Terry Nappies - How Did You Wash Yours?

New mums today have the choice of whether to use cloth or disposable nappies, but it was a different story back in the day.

Disposable nappies were invented in the '40s, but it would be well into the '60s before they really began to catch on, so if you remember the days of terry-towelling nappies, how did you wash yours?

The Nappy Bucket

Washing machines were only just beginning to appear in Britain in the mid-1950s so not many homes had one.

This meant nappies had to be washed by hand, but the first part of the process was generally a soak in the nappy bucket, which may well have been a metal bucket or an enamel bowl before Mothercare came along in the '60s, bringing with it the idea of a dedicated plastic nappy bucket with a lid and fancy motifs.

Solid waste was scraped into the toilet before the nappy was placed in the bucket, and anything you missed would make itself known sooner or later as it floated to the top of the water in the bucket!

Now, did you or did you not add Napisan to the water in the nappy bucket?

For some, it was an added laundry expense that couldn't be justified, but for others, keeping those nappies as white as white could be was something to take great pride in, and Napisan stain remover was one way to go about it and a washing line full of gleaming white terry squares is an enduring image of yesteryear that many look back on fondly.

The Boiling Pan

But, before the nappies could make it to the washing line, they needed to be boil washed. Most homes had a large saucepan for this job and the soaked nappies would be transferred from the bucket into the pan to be boiled on the hob for several minutes with whatever soap powder or detergent was favoured.

Persil was one of the top brands in the '60s and one of their marketing ploys was to sell Persil-branded laundry tongs made of brightly coloured plastic what brand was your favourite?

An alternative to boiling nappies in a pan was to invest in a Baby Burco boiler. Having one of these meant no more heavy pans to deal with as the water could be drained out through the tap, and it could also be used for rinsing the nappies after the boil wash. Whatever method was used, rinsing the nappies was the next important step in the laundry process.

The Extra Rinse

The boil wash killed the germs, but to keep the nappies soft, they had to be thoroughly rinsed to remove all traces of detergent. A good rinse was essential, but those who liked to have the whitest, fluffiest nappies on the street always devoted time to at least one extra rinse.

The Twin Tub

Not many households could afford a twin tub in the '60s, but the hard work of looking after nappies wasn't over even for those who could.

If you had one, you'll remember the process of filling up one side by attaching a hose to the tap and then making sure you didn't go too far away because the water would need to be turned off before it overflowed.

Sometimes nappies were left to soak in there in hot water for a while, but after they'd gone through the wash cycle, they had to be lifted out and transferred to the other tub to be spun.

Water was drained back out through another hose into the sink, and then the tub had to be filled again with clean water for rinsing, before being transferred to the other tub once again to be spun, this cycle was often repeated more than once to get the extra rinse benefits.

The Washing Line

Whether rinsed and rung out by hand or spun in a twin tub, the next stop for the nappies was the washing line.

This was generally a long rope or plastic cord strung between two trees or other fixed objects at a height that could be reached for pegging out items, and then it would be raised by a long wooden pole so that the washing would catch more wind.

Of course, doing it properly meant hanging out each nappy with precision.

The pride taken in displaying whiter than white nappies was extended to presenting them in a neat fashion not only would carefully pegged nappies dry faster, sloppy pegging out was a direct reflection of your character!

The On-Going Chore

The nappy washing process was on-going and it's fair to say it dominated the lives of many mums before the advent of automatic washing machines or a switch to disposable nappies.

The fond memories of seeing nappies flapping in the breeze on the washing line and the sense of pride experienced in having the whitest nappies on the street may be real, but it was hard work, and the passing of time has perhaps dulled the memories of the rainy days in which nappies couldn't dry on the line or the frosty days when nappies froze into solid blocks!

Jennifer Worth, the author of Call the Midwife, was a midwife in London's East End in the 1950s. She recalls having to fight her way through a forest of flapping linen in the backyards of Bethnal Green, and then once in the house or flat there would be more washing to duck and weave through, in the hall, the stairways, the kitchen, the living room and the bedroom.

The Nostalgia

Life was certainly simpler back then, but not necessarily any easier.

There was no central heating, so getting nappies dried during the winter meant living with nappies at every stage of the laundry process around the house, so are we looking back with rose-tinted glasses?

