I've been reviewing my cloth nappy cleaning procedure recently, from pail to washer, from drier to drawer, hoping to optimise the whole process.
When we started, the process was not seamless. That's partly why we waited a month or so after the birth to jumping into cloth nappies full time. It takes a little bit of effort, especially when you get started, but the weight of habit soon pulls you along. Nowadays it just seems normal.
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Should you use non-bio?
Maybe you should use bio?
Should you avoid perfumes?
Maybe you should use one of those special (and more expensive) detergents formulated especially for cloth diapers.
Yeah, maybe... But maybe not.
The detergent you use is relatively unimportant in the wash itself - if you use too much, your nappies will smell; if you use too little, your nappies will smell. If you use this brand or that brand, it doesn't seem to make too much difference. However, as you will see, there ARE some things you need to watch out for when you make your choice. Let's take a look.
The actual wash routine should not be too complicated. To get cloth nappies nice and clean and fresh-smelling (ish), here's what I do:
A few important points to remember - don't use any detergent with a softener included in the ingredients, indeed don't use a fabric softener/conditioner at all on the nappies or inserts. These will really affect the absorbency of the nappies, and in my experience, it happens pretty quickly (whoops!).
Bleaches may best be avoided, although as I mentioned above, they shouldn't end up on your baby's skin given a proper washing routine. The problem is that they can damage the fibres in the nappies, and lead to a shorter lifespan.
The same goes for anti-bacterial additives, such as Dettol. To be honest, the detergent and water will get rid of most of the baddies. If you are concerned, then occasionally throw them in at 60C and you can rest easy.
A final thing to note is that any new natural fibre nappies or inserts should be washed a few times to get them up to full absorbency. They don't need to be dried between washes. I tried a few bamboo inserts side by side - half pre-washed, half used straight out of the packet - the difference was noticeable, but they evened out after a few uses.
The easiest way to dry your nappies is to throw them into the tumble drier. However, I never tumble dry the wraps; I sense that the PUL fabric doesn't like the high temperatures. Well, okay, I'll admit it - I think I ruined a few wraps by putting them in the drier. And I put the nappies and inserts in on the lowest heat setting now, which seems to work just fine.
Most of the inserts I have dry really quickly anyway - they almost come out of the washing machine dry (thank you, spin cycle). So line drying them is my second choice - especially on those rare days when it's not raining. It rains a lot here. But I feel better about line drying to be honest, even though they end up a little crispy (the tumble drier softens them nicely).
The only nappies that don't seem to dry that quickly are the thick bamboo pile ones, but they still dry pretty thoroughly without the machine when necessary.
The benefit of the line drying is that the sun seems to bleach out any stains quite nicely.
For the wraps, I have a little drying rack rigged up above the tumble drier (it's a stick wedged between the walls of the washing room). I just drape the wraps on there, and they dry really fast.
I try not to dry nappies inside because our house isn't well ventilated, but if you have the option, I think it would be a good idea. As I said, they dry pretty quickly.
As always, check the care instructions for your nappies and wraps - some don't recommend tumble drying, in which case it might be best to avoid it.
Naturally, at times, nappies are going to smell. That's normal. What isn't normal is a smell when they're washed and dried - they shouldn't be smelly when they're not in use.
Some nappies DO get a smell when they are wet - namely when they're full of wee. This shouldn't be an offensive smell though, rather just a damp wee smell.
If they are smelling, you can try a few things. I would start with the test I mentioned above, put a clean nappy in a bucket of water and give it some welly. If it gets sudsy, then there is probably detergent residue left in the nappy.
For this, I'd recommend making sure that your wash cycle has the extra rinse option turned on if available, or reducing your dose of detergent if not. You could manually set the machine to rinse and drain after a wash if you need to. Test again.
Another option is to do the occasional hot wash, with a dose of something like Napisan or any oxygen bleach (Vanish Oxy Action etc.). This needn't be done for every wash, but it is a good idea occasionally.
This will also, along with some good ol' fashioned sunshine, help with stains.
As I implied above, I would happily use pretty much anything. There are a few things that I would avoid, and these are:
If I absolutely had to recommend a detergent, I would suggest Boot's own brand sensitive detergent powder. It does contain a bleaching/whitening agent, but I use only a small dose. No skin problems, no smell problems, no stains, and nappies are just as absorbent as ever.
A second choice would be Persil - non-bio, ideally, as I mentioned above the enzymes could damage your nappies.
If you're set on getting a special dedicated nappy cleaner, you could try this one which comes well recommended - Rockin' Green. Check out the reviews on Amazon.