How to prep unbleached cotton prefold nappies

So you've got some brand new unbleached cotton prefolds, but they're not soft or absorbent. How do you prep unbleached cotton prefolds so they're ready to use on your baby?

While an overnight soak in water followed by a couple of ordinary washes is enough to prep most modern cloth nappies, unbleached cotton prefolds require a slightly different approach.

The cotton used to make unbleached prefolds hasn't been processed as much as most cotton fabric. It hasn't been bleached (that's why they're a creamy/off-white colour) and they haven't been chemically stripped of their natural oils. Part of prepping your prefolds involves removing the natural oils so they're able to absorb well.

The best way to do this is by washing them in hot water - over 60C deg. I prep my prefolds at the highest setting of my washing machine which is 90C deg. Don't prep your unbleached cotton prefolds with any nappy shells or microfibre inserts - the natural oils seem to gravitate to them and can cause issues. Other natural fibres are usually fine.

Unbleached cotton prefolds require several hot washes to be fully prepped. I like to do three or so to start with, but some people prefer to do more. You don't need to dry between washes (at least, I don't!). Drying in the dryer will help fluff them out too.

Your prefolds will shrink in the first couple of hot washes - this is totally normal and expected.


You'll know when your unbleached cotton is prefold is fully prepped - the fabric will be all bubbly and prunelike. This is called 'quilting' and is really important. It means the cotton fibres are becoming fluffier and more absorbent, so your prepped prefold will be thicker, softer and more absorbent than it was before (and also shorter and narrower!).

Here's a video that shows the difference between a brand new Bubblebubs Unbleached Cotton Prefold and one that has been hot washed a couple of times. The prepped prefold will probably quilt up a bit more over the next few washes, but it won't shrink any further. 


For different ways of folding your prefolds, check out this playlist on our YouTube channel.