Using Real Nappies

Information on washing and drying real nappies and how they work.

Getting Started

Understanding the parts of a cloth nappy system
Caring for your cloth nappies – including storing, washing and drying


Wet nappies and rinsed soiled ones can be placed in a dry lidded bucket while waiting to be washed.

Soaking is a personal preference, it’s not essential but it reduces staining and wash times. It is not recommended to soak wraps, all-in-ones or pocket nappies as this shortens their lifespan. Placing your nappies in a lidded bucket and washing every 2-3 days means there is no smell, unlike leaving used disposable nappies in your dustbin until collection day.

If you choose to soak prior to washing, try ONE of these solutions in each bucket of water (use fresh solution each day for maximum effect):

  • White distilled vinegar (2-3 tablespoons), find it in your local shop or supermarket.
  • Bicarbonate of Soda (1 tablespoon), available in large packets from chemists or weigh-and-save shops.
  • Tea Tree or Lavender essential oil (5 drops), available from health food shops and chemists.
  • Nappy sanitising powder (1 tablespoon), available from health food shops and chemists.


When you are ready to wash your nappies, remove the mesh bag with all the soiled nappies inside and place in the washing machine with mesh bag open (so that all the nappies tumble out in the wash). There is no need to touch the nappies if you do it this way. If you have Velcro fastenings, make sure to turn the nappies or wraps inside out and shut the Velcro before you put into your nappy bucket as this stops the Velcro catching on other materials in the wash.

Washing your nappies at 40°C or even 30°C will ensure they are clean however you should wash at 60°C when your baby is under 3 months old, unwell or has repeated nappy rash.

Wraps should be washed at a maximum of 40°C, any higher and the elastic may be damaged. Wet wraps don’t have to be washed every time and can be quickly rinsed under a tap and wiped dry.

Biodegradable liners can also be washed once or twice if they are wet and not soiled.

Whether you wash your nappies and wraps as a separate load or in with your usual (colourfast) washing, ensuring you make a full load helps to reduce your carbon footprint and will save you money.

Real nappies do not need to be boil-washed as modern washing machines are so effective. You can use your usual non biological washing powder but only use  ½ – ⅓ of the recommended amount, but make sure to always check and follow  the manufacturer’s washing guidelines first.  It is important not to use fabric softeners as this coats the fabric and reduces absorbency which can lead to leaks.

Every now and again is it worth putting the nappies through an extra rinse at the end of the washing cycle as this removes powder build up in the fibres which can cause nappy rash.

Nappies made from 100% cotton, terry towelling or hemp can sometimes go stiff after washing.  To help with this you can:

  • Rub your nappies together
  • Put a couple of tablespoons of white vinegar to your final rinse
  • Leave your nappies out in the rain
  • Tumble dry for 10 minutes before hang drying
  • If you cannot remove stubborn stains after a normal wash try nature’s bleach – sunshine! Whether you hang the nappy out to dry on a sunny day or leave it on a sunny window sill indoors, sunshine often removes the most stubborn stains.  You can also try soaking in a pre-wash stain remover a little bicarbonate of soda.  Use nappy sanitisers sparingly as they usually contain bleach.


Dry nappies out on a washing line if you can. Sunshine will deodorise, sanitise and naturally bleach them. Otherwise line-dry indoors. Avoid tumble drying, as this uses a lot of energy and therefore costs more, reduces the life of the nappy and is not good for the environment.

How many nappies will I need?

If you usually wash nappies every 2-3 days you will need:

  • 24 nappies for a newborn (going down to 18 nappies as your baby moves onto solid food) and
  • 3-4 waterproof wraps in each size.

If you use shaped, sized nappies you will normally need three sets – small, medium & large – as your baby grows.

If you use one size – birth-to-potty nappies – one set should be enough. However, you may need a particularly small set for a newborn.

How much will it cost?

Starting with 24 flat nappies and 4 wraps plus some liners (at £2-3 per roll of 100), you can expect to pay around £60 for a set. You will need to get larger wraps later as your baby grows, which will bring the total to about £120 for everything until your baby is potty trained. One-size wraps cost more but you will need fewer. A full set of birth-to-potty shaped nappies with wraps and liners, providing everything you need in one go, will cost a little over £200 while all-in-one nappies will cost up to £400.  This compares to £1,200 for market leading brand disposables.

Laundry Services

Laundries supply, deliver, collect and wash your nappies for you. There is currently one laundry service operating in Devon which offers weekly home delivery and collection of nappies to the following postcodes: TQ1, TQ2, TQ3, TQ4, TQ5, TQ6, TQ9, TQ10, TQ11, TQ12.  Find out more here. What we recommend:

  • Use eco laundry liquid, or powder, where possible.
  • Use an A-rated washing machine to reduce energy, water costs and consumption.
  • Add half a small cup of vinegar to the last rinse cycle, or a few drops of lavender in the conditioner     compartment of the washing machine, to keep nappies soft as well as smelling fresh.
  • Thoroughly rinse nappies before drying – whether in the washing machine or after just soaking.
  • Pass on your nappies for another child to use, when your child is potty trained.
  • Use a laundry service if you don’t want to wash your own, particularly in the early months.
  • Try it first. Get a trial pack of different types, to see which suit you best, before getting a full set.


  •  Use commercial fabric conditioners, as they reduce nappy absorbency.
  • Tumble dry. This shortens the nappy lifespan and consumes more energy.
  • Use chlorine bleach or perfumes. These chemicals, as well as the optical whiteners and other ingredients in ordinary washing detergents, may cause skin irritation.

Have you considered washable wipes?

Just like using real nappies, using washable wipes instead of the packet variety will be better for your baby, significantly cheaper and better for the environment.

Better for baby
When you use washable wipes you know exactly what you are putting on your baby’s delicate skin. No chemicals or preservatives, just plain water or your own skin friendly solution.

In just 2 years you can save over £200 and the initial outlay is minimal.  For full time use you need about 30 wipes, costing from free (make your own from an old towel or fleece blanket) to around 50p each.

Better for the environment
Using washable wipes will reduce landfill and help us to get away from the disposable lifestyle that seems to dominate so many aspects of life.   If you are using washable nappies it makes sense to use washable wipes too as they can simply be washed with your nappies for no extra effort.

What to use to moisten the wipes

Plain, warm water is kindest on newborn bottoms and works really well straight from the tap! If you don’t change your baby next to a tap you will need to either use a bowl or a spray bottle to moisten the wipes.

Wipes solution
Adding things to the water will enhance the cleansing and antibacterial qualities of the wipes. You can make up a solution to put in a spray bottle or use a Tupperware box to soak and store the wipes.

One favourite recipe is a cup of Camomile tea (made in a Tupperware box) with a splash of baby oil to make the wipes glide on the skin (non-petroleum based, edible oils such as Almond or Sunflower are generally best for use with babies).  Then a couple of drops of Lavender oil which is gentle, yet an effective cleanser and has anti-fungal properties.

Once you have made up the solution, squash as many wipes into the box as you can so that all of the liquid is soaked up. Then pop the lid on and throw in the change bag!

Whatever you experiment with, make sure the quantities are suitable for a baby’s delicate skin and test on a small area first. Most solutions will keep for a couple of days as they will not contain the preservatives of packet wipes.

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