Monday, February 1, 2016

Cloth nappies: how we rock our nappy laundry

This isn't the most exciting of topics but it occupied a lot of brain space for me before the Little Monkey was born, and I've had quite a few questions from people who think using cloth nappies means lots of hard work. It doesn't, so I thought I'd show you exactly how we do it.

There are squillions of different ways to do this, so this is by no means a gospel you must follow - but it might provide a helpful starting point which you can then mold to fit your life and house and family.

The gear

Though we try to keep stuff to a minimum, having the right bits and pieces can definitely support easy living. So let's start with the gear. A lot of this is the same whether you use cloth or disposables, but there are a couple of extras that can help heaps with cloth. You will need: 

Our nappy storage - two
shelves in the bathroom
  • Nappies! Check out my posts on the different types available and our favourites if you need some help deciding what to get. 
  • A changing station - this doesn't need to be a dedicated table, or even one location. We've always done changes on the floor, so some kind of waterproof change mat is wise, and depending on what you have you might want to chuck an old-style cloth nappy or something else soft on top to make it a bit more comfy and catch spills. 
  • A nappy bin - our criteria was that it be big enough for two days worth of nappies, with one-hand lid operation and difficult-ish to get into. We got a flip-top rubbish bin from Briscoes for about $35 and it took the Little Monkey a good while to work out how to open it (he can now but is pretty good about only putting nappies into it). 
  • Nappy bin liners* - often called pail liners, these are optional but if you don't use them you'll have to clean the bin. The liner goes in the wash with the nappies which also means we don't have to touch the dirty nappies at all after the initial nappy change. Since it goes in the wash you'll want two of these. 
  • Wipes - we were given lots of disposable wipes, and while they're useful in many ways we've found cloth wipes way better for messy nappies because they're a bit more robust. 20 is probably a good number to start with, though you may want a few more. 
  • Some way to wet the wipes - this could help determine where you change nappies. We use the basin in the bathroom - the bathroom is where we change nappies now, but we used to just wet a couple of wipes on the way to the change station. Some people prefer to keep a water bottle at the change station. I don't recommend pre-wetting the wipes, though, because they can start to breed bacteria. 
  • Nappy liners - you can get disposable* or reusable* liners, and these definitely don't have to be used all the time (we don't) but it's handy to have a few on hand in case of nappy rash - they keep difficult-to-wash-off nappy creams off the nappies
  • Nappy cream - you will probably encounter nappy rash at some point. You can buy cloth nappy specific creams, which break down more readily in the wash, or use a liner. We use Sudocrem, which will wash off but might take more than a standard wash, so we use reusable liners when we need to use cream. Petroleum based products like Vaseline are the hardest to clean out of fibres, so either steer clear or use a good liner with those. 
  • Small wet bags - these hold dirty nappies in your nappy change bag when out and about. We love this Planetwise one* with a "dry" pocket on the side - it holds a couple of nappies, wipes and a couple of other odds and ends, so serves as our whole change bag. 
  • (Optional) Nappy sprayer - these can be attached to the inlet hose on your toilet, and make cleaning up messy nappies way easier. 

The process

This is neither the only way to do it, nor is it revolutionary - but I share in the hopes that it's helpful, whether you don't know where to start in the haze of sleep deprivation, or are just Scared Of The Poop. 

1. Changing nappies

We go to the bathroom, wet wipes as required, get the kid on the floor, do the changeroo - so far so easy, right?

Wet nappies and wipes can go straight in the nappy bin and you can skip to step 3. If you're unlucky enough to be changing a dirty nap, we come to...

2. Rinsing dirty nappies in the loo

There are different grades of dirty nappies; first, if your baby is exclusively breastfed you don't need to rinse, as the poo will dissolve in the washing machine and leave no residue. You'll probably find it pretty tricky to do anyway, as it tends to absorb into the nappies - so unless there's formula or solids in the picture, skip to the next step.

If your baby has nicely formed solid poo you can just flick it into the toilet and chuck the nappy into the nappy bin. Awesome.

For messier nappies there are a couple of options. Nappy sprayers are awesome, and allow you to hold the nappy over the toilet and use the force of the spray to remove any solids. You then squeeze any extra liquid out of the nappy and pop it in the nappy bin.

If you don't have a sprayer (this is us currently, because our toilet doesn't allow us to connect one) the dunk-and-swish method comes into play. It is what it sounds like - you dunk the soiled bits of the nappy in the toilet water / hold them in the flush until the solid bits are gone. Then squeeze out and put in the nappy bin.

This is definitely not a fun job, and you will want to wash your hands thoroughly - but it is absolutely the worst part of the whole process, and you won't have to touch the dirty nappies again.

3. Storing nappies until washing

We wash nappies every second day, though I am anticipating this will be increasing to daily soon, as we'll almost certainly have two nappy-wearers in the house for at least a few months. But every second day is definitely fine - the nappies will wait and will still come out of the wash nice and clean.

There's no need to soak in Napisan - in fact, it's recommended you don't, to avoid the modern nappy fabrics getting broken down and also because buckets full of liquid sitting around the house = drowning hazard. So the nappies just sit in the bin - this is called "dry pailing" - until it's time to wash.

We don't find the bin smelly, and though it has a lid it's not airtight. It's not exactly a feature of our bathroom but we don't hide it from guests (though when we have a family bathroom - something that will happen in the next couple of months - it will get moved there so that guests don't have to admire it while using our facilities).

4. Washing the nappies

Front loader washing machines
double as great entertainment
This is where the pail liner comes into its own. Lift the whole thing out of the nappy bin and tip the nappies into the washing machine, shoving the liner in afterwards. We have a front loader which makes it a wee bit awkward, but rest assured it is completely possible to empty the liner without touching the nappies at all (I still wash my hands but it's really not an icky process).

Running the nappies through a quick rinse and spin before the main wash is really important; it removes most of the gunk (obviously nappies are a bit more soiled than your average dirty clothes) so that the main wash has clean water to work its cleaning magic with.

If you don't have a full load of nappies you can do the rinse then add your normal laundry to the machine for the main wash.

Use the recommended amount of detergent for the size of load, and avoid fabric softeners as these can build up in absorbent fabrics and lessen absorbency over time. We use Persil, because Consumer found it to be the most effective detergent on the market and we want our nappies cleaned well - other supermarket brands are fine too, so long as they don't have softeners added.

Wash cycle
Choose a full-length wash cycle. Washing in cold water works for many people but you may want a longer/heavier wash cycle as warm water enables easier washing. We use the cotton cycle on our machine, which is 60 degrees, though sometimes we reduce the temp to 40 C if we're feeling a bit cheap.

5. Dry the nappies

Drying outside on the line is great if weather allows - definitely the cheapest option, and your nappies will last a bit longer too (same as for clothes - dryers can be tough on fabric). If that's not happening, a ducted dryer turned down to warm is a good way to go - nappy manufacturers usually recommend reducing the dryer temperature to prevent damage to elastics and the waterproof PUL layer.

Drying your nappies on a rack inside is a distant third place, because the moisture evaporating out of them will add to the moisture inside your home, which will make it harder for you to heat your home and can even cause issues with mould and mildew. Running the dryer seems costly but it can cost you far more in heating if the air in your house is damp - so if it's rainy go ahead and use it if you have the option.

And that's it! Let me know if you think I've missed anything, or if you have a different way of doing things. 

*Affiliate link - I only recommend products I personally love, and if you choose to buy them by clicking through from my link I get a small commission. If you want to support me in this way that's awesome - if not, no sweat.

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