Washing & Caring for Modern Cloth Nappies

While many mums and dads are keen to try modern cloth nappies, sometimes what they have been told or heard about washing them is daunting and sometimes a bit off-putting. My rule of thumb is that it only needs to be as difficult as you make it. Yes, its that simple!

Most if not all nappy manufacturers will tell you not to use Enzyme washing powders on your nappies or you will void your warranty. It is a personal choice if you are happy to risk it and use them- many people do. The main reasons not to is that normal supermarket powders are not clean rinsing so can cause build up and cause stinkies. Enzyme powders are also not something I want up against my baby's delicate skin in a warm moist environment for hours on end as they are a possible irritant along with all the perfumes and fillers used in these detergents. Since the role of enzymes in detergents is to gobble up biologicals, there is growing concern of the impact they are having on our waterways and environment.

So if we don't use enzymes powders what do we use? Plant based and eco friendly powders are the accepted recommended powders or liquids. There are a few supermarket brands and there are mixed reviews for most of them- some people love them, some people have real issues with them. Then there are specific brands of powder aimed at Cloth nappy users. By far, these powders have the best results.... except for the high prices!
There is a real alternative to all of these- one that works and has been well put to the test by myself and many other nappy users. Not only is it clean rinsing, works in cold or hot water, has no build up, is the lowest allergy possible, no perfumes or fillers, no enzymes, biodegradable easily and safely and is safe for septic systems... and the best bit- you can can use on all the family laundry because it is cost effective.
There is no lengthy, tricky preparation and if you make a large enough batch it will last you a long time without having to pre-mix it very often.

The Recipe

This does the trick even in cold water (I am fussy) & doesn't leave undissolved flecks:
Basic recipe if you don’t want to use Sodium Bi-carbonate (some cloth nappy companies say not to use it on their products):

  • Sodium Carbonate: 4 cups if you use Soda Ash
  • Sodium Per-carbonate: 1 Cup

*mix and use 1 tablespoon per load approx

tested and safe to use in top loaders and front loaders


You can add or leave out: (play around and see what works for you)

  •  1 teaspoon of Dr Bronners Sal Suds- this is a super charged degreaser that will boost your detergent ingredients and banish any greasy stains or build up (add the teaspoon to the detergent dispenser before you start your washing load)
  •  2 or 3 drops of Essential oil- add to the dry powder in your detergent dispenser of your machine- my favourites are the Dolphin Clinic Essential Oil Blends- all of them smell amazing

Normal washing Routine for Cloth Nappies

for every family there will be slight variations of washing routines but what works for us is loosely:

  • Dry pailing nappies after changing baby (dry pailing means just that- simply remove any solids and flush them down the toilet then place cloth nappy in a dry bucket without rinsing or washing
  • at the end of each day I tip all the nappies into my machine and run a "rinse and Spin" cycle. This ensures that odour and stains aren't sitting on my nappies for long and helps with the washing later
  • The following day I add more nappies and run another rinse and spin at the end of that day
  • Then I run a full wash. Most often this is a cold wash (but I do hot wash about once a month as maintenance) with 1 tablespoon of my powder plus essential oil for a pretty smell
  • Then everything is hung on the line to dry in the sun (weather permitting)

easy as!

Stripping Nappies

All going well and following a good washing routine with clean rinsing detergent, you shouldn't need to strip nappies. Reasons why you might need to strip nappies are usually if you have bad stinkies, have been using a powder that you think might be building up, nappies that are repelling moisture and leaking (sure sign of build up), someone has used a nappy cream without a liner, you want to do a very deep clean for example when you've bought second hand nappies or are selling your nappies.

As with washing nappies, there are many ways of stripping and like my washing I like to keep it simple! There are several things you need to understand- hot water is your friend- it is a powerful remover of dirty, germs, grease and grime. Think of an greasy fry pan... scrubbing in cold water alone it just moves it around and is messy and ineffective. Add some detergent to the cold water and you get a better result slightly. Wash in Hot water alone and you actually can do a pretty fast and effective job.. add a little detergent to that hot water and you really make it an easy job. So hot water is a powerful surfactant. You also need to know that why you can soak inserts for extended times, it is not recommended to soak PUL (covers) for more than 30 mins.

