Parents have been using reusable cloth nappies for centuries. And for good reason.
They’re better for your baby’s skin than plastic disposable nappies, not to mention much better for the environment. They’re also way more affordable at a time when money can often be quite tight.
Washing cloth diapers is extremely simple once you figure out a system.
A good schedule to get into is to wash your reusable nappies every 2 to 3 days with a detergent. Don’t use fabric softener! Ideally, you’ll select a longer wash around 40-60oC.
It’s best to air dry your reusable nappy, but you can put them into the dryer on a low/cloth setting. Then voila, they’re ready to use again!
Read on to learn more about emptying nappies, when to use hot and cold water and some of the nappy drying myths that can scare new parents.
How To Wash Cloth Nappies?
Before we get to the nappy washing process, you may be wondering how often you should wash a reusable nappy?
Washing nappies every day is an unreasonable and, more importantly, unrealistic expectation to have of yourself. Two to three days is the ideal schedule to set for washing cloth nappies.
If you run a busy household or are back to work already, you may not be able to stick to a 3-day schedule. In that case, you can increase that to 5 days, but it may be best to pre-wash before this to prevent any mould and bacteria developing. Then you can keep the main wash for the weekend.
Whatever schedule you set, just make sure it’s one you can sustain long-term.
Step 1: Emptying Cloth Nappies
Emptying dirty cloth nappies, or reusable diapers for our non-UK readers, is the part many parents struggle with, but understanding how to deal with dirty nappies is the first step to setting up a washing system that works for you.
What you do will depend on the kind of poo you’re dealing with!
Whenever you’re dealing with poo it’s always handy to have a few wipes. Check out these best biodegradable baby wipes, including the Cheeky Panda ones below.
For solid waste:
Nobody wants to be scraping poo out of soiled nappies (although sometimes you have to). There are a few different ways to get round this.
The first is to use a nappy liner, which you can simply remove and bin. However, this is single-use, not particularly eco-friendly and is probably not in line with your ethos and the whole reason you’re using reusable nappies.
The second way is to try and tip the waste into the toilet. You can then use some eco toilet roll to wipe the nappy and get rid of what you can.
For Non-Solid Waste
If your child’s poop isn’t solid then this can be a little trickier. One thing you’ll need here is water.
If you have a bidet, great, use this. However, it’s also possible to hold the soiled nappy in the toilet bowl near the side and flush as normal. It’s clean water that comes out, so don’t worry about getting water on your hands. This should wash away most of the poo.
It’s also possible to use a shower head and put the reusable nappy into some kind of bucket. Then you can simply tip the dirty water down the toilet. When things are made easy, you’re more likely to do it regularly. The nappy can then be put into the nappy bin ready for the main wash.
If there’s any mess left in your toilet, just use a eco-friendly toilet cleaners.
Setting up a cloth nappy routine that works with your schedule is the most important part of the process. Leaving solid waste in your baby’s nappy isn’t good.
Step 2: Selecting The Wash Type
Once the poo is removed, washing reusable nappies isn’t too dissimilar to washing your other laundry.
Generally, there are three steps to washing dirty cloth diapers. There’s the pre-wash, the main wash, and the drying.
You may have to use a pre-wash if you haven’t got time to do a main wash straight away, or if there’s still a little bit of poo left in the nappy. Although it’s best not to have any poo at all in the washing machine.
I like to think of the above toilet bowl/bidet/shower head technique as the pre-wash.
If in a washing machine though, use a small amount of detergent and run your load for the shortest cycle on a cold wash.
The main wash is what really cleans the nappies, removing the germs and hopefully getting the stains out.
Run it for a full cycle and select the most thorough wash setting, for example ‘cotton’, ‘superwash’ or ‘whites’ should do the trick. This wash should generally be at a temperature of 40-60oc.
It’s also wise not to use fabric softeners as these can damage and wear down cloth nappies over time.
Choosing The Best Detergent For Your Baby
In terms of laundry detergent, there are a number of baby specialised detergents out there.
The main thing you’re looking out for is to keep it as natural and non-toxic as possible. As the reusable nappy is in direct contact with your baby’s skin, it makes sense to use a sensitive, eco-friendly detergents with no harmful chemicals.
I like this bio D washing powder available from Bower Collective*. It’s plastic free, vegan friendly and made in the UK.
You also have the likes of Eco-Max non-bio baby laundry detergent available on Ethical Superstore*. This is a plant-based detergent packaged in recyclable plastic and ideal for cloth nappies.
A third option is eco laundry sheets. I’ve tried many of the eco laundry detergent sheets on this blog, which have no nasty chemicals are also biodegradable and are a great choice to wash reusable nappies.
Step 4: Drying Your Cloth Nappies
The final step is drying the cloth nappies.
The best option is to air dry your nappies. Free solar and wind energy! Even better, making use of the sun is a great way to bleach the fabric and remove any leftover stains.
It’s fine to put cloth nappies in the dryer, but you do run the risk of stretching nd shrinking the nappy depending on the heat.
Wrap up on reusable nappies
Washing reusable cloth nappies is pretty simple. There are a couple of extra steps to it than chucking a disposable nappy in the bin, but they are a much better option for the environment and far better for your child’s skin.
At the end of the day, it’s all about what works best for you but once you’ve set up a laundry schedule that works, you’ll be good to go!
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Ben is the Creator and Editor of Tiny Eco Home Life. I write and publish information about more sustainable, environmentally friendly living in and around the home.
Alongside this website, I love spending time in the natural world, living a simple life and spending time with my young family (Murphy the dog!) I round up my thoughts and recent blogs on the Eco Life Newsletter.