Cleaning Cloth Nappies; What is the best way?

The task of cleaning cloth nappies isn’t a fun one, but it is important for the health of your child’s skin. Cloth nappies are often avoided by parents because of the cleaning aspect involved. But what does the process actually entail? What should be used and how should cloth nappies be cleaned?


Ever since disposable nappies came into existence, many parents abandoned cloth nappies due to the ease of simply throwing away something disposable rather than washing out soiled material. Cloth nappies also have other pros behind their existence such as the fact that they are better for the environment and more economical in the long run. You can read my article here which is a detailed comparison between Cloth and Disposable Nappies. But let’s get back to the crux of the issue, which is cleaning cloth nappies. What if the cleaning of cloth nappies, however, wasn’t as much work as they’re made out to be? After all, we have to clean the rest of our child’s clothes, not to mention our own, with the same (or similar) due diligence.

Let’s examine how to actually wash them, and the don’ts involved in cleaning cloth nappies.

cleaning cloth nappies
A thorough wash, and then drying cloth nappies in the sun is the best way to remove germs and smells

How do you clean cloth nappies? What are the different ways?

The first step to cleaning a cloth nappy is to get rid of the solid waste: dump, drop, scrape, or spray off the poop into the toilet. If you have a nappy sprayer, a nifty tool that can attach to your toilet, here is when it comes in handy. Otherwise, a simple spray bottle will suffice. After the solid waste has been taken care of, or if your child only peed in the nappy, you may either tuck it into the nappy bucket with the other soiled nappies or take it straight to the washing machine to join all the others.

Before you begin washing, however, make sure you’ve checked the labels on all of the nappies. Some may have liners that should be removed and some might need to be hand-washed or put on a gentle cycle.

Once you’ve determined that nappies are okay to be washed in the machine, start with a cold rinse cycle; this should help loosen up any waste still on them and also help lessen the staining. After the pre-rinse, add the desired detergent and turn the machine to a main wash cycle on either warm or hot. Once washing is done, the best method for drying cloth nappies is to line-dry them. Whether this be done inside or outside doesn’t matter, though the heat of the Sun and the fresh smell from drying outside is an added bonus. Nappies could be put in the tumble dryer on a low heat setting, but this will definitely shorten their lifespan.

Do you need to sanitise cloth nappies?

Sanitising cloth nappies is highly encouraged. Sanitizing helps reduce the risk of bacteria being on the nappy and causing health issues for your child. Urine contains ammonia, and if left unsanitised, ammonia can degrade fabrics and cause irritation, bumps, and rashes to the skin.

How do you sanitise cloth nappies?

You can sanitise cloth nappies with bleach or with vinegar, but be careful of the amount used. In either case, the solution should be very diluted. The bad thing about both is that they may cause your nappies to deteriorate faster. If you’re leaning toward a less harsh solution, try adding sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) to the water you’re sanitizing the nappies in. This may help with the smell.

disposable nappies
Disposable nappies are much more convenient, and do not require cleaning, but they add to landfill and are more expensive in the long run

Do you have to wash cloth nappies twice?

Aren’t washing machines a miraculous invention? And the best thing is, their efficiency has evolved over time so that there should be no need to wash cloth nappies twice. If you’re uncertain, go ahead, but remember that the more you wash them the less use you’ll get. If you are still uncertain, remember to follow up washing with sanitising and then there will be no fear of any lingering pee, poo, or bacteria.

Is it best to soak cloth nappies?

Soaking can be a very good idea as it loosens waste that is on the nappies, but check the nappies’ wash instructions before you soak. Cloth nappies that are waterproof on the outside or have waterproof liners, should not be soaked.

Can you wash cloth nappies in cold water?

No, cloth nappies should be washed in warm or hot water to properly clean and sanitize them. Suggested water temp is 60 degrees celsius (or 140 degrees Fanhrenheit) to kill any microbes that may be on the nappies.