Nappy rash was not uncommon, but then children tended to be potty trained within a year; nappy buckets could be smelly, but then the smell of freshly laundered nappies off the washing line is a happy memory that never leaves you so if you were to do it all again and you had the choices mums have today, would you do it the same way?

The Alternative

Mrs Valerie Hunter Gordon from Scotland invented the first disposable nappies in 1947 after the birth of her third child and becoming fed-up with continually washing nappies.

In an interview with the BBC in 2015 at the age of 93, she explained that she began looking for a disposable alternative and was amazed to find that there wasn't one so she decided to invent one herself.

She recalled;

Everybody who saw them said, Valerie, please would you make one for me? And so I ended up by making about over 600 of them. Everybody wanted to stop washing nappies. Nowadays they seem to want to wash them again - good luck to them!

Valerie's design was given the name Paddi, and in the late 40s and into the '50s, Paddis was advertised as

'A really attractive garment, skilfully designed by a Mother, to make the whole-time use of disposable nappies a practical possibility.'

They disappeared from the market in the 1960s when Pampers arrived from America.

How the world has changed, but in terms of bringing up baby, which way is best; the way it was back in the day, or the way it is today?

Let us know in the comments section below, we'd love to hear your memories!

Images; Peg Bucket Washing Tubs

 Washing line by © Neil Theasby (cc-by-sa/2.0)


1940s1950s1960s1970sChildhood memoriesDo you remember?Memory laneMotherhoodNostalgiaVintage


Blanche Johnson

My three children all wore Tery toweling nappiess with muslin liners. I took great pride in hanging out pure white nappies on my washing line. It was hard work but well wort it
This was in the 60"s and 70’s. Happy memories


I happened across this with interest when I was googling “washing cloth nappies is satisfying…” my baby is only 7 months old and I use a mixture of disposables and cloth nappies. Some terries (I have cotton and bamboo ones as the bamboo is thinner but more absorbent), some “pockets” (a waterproof outer with a fleece lining that has an opening so you can insert different absorbent inserts into, some shaped nappies that are like preshaped terries. I love washing them and absolutely love getting all the muck off of them so they look pristine when they’re clean. Having said that, I’m very grateful I have a washing machine to do the hard work and access to a tumble dryer if the weather is too bad to dry them quickly and easily. Hats off to everyone who did it when it really was a chore!

judith martin

rise off the nappies then in a bucket and boil on the cooker a while so so white and soft ,

N whiles

Had 3 children under 4 years of age lived in a caravan with only cold water while we were doing up a house, old copper boiler in the old stables used to feed the old beams in from the house to heat the water, in the winter had to take them to the laundrette to dry, disposable nappies were brought back to me from a friend living in America so life got easier.


I had 3 boys under 4 in early 70’s and my 2nd & 3rd were both in nappies as only 13 months between them. Soaked in Napisan then boiled in twin tub in Fairy Snow. Rinsed several times and into spin drier, then out on line weather permitting. Often had trips in the winter to laundrette to dry nappies in the dryer. Had to wait until anyone using the washing machines had finished using dryers. Whole process very time consuming. Never used disposable nappies. My boys were out of nappies by age of 30 months. Nowadays it’s not unusual for children to still be in disposable nappies at 4 years of age and beyond. If today’s mother’s had to launder terry nappies their children would be out of nappies much earlier.

Jenny Champion

I started having babies in 1977 and used Terry nappies with a nappy liner for the real messy bits, you could roll it up and flush it down the toilet… I rinsed the nappies first, then soak them in a plastic bucket with a lid on,in a solution of fairy snow overnight. In the morning I would rinse them through then boil them up in a metal bucket on my cooker again with fairy snow for around 30 mins, rinse them around 3 times then in the last rinse I’d put a small amount of fabric conditioner , ring them out by hand, hang them on the washing line and watch them crack in the wind cos I had a high clothes line. They were so white they would glow..