My Soaking Method:

  • add 2 heaped tablespoons of sodium per-carbonate to a bucket and fill with hot water. Add inserts and push under water (wear gloves for that). Leave overnight. When finished soaking tip the bucket into your washing machine. Add 1 tablespoon of sodium per-carbonate and fill with hot water (not hotter than 60degsC) and add your shells/covers and push them under water. Soak for 30mins then tip the bucket into your washing machine
  • Run a full hot cycle of your washing machine with NO detergent in your machine but a cap or two of Canestan laundry rinse (available from supermarkets) in your fabric softener dispenser.
  • Dry your nappies in the sun preferably.

This method is generally a good fix for most people. If you don't have sodium per-carbonate and don't want to buy any then you can substitute it with 4 tablespoons of my powder recipe as that has per-carbonate in the mix anyway.

The Detergent Method

Now there is nothing that makes my skin crawl more than seeing the method of using a half a cup of dish washing detergent in your washing machine suggested to strip nappies. I wouldn't wash my underwear in dish washing detergent and I wouldn't wash my babies nappies in it either. It is not designed for that purpose and the ingredients in most detergents are not declared as well as many containing moisturisers which can CAUSE build up in your nappies instead of fix it.

So what is the purpose/function of the dish washing method? basically dish washing detergent is a powerful degreaser so combined with hot water it breaks down oils and build up (hopefully... this takes a lot of extra rinsing). So is there a good alternative? Of course there is! Dr Bronners Sal Suds is a balanced formulation of naturally derived surfactants with pure fir and spruce essential oils: it cleans and rinses with exceptional power yet is mild and gentle on the skin. Sal Suds is not soap-based and is formulated especially for all-purpose hard-surface cleaning. Perfect for general household cleaning: dishes floors laundry etc. Equally effective in hard or soft water rinsing freely hot or cold. Concentrated and self-preserving: no hidden preservatives or ingredients. No synthetic dyes or fragrances: all ingredients fully disclosed and described. Biodegrades rapidly after doing its job.
What does all that mean? It means it is also a powerful degreaser but unlike dish washing detergent, you know it is safe to use and it is clean rinsing. You can use it neat to spot clean stains off inserts or a couple of capfuls in your washing machine. Best of all- a little goes a reeeally long way and this 1 product can replace your dish washing detergent, bathroom cleaners, spray cleaners, kitchen sprays and floor cleaners. Can you tell I love this product!?

  • So to use it fill a bucket with hot water, add a couple of caps of Sal Suds to the bucket, swirl and add inserts... push them under the water and leave to soak overnight.
  • Tip the bucket in the washing machine and add shells or covers to the machine. Add another cap of Sal Suds for good measure and set your machine to run a full hot wash.
  • Hang in the sun to dry

*****NOTES: Washing soda and Soda Ash are both Sodium Carbonate- the difference is that Soda ash is more concentrate and is a finer powder which is why I prefer to use it. Washing soda is more of a chunky crystal and takes longer to dissolve so I think isn’t quite as effective for making home made powder.

Sodium Per-carbonate is an Oxygen bleach- you can use it on its own for fantastic whitening, stripping and defunking. It works best in warm to hot water and about 2 tablespoons in a bucket of water is about right for an overnight soak- your inserts will love it!

These recipes are not scented and it does take some getting used to the smell of clean, unscented laundry. If you would like a little bit of fragrance I recommend adding a few drops of essential oils to your powder dispenser.

Great oils are ones with anti-bacterial properties such as Lavender or Tea tree or for pretty smells a mix of Lavender, Neroli, Palmarosa, rosewood, patchouli, orange, jasmine.

An excellent mix if you want to just buy 2 bottles of oil is lavender and Dolphin clinic brand “Sheer Bliss” which has Rosewood, Palmarosa, Orange and Neroli essential oils, & Jasmine fragrant oil. All the Dolphin clinic blends smell wonderful.

**please note that these powders are not suitable for delicates such as wool or silk. I have been using them for over 5 years now and have found them to be excellent at cleaning, completely safe for septic systems, low allergy and safe on most fabrics and colours. I have been using them on MCNs (modern cloth nappies) for over 20 months now HOWEVER- you use these recipes at your own risk... if you aren't sure about certain fabrics then it pays to be cautious and do a test run.

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