine! I normally line dry them but if it's raining I dry them indoors on an airer sometimes with 10 mins in the tumble drier to freshen. Do I need to change anything in my wash routine to stop the smell? Thanks

Sunday, 11 June 2017  |  20:47

I'm getting bald patches on my bamboo bamboozles and boosters. Some are old but some have hardly been used. There is no logic as to which one will form bald patches next! I'm getting concerned now and would like to get to the bottom of what's causing it so I can stop it from happening again. I only use surcare non-bio. I do a 20 minute cold pre wash, then a 3 hour wash at 40 degrees. We don't have a tumble drier and line dry where possible. My wash routine hasn't changed over the years, some of the nappies that my ds1 used for 2 years are still looking good whereas ones only used maybe 10 times have patches. Any suggestions as to what I'm doing wrong please?

Tuesday, 11 July 2017  |  10:00

Hi Tara, Balding on bamboo (and cotton) can have a number of causes. Using biological detergent, vinegar or harsh stain removers/chemicals is one.
Exposure to heat can damage the bamboo structure such as drying on a radiator or in a tumble drier on high.
Another reason we have found is the child having really strong teething wee. One of my children had this and it was so strong and acidic it wore away fibres. he was best with microfibre which won't bald with strong wee.

Wednesday, 5 July 2017  |  16:46

Hi, I bought some of my nappies pre-used, is there anything you recommend I should do before using them for my baby? I read somewhere about bleaching them first, but if this isn't necessary then I'd rather avoid it. Would a standard 60 degree wash with normal non bio do the trick or should I add some napisan as well?

Tuesday, 11 July 2017  |  10:33

Hi Nicola,
Don't use napisan on modern nappies it will damage the fabrics. I'd use the bambinex ultra care when washing them it will wash and sanitise all in one

Tuesday, 11 July 2017  |  9:57

Normally we find when this happens it's the baby has started teething as teething wee really smells strong. Make sure you are washing at 60deg and i'd do a strip wash which means do a long 60deg wash with a full dose of detergent followed by another long 60deg wash WITHOUT any detergent. That gives them a lovely deep clean.

Martha Shreeve
Wednesday, 19 July 2017  |  15:57

What is the shortest cycle appropriate for a 4-5 nappy load as I'd like to wash every day.

Thursday, 20 July 2017  |  17:17

Hi Martha, If just washing 4-5 nappies on their own i'd be looking for a 60-90min wash.

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