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 may 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 to 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 (60C) others, especially wool wraps, require a cooler wash. An alternative to detergents is 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 cesspool, 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 antibacterial 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 make velcro fastenings stiff, and will destroy the waterproof layer of a wrap or all in one. A 60C wash in a modern machine will adequately cleanse your nappies but for economy, you may prefer 40C.

It is often a good idea to do a rinse or pre-wash cycle with detergent prior to your main wash at 40 or 60C, 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 is laundry balls, which wash clothes without using detergent.

Warwickshire is a slightly to moderately hard water area (British Water, 2001) and you will find that your nappies will tend to go hard. However, you 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 60C. You can also wash your whites and other items at the same time so you have a full machine. Generally, 60C is considered best for soiled nappies, though many do wash at 40C, 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
  • synthetic fibre nappies

If you wash your nappies in the evening you can leave them to dry overnight 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.

Whichever 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 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, especially 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 60C wash, are washed at 40C 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 newborn's 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 (towelling or fleece) they tend to 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 to 15 for a newborn, based on 10 to 12 nappy changes a day. If you are intending to was every other day, you will need 24 to 30 nappies.

Older babies generally only need to be changed between six and eight 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 to 30 nappies, as you will be washing them more frequently.

Standard washing machines tend to hold around 16 to 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. 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 and 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.