How to wash modern cloth nappies

Cloth nappies have come a long way since the days of terry cloth squares, pins, and plastic pants. Whilst these nappies are still available (and are the cheapest reusable nappy), modern cloth nappies are a hugely popular choice for parents—for reasons based on the long-term cost savings, the environment, and of course, the cuteness factor!

The world of modern cloth nappies (also known as MCNs) can be daunting for new parents or parents-to-be, so if you’re still trying to decide if they’re worth the effort, we hope this handy guide on how to wash them will help answer any questions you have about caring for them.

How to wash MCNs 

According to Clean Cloth Nappies follow these steps:

Step 1: Change your baby’s nappy. If the nappy is dirty, empty the poo in the toilet if possible. Rinse the soiled (poo) nappies.

Step 2: Separate the parts of the nappy if it’s a pocket or all-in-two nappy, and pop it all into a an empty basket that has holes in the side to allow airflow. This is called dry-pailing, and means that no soaking is required.

Step 3: Wash the nappies on a pre-wash cycle with detergent (see below for recommended products) within 1-2 days in 40-60℃ water.

Step 4: Wash your nappies on a main wash cycle with detergent within 2-3 days in 40-60℃ water.

Step 5: Dry the nappies on the clothesline, airer, or tumble dryer.

Which detergent should I use?

Ask your cloth nappy manufacturer for their recommendations, but brands such as OMO, Radiant, Cold Power, and Ecostore are rated highly in terms of best clean, low fragrance and low suds. Your nappies should come out of the main wash cycle without odours or stains every time, so you might need to consider trying other brands if this isn’t happening, or adding a little extra detergent or rinse time.

Why is a separate pre-wash cycle necessary?

A separate daily pre-wash cycle with detergent helps to remove excess soiling and reduces the likelihood of ammonia smells, therefore producing the best results after the main wash. If your washing machine doesn’t do a rinse and spin at the end of a ‘prewash’ cycle, then you will need to do a separate short cycle for about 30-45 minutes that agitates, rinses, and spins. Then, just dry pail the nappies until you have enough for a main wash.

Why should I use hot water and not cold?

While cold washing saves money on energy costs, the downside is that eventually the nappies will start to smell. A hot wash outperforms a cold wash particularly for heavily soiled laundry like cloth nappies.

What if the nappies get mouldy?

If you’ve left your nappies in the washing machine or the dry pail for too long, and mould has developed, you can destroy the mould using either of these two effective options: chlorine bleach (suitable for all absorbent materials) or a 90/95℃ front loader machine cycle (this second option isn’t suitable for items with elastics or PUL including covers, AIOs (all-in-ones), or nappies with elastics).

What’s the best way to dry them?

If air drying outside, avoid putting PUL covers (the soft, waterproof shell) in direct sunlight, as it can degrade the fabric. If using the dryer, some inserts may take additional cycles to completely dry them. To save power, it’s a good idea to air dry the nappies first and then finish them off in the dryer.


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