Do Reusable Cloth Nappies Smell?

26 February 2024

When washed and used correctly reusable nappies won't smell but yes, reusable nappies can smell if not properly cleaned and cared for. However, with the right washing routines and maintenance, your reusable cloth nappies should not smell and can be freshened up if needed.


"Dry and comfortable pocket nappy The new pocket nappies are soft and comfortable. Previously Charlie Banana was our favourite nappy brand but I think these might even beat them. Let's see how they wear after a few washes. Very pleased so far!" Trustpilot review Oct '23

This article looks at reasons why your cloth nappies might smell, plus techniques to keep them smelling fresh in future:

Why Do My Cloth Nappies Smell?

There are several reasons your cloth nappies might smell:

Bacteria or Ammonia Buildup

If pee and poop stay on the cloth nappies and they are not thoroughly cleaned bacteria and ammonia can accumulate. Ammonia buildup can occur when urine breaks down and releases ammonia gas, leading to a pungent smell. If the nappies are left in water this ammonia leaves into the water and coats all surfaces. This can lead to the fabric of nappies breaking down and if not thoroughly removed can cause skin issues for baby.

Infrequent Nappy Changes

Leaving a wet or soiled cloth nappy on your baby for too long can lead to smells building up. The longer urine and faeces sit in the nappy, the more likely it is for bacteria to multiply and cause a smell. It is also not great for babies skin. Always change as soon as you realise your little one has had a bowel movement.

Nappy Storage Technique

In days gone by cloth diapers would fester in a bucket of water or diaper pail waiting to wash. Poo soup! Nowadays, best practise to prevent smells, stains and prolong the life of your nappies we recommend dry storing once rinsed or solids removed.

You can use a bucket, open wetbag, nappy pail or mesh bag. Airy storage allows for air to circulate and prevents a smell build up.

Cloth Diaper Washing Technique

Improper washing techniques, such as using too much or too little detergent in the washing machine, not rinsing thoroughly, using fabric softener, washing at incorrect temperatures, short wash cycles, can leave residues in the nappies, contributing to odour issues.

Poor Fit

If the cloth nappies do not fit your baby properly, they may not contain waste effectively, leading to leaks and potential odour problems. You can use our fitting guide to help with most brands of nappy.

How to Get Smell Out of Reusable Nappies

To get the smell out of your reusable nappies, follow these steps:

  • Wash cloth diapers with hot water (60 degrees) leaving wraps / PUL out and following manufacturers guidance.
  • Use an appropriate detergent, powder works better than liquid or capsules.
  • Add laundry detergent, vinegar or baking soda to the wash to neutralise odours.
  • Select a long wash cycle - no quick washes
  • Ensure thorough rinsing to remove all detergent residues.
  • Sun-dry the nappies whenever possible, as sunlight has natural antibacterial properties, line dry out in the air. The faster they dry the fresher they will smell.


How to Prevent Cloth Nappies from Smelling

Follow these preventive measures to prevent cloth nappies from smelling:

  • Pre wash / rinse daily if you are struggling with smells, then add back to your nappy storage - best time is when the night nappy comes off
  • Establish a proper washing routine, fully washing nappies every 2-3 days.
  • Store used cloth nappies in a well-ventilated dry pail, wet bag, mesh bag to prevent odour buildup.
  • Periodically strip your nappies to remove any detergent or residue buildup, do an extra rinse if smells begin 
  • Ensure a proper fit to prevent leaks and minimise odour issues.


Proper care and maintenance are essential for keeping reusable cloth nappies odour-free. By following the tips mentioned above, you can ensure that your cloth nappies remain fresh and comfortable for your baby.

If this article was helpful, have a read - 

Beginners guide to reusable nappies

How many reusable nappies do I need?

Sanitising cloth nappies

As always, if you're unsure of what you need to make the switch, please do drop the team a line or use the online chat function. The team all use the products themselves and just LOVE to chat pee poo and periods, all day long, nothing is TMI and we all love to overshare based on our own experiences.

About the Author: Kirstin is part of the Customer Experience team at Cheeky Wipes, which since 2008 has been selling the original reusable wipes kit. She is mum to three kids and loves the forest, the sea and the hills!

Along with the rest of our crack team, she spends most days talking about poo, pee and periods and loves a chance to overshare. Cheeky wipes were recognised with a Queens Award for Enterprise in Sustainable Development in 2021, celebrating their hard work over the last 13 years.

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