Nappy rash, smelly nappies, strip washing cloth nappies




Nappies may leak either because they’re not as absorbent as they should be or because they don’t fit properly.

1)  Loss of absorbency

If your nappies don't seem to be as absorbent as they used to be, there may be a build-up of soap and detergent in the fabric of the nappies.  This is usually caused by using fabric conditioner, or because the nappies are not getting properly rinsed.

Things to try:

  • Do not use fabric conditioner as it reduces absorbency. Softener sheets in the tumble dryer can also coat the nappy and reduce absorbency.
  • Use the amount of detergent that the manufacturers recommend but remember to use a bit less if you are not doing a full load of washing.
  • Use a standard laundry detergent.  Powder that contains little or no soap (just detergent, which is different) performs better than high soap brands.  Ecover detergent is not recommended. For some reason, it seems to build up on the fibres very quickly causing problems with absorbency, and problems with elastic in the nappies. It frequently causes skin issues.   You can use biological powder if you want though some people find it irritates the skin.  It does work better than non-bio!
  • Use a long wash programme - this gives more time for the detergent to dissolve completely and spread evenly through the wash. Depending on your machine, this might be achieved by using the Wash Plus button, or using an eco wash cycle.  It should take at least 2 hours to do the wash.
  • Always do an extra rinse cycle at the end of washing.  You should be able to see the water sloshing around in the machine in the final rinse – if there are lots of bubbles in this water, repeat the rinse.  Some modern machines are very mean with the amount of water they use and, whilst this is very environmental, it’s not great for cloth nappies.  You can cheat and pour an extra couples of litres of water into the machine before doing the extra rinse (directly into the drum or via the drawer) but don’t add too much because you could wear out the bearings on the machine.
  • Some modern machines weigh the washing and add water accordingly.  If your machine does this you can con it into adding more water by putting a wet towel in with the nappies.  
  • A rainwater rinse can be very beneficial, especially in areas (like Oxfordshire) where the tap water is very hard – leave the nappies out on the line in the rain – it will wash out some of the build-up of calcium and make them softer.
  • The use of nappy rash creams and balms is not advised, unless you use a paper liner, as it can coat the nappy fabric and reduce absorbency.
  • If you use a paper liner, don’t fold it. If the liner is too big, tear it in half.


2)  More absorbency required

As your baby gets bigger s/he will pee more and you may need to add boosters to the nappy.  Some babies are “heavy wetters” and pee a lot.  When babies are entirely milk fed, they are taking in a lot of liquid and so will pee a lot!  Some mums may make relatively dilute milk and so their baby has to drink a lot of it and they will be heavy wetters.  (Other mums make full cream milk - their babies get fatter and pee less!)  If the nappy is leaking because it is sopping wet, try adding an extra booster.  For little boys, it can help if one of the boosters is folded in half and put at the front of the nappy.  If you are using a pocket nappy, you may just need an extra insert or, if your inserts are made from microfibre, a bamboo rayon insert (instead of or as well as the microfibre one) may help.  I have a range of inserts/boosters for sale in the Shop section of this website. 

Always remember that any nappy, insert or booster needs to be washed several times before it achieves maximum absorbency - so your nappies may leak if they are brand new.


3)  Nappy not fitting properly

Sometimes leaking is due to the nappy being too tight.  If it is squeezed tight against the baby, it can’t hold as much liquid.  Similarly, if a nappy is over-stuffed with bulky microfibre boosters, it may not absorb properly.  Bamboo boosters have the advantage of being very slim for the amount of liquid they absorb.  If you need to add extra absorbency to a night-time nappy, it may work best if you put the booster outside the nappy, between the nappy and the wrap, and use a bigger wrap.

On the other hand, if the nappy is too loose, you may get leaks around the leg holes.  If the nappy is leaking but it’s not soaked through, experiment with adjusting the size.

A nappy may leak if it's not put on the baby correctly.  The leg elastics should be right up at the very top of the leg, at the knicker line.  If your baby has red lines on his or her thighs from the elastic, you need to push it right up to the groin.  Also, cloth nappies sit lower at the back than disposables do.  If you're getting leaking at the front, especially on a little boy, try to bring the front of the nappy higher by pulling it lower at the back.


4)  Clothes too tight

Trendy close fitting jeans and other grown-up style clothing may squash the nappy and prevent it from doing its job properly.  Try looser, stretchier clothes.  You may need to buy a bigger size of vests and body suits etc.  Try undoing the poppers on the vest.  Vest extenders are available and Frugi make baby clothes that are “cut for cloth”.


Stinky nappies

Inadequate rinsing and build-up of soap can sometimes make the nappies smelly even when they’ve been washed, and can cause nappy rash.  The answer may be a strip wash: wash at 30o without detergent, then again at 60o with no detergent, and then the usual 40o wash with a little detergent and lots of rinsing until everything is bubble-free (no need to dry the nappies between these washes).  I like Fairy non-bio powder because it contains no soap, which means it rinses out well and is less inclined to clog up the nappy fabric, and it has a very light fragrance.

On the other hand, some people are so careful about not overdoing the detergent that they don’t put enough in – that can cause smells too!  

Although biological washing detergent is not recommended for baby clothes, it does seem more effective than non-bio at getting rid of wee and poo smells.  If you only use it from time to time (when you have a problem) and rinse the nappies very well, it can be very effective without causing any problems.  

Napisan is not recommended because it rots the elastic and waterproof covers but, used very occasionally, it will sterilise nappies.  You can use Napisan on prefolds and terry squares because that it is what it was designed for.  Do not use chlorine bleach on your nappies as it will ruin the colour of the PUL, turn polyester fleece a nasty yellowish colour and rot the fabric and elastics.  You will see US websites advising the use of bleach but they are talking about American laundry bleach (which is called oxygen bleach or sodium percarbonate here in the UK) not UK-style chlorine bleach.  The nearest equivalent would be something like Napisan or Bio-D Nappy Fresh. Even these will fade the colour of some nappies so not recommended for regular use on all-in-one or pockets nappies, or for wraps.




Hang stained nappies outdoors in daylight.  There is enough UV even in weak winter sunshine to bleach out most stains.  It also freshens the nappies and kills germs.  If you don't have a garden, hang stained nappies next to an open window.