With a good thorough nappy wash routine, your nappies shouldn't become smelly or stained or in need of fix-ups. However, if you've purchased secondhand nappies, or your wash routine has gone all wrong and your nappies have ingrained stink that you just can't kick with regular washes, you can give them a really thorough clean known as a 'strip and sanitise'. A strip and sanitise is the Aussie version of 'strip and bleach' from Fluff Love University and is a 3 step process:
1) A "strip" soak, originally designed to remove minerals from hard water, but also fabulous for soaking away stains and loosening ingrained soiling, followed by a good rinse out
2) A sanitise using bleach or high temperatures to remove bacteria and neutralise any residual ammonia (note: high temperature is not safe for waterproof nappy outers or elastics)
3) Wash wash wash to make them sparkle!
There have been many editions of the strip and sanitise process over the years, from the original washing soda and borax version to the modern front loader version. This version is the original Napisan recipe that I came up with back in my days as nappy laundry lady, and I have found to be really reliable and effective. I've received some awfully stinky nappies over the years and it has never failed me, so that's what I'm sharing with you today. The Napisan recipe is more effective than the washing soda/borax recipe as Napisan has sodium percarbonate which is a great stain remover, and I prefer the soak version to the front loader version as I found that for me, the front loader version never properly kicked the stink like a good soak does.
When you're doing a strip & sanitise, it's a good idea to use a really effective mainstream detergent such as Omo or Biozet powder. Plant based and eco detergents just don't have the same cleaning power. Refer to the Choice laundry testing results for a list of effective, high quality detergents (aka the winners!)
As always, you need to take responsibility for your own nappies and your own laundry, so be sensible when using any kind of online laundry instructions. If your nappies are old or are holey or otherwise starting to fall apart, be aware that they may not survive 60 deg washes or a bleach and it may be better to consider an upgrade.
If you're strip & sanitising your own nappies, you probably don't need to do anything to the nappy covers/shells until Step 3. Add them in at Step 3. Nappy covers/shells aren't absorbent so don't hold stink in the same way as an insert and will come up fine with a couple of good washes. If you're sanitising secondhand nappies, you might like to add them in at Step 2A. Do not use sanitise 2B on nappy covers/shells.
Don't forget to wear your gloves and open your window for good ventilation. Water is a drowning hazard so ensure your kids are safe and can't access the laundry. So without further ado...
STEP 1: STRIP SOAK
Add 1/2 cup (125mL) of Vanish/Sard/Earth Choice/Home Brand/whichever brand you like laundry soaker to your laundry tub (around 40L of water). Add 1/4 cup of powder laundry detergent (60mL) or 1 cap of liquid laundry detergent (~60mL). Add hot tap water (max 60 deg C, check with a thermometer if you're not sure how hot your water is) and add anything absorbent and free from PUL/elastic eg. inserts/prefolds/wipes. Don't put in nappy covers/shells. Soak for 6-8 hours or overnight if you started in the evening.
Sometimes you may need to strip All In One nappies, or PUL-backed inserts such as Grovia, or elasticated inserts such as bare + boho among others. If you're doing this, don't leave them in the soak for more than 4 hours. Better safe than sorry.
Drain your laundry sink and transfer your nappies to the washing machine, give them a normal length wash on any temperature (max 60 deg C) to rinse out the strip mix.
STEP 2: SANITISE (option A or B, not both!)
Option A: BLEACH. Bleach is the most effective way to neutralise residual ammonia if the inserts are still a bit smelly after the strip. Use a 4% sodium hypochlorite liquid laundry bleach from the laundry section eg. White King.
Mix up according to the amount of water you have. The recipe is 20mL of bleach per 10L of water. A 10L bucket is an easy way to do this.
Add your inserts and soak for 30 minutes. Then drain, transfer to the washing machine and repeat the same water only wash cycle as you did after the strip. This will ensure the bleach is thoroughly rinsed out. Go to step 3.
Option B: HIGH TEMPERATURE WASH. You can use the 90-95 degree cycle on your front loader. Simply add the inserts (or if they're still in the machine after Step 1 rinse out just leave them there), add detergent to match the load size and run the cycle. Go to step 3.
STEP 3: WASH
Run your usual main wash cycle (eg Cottons/Heavy/Whites/whichever is the long one) at 40-60 deg with detergent to match the load size. You choose the temp here, some brands suggest you keep a lower wash temperature and that's probably worthwhile if they don't think their PUL will withstand a 60 deg wash. Other brands are fine for you to wash at 60 deg so go ahead and do that if you prefer.
Repeat a second time. Add an extra rinse if things have been a bit sudsy or your bub has sensitive skin.
Dry and you're done!