Cleaning cloth nappies : Everything you need to know

How do I wash reusable nappies?

Everyone has different ways of washing nappies as they adapt their washing routine to their own machine and water type. People in a hard water area will probably need to use more powder than in a soft water area, or 2 ecoeggs maybe. Those with more modern machines will need to use the “allergy care” setting or add a jug or water to the load before they turn it on if using an ecoegg as the egg needs plenty of movement and water to work properly. A guideline for a basic washing routine is as follows:

  • Cold rinse in machine (removes and breaks up solids, loosens stains)
     
  • Use non-biological powder (certain liquids and gels may affect the absorbency of the nappies) or an Ecoegg
     
  • Use two thirds of the recommended amount of powder initially then reduce slightly if bubbles remain at the end of the cycle (a full dose can can be used if no bubbles remain at the end of the washing cycle. Too much detergent remaining in the nappies will cause problems in the long run)
     
  • Do not use any fabric conditioner (coats fibres and prevents proper absorption)
     
  • Wash at either 40 or 60 degrees (60 is recommended for killing germs and thrush)
     
  • Use an intensive wash cycle, not a quick wash or an “eco” setting (nappies need a lot of jiggling around to ensure they are clean AND properly rinsed)
     
  • Cold rinse in machine (to ensure all detergent has been removed. Not needed with Ecoegg)
     
  • Line dry (For faster drying stand airer by radiator and set up a small fan blowing gently up the middle. This can cut drying time by more than half. Bamboo fibres and PUL can be damaged by temperatures higher than 60 degrees or direct heat for too long so do not hang bamboo directly on a radiator. See below for further detail)

If there are any bubbles left after the final rinse you will need to rinse again until they are gone to prevent detergent build up, then use slightly less detergent next time you wash.

Always wash at 60 ifYour baby is under 3 months

Your baby has repeated or unusual nappy rash

Your baby is unwell at all

You have more than one baby using the nappies

Hints and trouble shooting: 

You do not need to use a specific powder for your nappies, your usual non-bio or an ecoegg should be fine. 

Do not use bicarbonate of soda, bleach, vinegar or napisan as over time they can damage the PUL and elastic in the nappies. 

It is not necessary to wash nappies at a higher temperature than 60 and doing so could shorten the life of the nappies.

Line dry nappies where possible. It is more hygienic and better for the longevity of the nappies. If you must tumble them, check that your nappies are safe to tumble before you do so and tumble on low-heat setting, never tumble on hot. 

Do not dry bamboo on a radiator that is too hot to touch. This can damage the fibres and eventually they will start to fall out (this damage usually looks like a slug has been munching your nappy/booster!) It is best to use an airer near a radiator. 

If nappies are still smelly after washing then initially it may be caused by using too LITTLE detergent, or could be caused by a build up of detergent. For either, though the solution is the same: Use a FULL dose of detergent in a 60 wash and then rinse until ALL bubbles have gone. If this does not solve the problem, soak the nappies in icy cold water for 24 hours and then repeat. Once nappies are stripped, you will need to ensure that you are rinsing all the detergent out every time you wash to prevent the problem reoccurring, and if they then start to smell again then you may need to switch detergents. Nappies that are washed properly should never need to be stripped.

If nappies smell strongly of wee when in use, it could be down to “teething wee” which also often causes nappy rash. A charcoal booster reduces acidity and helps with the smell and the rash. (The charcoal boosters sold by most retailers are microfibre inside with charcoal fleece wrapped around them. There is no bamboo in the actual booster and they are not more absorbent than a similar microfibre insert. The charcoal that is added to the fleece is derived from bamboo. Hence the name “charcoal bamboo insert”)

It is worth noting that hemp nappies can naturally have a strange smell to them. And that ecoeggs leave clothing and nappies unscented which can be odd when first using them as we are so used to detergent scenting our laundry. 

“Cloth-safe” detergents and laundry additives

Generally most people who use cloth advise to avoid liquid detergents and 2-in-1 detergents (any detergent with an oil-based inbuilt softener), but those in this list are generally agreed by most manufacturers to be “nappy safe”. Obviously results and preferences vary person to person and machine to machine.

