Cloth nappy maintenance

Written by Tory on the 18 May 2007

Cloth nappy maintenance

This article covers all aspects of storing, washing and caring for your nappies and wraps day to day as well as some occasional maintenance.

Storing the dirty nappies

The traditional method of storing your dirty nappies while waiting to wash them would be to soak them with some sort of soaker product like Napisan. Soaking was needed in the past because machines weren't as efficient as modern washing machines, now it's the washer not you who does the work! Nappies with elastic in them as well as wraps may be harmed by soaking as the elastic may degrade over time. A bucket full of dirty nappies soaking doesn't smell too nice either, so you would have to wash or at least change the yucky water everyday!

Now most people dry-pail which is very easy, you just get rid of any solids and place the dirty nappy in a lidded bucket, or even a tightly closing pedal bin. It is amazing how little smell comes from your nappy bucket (certainly less than a bin with disposables in it!!), but if its very hot or you are worried about it you can place a few drops of essential oil in the bucket such as lavender or tea-tree. A clever hint here is to put your oil on a pantyliner stuck to the bin lid! If I have a particularly bad nappy I usually rinse it before adding it to the dry bucket.


The washing is what puts a lot of people off reusable nappies which I think is a shame as it really is pretty easy! As long as you have enough nappies there is no reason you would need to wash them any more than every 2 to 3 days, for me a couple of extra washes a week isn't even noticed in my house! When you put your nappies in the machine run a quick rinse cycle with COLD water, this gets any residue off the nappies and rinses out the urine, this step really does prevent any smells in your clean nappies. Then put 1/4 to 1/2 of the normal amount of powder you normally use and wash at 40 - 60 degrees (warm to hot cycle). Don't use more detergent as your nappies will build up residue which can cause then to retain odours (see striping your nappies if this happens). Never add fabric softener to your nappy wash as it coats the fibres, and reduces absorbency. You can add some white vinegar to the fabric conditioner section. Vinegar is a natural softener and neutralises the urine as well. You may find the vinegar particularly useful if you live in a hard water area. Some people suggest caution with using vinegar in every load as it can degrade the elastic in the nappies over time, yet many people do with no problems. A nice smelling touch is to add a few drops of tea tree and / or lavender oil to the rinse cycle as well. This has a double benefit as they smell great and have antibacterial properties. Before placing nappies in the machine make sure any that are Velcro fastening have the Velcro done up or attached to their washing tabs, this stops them attaching to other things in the wash!

Drying Nappies and wraps

It is better to line or airer dry your nappies if you can as it is more energy saving than using the dryer. However, most modern cloth nappies can be tumble dried (please always check the care label on your nappy and if not sure contact your supplier). If you live in a hard water area you may find that a 10 minute blast at the end (or beginning) of drying can really help fluff and soften your nappies. If you choose to tumble dry all the time you may find that your nappies don't last as long as it is obviously harsher on the elastic and material of the nappies. Wraps dry pretty quickly so you shouldn't need to tumble them, although you can tumble PUL(please always check the care label on your wrap and if not sure contact your supplier).

Caring for pocket nappies

Pocket nappies can be washed at 60 degrees (although do check your label) with your other nappies. Some can be tumble dried, again check your labels, although most are so quick drying you shouldn't need to tumble dry them anyway. When you have taken off a dirty pocket, dispose of any solids in the toilet and take out the inserts before putting in the nappy bucket. This ensures that when they are washed they get washed properly with all the parts separate. If you have Velcro on the nappy make sure it is attached to the wash tabs so it doesn't get caught up on other nappies.

Caring for PUL wraps

Most wraps are made from PUL although there are other similar breathable materials such as Comtex. PUL can be washed in the machine, 40 degrees is recommended but most people find they can be washed up to 60. Personally I tend to hand wash mine (unless soiled) after I have taken the baby out of the bath I do it in there and then hang them in the bathroom and they are dry by morning. If you notice they seem to be loosing waterproofness there are 2 methods you can use to help them out, the first is to wash in a load where you use fabric conditioner and the second is to give them a 10 minute blast in a hot tumble dryer. Unfortunately there are still some wraps out there that are made from PVC plastic, not nice for your baby to wear, horrid, hot and sticky. Always check your care label and if not sure contact your supplier. You don't need to change the wrap every time you change your nappy, you can just give it a wipe if not soiled and wash at the end of the day or you may prefer to alternate 2 wraps throughout the day giving them a chance to air in between.

Caring for fleece wraps

It is generally recommended that fleece wraps are washed done up,inside out and not in the nappy wash in order to stop them bobbling. They are best washed at 40 degrees so many people wash them in with normal wash loads. Again check any Velcro fastening is closed.

Caring for wool wraps

Soakers, longies, shorties, bum-sweaters - they've got lots of names!

Wool wraps are fantastic for night use but can also be used full time as well. Amazingly if you are only using at night you will only need to wash them about once a month (unless soiled), you will know when they are ready to wash as you will notice a slight smell even when dry. After removing a wool wrap, hang it to air, it will probably feel slightly damp but not wet. When it is dry you just use it again! The important thing with wool wraps is to lanolise them well. A new wool wrap will need at least 3 lanolises to cope with overnight.

How to wash wool wraps

Wet the wrap with luke warm water and rub a gentle soap, such as olive oil soap, on it. Then rinse the soap out and gently squeeze your wrap. If you are lanolising then carry on with that process. If you are just washing then place the wrap in a dry towel and gently wring it then leave to dry in a warm place without direct heat (ie. not on a radiator or in full sun).

How to lanolise wool wraps

You can either buy ready made wool cure, such as that made by Imse Vimse, or you can buy normal lanolin which will be much cheaper. If you are using a ready made wool cure then follow the manufacturers instructions. If you use plain lanolin then it is very easy, just wash the wrap according to the instructions above then follow these steps:

  • Fill a bucket about 5cm high with very hot water and add a blob of lanolin (1 teaspoon approximately)
  • Give it a stir and when it has all melted add enough cold water to make the mixture luke warm
  • Place your cover or covers in the mixture and leave to soak at least 1/2 hour, or overnight if you prefer
  • Remove the cover and gently squeeze out the water DO NOT rinse
  • Roll the wrap in a dry towel and gently squeeze out the excess moisture
  • Hang to dry away from direct heat (not over a radiator or in the hot sun)


Stripping your nappies

If you notice that your nappies don't seem as clean and fresh (they may smell even when clean or smell bad when only a little bit wet) as they used to, this is more than likely down to detergent build up. You can try running a few wash cycles with no powder at all. Have a look in your machine you'll be surprised how many suds there are in there. Do this until you see there are no suds left. This will more than likely solve the problem. It's not something you should have to do regularly.

If you find that you have to strip your nappies a lot it probably means you are using too much powder. Try reducing to only 1/4 of the recommended amount of washing powder (this is all I ever use and have never had smelly nappies or needed to strip them).

Removing stains

Nappies may get stained, especially with newborn poo, and amazingly the easiest and most efficient way of getting them out is to put them in the sun! On the clothes line is the easiest way but if you live in an apartment or its the middle of winter then even placing them on a window sill will work wonders! Amazing but true!

How to stop colour bleeding from wool wraps

  • Mix 3 cups white vinegar with 3 Tbsp salt
  • Wet wool in lukewarm water
  • Add to vinegar/salt mixture
  • Microwave for two, 3 minute sessions
  • Allow to completely cool (if you rinse before allowing to completely cool, you may unintentionally felt your garment)
  • Rinse in lukewarm water
  • Wash
  • Re-lanolise

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