Cleaning Methods for Re-Usable Nappies

While many of us know that using reusable cloth nappies is not only better for the environment but also better for our purse, we are still put off by the thought of cleaning and washing them. For many people, the thought of cloth nappies conjures up images of hours boiling and scrubbing them by hand! In actual fact, most cloth nappy uses only wash their loads every 2-3 days and with modern advances in washing machines and detergents, it takes not much longer and requires not much more work than doing normal laundry.

First Step…

The first consideration is removing any poo in the nappy. With newborns, particularly those that are breastfed, this may not be possible as the poos tends to be very liquid and can actually just be washed out during the normal laundry cycle. If you find this thought too unpleasant, you can use a water gun to squirt most of the residue down the toilet first. Once the baby is eating solids, the poo will also become correspondingly solid and can simply be rolled off the nappy into the toilet. If the poo does not roll off easily, stretch the fleece liners or ‘sluice’ the nappy by placing it in the toilet bowl, holding it firmly at one end and then flushing and allowing the water to wash any residue off the nappy. Of course, if you have opted for reusable nappies which come with biodegradable paper liners, then you simply need to remove these and flush them down the toilet.

Traditional Soaking

This traditional method of cleaning reusable cloth nappies is to soak them in a bucket full of water and a specialised nappy soaking detergent. Each time you change a nappy – and after you have removed any poo residue – you simply place the nappy to soak in the bucket and replace the lid. When the bucket is full, pour the solution away and then place the nappies in the washing machine for a simple rinse and spin.

Pros – cheaper than disposables; minimises markings and potential stains in cloth nappies.

Cons – the hassle and extra work of having to fill and transport buckets full of liquid, the expense of the special nappy soaking detergent, which can also irritate your skin and your baby’s skin. In addition, nappy soakers are very harsh chemicals which refute the point of having reusable cloth nappies as the environmentally-friendly alternative; the smell of the bucket as the nappy soaker tends to draw urine out of the nappy.


With this method, the nappies are simply placed in an empty (dry) bucket, once any poo residue has been removed (and the nappy rinsed, if you prefer). The bucket is fitted with a secure lid which is very effective at keeping odours contained. When the bucket is full, its contents are tipped into a washing machine and then washed as normal, on a hot or at least a warm wash.

Pros – no extra work soaking nappies; no smell from the soaking bucket, convenience.

Cons – marks and stains can be harder to clean, if many days elapse between washes and soiled nappies remain in the bucket for long periods of time; a hot wash or at least warm wash – and an occasional prewash – is needed to clean the nappies thoroughly.

One compromise is to ‘dry-pail’ their soiled nappies but then soak them in the machine before the normal laundry cycle. This can be done simply by loading the machine at night and turning it off as soon as it is full of water, so that the nappies are left to soak overnight before the machine is switched back on the next day to continue its cycle. Alternatively, you can use the pre-wash or rinse cycle first. If you don’t want to pre-soak the nappies, then it is best to rinse them before they are placed in the ‘dry-pail’ bucket. Another useful tip is to add a small amount of white vinegar in the final rinse, to make the nappies softer, especially if they are dried on the line. This also has the benefit of the acid in the vinegar counteracting any traces of urine left. Bicarbonate of soda can also be added to give an extra ‘boost’ in a safe and environmentally-friendly way.

Remember, with modern washing machines, the contents are washed so well that nappies do not need to be sterilised. If you are using nappies with biodegradable liners, then after these are flushed down the toilet with any soild waste, the washable outers can be treated like normal laundry. Nappies can be dried on the line, in the tumble dryer or even just on a clothes horse in a warm room.

Nappy Laundry Services

For those who just do not have the time or energy to wash and clean their reusable cloth nappies themselves, there are now many good nappy laundry services which will collect, wash and return your nappies to you. They offer the utmost convenience and you simply have to place the soiled nappies in a specially provided bin, which are then collected on a regular basis (usually each week) and the nappies are cleaned by experts. The only drawback is that – like many other convenience services – this can be expensive and there can also be limited flexibility in collection times.

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