One of the biggest questions people often have about using cloth nappies is how to care for them. I am here to tell you that it is a very simple process and one that, once you get it right for your circumstances, will see your nappies always looking and smelling fresh and clean and lasting well.
Before using for the first time
When you first get your new nappies, you will need to give them a pre-wash to remove any dust and residue left behind from manufacturing and transit. It may take up to 8 washes for most nappies to reach full absorbency. You can help speed up this process by soaking your new nappies in a bucket of cold water overnight.
Once you remove a soiled nappy from your child, you need to dispose of any solids into the toilet. Using a flushable liner or a nappy sprayer can make this a simpler process. At this point you can rinse the nappy if you wish (this is not necessary but it can help to prolong the life of your nappies) and then place it into a nappy bucket with a tight sealing lid. You do not need to soak the nappies in water and the use of any nappy sanitisers or soakers will actually shorten the life of your nappies. Once the bucket is full, or every couple of days, you simply wash all of the nappies on a cold or warm cycle (I recommend 40⁰C but 60⁰C is the maximum).
Choosing the right detergent is also important. You can either use a detergent developed especially for cloth nappies such as Rockin’ Green or you can use a detergent from the supermarket but you need to make sure that it has no added softeners or whiteners and that you only use around half of the recommended amount. If detergent builds up in your nappies it can affect their absorbency and if this happens, I recommend completing a strip wash (see below).
I recommend running a pre-wash followed by a normal cycle and then an extra rinse cycle to remove any detergent residue. I like to include an antibacterial rinse if my little one has been unwell or there hasn’t been any sunshine for a long period and the nappies aren’t smelling as fresh as usual. Using fabric softener is a big no-no as it also causes a build up on the nappies.
Once the nappies are washed, hang them in the sun to dry. Sunlight acts as a natural sanitiser and also removes stains from the nappies. Inserts and boosters may be dried through a tumble dryer but it is not recommended to place outer shells through the dryer as this can damage the PUL layer and also shorten the life of the elastic. If you must use the dryer for your outer shells, be sure to run them only on the low setting.
The amount of detergent you use, temperature and length of your wash cycle, and the amount of water in your washing machine (which can be affected by the number of nappies you wash in each load) all have an impact on your cloth nappy washing routine. You might find you need to adjust some or all of these factors to achieve the wash routine that works the best for you.
A strip wash can be performed on your nappies if they are showing signs of detergent build up (repelling and leaking) or if your nappies are starting to smell after washing (this can often happen when your baby is teething).
To perform a strip wash you simply place your nappies into the washing machine and add a couple of drops of dishwashing detergent (cheap brands often work best) and then complete a number of wash cycles until there are no more suds in the wash. I recommend using a warm wash cycle (40⁰C) when performing a strip wash.
If you find you need to complete a strip wash on a regular basis, you may need to look at refining your everyday wash routine to reduce detergent build up.