Ecoegg
Ecosprout powder
Violet’s Pure & Natural Laundry Powder
Rockin’ Green powder (available for soft or hard water)
Potion powder (Totsbots)
Fuzzibunz nappy detergent (formulated by Rockin Green)
StinkPot Cloth Diaper Detergent
Fairy non-bio (both liquid and powder, not gel or liquitabs)
Bold 2 in 1 powder (the softener is clay-based and does not build up)
Ecoballs (not the same as the Ecoegg, Ecoballs have no tourmaline in them)
Asda non-bio powder
Washnuts liquid
Ariel non-bio powder
Daz powder
Persil non-bio powder
Sainsburys basic non-bio powder
Lidl Formil non-bio
Surecare powder
Soapnuts
Violet’s Earth Friendly Bleach (Not a detergent. Fine to use with nappies as per instructions on the pack)
Bio D bleach (as for Violet’s bleach above)
Bambino Mio MioFresh sanitiser (addition to detergent)
Bio D sanitiser (addition to detergent)

DO NOT USE: 

This list of things to avoid with cloth nappies is taken from manufacturers and retailers websites.

Detergents with “cellulase” in the ingredients
Vinegar
Sodium bicarbonate
Calgon
Ecover liquid detergent (quite a few people report using it with no problems, others strongly say to avoid it)
Any fabric conditioner
Bleach (apart from where listed as safe)
Napisan
“Vanish” and other harsh stain removers
Oxy-action stain removers
BumGenius/Cotton Babies specifically say, “Use non-bio washing powder which does not contacting any perfumes, dyes, whiteners, brighteners or enzymes” 

It is possible that your warranty could be void if your nappies prematurely degrade and you are found to be using a harsh detergent or something else on the “DO NOT USE” list. Always check with the manufacturer of your nappies if unsure. 

“Cloth-safe” creams 

If the nappy is changed often enough and skin is allowed to air dry as much as possible, rashes should not occur. A rash whilst teething is more common and this can be reduced by using a charcoal booster inside the nappy. 
Any cream with paraffin or petroleum-based ingredients is not cloth nappy safe. 

We would always recommend using a liner with creams regardless as there is no guarantee that a cream wont cause trouble for various reasons. Rub creams in well and use sparingly to reduce the likelihood of problems. Disposable liners can cause nappy rash because they stay damp against the skin, so trying fleece liners can help in the first instance.

Silk liners and silver liners are also said to be better for rashes (silver is well known to have healing properties). 

This is a list of creams etc that are generally agreed to be ok for cloth providing they are used sparingly and rubbed in well of course: 

  • Breastmilk
  • Little Violet’s Baby Balm
  • CJ’s BUTTer (all variants including tubs, tubes and spritz)
  • Balmy Notions
  • Mama’s Moonshine
  • Ecosprout Bum Salve
  • Waitrose Bottom Butter
  • Purepotions Lav Salve
  • Lanisoh
  • Thirsties Booty LoveSheepish Grins Bottom Balm
  • Pumpkin ButtCoconut oil (solid or cold pressed)
  • Cavilon (cream or spray)California Baby Diaper rash creamAngel Baby Botty Balm
  • Bio Baby Eco Spray
  • Camomile tea (NOT camomile essential oils)
  • Badger Balm (questionable)
  • Weleda Baby (questionable)
  • Burt Bees (questionable)

A note about essential oils: Teatree is actually a very harsh oil for skin and should NOT be used on children under 12 years old. Many people use it to sanitise nappies but actually the quantity needed to effectively fully cleanse is way more than anyone would ever use. Quite a bit of skin redness issues can be put down to the use of teatree in the nappy bucket or wash. Aromatherapists are starting to report strains of thrush and bacterial infections that are resistant to treatment with treatree. In the same way that overuse of antibiotics can cause resistance, as can inappropriate use of teatree and other essential oils. They should generally only be used under direction by an aromatherapist to treat actual conditions.

Lavender is considered to be safe for babies and young children (a VERY small percentage of people are sensitive to it though so it should always be patch tested) but it does sting a lot on broken skin, so a few drops in water is fine for wipes. It can be added to the wash as an antimicrobial additive. There is a common misconception that lavender is relaxing. It is, but only in very small quantities. In larger quantities, it is stimulating. So if you use lavender and find that your baby stops sleeping, that is probably why! 

Chamomile is added to nearly every baby product these days as it is generally very gentle and safe to use with children. However, in the last 10 years there has been a huge increase in the number of children with eczema, which does correlate to the increased use of chamomile. Aromatherapists would generally recommend avoiding chamomile oil unless under supervision for a specific problem. Chamomile tea is not the same as essential oils and can be a lovely alternative. 

Rose is extremely expensive so not often used, but is considered to be safe for use with babies. 

Mandarin is not expensive and, diluted in a base oil, is generally safe for use with babies. Combined with lavender, it enhances the antimicrobial and healing properties, and it is also said to be good for digestive health when a few drops in a base oil such as olive oil or grapeseed oil are massaged (clockwise) into the abdomen, but mandarin can stain and most base oils will coat your nappy fibres so use with caution in that respect. 

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