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Cleaning Cloth Nappies: Our Simple Washing Routine

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Learn how to keep your cloth nappies clean and fresh with a few easy steps and natural products. No stress, no mess, just simple and effective cloth nappy care.

Cleaning cloth nappies is not as hard as you might think. In fact, it can be quite enjoyable and rewarding. There are so many beautiful and practical options for cloth nappies nowadays, that you can find the perfect fit for your baby and your lifestyle. And the best part is, you can reuse them over and over again, saving money and reducing waste. Cloth nappies are truly a blessing for our family and our planet.

As I get ready to welcome our new baby into the world, I’m also looking forward to using cloth nappies again. I’ve been using them for my toddler for over two years, and I love how they are gentle on his skin, easy on our budget, and good for the earth. I have a simple wash routine that keeps our cloth nappies fresh and clean, using only natural and eco-friendly products. No harsh chemicals, no lingering smells, and no hassle.

An Overview of How We Clean Cloth Nappies

While I wouldn’t call myself a cloth nappy cleaning guru, this method has proven its mettle over two years. During my first pregnancy, I delved deep into laundry science and the intriguing world of cloth nappies.  It all seemed rather confusing and overwhelming with fervent opinions and firm rules.

Amidst the sea of advice, I uncovered that not all “must-follow” rules hold true. The idea of daily nappy washing was debunked as our routine evolved. Similarly, the notion of an elaborate nappy bucket system wasn’t a prerequisite – our simple, budget-friendly buckets did the job.

Our chosen nappies are modern cloth nappies from EcoNaps, an Australian company based in Byron Bay. These nappies have surpassed our expectations, featuring bamboo liners and earthy-style nappy covers.  I especially love that I’ve been able to easily replace the elastics instead of needing to buy new nappies.

Line Drying Cloth Nappies: A picture of cloth nappies hanging on a clothesline outdoors.

For nighttime needs, we’ve embraced a mixed approach, utilizing disposable night nappies for added assurance against leaks.  And to combat nappy rash, we use Weleda’s Calendula Nappy Change Cream and Burt’s Bees Baby Bee Dusting Powder. This gentle duo uses only natural ingredients, not only preventing rash but also providing soothing relief when necessary.  They also don’t compromise our nappy’s absorbency capacity over time, unlike many barrier creams.  

Detergent and Cleaning Essentials

Laundry Powder vs Laundry Liquid

When it comes to detergents, my personal preference leans toward basic and unscented varieties. I usually use my own handmade detergent. For those intrigued, you’ll find my laundry powder and liquid detergent recipes here. Comprising just three simple ingredients – washing soda, borax, and soap flakes – these concoctions serve as the backbone of our cloth nappy cleaning regimen.  Liquid detergent proves ideal in a cold wash cycle or quick wash cycle, while the laundry powder is better suited to the main wash (hot, long wash cycle).

However, in moments when homemade detergent isn’t on hand, I’ve discovered that store-bought alternatives also hold their own, proving both effective and safe for greywater systems. It’s important to note that while these options carry a scent, this is generally not a concern unless you’re dealing with exceptionally sensitive skin – a rare occurrence in our household. To keep things extra fresh and stain-free, every alternate wash gets a boost from an oxygen whitener, maintaining the pristine quality of our nappies.

These are the brands I’ve used and recommend:

Getting Detergent Amounts Just Right for the Best Results

Getting the detergent amount right is essential – too much detergent, and you risk build-up and not enough detergent leads to improperly cleaned nappies. To strike the perfect balance, I opt for half the recommended amount of detergent the pre-wash, reserving the full recommended amount for the hot cycle. Bear in mind that when selecting your detergent, consulting instructions for front loaders versus top loaders is crucial.

Hard Water Woes

If you reside in a hard water area, an extra step might be necessary. Consider tossing in a tablespoon of Epsom salts or washing soda to your load.  This small addition works wonders by softening the water, allowing the detergent to function at its peak efficiency, and yielding softer nappies.

Skipping Fabric Softeners, Choosing Vinegar Instead

Steering clear of commercial fabric softeners is paramount when it comes to cleaning cloth nappies! Their residues can build up within cloth nappies, compromising their absorbency – a cardinal rule in cloth nappy care. Instead, I opt for regular white vinegar during the rinse cycle, providing a natural softening and deodorising effect without compromising absorbency.

