Washing reusable nappies is the biggest change you have to make when you make the swap from disposables to cloth. You've got to fit disposables, deal with leaks, spend money on them etc, just as you would with reusables, but you definitely don't have to wash them! However, washing reusable nappies is a lot more simple than it may seem.
As part of the UK Nappy Library guidelines, we are not allowed to give specific washing advice as different brands can have different washing instructions, so this is more of a general guide to managing the washing cycle of your reusable nappies.
Step One: Dealing with Poo
Dealing with poopy nappies is not the disgusting task you might imagine. For a start, milk poos i.e. pre weaning poos (formula or breast milk) are water soluble and can therefore be chucked straight in the wash without doing anything with them! The poo will just be taken away with the waste water from the washing machine - easy!
Post weaning poos are what's known in the business as "ploppable" (most of the time!). This means once you've taken the nappy off, you can just take it straight to the toilet and "plop!" it in!
The poos between milk and weaned poos are less delightful (and some post weaning poos can be). There may be some scraping, or peeling (when dry) or other slightly disgusting things. But it's a short period and you can get through it! Think of the environment!
Step Two: Storing the Nappies before the Wash
The poo is gone, or it was only a wet one, but you can't keep it in your washing machine, so where do you put it? You can choose between a bucket (also known as "dry pailing") or a wet bag. [Generally it is not advised to soak your nappies before a wash any more ("wet pailing"), as it can damage some modern fabrics and elastics, but if you would like to wet pail, there is advice out there!]
The choice is yours between a bucket and a wet bag, there's no real difference other than buckets can usually fit more nappies in and, naturally, wet bags take up less space. You may find you need both or a bigger bucket, either for the multitude of newborn nappies, or if you're washing less frequently than every couple of days.
Buckets generally have a mesh bag inside them so you can just dismantle your nappies i.e. taking inserts out if necessary, and put them in the bag, which you can then take out and put directly into the washing machine, making sure the top of the bag is open. No need to touch dirty old nappies!
Step Three: Loading the Washing Machine & Pre-Rinse
When loading the washing machine, to get the best performance from your washing machine (and to make sure it is more energy efficient), your load should fill 3/4 of the drum when dry. Overfilling or under filling may lead to a less effective wash. This guideline can help you determine how often you wash your nappies (i.e. if you don't have enough after two days, wash every three days or fill the load up with other items).
To ensure you get the best wash for your nappies, it is recommended to do a cold rinse of your nappies before putting them on to the hot cycle. This can help prevent staining of nappies and ammonia build up. There should be a dedicated rinse cycle on your washing machine; if there isn't, a short wash turned to the coolest setting will usually do - make sure you use this and not a pre-wash as pre-wash cycles use the same water in the main wash so the urine / poo that has been rinsed off will remain in the water for the whole wash.
Step Four: Wash Cycle
Choosing a wash cycle is a personal choice. Some people swear washing at anything below 60°C guarantees stains, others say 40°C or even 30°C is fine. Your nappy brand will suggest an ideal temperature to wash them at, and you may find you need to experiment a bit. Generally it is suggested the wash should be reasonably hot and over two hours long. It is also important to make sure you use a full load of water; modern washing machines are getting more and more eco friendly which means they can sense the weight of each washing load and adjust the quantity of water and the length of the wash. This is great for clothing but nappies are so absorbent, less water might mean your nappies aren't rinsed fully. Many washing machines have a 'water plus' or similar setting.
Many nappy brands state that your washing detergent should be non-bio and their nappies will no longer be covered by warranties if they have been washed with other products. If you still prefer to use biological detergents knowing this, we can chat to you individually if you need any advice on wash routines.
Ecover is not recommended as a brand as it has been seen to cause nappy rash and sometimes affect the elastics of nappies. Otherwise, any standard non-bio laundry detergent is fine. There are some nappy specific ones such as TotsBots Potion and Violets Magic Laundry Liquid/Powder available - again, your choice.
You will usually only need to follow the guide on your pack of detergent to find out how much you need, but this can very depending how hard the water in your area is. It's best to use a full dose to begin with and then make adjustments if you find it isn't getting your nappies properly clean or if your nappies smell of detergent after the wash. To rid yourself of excess detergent, or if your nappies start to smell, you can do a strip wash - this article is a good guide on how to do this.
It is not recommended to use fabric conditioner as this works by depositing lubricating chemicals on the fabric to make it feel softer, reduce static cling and leave a fresh fragrance on it, but the build up off the product on your nappies coats the absorbent surfaces, reduces their absorbency and can make them much less effective.
Step Five: Drying your Nappies
The most environmentally friendly way of drying your nappies is on airers or on a washing line, and this is fine for all brands of nappies. This may impact which nappies you choose to try or buy as if you have limited space you may want quicker drying nappies so there aren't drying nappies constantly in your way! Line drying in sunlight (even in a window) is great if you have some yellow staining after washing - usually from breast milk poo. In very hot countries you may want to be careful about putting nappy covers out in direct sun as they don't always like direct heat like that.
For the same reason, you can dry nappies on airers hooked on radiators but it is not recommended to dry nappies directly on top of radiators. As above, this is because some materials are gradually damaged by direct heat.
Tumble drying nappies should be done according to manufacturer instructions, so check your nappies before putting them in as it can vary between brands and nappy types.Most suggest a low heat or not at all for some products. If you want nappies you can regularly tumble dry then some materials and styles are much better than others - feel free to get in touch with us for personalised advice.
Now all that's left is to put your nappies back together and start the whole cycle over again!
This guide is just designed to give an overview of washing your nappies; always check your nappy manufacturer instructions before washing them. If you do anything that they don't recommend, you can void your warranty which means if there's a fault in the nappy, you won't be able to send it back for a replacement.
If you have any questions about washing, general or specific, join our Online Nappy Natter Facebook group where we have a lovely group of cloth mad parents happily giving advice. We do Nappuccino sessions in the group on Fridays at 10am where we talk about specific topics, and the group is always open for any other questions.
If you decide to purchase anything in this blog, remember to use the code LiverpoolCloth for 10% off on The Nappy Gurus site.