Should I soak cloth nappies?

When it comes to the questions of whether to soak cloth nappies, or not to soak cloth nappies, there seems to be lots of conflicting advice. So, what should you do? Do you need to soak cloth nappies? Will it hurt them if you do (or don’t) soak them.  What are the advantages and disadvantages of soaking your cloth nappies?

Why soak cloth nappies

Back in the days when I was a child, and most babies wore traditional flat nappies, people generally soaked their nappies after use and before washing in a nappy sanitiser.  It helped to sanitise them, make sure that they were properly clean and help with the washing process.  With the advent of modern cloth nappies however, the practice of soaking cloth nappies has dropped out of fashion and many people dry pail their nappies instead.  This means that they just place them into the nappy bucket without any soaking solution, and then wash them in the machine.  Different methods are used to sanitise the nappies, and make sure that they are properly clean.

Nappy bucket for soaking cloth nappies

When to soak

One of the reasons that people no longer tend to soak their nappies, is that many of the things used to make modern cloth nappies, such as the velcro, elastic, and waterproof fabrics can deteriorate due to the chemicals that are used to soak.  The great advantage of using cotton prefolds such as Ecobots, is that they are pretty much bomb proof, and can take soaking if you wish to sanitise them in this way.  I would generally suggest that you do not soak your covers, as these are made with velcro, PUL, and elastic all of which can break down with frequent soaking in sanitiser.  Your covers should not need to be soaked though, as they do not absorb urine in the way that your nappies do.  For the same reason, if you have other modern cloth nappies that have a PUL shell or outer, I would suggest that you avoid soaking them too.


How to soak

If you choose to soak your nappies before washing, then all you really need is a lidded bucket and something to soak them in.  I would recommend avoiding some of the commercial nappy sanitisers, as they can contain other chemicals or additives that can build up on your nappies. (Although again, with prefolds, it’s hard to do them any damage really).  The natural or eco sanitisers are ok, alternatively a few drops of tea tree or lavender oil is good.  If you want to just soak to rinse out the urine, then plain water would also work.

The main disadvantage of soaking is that you will have a bucket full of smelly water, keep it out of the way of small children, and possibly also keep it in the bath or shower to make cleaning up easily if it is knocked over.  You will want to drain off most of the water before putting your nappies into the washing machine.

Alternative to soaking

If you choose not to soak, then you can always add some kind of sanitiser to your washing cycle, again try to use an eco sanitiser or essential oil such as tea tree.   I sometimes add this to the prewash, and let the nappies soak for a little while before washing, although this isn’t essential.  A hot wash, and even the sunshine will also help to sanitise your cloth nappies, if you do not soak.

Cloth nappies hanging on the washing line

Pros and cons of soaking cloth nappies


  • Sanitises nappies
  • Stop stains from ‘setting’
  • Means a shorter cooler wash is all that is needed


  • Can damage nappies over time, particularly those with elastic, velcro and other modern fabrics
  • Bucket of water is messy to deal with
  • Not really necessary

So there you have it, a quick look at the questions “should I soak cloth nappies” do you soak your cloth nappies?

3 thoughts on “Should I soak cloth nappies?

  1. I didn’t soak my cloth nappies. I used the sun to sanitise.

  2. Hi, I’ve been soaking my cloth nappies so I can do a cold wash. What are the alternatives to soaking if you don’t want to do a hot wash, (and can’t guarantee a sunny day to sterilise)?

    1. Hi
      You could try adding a sanitiser to the actual wash, I usually do this if I’m doing a pre-wash or quick pre-rinse. Other wise a few drops of tea tree essential oil in the machine when I wash them.
      Hope this helps.

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