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Washing Cloth Nappies

Washing Cloth Nappies

As you can imagine, Cloth Nappies undergo quite a bit of laundering in their lifetime, a good quality nappy will be washed around 300 times or perhaps more.

Washable nappies will spend a lot of in time wet acidic or alkaline solutions, they go through high wash temperatures and may be tumble dried from time to time. All of these things will all take their toll and can shorten the lifespan of your nappies.

The instructions below are a very general set of washing instructions, and just so you know, I take a very holistic approach to washing cloth nappies and washing in general as I have been through so many waste water treatment plants around the country so am of the gentle approach to washing.  

However I understand that some people have trouble with smelly nappies at times and there are a few good resources that can help you through this if you are wanting to fix a problem you have.  

The information I provide below is general advice that is from brands and care instructions but if you need more there are places you can find more info listed at the bottom of the article or visit the Clean Cloth Nappies Website or they have a FB page as well:

Here are the basics though:

Firstly though, you must always check the care label on your nappies before you use them because the manufacturer will have tested different washing scenarios to get the most out of your cloth nappies and extend the life of your nappies. 

Here is my holistic approach to washing cloth:


  • ALWAYS follow the wash care instructions on the manufacturers label.
  • ALWAYS wash with the correct amount of washing product.  If the label on the washing product packet says wash with one cap full for a full load, use exactly that.  No more and no less.  If you use more it will build up in the nappies and if you use less you risk not getting the nappies clean enough.
  • WHEN YOUR NAPPIES ARE BRAND NEW.....Soak your nappies for 24 hours in cold water only, to kick start your nappies absorbency and then pop them through a normal wash and they will be good to go! - You don't need to wash them lots of times before use.
  • ALWAYS Fold back the hook and loop laundry tab’s otherwise they will damage your nappies in the wash. Unfolded laundry tabs are a major cause of fabric balding so please, please use them.
  • Use a one-way liner if you are using barrier creams. This will protect your baby’s bottom by keeping it dry and it will protect your nappy from residue.  It won't keep it out 100% but it will prevent it from building up.
  • Liners can help prevent your nappies from staining especially from the dreaded bright yellow breastfed poo! It also makes getting rid of poo easier, not to be underestimated.
  • RINSE WELL - Even if you are using a liner get as much poo off the nappies as you can before putting them into the nappy bucket by sluicing i.e. holding in the flush of the toilet.  Or consider getting a nappy sprayer to make rinsing time super easy.
  • Use non-biological powders as they are better for both baby and the environment. There is also an enzyme present in some bio detergents, which is corrosive to bamboo fiber and cotton. It works by digesting the stains out of your nappies but unfortunately takes the fabric with it! From the supermarket, I suggest liquid or anything that you find currently works best with your clothes.  I personally look for more earth friendly choices that are biodegradable and won't leave any residue for our earth to cope with.  If you want to do more reading on bio vs non-bio products check out this article here
  • SUNLIGHT IS BEST - Line-dry whenever you can. The sunlight helps bleach stains out of your nappies
  • Some brands say you can tumble dry the nappies on a cool setting if needed but buy some pegs and save your pennies unless it is the middle of winter, then save your sanity.
  • If your nappies are smelly or if you have been using a lot of nappy creams and notice that they are not as absorbent as what they were before, you may need to strip wash your nappies. To find out about strip washing there is more information below
  • If you continuously use nappy creams, I suggest that you wash your nappies in a warm / hot wash.  The fats and oils in the creams will build up over time and you need a warmer wash to get this out of the fabrics.  Cold washing will not get fat out of the nappies.
  • If you don’t have a hot wash, you can hot soak (60 degrees but check with manufacturer) using laundry powder to help break down the fat in the nappies.
  • If you have hard water, using a bit of borax in the wash can help soften up the water.


  • IMPORTANT: Barrier creams, oils and bottom balms will coat the fibers in your nappy reducing their absorbency and will cause them to leak. When using a barrier cream you must always use a liner but this does not guarantee that your nappies will not suffer from a build up. If you notice your nappies begin to leak or liquid just runs across the top and does not get absorbed, you will need to strip the oils / fats out of the nappies. Check out the basic strip wash guide below
  • Don’t leave them for more than 2 days before washing if you want to reduce the chance of nappies staying stained or getting really smelly. Daily washing is best for your nappies.
  • Don’t use fabric softeners as this leaves a residue, which coats the fabric fibers and decreases the absorbency of the nappy.
  • Don’t soak your nappies in harsh stain removers. If you do have a pile of very stinky nappies and want to soak, use either water or a mild solution of your washing liquid and only soak for a short period of time.  In the middle of summer we stored our nappies in a wet pail with just cold water, but we washed every day.
  • Don’t use bleach or other harsh stain removers. They will shorten the lifespan of your nappies (especially the elastic) and will void your guarantee.
  • Don’t use pastes of wash powder and apply direct to stains, this is too concentrated.
  • Don’t wash your nappies using dishwasher tabs!!
  • Don’t boil wash. If you are worried about bacteria, leave your nappies in bright sunlight, even a frost in winter-time is fantastic.  Or if you want to give them an anti bacterial and anti fungal treatment, you can get a product called Canesten Hygiene Rinse at the supermarket and put a cap full into the fabric softener area of your machine.
  • Don't use Bicarbonate of Soda and Vinegar to wash bamboo nappies as it can dissolve the bamboo fibers. Whilst a lot of nappy websites recommend using them to sanitize and soften nappies they will drastically shorten their lifespan and render some guarantee’s void.

A final note on the washing basics:

I have seen some very sad over laundered nappies and it just amazes me what some people do to them to keep them white or stain free. Repeat after me “Whiter than white simply ain’t right”! The nappies will get loads of poo on them and over time they will become stained.  Remember that if the nappy is clean, it is just a stain and if the sun doesn't get it out, it doesn't matter.  The stain is on the inside of the nappy.  I see mums going crazy trying to get the nappies white again and then they put them back on the baby and they poo again and the stain is instantly back.  DON'T WORRY ABOUT THE STAINS - They are on the inside of the nappy!!

Also nappies are a fabric garment so eventually they will wear out - they will not last forever!  Over time the elastic will wear out through general use.  They are not made to last forever, just like your own underwear, they will wear out. 

Do I Need To Strip Wash?

Only if there is a reason for it.

There is a lot of talk around about strip washing nappies.  This is something that may need to be done if you have a greasy or oily build up in your nappies.  It is not something that should need to be done regularly.  If you are taking the right precautions and washing your nappies correctly.

I am going to give some information that you can use as a guide but always check with the care label or your supplier or the manufacturer before you start playing around with them.  The brands know their nappies inside and out, in fact they are their nappies experts and are always the best people to approach when troubleshooting nappy problems.  I have seen some beautiful nappies wrecked because people were constantly stripping them when they didn't need to. 

Firstly if you are washing your nappies correctly then there should be no need to strip wash unless you have been using barrier creams or nappy balms on your baby's bottom or you have been washing your nappies with a fabric softener or a detergent that has a fabric softener in it.

Barrier Creams

Barrier creams and nappy balms are generally oil or fat based.  Even the most natural oils that some parents use like Cocoanut oil, will build up in your nappy overtime, especially if you always wash on cold.  It is not possible for oils and fats to break down in a cold wash.

So if you are using something on your baby's skin, I would suggest regularly washing on warm to help prevent it from building up in the layers of fabric or on the stay-dry liner like the one in a pocket nappy.

You can tell if you have a build up using a simple test method.  If you are using pocket nappies, hold the fleece under a dripping tap or if you think it is in the absorbent layers of any nappy or insert, hold that under a dripping tap.  If the water beads on the top of the fabric and does not get absorbed, then you most likely have a greasy build up in your nappies or on the stay dry layer. 

With a pocket nappy, if the stay-dry layer has a build up, it wont allow the liquid to reach the absorbent layers underneath.  If it is built up in the absorbent layers, it wont be able to absorb any moisture so it will repel it instead.

Fabric Softeners

If you have been using Fabric softeners or a detergent that has fabric softener in it, then this will prevent your fabrics from being absorbent because it puts a coating on the fabric to make it soft and this prevents the fabric from being absorbent, especially if it is used regularly.  So you will need to strip wash them.

What I recommend to do for stripping

It is actually quite a simple solution but it will take a bit of time.  Try to be conscious of over water consumption too.  I have a very simple guide to stripping nappies, sometimes you need to do a bit more.  If this is the case, check out the resources at the bottom of the page.

Try it with one nappy first. You don't want to do this to all of them and find out that it is not the problem.

Step 1

Get the nappy and wet the area that has the build up. If it is a pocket nappy, wet the whole liner area. If it is an insert or nappy, wet the whole thing.  

Step 2

Get about a teaspoon of dish washing liquid (with no hand moisturizers) and smear it across the area. Rub the fabric against itself to make the whole area really soapy.

Step 3

Leave it to sit all nice and soapy for about 10 - 15 mins. This allows the de-greaser to infiltrate all the layers.

Step 4

Give it a quick rinse under the tap or in a bucket of warm water.

Step 5

Pop it through the wash without any extra washing solution or detergent.

Step 6

Dry it as per your normal routine and hopefully this has fixed your problem.

