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General washing & care instructions

There is a lot of confusing and contradictory information on washing cloth nappies online. Contrary to what you often hear, washing cloth nappies should not be complicated.

You don't need a science degree to wash your clothes,

and you don't need one to wash your nappies.

Be guided by your own common sense and experience, and seek advice from people who have wide experience when you need it. Reputable longstanding retailers and manufacturers should be your first port of call if you get stuck. They deal with nappy washing queries all the time and have lots of experience.

 

New Nappies

You'll find most nappies will need a number of washes before obtaining full absorbency - just like a new tea towel becomes softer and more absorbent the more you wash it. This especially applies to those nappies that use cotton, bamboo or hemp as the absorbent fabric. To save water (and time) soak your new nappies in cold water overnight - this will cut down on the number of washes you have to do. If you can't wait to use your new nappies (let's face it, very few of us can!) it's fine to use them after a soak and a prewash - just be aware that you may experience the odd leak and have to change the nappy more frequently the first few times you use it.

Unbleached cotton prefolds need a slightly different prepping process. Find instructions here

Nappy Rash Creams

Do NOT use barrier creams unless you use a liner to protect the nappy - zinc and petroleum based barrier creams especially clog up the fabric of the nappies and prevent them absorbing. It is good practice to use a liner when you are using any sort of cream - some wash out better than others (and it can depend on your water and detergent too), and it's better to be safe than sorry.

Dry Pail/Bucket

We recommend dry pailing/bucketing - place your soiled nappy (after removing solids - see 'What about the poo?') into your nappy bucket DRY.  Do not soak, do not add bleach. Rinsing the nappies before placing them in the bucket will dilute the urine and help prevent stains. Stains can be removed after washing with the natural sunlight. Rinsing before dry pailing is also recommended if your child has strong wees ('toxic wee' - like that associated with teething) as the strong urine can damage the fabric if left for too long before washing.

Detergent

You'll see a lot of advice around recommending using minimal detergent to wash your nappies for fear of 'detergent build up'. With modern washing machines and better designs of nappies that open up for washing, true detergent build up is not common. Please make sure you use enough detergent to clean your nappies properly.

Check the individual manufacturer's advice regarding detergent use. You should use the full recommended amount of cloth nappy specific detergent and the full amount of most supermarket detergents as recommended on the pack. How much detergent you need to use will depend on whether you use cold, warm or hot water (the hotter the water the less detergent you need), the soft/hardness of your water (South Australians have the hardest water and require more detergent than most other places) and which detergent you use, as well as your washing machine. There may be some trial and error involved to get what works best for you (don't be afraid to experiment and change detergents if you don't get a good result), but it shouldn't be complicated. Please note that smelly nappies are more usually caused by insufficiently cleaned nappies (often not enough detergent) than by detergent build up.

Generally, ensure your detergent does NOT contain ingredients designed to stay in the nappy after washing - fabric softeners, brighteners or artificial scents. These can either cause issues with nappy function (softeners reduce absorbency) or can cause issues for babies with sensitive skin.

While enzyme detergents are great cleaners - especially at lower water temperatures - enzymes are often not recommended when washing nappies as there is a theory that any residue left on the nappy can reactivate when they comes into contact with urine and cause nappy rash - but see research on that here which indicates it may not actually be a problem.

An environmentally & grey water safe detergent from the supermarket is a great place to start if you're environmentally conscious or have a baby with sensitive skin. You will need to use the full recommended dosage for heavy soiling for best results, depending on your water hardness, washing machine and water temperature. Washing in warm or hot may improve results with eco detergents.

Do NOT use fabric softener or soap flakes (stops nappies absorbing), vinegar (breaks down PUL, may damage elastic, and is bad for your washing machine) or chlorine bleaches (damages fabric & can cause nappy rash).

Do NOT use homemade detergent. This will in most cases void your warranty, and the unscientifically tested combination of ingredients could damage your nappies or cause skin reactions. Washing results can also be very mixed.