Drying Your Cloth Nappies

Given cloth nappy inserts are made of highly absorbent fabrics, they require more time to dry. During colder months, we opt for indoor line drying near our heater. In the warmer months, we dry the nappies in the sun.  This not only eliminates odours but also naturally bleaches the nappies.  While tumble drying stands as a viable option, we choose to abstain, as we try to be mindful of energy conservation.

Pre-Washing Preparation

- [x] Pre-Washing Routine: An image of the pre-washing stage: a pile of wet nappies ready for the next step.

Dealing with Solids

  • After each nappy change, solids are removed and flushed down the toilet.  Removing solids is straightforward:
    • Most of the time, a quick shake into the toilet does the trick.
    • Sometimes, a bit of toilet tissue helps.
    • For runny solids, a quick rinse in a bucket of water is all that’s needed.  Then flush the dirty water down the toilet.  
  • Exception for exclusively breastfed babies – their solids are water-soluble, so you can skip this step.  The drawback here is quicker odour buildup in the nappy bucket, but during the newborn phase, you’ll find yourself washing nappies more regularly anyway.
  • Place all wet nappies and dirty nappies in a “dirty nappy” bucket ready for the pre-wash step (in cloth nappy lingo, this is often referred to as “dry pailing”). 

Pre-wash Cycle

  • All soiled nappies are gathered for a pre-wash using a short wash cycle.
  • Use warm water and a cold rinse cycle, regardless of the machine type (front or top loader).
  • Employ a small amount of laundry liquid for effective cleaning.
  • Place pre-washed nappies in a separate “pre-washed nappies” bucket and wait until there’s enough for a full load.
  • Once you’ve got a substantial load, proceed to the long, hot wash

Main Wash Day

The Long Hot Wash

  • Running a full load aids nappy agitation, resulting in a thorough clean.
  • Opt for the machine’s hottest, longer cycle – often labelled as a hygiene wash.
  • Regardless of the specific cycle name, the key is hot water, the machine’s longest cycle with ample time for soaking and an extra rinse cycle.
  • Utilize powdered laundry detergent, using the recommended full dose of detergent.
  • Add a tablespoon of oxygen whitener to the load (and if you have hard water consider adding either washing soda or Epsom salts)
  • Add white vinegar to the fabric softener compartment for extra effectiveness.

Transition to Drying

  • Post-wash, the nappies are hung out to line dry, either inside or outside.  You can also use a tumble dryer, but it will take quite a while before they are completely dry.
  • Dry nappies are reassembled and ready to go again. 
Line Drying Cloth Nappies: A picture of cloth nappies hanging on a clothesline outdoors.

Odour Control Tips: Keeping Nappies Fresh

Adhering to this routine has been a foolproof way to prevent smelly nappies. However, if you’re facing lingering scent concerns, a handful of strategies can prove helpful.

Firstly, check your detergent’s composition – having borax as an ingredient can make a notable difference. Additionally, incorporating white vinegar into the rinse cycle provides a natural deodorizing effect.

If you’ve primarily been using cold water washes, consider switching to a hot wash for a change, as it can aid in eliminating odours.

And when the sun is out, seize the opportunity to line dry your nappies outdoors, as direct sunlight acts as a natural disinfectant and whitener.

For those rare instances when stubborn odours persist, a one-off strip-washing process might be the solution. It’s worth mentioning that throughout our experience, we haven’t found the need to resort to this step due to the effectiveness of our routine.  However, if we were to get second-hand nappies, it’s a process I would definitely consider. 

EcoNaps Cloth Nappies: A photo showcasing the EcoNaps cloth nappies I use, neatly displayed on a line, highlighting their bamboo liners and unique designs.

Some Common Questions About Cleaning Cloth Nappies

How often should you wash cloth nappies?

I’ve found that washing our cloth nappies every two or three days works well for us. It keeps them fresh and clean, without making me feel like I’m always doing laundry. I usually wash them when I have about 10 to 12 nappies in the bucket, which is enough for a full load.

What to do with the poo from cloth nappies?

Yes, you can, but only after the pre-wash cycle. I like to add some other items that need a good wash, such as cleaning rags, cloth wipes, towels, and tea towels. I know some people might think that’s gross, but I’ve never had a problem with it. The main wash cycle is long and hot, so it cleans everything very well.

Can you wash other things with cloth nappies?

Yes, you can, but this happens after the first short cycle pre-wash. As an example, I often include cleaning cloths, cloth wipes, bath towels and kitchen tea towels with the pre-washed nappies in the main wash. This may gross people out, but I haven’t had an issue with it.  Because this stage employs hot water and a long cycle, I find it effectively caters to multiple cleaning needs.

