Washable nappies

Cotton On logo
Warwickshire County Council and the Warwickshire Waste Partnership’s ‘Cotton On’ project is aimed at providing information and advice about washable nappies. Using washable nappies, will save money, is kind to your baby’s skin and will greatly reduce the amount of rubbish thrown away



Helpful notes and hints

Waterproof Covers (Wraps)

Use wraps over washable nappies to prevent leakages. Make sure that you are using the correct size for your child. The covers can usually be used 3 to 4 times before washing. Always make sure that when fitting that all of the nappy is tucked inside the cover, any showing out of the cover may cause leakage. Ensure a good fit of the nappy cover (wrap) and fasten so there are no gaps, but not so tight that the cover leaves red marks on your baby.

Line Dried Nappies

Line drying is the most natural way to bleach your nappies. You can soften up your nappies by putting them in the tumble drier for just a few minutes to finish. A tablespoon of vinegar in the final nappy rinse is also helpful for softening.

Disposable Liners

To simplify the clean up of soiled nappies and help prevent staining, lay the disposable liner on top of the nappy. These can be flushed away or composted.

Fleece Liners

Easy to use and wash and quick to dry, fleece liners keep baby’s bottom extra dry. Can be used instead of paper liners and are excellent for sore nappy rashed skin.

Nappy Stains

Rinse soiled nappies promptly to minimise staining. Using liners will help, as will sunshine drying. You can use a non-chlorine bleach but remember ALL nappy stains eventually come out (though you may not notice because new stains may take their place!). If the nappies have been washed at 60 degrees Centigrade, they are totally cleansed and pure, regardless of stain!

Nappy Rash

Research shows there is no more nappy rash from washable nappies than disposables. Most babies at some time will develop nappy rash from foods they have eaten (or you have eaten if breast feeding), at weaning time, through teething or illness, or even changing your washing powder. It can be helped by using fleece or silk liners instead of paper liners.

Night Time

Once your baby sleeps through the night, you may need to add a washable booster liner to the nappy. Ensure that wrap is a good fit.

Advice and Support

It is best to buy nappies from a supplier who offers on-going help and advice. For further information please contact us.


Before using the nappy

Wash your new nappies before use, this will make them more absorbent by fluffing up the fibres, but skip the conditioner as this reduces the nappies absorbency. Nappy covers (wraps) do not require pre-washing.

Soiled Nappies

We would recommend not soaking washable nappies as it is more hassle and has a tendency to create smells if left for too long. Simply leave them dry in the bucket until you are ready to wash them. We haven’t found that there are odour problems with this technique but if you prefer, you can attach a tissue to the lid of the bin with drops some lavender or Tea Tree oil and some dry bicarbonate of sodium in the bottom of the bin.

If you prefer to soak your nappies put them in a bucket 1/2 to 3/4 full of water until you have a wash load. You can add one of the following as a soaking agent:

  • 5 drops of Tea Tree oil (for its antiseptic and disinfectant properties);
  • 1 tablespoon of sodium bicarbonate;
  • 2 or 3 tablespoons of white distilled vinegar.

Change the water in the bucket on a daily basis. Do not soak your nappy covers (wraps), these can be put in with your normal washing.


A 60 degree Centigrade wash will adequately cleanse your nappies; a hotter wash may reduce the life of the nappy. The wraps can be washed up to 60 degrees Centigrade with the nappies or can be washed in a cooler wash with the usual clothes wash. Close any Velcro on the wraps and nappies to prevent catching and snagging. Never use biological detergents nor fabric conditioners as they will decrease the absorbency of the nappy.


Nappies and wraps can be tumble-dried, however it is cheaper and more environmentally friendly to hang dry. In summer, the sunshine will deodorise, sanitise and naturally bleach nappies.

Buying and selling used washable nappies

It is possible to buy and sell used washable nappies on the following websites. Please note that you cannot buy or sell used washable nappies on eBay.

The Nappy Site

Cloth Nappy Tree Private Sales
The Used Nappy Company
Pre Loved Nappies
NCT Nearly New Sales
Netmums – buy, sell and donate on your local
Facebook – cheap cloth nappies and accessories posted on this group

Frequently asked questions

(Taken with kind permission from Twinkle Twinkle, www.twinkleontheweb.co.uk)

Full washing instructions will be enclosed with your nappies.

Why do I have to wash the nappies before I use them?

