One of the benefits of washing nappies, (especially in London with our wickedly hard water) is that you tend to learn a lot about detergent – and washing machines. Before I got involved with real nappies I knew nothing about detergent. I’d never actually looked at the ingredients on a detergent box or thought to wonder what’s in it. However do a web search about washing nappies and you will soon find out about detergent residue. It’s that film of optical brighteners and whiteners that stay on the surface of clothes to make them look clean. Not a problem in the normal run of things unless you have sensitive skin and it causes eczema but on nappies it’s a problem – it can make the nappies stop absorbing (that’s what they need to do, right?) and stop the wrap being waterproof (its main job). It may also cause nappy rash. Here’s some great advice on washing nappies from the USA.

If you’re new to this, please don’t let this put you off using real nappies. It’s really easy to prevent the detergent residue problem, once you know about it. If you’ve got detergent residue build up you put the nappies on a hot wash cycle with no detergent to get rid of it. After that you use less detergent, or an alternative, such as wash balls or soap nuts and you can prevent it.

You’re also likely to start doing spot cleaning. Now this is a great habit. Before kids you tend not to get grass stain and blackcurrant juice on your clothes. However, after kids, you need to know about this. Spot cleaning is simply doing a bit of treatment, preferably before the stain drys in, with a bit of hot water and soap and perhaps a nail brush if necessary. That way the stain comes out easily with the minimum amount of detergent at low temperature. You pick up this tip pretty quickly with nappies and it’s a basic skill of parenthood that means your children’s clothes stay looking good and can be passed on when your child grows out of them.

But there’s something else I need to warn you about if you’re going to become a real nappy user. Once you start looking at the ingredients on a detergent packet and you start looking into the effects of conventional fabric softeners you’re going start thinking seriously about not just what waste you put on the doorstep but also what you’re sending down the sewer. And in terms of your families health you’re also going to start thinking about indoor air quality. More on that next time.

Blog post on Improving Air Quality