Jenny Champion

I started having babies in 1977 and used Terry nappies with a nappy liner for the real messy bits, you could roll it up and flush it down the toilet… I rinsed the nappies first, then soak them in a plastic bucket with a lid on,in a solution of fairy snow overnight. In the morning I would rinse them through then boil them up in a metal bucket on my cooker again with fairy snow for around 30 mins, rinse them around 3 times then in the last rinse I’d put a small amount of fabric conditioner , ring them out by hand, hang them on the washing line and watch them crack in the wind cos I had a high clothes line. They were so white they would glow..

Anna Webster

I had my children in 1979 and 1981. Boots sold an alternative to Napisan called Nappy White which I used with great results.
(It was also good for whitening the family christening robe.)
I am appalled at the thought of all these disposable nappies in landfill sites.
My daughter has used reusable nappies for her boys – they are shaped like the disposables but take much longer to dry than the original terries.


Ten months between my children used Terry Nappies all the time, disposable one were used when going out, as they were expensive,
Loved to see them blowing in the wind on the line, took pride in how white they were
Kids never had sore bottoms as I changed them often during the day , had plenty nappies
In reserve when you couldn’t get them dry.


My daughters now 43 and 40 were both in terry nappies. I had a hotpoint twin tub which washed them beautifully and it had a boil facility too. It was lovely to see sparkling white nappies blowing in the breeze!

Marian Biggs

as if all the washing palaver wasn’t enough, in the early 70s along came the power strikes! Then we had to look in the newspaper to see when the electricity would be cut off so we knew when we could wash the nappies in the twin tub. No wonder i had post natal depression with 3 children under 4, all in nappies and my husband having to go out to work every time the power went off and ten every time it came back on. He was the maintenance electrician at a research station 6 miles away, so I hardly saw him during this nightmare time!


I had the Hoovermativ washer. Do you remember the wooden tongs and the rubber mat you put in top of the spin dryer ?
I used Napisan and Persil and usually forgot I had a nappy pin pinned on my jumper.
My son is 38 now and I still have 2 Zorbit nappies used now for polishing bras

Maureen sayers

I had a nappy bucket and used Nappyzan to keep the white I used Persia and had a big gas copper to boil my whites

A Saunders

Would go back to the old days, any day. I loved to see my children’s nappies on the line blowing in the wind, and my babies never had nappy rash.I always used Napysan to soak my nappies then they went into my baby Burko boiler and came out pure white and smelt lovely and fresh. Better than any through away nappy anytime.

Sally Cavill

I had a burco boiler, l prided myself on my white Terry towelling nappies nothing nicer than a line of freshly laundered nappies blowing in the breeze. I then aired them on a clothes horse in front of the Rayburn.

Karen graham

I remember those days soaking nappies in napisan then putting them in a baby burco on the cooker loved to see pure white nappies on the line every day in my house as had two little ones in them brings back many memories.


All my children had towelling nappies & even used face clothes when one of mine was too small for prem nappies. I wish you could only get towelling nappies again as disposable ones can burn babies/ toddlers if they tear next to skin as they have done in past. If my children were in disposable ones for flying or traveling long distances there little bottoms would be as red as a letter box & sire. Quick egg wash on them & day after back to normal bottoms. I loved hanging nappies on washing line so proud of the white ‘ flags’ flying as the saying was. The liners to put in nappies were great to take off & shake contents into the loo then throw them away weren’t bad for the environment as the disposal nappies how long do the disposable ones take to breakdown in landfills DECADES, the linings for towelling nappies not long but you could also get muslin liners which worked as good as throw away liners but you could boil wash these also. I would do it all again using towelling nappies

Christine Richardson

My eldest son was born in 1966 and I must have washed thousands of nappies by the time my forth son, born 1974, was free of them. I was very lucky to have a ‘Keymatic’ automatic washing machine but there was still getting them clean enough to go in the machine, nappy liners came in useful. It was satisfying to see a line of spotless nappies blowing in the breeze.

Lucille Grant

I rember the Baby Burco which was a great help and then became the proud owner of my first washing machine wow what bliss. My first child was born in 1966. How things have changed!. I also remember when the first disposable came out. They were great when you are out visiting!!!!


I would go back too the washing off nappies, and just use the disposable nappies for going out as I used too .Children got cleaner quicker then they do with disposable of too day .Was hard work but more satisfying and the new white nappies flying in the wind let everyone know you was a new mum ,and could do with a friend lol

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