It is recommended to wash new nappies three times before use to improve absorbency. When the fabric is made, the cotton thread is coated with sizing to allow it to run freely through the machinery. Wash as hot as you can at least three times to remove this, it isn’t necessary to dry between washes. Your nappies will reach peak absorbency after perhaps a dozen more washes, often more for hemp fabrics. You don’t have to wash the wraps before use, though you many prefer to. With any deep coloured nappies (Rainbow Bots, Bright Bots), fleece liners or wraps, especially red, it is advisable to wash the wraps separately before use to remove any excess colour. If in any doubt about the nappies you have bought, wash only one or two to try, as many companies are unable to accept worn/washed nappies for return or refund.

What will I need to wash nappies?

You will need a nappy bucket or bin with a tightly fitting lid. You may prefer to get a large one, sufficient to hold around 12 – 15 nappies. Some people have two smaller ones – one upstairs and one downstairs, or one for wet nappies and one for soiled nappies. As nappies are next to your baby’s skin a non-biological powder should be used, and fabric conditioner should not be used as this will reduce absorbency. Some wraps can be washed at the same temperature as the nappies (60 degrees C) others, especially wool wraps, require a cooler wash. An alternative to detergents are laundry balls available extensively on the internet.

Nappy washing becomes easier once you have established this as part of your routine – some people wash every day, some every two or three days. You may find that a few additional nappies, especially for  newborns, will ease the burden of frequent washing and drying.

What do I do about soiled nappies?

Use a flushable biodegradable liner, these are made from paper. The liner which contains the poo can then be hygienically flushed down the toilet into the sewage system. If any poo remains on the nappy, this can be rinsed in the loo by holding tightly on to a corner and flushing. The nappy can then be placed in your nappy bucket. these liners can be used with a cess pool, providing your plumbing is in good order.

You may choose to use fleece liners, these are non absorbent, and quick drying, so they allow wee to pass straight through to the nappy, and leave a dry barrier between baby and wet nappy. They can be used in conjunction with a flushable liner, however, you will find the flushable liner once wet stays wet. Fleece liners can be ’emptied’ into the loo, usually by stretching or by holding a corner and flushing, then washing with the nappies.

Do I have to soak my nappies?

It is not necessary to soak soiled nappies, however, you may wish to rinse the wet and soiled nappies in clean water to remove the urine before putting them in your nappy bin. It is recommended that you add a few drops of Tea Tree oil to the bucket, not only to give the bucket a sweeter smell, but it has excellent anti-bacterial and antifungal properties.

It is not necessary, and in some cases not suitable for some nappies and waterproof covers, to use a nappy sanitiser: this can made Velcro fastenings stiff, and will destroy the waterproof layer of a wrap or all in one. A 60 degree C wash in a modern machine will adequately cleanse your nappies, but for economy you may prefer 40 degrees C.

It is often a good idea to do a rinse or pre-wash cycle with detergent prior to your main wash at 40 or 60 degrees C, as this removes the urine and any remaining bits from your washing before the wash cycle. Some people keep their soiled nappies separate and soak just these. If you wish to soak and are worried about the bucket getting tipped over, try standing it in the bath or shower tray, and use minimal water if it is likely that toddlers are around.

What do I wash my nappies with, and how do I keep them soft?

It is advisable to use non biological powder, as these are less likely to cause a skin reaction. You’ll also discover that you don’t actually need the amount of washing powder the manufacturers recommend. If you watch your rinse cycle you’ll see plenty of suds as the excess powder is washed out. By using less powder you’ll find you have slightly softer nappies too. An alternative to washing detergent are laundry balls which wash clothes without using detergent.

Warwickshire is a slightly hard to moderately hard water area (British Water, 2001) and you will find that your nappies will tend to go hard, however your should not use fabric conditioner as these will coat the fibres of your nappy and significantly reduce its absorbency resulting in leaks. A drop of white vinegar in the conditioner compartment of your washing machine will help remove the limescale and detergent residues giving softer nappies, as will giving them a good shake and rub together when almost dry.

Tumble drying your nappies will leave your nappies soft and fluffy, even just a 10 minute burst will do. If you pop your nappies in for 10 minutes after washing and remove while steaming you’ll find this accelerates drying too without costing too much.

Surely washing is hard work?

Once you have established a routine, washing should only take you a few minutes. Your machine will do the rest of the work. If you wash every second or third day it will only take you a few extra moments each week to load the machine, and just a few more to hang nappies out or put them in the tumble drier. You’ll save time in the supermarket, and you don’t have lots of bin bags to put out for the dustman. Washing nappies is actually very easy if you have an automatic washing machine – and you won’t need to iron!

Won’t it be expensive to put the washing machine on just for a few nappies?

Wash at a lower temperature, and when replacing your machine choose an A rated machine for best economy. Washing machines are generally designed to be most energy efficient when operated at 40 or 60 degrees C. You can also wash your whites and other items at the same time so you have a full machine. Generally 60 degrees C is considered best for soiled nappies, though many do wash at 40 degrees C, particularly if the nappies are just wet.

