Problems using washable nappies




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

1) Nappy not fitting properly

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.  If the nappy is too loose, you may get leaks around the leg holes.  If the nappy is leaking round the legs, but it’s not soaked through, experiment with adjusting the size.  The nappy needs to be short enough to make the leg holes the right size.  A birth-to-potty nappy will need to be on the smallest setting for the first few months - even on a big baby.  If it doesn't seem big enough, it's probably too high at the back.

There are some really helpful videos and pictures of how to fit a cloth nappy correctly on the Worcestershire and Herefordshire Nappy Advisory Service website

Occasionally 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.

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) Loss of absorbency

 If your nappies don't seem to be as absorbent as they used to be, it may be that you have a build-up of detergent in the fabric, caused by using too much detergent or inadequate rinsing.  Modern washing machines are very economical with water and you may need to do an extra rinse after washing the nappies.  Always use any "extra water" options that your washing machines offers when washing nappies and always use a really long wash programme.  Nappies that have lost their absorbency due to detergent build-up are often a little bit smelly too.  If you think you may have a problem with detergent build-up, follow the instructions for a strip wash outlined below in the "stinky nappies" section.

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”.

5) Faulty or damaged waterproofing. 

If you can see wet patches on the outside of the nappy, coming through the actual PUL, the nappy or wrap may be damaged or faulty, or just getting very old.



Stinky nappies

The cause of smelly nappies is that they are not really clean.  A good long wash (or two) at 60o with the recommended dose of biological detergent will usually sort the problem out.  A long wash programme is important as this is needed to make sure the detergent is completely dissolved and evenly spread throughout all the washing.  Powdered detergent seems to work better than liquid, and the mainstream or supermarket-own brands are more effective than the more environmental versions.  Things like EcoEggs or Soap Nuts do not do a great job on washing that is as dirty as nappies.   Although biological washing detergent is not usually 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 well, it can be very effective without causing any problems. Use the dose of detergent recommended on the packet for the load size you're doing and the hardness of the water - some people are so careful about not overdoing the detergent that they don’t put enough in and so the nappies are not getting washed properly!  Oxford water is very hard so you will need to use the higher dose of detergent.  Remember, you will probably never wash anything dirtier than nappies

Inadequate rinsing and build-up of soap can also sometimes make the nappies smelly even when they’ve been well 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.

If your nappies smell fine when they come out of the wash but smell awful as soon as they are weed on, you have got bacteria in the nappies that have not been removed by washing.  The bacteria come from faeces and are probably not harmful to you or your baby (as long you don't start sucking the nappies!) but they break down the urea in urine to ammonia which is very smelly.  You need to wash the nappies more thoroughly to get rid of the bacteria.

Soaking in Napisan is not recommended because it rots the elastic and waterproof covers but, used very occasionally, it will sterilise nappies.  You can soak prefolds and terry squares in Napisan because that it is what it was designed for.  You can add a scoop of Napisan, Miofresh or other nappy sanitiser to the detergent when you wash your nappies to kill bacteria.  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 and Australian websites advising the use of bleach but I think they are talking about American laundry bleach (which is called something like oxygen bleach or non-chlorine bleaching agent here in the UK) not UK-style chlorine bleach.  The nearest equivalent would be something like Napisan, Miofresh or Bio-D Nappy Fresh. Even these will fade the colour of some nappies so not really 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.