Can I use Napisan on cloth nappies?

Yes, Napisan is fine to use. I use a similar product, an oxygen whitener, every two weeks in the main wash cycle. It helps to keep the nappies bright and clean. It’s basically sodium percarbonate with some extra enzymes, like Napisan and Sard.

Does breast milk poop stain cloth nappies?

No, not if you follow this routine. The pre-wash and the main wash cycles get rid of any stains, even the tough ones. Your cloth nappies will look as good as new.


  1. Nappies from EcoNaps Australia: Explore the range of modern cloth nappies we use from EcoNaps Australia. Their quality designs and bamboo liners have proven to be both effective and environmentally friendly. Visit their website: EcoNaps Australia
  2. Homemade Laundry Detergent RecipeFor those interested in crafting their own laundry detergent, I’ve shared a simple and effective 3-ingredient recipe on my blog. Learn how to make it here: 3-Ingredient Laundry Detergent Recipe
  3. Alternative Ready-Made Laundry DetergentsIn times when homemade detergent isn’t available, here are some trusted alternatives I turn to for convenience:

Simplicity and Success in Cleaning Cloth Nappies

Cleaning cloth nappies doesn’t have to be hard or stressful. I’ve found this routine to be a simple and effective way to keep our cloth nappies fresh and clean, using only natural and gentle products. No harsh chemicals, no complicated systems, just a few easy steps. This way, I can enjoy the benefits of cloth nappies, while staying true to our values of simple, intentional living.

Freshly Cleaned Nappies: A close-up shot of freshly cleaned cloth nappies, neatly folded, showcasing their cleanliness and effectiveness of this routine.

Simple Cleaning Cloth Nappies Routine

Cleaning cloth nappies doesn’t have to be complicated or stressful. In fact, it can be quite simple and enjoyable with this easy routine. I’m going to show you how I keep my cloth nappies clean and fresh using only natural and eco-friendly products that are gentle on the baby’s skin and the environment.


  • Cloth nappies (I use EcoNaps and love them!)
  • Two buckets: one for dirty nappies and one for pre-washed nappies
  • Natural laundry detergent
  • Oxygen whitener (optional, but great for removing stains)
  • White vinegar (a natural fabric softener and disinfectant)
  • Epsom salts or washing soda (if you have hard water)


  • A washing machine (I have a top loader, but you can use a front loader too)
  • A clothes line (I love hanging my nappies outside to dry in the sun)
  • A heater or a sunny spot (if you can’t dry your nappies outside)


1. Before Washing:

  • After each nappy change, shake off any solids into the toilet. You can use some toilet paper to help if needed. Rinse any runny solids in a bucket of water and flush it down the toilet.
  • If your baby is exclusively breastfed, you don’t need to rinse the nappies. Breast milk poop is water-soluble and will wash out easily.
  • Put the wet and dirty nappies in the “dirty nappy” bucket until you’re ready to pre-wash them.

2. Pre-Wash Cycle:

  • Run a short wash cycle with warm water and a cold rinse.
  • Add a small amount of natural laundry detergent for better cleaning.
  • Transfer the pre-washed nappies to another bucket and wait until you have enough for a full load.

3. Main Wash Day:

  • Run a full load with hot water and a long cycle.
  • Add the recommended amount of natural laundry detergent.
  • Add a tablespoon of oxygen whitener for extra whitening power.
  • Pour some white vinegar in the fabric softener compartment to soften and sanitize the nappies.
  • If you have hard water, add a tablespoon of Epsom salts or washing soda to help soften it and improve cleaning.

4. Drying Your Cloth Nappies:

  • Hang your nappies on a clothesline to dry in the sun. The sun will also help bleach out any stains and kill any germs.
  • If you can’t dry your nappies outside, you can use a heater or a sunny spot indoors. You can also use a tumble dryer, but keep in mind that it will use more energy.


    • Wash your cloth nappies every two or three days to keep them fresh and prevent odors.
    • Adjust the amount of detergent you use: half for the pre-wash cycle, full for the main wash cycle.
    • Epsom salts or washing soda will help soften hard water and make your detergent more effective.
    • Avoid using fabric softeners or dryer sheets as they can reduce the absorbency of your nappies.
    • Don’t worry about breast milk poop stains. They will come out with this routine.
    • If your nappies still smell after washing, try switching to a hotter wash or doing a strip wash once in a while.
    • Follow the instructions for your type of washing machine (top loader vs. front loader) for best results.

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