One question that burns on parents minds when starting cloth is: What detergent should I use?

If you ask on social media you’ll probably receive a myriad of answers. Most of the time it’s trial and error trying to find one that suits your family and budget.

How do you know the detergent you’re using is working?

  • your nappies come out of the wash free from stains and smelling fresh (or like nothing at all if you’re using a fragrance free detergent)
  • your nappies don’t smell like anything other than fresh mild wee when taking them off the baby
  • your night nappies don’t stink in the morning
  • your nappy pail doesn’t smell bad.

Some of these still may still occur if the detergent is good but your wash routine needs tweaking

Generally, mainstream supermarket detergents will give a better clean than plant-based/eco detergents. Mainstream detergents have stronger surfactants (cleaning agents) and often a greater proportion of ingredients that will help with stain and bacteria removal. 

Some people may be put off mainstream detergents as they feel they’re not environmentally friendly. The reality is that detergent composition in Australia is well regulated. Australian detergents have been free from phosphates (which contribute to algal blooms in waterways) since 2014 (see Accord Phosphorous Standard 2013 for a copy of the regulations). Australian detergents are also manufactured with biodegradable surfactants to the Australian Standard (AS4351:1996)

Will the temperature of the water matter?

 Generally yes. A mainstream detergent needs to be at least 40 -60 degrees however plant based or eco detergents should be over 60 degrees.

How much do I use?

To dose your detergent, follow these simple guidelines:

1) Use half of the “Normal Load” amount in your Pre-wash
2) Use the “Large Load/Heavy Soiling” amount in your Main Wash
3) Double these quantities for Plant Based Detergents

For the image below; use 1/2 scoop in your prewash and 1.5 scoops in your main wash.


 Too little detergent or use of a weak detergent will result in stains, greying of your nappies or smells such as a “wet dog” smell while drying, or noticeable urine or poo smells off the bum or in the nappy pail.

Too much detergent can cause an overload of suds in front loaders and this can prevent good agitation. If you’re running a full load and you have an overload of suds, reduce your main wash dose a little and evaluate next wash.

Sometimes you don’t have enough laundry to run a full load. When this happens, adjust your main wash detergent back to suit the load size.

If your baby starts getting rashes it may be an allergy to the detergent you’re using or a wash routine that needs checking. If you’re concerned always consult your health care professional.

Reference: compiled by Amy White an environmental scientist and cloth nappy researcher and cloth nappy mum

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