Avoid tumble drying to keep the cost down. Drying nappies in the sun, when possible, will help keep nappies white as the sun will bleach out any stains.

I don’t have a drier, and don’t have room to dry nappies around the house.

Quick drying nappies will be essential if you have limited drying space. Some of the quickest drying nappies are:

  • flat nappies – Terry’s and prefold;
  • pocket nappies;
  • man-made fibre nappies.

If you wash your nappies in the evening you can leave them to dry over night on airers and they will generally be dry by the morning. Hanging nappies out to dry on a washing line is the most economical and gentlest way to dry nappies.

Which ever way you choose to dry your nappies, make sure they are completely dry, well aired and stored in a warm dry place. If they are put away slightly damp this can encourage bacterial growth and will result in smelly nappies, sometimes a cabbage smell, when the your baby has weed.

How do I make my nappies and wraps last through more than one child?

The majority of nappies will usually last more than one child depending on wear and tear, though wraps, in particular the larger sizes, which may be washed many more times than the smaller sizes, may need to be replaced. You’ll find that nappy elastic may give and patches may wear round the legs, but generally most brands will still be serviceable. Sized nappies will obviously fair better than one-sized nappies as they will receive less wear and tear.

Avoiding tumble drying will extend the list of nappies, and in particular of wraps although with a polyurethane laminate wrap a quick 10 minute blast in the tumble drier can often help re-align the molecules and re-seal a slightly leaking wrap where the waterproofing properties are just beginning to go. If wraps, that can withstand a 60 degree C wash, are washed at 40 degrees C or hand washed where possible, this again will prolong their life. Direct contact of wraps and all-in-ones with radiators should also be avoided, particularly PVC nappies.

If you want to keep nappies white, wash on a high temperature (see instructions provided with your nappies for maximum recommended temperatures), although this will reduce their life span, but avoid bleach as this can damage the fibres, although a dab of a stain remover product may help shift a persistent stain. Line drying is free and the sun’s action will naturally bleach your nappies. Rinsing and soaking of soiled and wet nappies and wraps will neutralise the urine and thereby reduce damage to the fibres of the fabric and prolong life.

Can I use washable nappies at night?

Yes, although if your baby sleeps through the night the nappy will require an extra booster to aid absorbency. If your baby wakes for a feed in the night it would be advisable to change the nappy.

Can I use washable nappies on newborns?

Yes. We would recommend that you use simple muslin square in a low cut wrap for newborns, as some nappies can be too bulky and result in the babies bottom being higher than the head! They are good for keeping the newborns legs in the frog position which is important for hip development.

Do washable nappies leak?

As with disposable nappies, if the nappy is fitted correctly and changed frequently they shouldn’t leak. In fact, some parents have commented that because of the textured nature of washable nappies, i.e. towelling or fleece, they tend do grip on the liquid poo more effectively.

Do washable nappies cause nappy rash?

Nappy rash is a very common condition that affects babies. It is usually caused when your baby’s skin comes into contact with urine and faeces that collect in the nappy. It often occurs from teething, weaning or ill health, and from nappies not being changed frequently enough. There is no evidence to suggest that real nappies cause nappy rash any more than disposables.

Do washable nappies need changing more often?

No. All nappies should only be changed every four hours. If your baby’s nappy doesn’t last this long, then you may need to increase the absorbency by adding a booster. This can be as simple as a folded muslin square put inside the nappy.

How many washable nappies do I need to buy?

Once you have decided on the right nappy for you, the number of nappies you will need to buy depends on the age of your baby and how often you would like to wash them.

If you are intending to wash your nappies every day, you will require around 12 – 15 for a newborn, based on 10 – 12 nappy changes a day. If you are intending to was every other day, you will need 24 – 30 nappies.

Older babies generally only need to be changed between 6 – 8 times a day, so will require fewer nappies. If you are buying for twins, the general rule of thumb is to buy one and a half times the number you would need for a single baby: typically 24 – 30 nappies, as you will be washing them more frequently.

Standard washing machines tend to hold around 16 – 20 nappies for an efficient wash.

How much do washable nappies cost?

An initial outlay to equip you with a number of nappies is necessary; and this is a one-off payment and means that you are not constantly paying for single use disposables on a weekly basis.

    • From birth to potty each baby typically gets through between 4000-6000 nappies;
    • Basic real nappies cost less than £2.00 each, with more sophisticated products costing around £13.00 each.
    • Disposables cost on average 12p each (including in-store offers)
    • Approximate cost of purchasing and home laundering washable nappies for 2.5 years ranges from £185 to about £352, depending on nappy type.