A vented bucket (known as a dry pail) to store your soiled nappies before washing. A pedal bin works just as well, and keeps your hands free. A vented bucket (with air flow) will reduce ammonia buildup.
Access to a washing machine, laundromat or a commercial washing service.
A quality detergent, and the right amount of it. Don't use too much or too little. Visit Clean Cloth Nappies Detergent page for help choosing a detergent.
Choosing a detergent
Try to choose a super concentrated detergent. A concentrate is generally free from fillers such as plastics, that can cause buildup on your nappies.
Most mainstream detergents will do the job if used correctly - don't be too heavy handed with detergent unless you want to do additional rinse cycles.
If possible, avoid irritants such as artificial fragrances, which often contain phthalates. Phthalates are a group of chemicals commonly used to make plastics more flexible and are considered harmful due to their potential to disrupt hormonal balance and negatively impact human health.
Detergents with enzymes can achieve same results with a shorter or cooler wash. Visit Clean Cloth Nappies for more information.
Remove as much poo from the nappy as possible. You can do this in a few ways:
A nappy sprayer is a bidet attachment that can be attached to the toilet water inlet, providing an on-demand trigger hose for rinsing solids off the nappy.
You can buy a bidet or nappy spray attachment at most hardware and plumbing stores, many cloth nappy stores, and major online discount stores. Expect to pay between $30 (Amazon) and $90 (Hardware, plumbing or nappy stores) for a sprayer.
Store your soiled nappies in a wetbag or 'dry pail'. A dry pail is a vented bucket or even a laundry hamper. You can use a standard bucket if you need to, and leave the lid off for ventilation. Do not add any water to the bucket - just store the dirty nappies there for up to 48 hours.
Don't soak the nappies. Frequent soaking compromises the elastic and waterproof layer in the nappy shell.
Wring out or machine spin out excess water if possible. This helps prevent ammonia from forming.
Soiled nappies should spend no more than two days in a dry pail before they are put through a pre-rinse or pre-wash cycle.
Just like you flush the toilet before cleaning it, you should rinse out the bulk of the soiling on nappies before washing them. This is called a pre wash or a sluice cycle.
Ideally, separate the nappy inserts (the absorbent parts) from the nappy shell. This will allow for greater soiling removal. The nappy shell may not require a pre-wash of it is not soiled.
A pre wash is a short cycle with no more than a half dose of detergent to flush out the bulk of the soiling. A prewash should:
On completion, either store the pre washed nappies in a dry pail (optional) or continue straight to the main wash (less effort!).
Wash temperatures may vary depending on the brand of nappies you use. Each brand will recommend how to wash nappies. Some brands recommend washing in cold water, others in 40-60 degrees. Most brands will reccomend a long wash (2-3 hours).
Remember - common sense is key. If you use a poor detergent, too much or too little, or too short a wash, you may not get a thorough wash regardless of temperature. Use common sense to ensure you have a thorough wash that has removed all residual bodily fluids and all residual detergent.
The main wash should be completed within two days of the pre wash.
Keep nappy shells separate from inserts for faster drying.
To protect the waterproof PUL layer and elastic, dry the shells inside on a clothes horse instead of on the washing line.
Drying inserts in the sun can assist with fading surface stains. Sun drying can also have a better drying ability than a clothes horse or dryer if not used long enough. The less moisture remaining in your fabric, the less ground for mould, bacteria and fungi to breed - residual moisture is not your friend.
General sanitising (e.g. periodic disinfection or treating secondhand nappies). Suitable for inserts and shells
Mild to moderate staining or smells
Cloth nappy nerds interactive calculator suggests 5ml of 5% bleach per 1L of water or 6.2ml of 4% bleach to 1L of water (approx 1:160 ratio). Depending on the level of soiling, you can adjust this concentration as required. You can also use the bleach dilution calculator at Victorian Department of Health.
Heavy staining, mould or mildew on fabric (inserts)
NB: bleaching may not remove the mildew spots, it will only kill the spores.
A 2012 study by the University of Arizona showed that 5 minutes of direct exposure to 2.4% bleach solution results in greater than a 99.9% reduction in mold.
Prior to treating mould, run a hot wash of 90 degrees or greater to kill mould spores and remove residual organics.
Most sources quote 240ml bleach (3.2 to 4.2%/m/vol) for 3.8 litres of water (63ml/Litre) for surface mould treatment. The higher the bleach concentration, the less you will need.
A commercial laundry service is a great option for anyone using pre-fold terry flat nappies, both at home, at child care centres and hospitals.
Pre-folds are washed and sanitised the same way that towels and sheets are, so they are not damaged by the process.
It is best to keep waterproof covers or shells seperate so that the are not damaged by the hot wash with the towels.
There is a Melbourne-based nappy wash service called Botanic Baby. They offer prefolds, covers and servicing.
What about services for Modern Cloth Nappies?
For modern cloth nappies, you can send your inserts away for a commercial wash. It is best to keep your shells at home and wash them in a domestic machine following the Clean Cloth Nappies guidelines.
Questions you should ask a commercial laundry include: