How to Wash your Cloth Nappies - Simplified

How to Wash your Cloth Nappies - Simplified

January 14, 2020


I grew up hearing all sorts of horror stories about washing traditional terry cloth nappies. Soaking, boiling, all sorts of laborious washing routines, and secret competitions with the neighbours about who had the whitest terry nappies hanging out on the line. The reality has proven to be quite different for me. One of the first things people will say about cloth nappies is usually along the lines of “oh I wouldn’t manage all that washing”. Well firstly, most of us in Ireland wash our clothes with a washing machine! The washing machine really does do all the work. The more time consuming part is hanging the nappies up to dry. But the reality is even that doesn’t take too long. If you use cloth nappies full time, you will need to do a nappy wash 2 to 3 times per week. Pre children you don’t have to use the washing machine too often, so that probably sounds like quite a lot. After you add a child to your family (or three!) it does seem like the washing machine is on the go all the time, so adding in 2 or 3 extra washes per week just blends in unnoticed. 

The daunting thing for people starting out is the actual washing routine itself. Some people have a tendency to over complicate it, whereas I prefer to keep it simple. It’s less daunting that way. For people starting out, I would suggest the following washing routine:

Wet pailing (soaking) cloth nappies is no longer recommended. Dry pailing cloth nappies is now the norm, and this can be done in a bucket with a lid, or more commonly in a wet bag. A wet bag is a waterproof cloth nappy storage bag. When at home you can use a very large wet bag like a Smart Bottoms hanging wet bag to store all your nappies that are waiting to be washed. You can bring smaller wet bags with you when you are heading out. Wet bags don’t need to be washed after each use, I would normally use them a few times, or if they start to get a bit stinky (depending on how soiled the contents are), I would wash them sooner. Wet bags are made from the same material as the waterproof part of your cloth nappy, so they can all be washed together.

When changing your babies cloth nappy, place the wet nappy in the wet bag. If you are using disposable liners and there is a soiled nappy, you can bin the liner and poo at this point. If you are blessed to have a baby that does solid poos, you can flick the poo into the toilet and flush. After a day or two, when your large wet bag is full, it’s time to do your nappy wash.

Place all your nappies in the washing machine. At this point you will have already removed any soiled liners, or flicked poo into the toilet. So there isn’t any lumps of poo going into your washing machine. If you are using pocket nappies, I would pull the inserts most of the way out of the nappy pocket to ensure they agitate out and get properly clean. Make sure you don’t overfill your washing machine, otherwise the washing machine may struggle to clean them properly.

Do one one rinse cycle in your washing machine, with no detergent

Then do a full wash cycle, at 40 or 60 degrees with a full scoop of regular bio powder or liquid.

It is recommended to wash nappies at 60 degrees, however I wash mine at 40 degrees most of the time and they still come out beautifully clean.

I choose biological detergent as it will clean better than non-bio. Although you can use non-bio, and occasionally some brands would recommend non-bio.

Never use fabric softener on your cloth nappies. Ever.

Line dry if possible, or tumble dry low.


If you use cloth nappies part time, you may want to wash your nappies as often, but you will have less nappies to wash at a time. In this case, it would be wasteful to have a full wash cycle in your washing machine with just a handful of nappies in it. In this situation, after the rinse cycle, I would add in other items to be washed like perhaps bath towels.

As mentioned before, this is the simplified version. If you do some research online you may rapidly become bogged down with online debates about optical brighteners and so on. Really I haven’t encountered some of the issues that are so hotly debated. The washing routine I use has served me very well over the years, so I would recommend it to those that also like to keep things simple.


A few additional notes: 

An eco washing machine that uses less water doesn’t actually wash cloth nappies as well. If you have an eco washing machine, I would check your manual to see how to add additional water into a wash.

It is not recommended to use Eco Egg on cloth nappies.


In summary:

  • 1 cold rinse beforehand, no detergent
  • A full wash cycle at 60 degrees with bio detergent (or non bio if you prefer)
  • No fabric softener.
  • Line dry if possible, or tumble dry low.

Cloth nappies drying on a line

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