Washing

Do NOT wash on more than 60 degrees. You can wash on cold if you prefer.

Depending on your washing machine, use a heavy duty or regular/long cycle. Short cycles don't provide enough agitation time for heavily soiled loads.

If you have a water efficient front loader, make sure you choose a cycle which uses enough water to thoroughly rinse and clean your nappies rather than an Eco or Water Saving cycle - nappies can absorb a lot of water and you want enough water to penetrate the fibres and clean well.

Most people find doing a rinse cycle or short wash (just make sure the cycle spins the dirty water out of the machine) before a full wash gives a much better result as a lot of the waste is removed before the full wash cycle.

If your nappies are not getting clean, try increasing the amount of detergent and/or the water temperature or switching detergents. Like any laundry load, make sure you're not overloading your machine.

Yes, you can wash your nappies with other laundry! Just run the nappies through a rinse/short cycle by themselves to remove as much urine & poo as possible, then add your other washing to make a full load.

Drying

The best method to dry your nappies is to hang them outside - the sun is a great natural bleach. Many nappies can, however, be tumble dried on low heat - please read each nappy's care instructions prior to doing so and be aware that nappies dried in the dryer on a regular basis will experience more wear, and it doesn't provide the same bleaching effect as the sun.

On hot summer days, don't leave dry nappies baking for hours in that strong direct sunlight. While the power of the sun is great for bleaching nappies, it can also degrade fabric, elastic and waterproofing over time. Dry your nappies in the morning and bring them in, or hang them in a protected spot where they won't experience the harshness of the afternoon sun.

It is important to carefully consider your nappies' washing and care instructions as most warranties (if applicable) will be void if washed contrary to manufacturers' guidelines.

Here's the Australian Nappy Association's 5 Step Wash Routine as an easy guideline to caring for your cloth nappies.

Find more washing tips from the Australian Nappy Association here.

Strip Washing

Strip washing should NOT be required on a regular basis and, when you have a good washing routine, you shouldn't have to strip wash at all.

If your nappies are smelly or repelling, examine your wash routine - your nappies may not be getting clean enough (the oils/fats in poo can cause repelling and smells) or you may have ammonia build up. Try adding more detergent to your wash and doing a couple of hot washes. Or perhaps a longer cycle or extra rinse will be required - don't be afraid to experiment (but you shouldn't have to do multiple wash cycles or anything crazy)!

If you have a build up of softener residue or ammonia, or your nappies have started to repel or stop absorbing, you can do a 'strip wash' to reset your nappies before changing your washing routine.

To strip wash, wash your clean, dry nappies in hot water (60 degrees) with no detergent. Make sure there is plenty of water for the nappies to be washed in - especially if you have a water efficient front loader.

Then do another hot wash with a pack of GroVia Mighty Bubble Laundry Treatment.

Alternatively, soak your nappies overnight in a bucket/sink of hot water and a squirt of plain dishwashing detergent - non moisturising and non concentrated. If you've used barrier creams or something else that has coated the nappy surface, rub dishwashing detergent directly on the problem area to help shift it. Rinse the nappies by hand as well as you can, then put the nappies through a wash cycle with no detergent. Please note that dishwashing detergent is not designed for washing machines, so remove as much of it as you can before putting your nappies in your washing machine.

Then, rinse as many times as necessary to remove all the bubbles from the water. If your nappies have been smelling due to bacteria or there's been gastro or thrush infections, it can be a good idea to add some Canestan Laundry Rinse to the final rinse cycle.

Leaking Nappies

See this article for a list of the most common causes of leaking nappies.

The science of washing cloth nappies

Here are some interesting articles explaining the science & history behind washing cloth nappies:
Laundry Science - Bummis

The Science of Washing Cloth Nappies - Mandy Mac

Laundry Science - Real Diaper Association

Washing Cloth Diapers: A look at the last 10 years - Jenn Labit (Cotton Babies/BumGenius)

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