Is it unhygienic to put dirty cloth nappies in the washing machine?

It is not necessarily unhygienic to put dirty cloth nappies in the washing machine; in fact, if your baby is breastfed, their poop is more water soluble, so those soiled nappies could just be thrown straight in the washing machine. However, if your child’s poop is more formed, you don’t want to throw nappies plus waste into the washing machine just to be sloshed around with the detergent and water. Make sure you dispose of poo in the toilet and then use your judgement as to whether it may need soaking or a pre-rinse.

“Breastfed baby poo is water soluble, rinses easily away during the quick rinse cycle before the main wash cycle, and causes no laundry problems.”
poo in nappy
Although this is clearly a disposable nappy, this is what breastfed babies’ poo looks like – it’s also water soluble so you can chuck it straight in the washing machine!

What is the best way to dispose of poo in cloth nappies?

The best way to dispose of poo in cloth nappies is to dump it in the toilet and flush it away. This is a slightly uncomfortable, gag-worthy moment but not too terribly hard of a task in most cases. You can also make your life even easier if you invest in disposable liners. Whisk the liner out, throw it away, and toss the nappy into the wash.

How long can cloth nappies sit before washing?

The length of time dirty nappies can sit before washing is a suggested two to three days, definitely no longer. The longer the dirty nappies sit, the more risk there is that they’ll develop odors, stains, and mildew. There are also the determining factors of how long you can stand the smell and how many loads you want to wash at a time.

Why do my cloth nappies smell?

There could be several reasons why you have smelly nappies; ammonia from urine, not properly cleaned and sanitized, or they’re second-hand.

baby in cloth nappy
Cleaning cloth nappies is actually not as much effort as you might think

Can you use vinegar and baking soda for cleaning cloth nappies?

Using baking soda on your cloth nappies seems to be a slightly better option than vinegar. Vinegar can be used, but make sure you check the nappy washing instructions first. Vinegar has a very harsh smell, so if you use too much, your nappies may not smell like poo or pee, but they will smell like vinegar. Be very conservative when using vinegar on your child’s cloth nappies, as it can damage them if using too much. Using baking soda and vinegar together on your nappies may not be an effective cleaner, as described by CleanClothNappies in their article HERE.

kids first aid

“When vinegar is combined with baking soda an acid-base reaction occurs immediately. This reaction is exothermic (energy releasing), followed by a rapid decomposition reaction, which creates water and carbon dioxide. The rapid decomposition means this method is not actually very useful for cleaning.”

What is the easiest way to effectively clean cloth nappies?

The easiest way to effectively clean reusable nappies is to immediately do away with waste, throw them in the washing machine with about 8-10 more nappies, turn the machine onto a cold pre-rinse / pre wash cycle, then a hot wash cycle, and finally line dry.

cleaning cloth nappies
Best way to clean cloth nappies? Remove solid waste (into toilet), soak or pre-rinse if necessary, a warm wash in the washing machine, and hang to dry in the sun.


Washing cloth nappies is a process, but it’s no more work than your usual wash routine; scraping mud off jeans before throwing them in the wash or scrubbing the wine spill on your shirt before tossing it into the machine. The biggest takeaways are to immediately take care of the poo in your child’s nappy, don’t let the dirty nappies sit for more than a couple of days, wash on a warm or hot cycle, and line dry if at all possible.

Washing nappies may not be as easy as simply throwing away a disposable nappy, but there are perks to using cloth nappies. Here are a few: saving money down the road, living more sustainably, not exposing your child to possible chemicals in disposable nappies, and the possibility of an easier transition for your child when they start toilet training. Modern cloth nappies have come a long way in their design and are becoming increasingly popular!

So, if you want to attempt the cloth nappy journey, start small, don’t panic, and good luck!

eBusiness Institute Banner Generic

What’s your vote? Disposable or cloth nappies? If you fall into the category of cloth nappy users, how do you wash your nappies?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *