03 April 2013

{Cloth 101} My Wash Routine

So you bought the diapers, you've taken the plunge and actually put one on your baby, now the moment of truth comes - washing them. And ensuring they get properly clean with no build-up or stink issues in the future. While I by no means claim that this is the only way to do it, I can say that I've had excellent luck with this method for the last almost year and a half that I've been using cloth. 

1. Storing your dirty diapers until wash day

You will need a place to store your dirty diapers until wash day. I use a lidded bucket (bought at Plastic Warehouse) with a smaller inner lid that can remove seperately enabling me to drop the diaper that I've just changed into the bucket without removing the entire lid. I add a pail liner (the green bit sticking out around the top) to the bucket - this simplifies clean up as I am able to take the entire bag of dirty diapers out of the bucket and dump it straight into the washing machine. The pail liner gets washed along with the diapers. The bucket contains smells, but sometimes I add a few drops of tea tree oil to deoderise and disinfect. 

All diapers go directly from A's bum into the bucket. The two exceptions are

a) her overnight diapers - they contain up to twelve hours worth of toddler pee and trust me, the smell ain't pretty! I do a quick rinse by hand for those in the mornings and then add it to the pail. I find that if I skip this step I struggle to get all the pee out of her overnight diapers. 
b) poopy diapers. I spray the solids off into the toilet before placing the diaper in the pail. If your baby does not eat solids yet, you can just add the poopy diaper directly to the pail - pre-solids poo is completely water soluble and will rinse out in the washing machine.

Note - this is a dry-pail system, i.e there is NO need to soak your diapers. In fact, prolonged soaking of most modern cloth diapers is not recommended as it can cause breaking down of the elastics and PUL on the diaper. 

2. Washing the diapers

I wash every other day, though sometimes I will stretch it to every third day. Once the diapers are in the washing machine I set the machine to do the following three cycles:

a) A quick cold wash/rinse This step is important as it rinses the pee out of your diapers. If you skip this step you will be washing your diapers in pee water and they will not get properly clean. You can do a pre-rinse by hand if you would like to save electricity. 
b) A long hot wash - no hotter than 60 degrees Celsius. This cycle is the one that gets your diapers clean and this is where you would add your detergent. I use Earthsap laundry powder (though you can use any detergent, just don't use a 2 in 1 formulation as it contains softener) and use the full recommended amount per the instructions. It's important to use a long enough cycle and one with plenty of agitation - I use the cotton cycle on my machine and it takes around two  hours. A quick 30 minute wash will not get your diapers cleaned properly!

Note - No detergent gets added during the first wash/rinse. Do not use any softener in your wash cycle, this will cause build-up in the long run and your nappies will not be able to absorb properly any more.

3. Drying your diapers

After taking my diapers out of the washing machine I hang them outside on the washing line to dry. On a sunny day everything is dry within a few hours. On rainy days (ie the whole of the winter here in the Western Cape...), I hang them on a drying rack inside and they take a day or two to dry - depending on whether the diapers are made of synthetic or natural fibres. Natural fibres take longer to dry. Another quirk of natural fibres is that they are prone to getting incredibly stiff when line dried. I combat this in one of two ways: 

a) Throw them in the tumble dryer on medium/low heat for half an hour or so to fluff them up and then hang them up to dry
b) Scrunch them up/rub them against each other to relax the fibres - this softens them up again

I do sometimes take a short cut and tumble dry my non-PUL items (inserts, prefolds, fitteds), but 99% of the time I line dry the items containing PUL. Note that high heat can potentially cause PUL to delaminate - ie your diapers will no longer be waterproof. For this reason, even when I take a shortcut and tumble dry my non-PUL items (inserts, prefolds, fitteds), I always line dry the items with PUL. 

Benefits of line drying is that the sun is a natural disinfectant, natural stain remover and free. Tumble drying your diapers every time can really rack up your electricity bill.

4. Stain removal

I have two foolproof weapons against stains: 

a) the sun
b) boerseep

The sun bleaches out ebf poo stains like magic - I didn't believe it until I tried it. So if your newborn's diapers come out of the washing machine stained yellow, don't despair. It is completely normal and I promise your diapers will be white as snow after a few hours out in the sun to dry. 

If you aren't able to hang your diapers in the sun, boerseep is the next best option. Simply rub the soap bar on the stains before washing - most stains will come right out.

If you have any questions - feel free to ask me in the comments below. In the meantime - have fun cloth diapering!


  1. Hi. Where do you get the Earthsap detergent and what exactly is Boerseep? Its not sunlight bar....I take it it is the white block in your picture?

    I rinse my nappies in the handbasin immediatley after removing them, to get the worst of the pee out, but find the urine smell lingers in the bucket and bathroom. I sometimes add tea tree oil and think it does help when I use it.

    1. I buy Earthsap at my local Spar (I am in Stellenbosch). You should be able to get it at any big health shop or Dischem. You can also order it online - check out Faithful to Nature.

      Boerseep is made according to an old Afrikaans recipe and is available from Cherub Tree. See here for more info - http://www.boerseep.co.za/

  2. Hierdie post is wonderlik! Dankie :-)

  3. Our local Pick and Pay Hyper stocks all the earthsap products including the buckets of laundry detergent. What other detergent can I use on my nappies?

    I LOVE my boerseep! I use it on all our stained clothes. My daughter played in the mud at playschool (on the day Hubby decided to put on a light pink tracksuit!) but the boerseep made it come out light pink again!

    THanks for this wonderful and informative post!

    1. I have previously used soapnuts to wash my nappies, but found that over time I was having issues with getting them clean enough, especially when I started using a front loader.

      I know many cloth using moms use the Bio Washball with great success on their nappies too.

      I have personally not used any other detergent to wash my nappies, so unfortunately can't comment on that. The most important thing to look out for is that the detergent does not contain any softening agents as these can affect the absorbency of your nappies and cause leaks. Also, most commercial detergents are very harsh and could irritate baby's delicate skin, so to avoid that (and avoid detergent build-up) it is usually recommended to use a quarter of the amount of detergent that the manufacturer recommends for a load.

      Hope that helps. Happy cloth nappying!

  4. Hi. Thanks for the step-by-step info and the photos! Makes it really helpful!!! I just wanted to find out do you keep the nappies IN the bag when you wash them or do you take them out and just put the bag WITH the nappies in the machine? It may be a stupid question but I haven't actually started using nappies yet (I am still pregnant) so nothing is obvious to me right now!

    Also, where did you buy your wet bag from?


    1. Hi Loren - congrats on your pregnancy! I basically empty the nappies out from the pail liner into the washing machine and then add the empty pail liner to the load as well. I bought my pail liner from Nicki's Diapers - I use the Planet Wise brand. You could get one for cheaper from Alva, though I haven't tried it.

    2. Thanks for the reply! I love your blog as it provides some sanity in a world that thinks you are insane for wanting to use cloth nappies. I really feel very alone in this journey! I can't believe the absurd comments one gets from people regarding cloth nappies. I have so many more questions to ask you regarding this whole cloth nappy thing if that is ok with you. Especially considering you are from SA :)

    3. Feel free to ask any time and I'll do my best to answer you. :-) You might also like to follow me on facebook and ask questions there. https://www.facebook.com/HippieSafari

  5. Thank you for this post..I am new to cloth and a bit clueless as every brand gives different washing instructions :/ Is it ok to use the sunlight baby washing powder for step 2, I use it for my girls clothing and one of the brands (cant remember which one) mentioned that it was ok to use?

    1. Hi - Sunlight baby washing powder or liquid is fine to use. Happy cloth diapering!

  6. Hi Marisa,
    Where did you buy the pale liner?

    1. Hi - the ones I have are Planetwise pail liners, which I bought from Nicki's Diapers (US site). Locally you can buy pail liners from TomFips, Bam+Boo, Snugglybum, moon.me and a couple of others.

  7. Hi Marisa

    Please could you advise me on how to strip nappies... I have bought some second hand nappies and want to give them a good clean.

    Thank you


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