If you require more help than this, I suggest you visit: 

Clean Cloth Nappies Website or they have a FB page as well:

Final note on Stripping Nappies:

Please take care when doing things to your nappies as if you use harsh products it can drastically shorten the lifespan of your nappies. Always check the manufacturers information first as they may have a different method that they suggest especially if your nappy has a warranty that comes with it.

Why Are My Cloth Nappies Smelly?


This can cause some parents a lot of problems in the laundry. I often get asked how to fix nappies that smell. There are only a few things that cause your nappies to smell and it is a matter of trialing a few different things to find your solution.

I hear a lot of parents complaining about a brand of nappies because they smell. When you first got the nappies they were brand new and had no odor at all. In fact you may have used them for several months and then all of a sudden they start to smell, generally when the baby wees in them. This is not a fault with the nappy or the brand. The question is what has happened to the nappies that has caused them to smell or what has changed with the baby in order for the smell to suddenly appear.

I would highly recommend not getting angry with the brand or your supplier as it is not their fault. But if you go to them and ask for their advice they are generally more than happy to assist you to help figure it out.

Always wash the nappies how the manufacturer suggests, especially to protect your warranty. Check the temperature restrictions and find out if they have suggestions on how you can best wash their nappies. They should know everything about their nappy brand.

But for now I am going to give you some advice which will help you prevent them from getting smelly and also highlight a few of the common causes of stinky nappies.


  1. Rinse the nappies

    Either in the toilet by sluicing, rinse under a tap or install a nappy sprayer. Nappies that are sitting around soaked in urine can become damaged. I have seen nappies that have become threadbare because they have been sitting around for a few days every time they are used and eventually the fabric starts to wear away where the soiling is. This I saw with bamboo nappies especially. It is also best to rinse as soon as the nappy is removed because excess soiling and urine are easier to move when it is fresh.

  2. Wash regularly

    I suggest washing every day especially in the summer months. But if you don't wash every day, wash at least every other day. If you leave them for long periods hanging around in buckets, the odors may get stuck in the fabrics. This I found was especially the case with synthetic fabrics. If they are left too long you also risk mold because they are sitting in a damp state. They can also start smelling quite musty if they are not washed regularly.

  3. Make sure you are using the right cycle.

    When you wash your nappies, make sure you are using the best cycle. Some of the new eco friendly machines use much less water, which is great but often we over fill them with clothes or nappies so they don't wash the garments as effectively. So don't overfill the washing machine and that will help the wash be more thorough.

    Also if you do shorter washes it does not allow time for the detergent to do its job properly, especially if you are washing on cold. So it can be helpful to add an additional rinse cycle to my wash to make sure any detergent used has been rinsed properly out of the nappy.

My Nappies Are Smelly Now - What can I do?

We need to find the reason they are smelly.  There are three general reasons:

  • You are not using enough detergent and washing on cold
  • You are using too much detergent
  • The Urine smells like ammonia

You are not using enough detergent and washing on cold 

I know there are lots of people who use half the suggested amount of detergent for a wash.  That is fine if your nappies are coming out clean. 

However, the detergent is what cleans your nappies.  If you don't use enough your nappies will not get properly cleaned.  You need to check what it says on the back of your detergent pack and use what it says.  Sometimes you can get away with using a bit less but if you notice that they are not getting properly clean you need to use the recommended amount. 

I also find that sometimes people are simply washing with the wrong stuff.  Everyone's water quality and washing machine is different and so not every washing product will suit everyone.  Normally what you use on your clothes will be fine but if you find the nappies are getting smelly, switch brands and try a different product and see if that makes a difference.  Most people need to try a few different ones before they find the best one for their household .

Also remember if you are constantly washing on cold and finding soap powder residue in your nappies, your cold wash is not working with your washing product properly and so it is likely your nappies and clothes are not getting properly clean.  It may pay to change to a warm wash and see what a difference that can make to the cleanliness of your washing.

You are using too much detergent

This is another common problem.  Because nappies are 'dirty' people often add a bit extra to their wash to get them cleaner.  If you add too much detergent, the wash cycle will not have a chance to get it all out.  So it builds up in the nappy.  Sometimes the nappies can get a bit stiff from a detergent build up but the most common one is that a detergent build up can react with the urine when it comes out and cause your baby's nappies to be stinky instantly.

Sometimes people are simply washing with the wrong stuff.  Everyone's water quality and washing machine is different and so not every washing product will suit everyone.  Normally what you use on your clothes will be fine but if you find the nappies are getting smelly, switch brands and try a different product and see if that makes a difference.  Most people need to try a few different ones before they find the best one for their household .

Try washing your nappies on a longer cycle and make sure the water is able to rinse out the detergent properly - so add an extra rinse cycle. 

If they are have gotten really bad then there are a couple of things you can do.

  1. Hot soak your nappies (check manufacturers suggested temperatures) for an hour or so in a bucket (or your machine) with 1 whole cap-full of your washing liquid or a scoop of powder. (You require slightly more liquid to help to dissolve the residue). You can then wash as usual. It may be necessary to hot soak 2 – 3 times, depending on the amount of oil buildup.  
  2. If that doesn't work then you may need to strip the nappies - see above 

Then go back to washing your nappies with the correct amount of washing detergent.

My Baby's urine smells like ammonia

This is actually quite common.  You may think it is the nappy that is smelly because every time they wee in it it smells.  But it can be because the wee smells and then of course that is absorbed by the nappy which makes you think it is a problem with the nappy.

It could be caused buy the foods your baby is consuming, medication they are on or perhaps it could be because your baby is unwell or that they are teething.

It may not actually be in the nappy it maybe in the urine itself which of course ends up in the nappy.  If you are worried about the smell or colour of your baby's urine, seek medical advice with your local doctor.

If you find your babies nappies are really pongy, make sure you give the nappies a really good rinse before putting them in the bucket.  If it is really bad, I would rinse them and then store them in a wet bucket until it changes.

You definitely want to add an extra rinse cycle to the wash for this one and I would also invest in some Canesten Hygiene Rinse or Detol in Wash and pop a cap-full in the final rinse which will give them an antibacterial / anti-fungal treatment as well.

Here are a few reasons why your babies urine might smell of ammonia


If your baby is dehydrated, his/her urine is likely to be very concentrated, which can often lead to a strong ammonia odor. If you smell it as soon as you walk in to your baby's bedroom in the morning, then dehydration may be the cause. It is possible, that your baby has not had enough water before going to bed, which can cause the urine to be concentrated and smell like ammonia.

Also keep a watch on the color of the urine. The darker the color of the urine is, more dehydrated the child is.


A high ammonia smell can be present in your baby's urine at different times.  It can be dependent on the food they are eating i.e Asparagus always makes urine more smelly.

If your baby is eating a diet high in protein, a higher quantity of ammonia is produced, which is then excreted through their urine. So if you have recently changed your baby's diet this may be the cause.  Or if your baby is eating a diet that is high in nitrogen this can lead to excess ammonia in their system. Foods  that are high in ammonia are things like soybeans, cheese, meat, and eggs.

Keep an eye on your baby's diet, does the problem arise only after consumption of these foods?

There is some great info about this at Buzzle:


Bacteria can build up in your nappies if you have a soap powder residue in them or from cold washing all of the time.  This can also cause your nappies to smell.  The best thing to do is pop the nappies through a hot wash (60 degrees) and add a bit of Detol laundry liquid or Canesten Hygiene rinse which is an antifungal, antibacterial treatment. and make sure you do an extra rinse at the end.

Important: If you are worried about the smell or colour of your baby's urine, seek medical advice with your local doctor.

Specialized Nappy Washing Products

There are lots of excellent products out on the market that are made specifically for washing cloth nappies or some even have special formulas to use on smelly nappies.  They are a little more expensive to buy but if you only use it for your nappies the pack will last you a long time.  There are also a number of companies who now make their own washing products to go with their nappies.  Most companies have a sample pack you can buy to have a try of the product, or some will send out a free sample with a nappy order. 

They are all lovely products but as with your day to day brands, they work for some and not for others depending on water quality etc.  But they are definitely worth a try.


Once again if you are at a loss and need some more advice, I suggest you look these guys up: 

Clean Cloth Nappies Website or they have a FB page as well:

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Kate Meads - July 23, 2021

Thanks for the comment on my blog.

The best thing to do with second hand nappies would be to make sure they are sanitised properly to prevent any bacteria or fungus from being passed on to your baby.

The way you can do this is to get a product called Canesten Hygiene Rinse from the supermarket (it is normally close to the fabric softeners)

Pop the nappies through a hot wash (up to 60 degrees) and put a shot of the rinse in the fabric softener area of your washing machine. With second hand nappies the I would put a shot in each load for about a week. Get them out in the sunshine for an extra blast of sunlight which also works wonders.

Once you have sanitised them they should be good to go.

I hope that is helpful.

Kind regards

Kate Meads

Carolyn - July 23, 2021

Hi Kate,

thank you for this article! That was already a lot of help as I’m at the beginning of my cloth nappy life and always wanna use holistic approaches.
Can you please let me know your recommendation for 2nd hand cloth nappies. All the nappies I bought are 2nd hand (EUC or GUC) and I have AIO, fitted nappies as well as prefolds and covers. Now I wanna get them deep clean before I first use them and I would really like to know your opinion before I S&S with bleach – what I actually don’t like.

Thanks a lot in advance,

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