Washing reusable nappies doesn’t need to be complicated – reusable nappies can be washed in ordinary washing machines with detergents that are available in your local supermarket.
We recommend checking manufacturer’s instructions for specific washing guidance – these guidelines are for general use.
Prewash your nappies before first use
Most manufacturers recommend washing your baby’s brand new nappies a few times before use to remove anything from the manufacturing process and to increase the absorbency of your nappies. This can be with any regular wash at the correct temperature as long as you are not using fabric softeners. Wraps need only be prewashed once before use – inserts/boosters, pockets, all in ones, flats and shaped nappies may need to be washed 3-4 times before first use.
After weaning, baby’s solid poo should be flushed down the toilet. You can use a nappy liner to help with this as they are designed to be non-absorbent and “non-stick”. Do not flush disposable nappy liners down the toilet – although most are biodegradable, the sewage system does not have the right conditions for them to break down and they could cause clogs and blockages.
Store nappies in an appropriate container
We recommend that nappies are “dry-pailed”, i.e. stored without soaking. You can use a lidded bucket for this or some people find it more convenient to use a storage bag/wet bag. You can use a storage bag whilst you are out as most are water-resistant.
Pre-wash if required
Heavily soiled nappies may require a pre-wash. The pre-wash cycle before the regular wash on your washing machine is not normally sufficient for this as it does not remove the water. Use a separate pre-wash or cold rinse cycle to do this. Soaking nappies is not recommended as it can damage elastics and PUL in the nappies.
Wash at recommended temperature for a full cycle
Most nappies are recommended to be washed at a 40 or 60 degree wash (check the manufacturer’s label for their recommended temperature). Use the full cycle – quick wash modes tend to use less water and may not clean the nappies as effectively. If your machine has an extra rinse function this can help to avoid detergent build up.
Dry without heat (if possible)
Direct heat (e.g. drying on a radiator) or high heats from tumble driers can damage PUL waterproofing, and can also damage some more delicate fabrics like bamboo. The best way to dry nappies is on an outdoor washing line on a sunny day. If you need to dry indoors, use a conventional airer or a radiator airer rather than placing nappies directly on to the radiator.
If you need to tumble dry nappies, only use a cool setting.
For babies who are not yet weaned:
Babies who are not yet on solid food have poo that is water soluble. It’s usually also very runny, so using a liner isn’t always needed unless you want to protect your nappy from barrier creams or make baby more comfortable if your nappy doesn’t have a stay-dry layer.
Breast-fed poo can go straight into a washing machine.
You might want to rinse your nappies before the wash either by hand, into the toilet (some people use the shower head or a hose to rinse into the toilet, some people hold the nappy over the toilet and flush) or in a washing machine rinse cycle but most nappies should be fine in the wash on their own before 6 months/introducing solid food.
Do I need to wash nappies separately?
There is no need to wash nappies in a completely separate load if you don’t want to. As all parents will know, babies’ clothes can often be covered in things which need a good wash out, so it’s fine for other items to be included in the wash cycle if they can be washed at the temperature you use for your nappies.
Most manufacturers would recommend not over-filling the machine’s load, however, as the nappies need room to move around the wash to get really clean.
Do I need to pre-wash?
Many people do not pre-wash their nappies on every wash, but it can help to keep your nappies cleaner, and you may wish to do this if you want to put other items into the load with your nappies. You do not need to do a full wash as your pre-wash – using a cold rinse cycle is usually sufficient if they are going in to a full wash later. This step helps to rinse out the “dirtiest” water from the nappies before being washed with detergents.
How can I remove an ammonia/detergent buildup?
Nappies occasionally need to be more thoroughly washed, to remove buildup of detergents or ammonia. Some people refer to this as a “strip wash”. You might do this if your nappies start to smell despite being washed. You might also wish to do this if you have received second hand nappies.
You do not need to do this with nappies which you have received from a nappy library as libraries already have strict washing routines that they follow.
Use a rinse cycle or cool quick wash with no spin and no detergent to wet the nappies.
Put the nappies in a full length 60 degree wash with a full dose of detergent. Add a nappy-safe cleanser if required. If your machine has an option for an additional rinse this is ideal.
Wash again at 60 or 40 degrees with no detergent
If you can still see bubbles do an additional rinse cycle.
Do not use chlorine bleaches, vinegar, washing up liquid or any detergent or cleanser not formulated for washing clothing or nappies as this could invalidate your manufacturer’s warranty.
Which wash cycle should I choose?
Heavily soiled nappies should be washed at 60 degrees, for a full wash cycle. Some machines refer to this as a cotton cycle, but if you use a liner you should avoid nappies becoming heavily soiled.
Wet nappies (with no poo) can be washed at 40 or 60 degrees.
Nappies which contain PUL should not be washed at 90 degrees as this could damage the fabric. Bamboo also may degrade quicker by using high temperatures to wash.
Most manufacturers recommend ordinary non-bio detergent, as this is safest to use on babies’ delicate skin. Powder usually works out cheaper and is less likely to leave a residue on the fabric.
Do not use fabric softeners, “2 in 1” detergents or soap-based detergents containing moisturising oils or butters, as they will coat the fibres and make the fabric less absorbent.
If you need extra cleansing there are detergents and nappy cleansers which are specifically designed for use with reusable nappies and do not cause damage to the nappies or invalidate warranties. These can also be used in a strip wash or if babies have infections or viruses.
Do not use chlorine bleaches (the bleach you would use for your floor or toilet), or any detergents not recommended for use with clothing.
What about reusable liners and wipes?
Reusable wipes and liners can be washed with nappies, using exactly the same instructions. If you’re already washing reusable nappies you can just pop reusable wipes straight in the same wash. If you’ve only used wipes for hands and faces they can be washed with any load of laundry, even at cool temperatures.
You can wash liners and wipes in a mesh bag to prevent them from getting caught in your machine.
What do we want?
The Alliance does not seek a ban on the use of disposable nappies. We fully understand that for many new parents and carers they are a very helpful product and an essential part of managing busy lives. But we believe that local government is right to look at reducing reliance on disposable nappies along with other single-use plastics.
Reusable nappy schemes are being rolled out across the country and are helping to deliver significant cost savings to local councils through reduced landfill tax and disposal costs and help councils meet their environment and waste targets. However, currently provision of reusable schemes is patchy, and the Alliance seeks to promote greater standardisation and facilitate shared learnings across local authorities.