A few friends have expressed interest in cloth nappies, and as I am increasingly evangelical about them, thought I’d write a little bit about my experiences in the hopes that I will make a small impact and help to normalise cloth, and save the world from a few more tons of disposables. I should point out our son is just 10 weeks old, so I only have experience with exclusively breast feed poop – weaned poop is a different kettle of fish!
We don’t know for sure, but it’s estimated that disposable nappies take an average of 400 years to decompose. A child who potty trains at 3 will have gone through thousands of nappies. As a species, we must do something about this, and that starts with our daily habits. (While you’re here, let me recommend washable breast pads, sanitary towels and most definitely menstrual cups)
Cloth nappies are adorable, comfortable, and if you are committed to washing them properly, will last for several children. They save money and the environment. They mean no running to the shops and no running to the bins (we have underground bins that are just far enough away to be annoying)
I have no idea where I first heard about the new generation of cloth nappies (as opposed to the old fashioned terry nappies a lot of people 30 and over will have had as children), but it was probably Pinterest as I’ve been intending to use them since before I even got pregnant. There are a huge amount of options, and the choice can be a little overwhelming, but since I had a pretty boring and unwell pregnancy (4 weeks of labyrinthitis thrown in for fun) so I had plenty of time to research. Plus who loves to do research as much as I do? 😀
Modern cloth nappies largely fall into the categories as shown below:
Once you get your head around these categories, the choice becomes a lot easier. Once you’ve decided which system you prefer, the only other thing to consider is material, and of course, which colours and patterns to choose.
Of course, choosing your system is half the battle! There are a few ways to decide what to use before committing:
- Buy a few of each type, and try them out.
- Find a company that rents trial packages
- Find a nappy consultant (yes, they exist!)
- YouTube research (this won’t allow you to feel them obviously but can give you a very good idea)
I did a combination of 1 and 4, which in hindsight was not the best idea. If I could go back, I would find a consultant – they often give free consultations, I assume they get a cut of anything they sell. Some operate from their homes, but you can also find them on the internet.
The majority of nappies are made out of:
(Usually with a PUL or lanolised wool cover)
These all have various pros and cons – bamboo is very absorbant but rather slow drying, microfibre should not go against baby’s skin as it will irritate, but is very quick to dry, making them suitable for different people’s needs (e.g. those without a dryer/outside drying space might want to avoid bamboo)
In the end, I veered towards bamboo since it is more sustainable and absorbent than cotton, we do have a dryer, and I didn’t like the idea of microfibre (washing microfibre/synthetic clothing seems to be a large source of microplastic pollution in our oceans and the whole point is to be more environmentally friendly, not less). The prefolds we got are unbleached organic cotton. Once baby is a little bit bigger, I might consider some wool covers, but at the moment it would be a bit of a struggle getting them on.
When I was pregnant I bought a bundle of cloth nappies second hand. These included a bunch of Lil Joeys which are an all-in-one (newborn size), and then a bunch of Totsbots AIOs and Rumparooz pocket style.
Our baby came out early and small (around 2kg/4lb5oz) so we had a week of disposables before the newborn size fit him on the smallest setting. For a while they worked really well. But soon enough we were dealing with leaks, because they simply weren’t absorbing all his wee and there was no way to easily put a booster in without making it too bulky. Plus, we didn’t use liners (more on those later) so we found the poop wasn’t washing out of the machine well, and ended up deploying a poop spoon (lucky was the person who got tasked with scraping the poop off the nappies before each wash). We got about a month of use out of these before I got fed up of the leaking and looked for something else. (Since these were second hand, I perhaps should have “stripped” them – it’s a special kind of intensive wash that is supposed to get rid of detergent build up. )
Since he was still too small for the “one size”, I decided to look for a low cost newborn system for the transition phase and settled on getting some prefolds along with covers. I got 12 of the Bummis prefolds and 2 Whisper wraps and 2 Petit Lulu wraps. For the very short newborn phase I would highly recommend this as I found them quite easy and my partner also really likes them.
You start out with a square (with a thicker section in the centre) and fold it in thirds. Place in cover. Stick on baby. (The internet will tell you there are many exciting folds you can do, but we kept it simple and it worked fine, even with a boy) Our 10 week old baby boy is now 4.6kg (10lbs2oz) and the prefolds are still doing a great job, even at night (with additional booster for extra absorbancy). The infant size is suitable for 3-9kg (7-20lbs)
A few weeks ago, I realised that he was now big enough to use the one size nappies on the smallest setting. During my pregnancy I had also bought some of the Little Bloom pocket style nappies off Amazon.
These are affordable and in my opinion, a great easy start to cloth nappies for the reluctant. You can stuff them with any booster you want – I have a variety but I tend to put two bamboo boosters in (especially at night).
Now, I didn’t get on too well with the other second hand ones I got. The Totsbots AIOs have this sort of tongue flap, and you can put additional boosters in if you need them, but I found them to not be incredibly absorbent, and on the smallest setting the tongue would poke out the front and leave red marks on his belly, plus damp rompers. The Rumparooz have a convenient “poop tray” but if you are using liners to collect the poop this becomes a bit annoying. So the annoyance was not really because they were second hand, but rather I just didn’t get on with the style. AIOs are marketed as the easest alternative to disposables, but to be honest, I don’t find them much less fiddly, and I would suggest that taking 5 minutes to work out how to put on your child’s nappy shouldn’t be out of the question for any parent.
Because the prefolds I got were a small size, I wanted to get something that would last to potty training. Most “one size” nappies that last from birth to potty training are probably good for a 10-12lb baby as you can adjust them with poppers. This makes them rather cost efficient.
(A cost analysis is of course something for another post, but you are likely to save a few hundred pounds/euros for the first child, even if you buy everything new, and obviously much more for each subsequent child, even taking into account the extra cost of water, electricity and detergent)
I tried out a pack from a small Dutch brand, Panda baby. These bamboo, two part nappies are fitted and come with a cover. The downside is that the extra absorbency is sewn in meaning that they take over a day and a half to dry inside. Drying time aside, I really liked the style, and they were super soft against baby’s bottom.
So eventually I tried out the Totsbots Bamboozle stretch (in the wash at the time of writing but works just like the image above), also made of bamboo, but with the extra absorbency poppered in rather than sewn. This means drying time is less, and I felt it was slightly nicer-feeling anyway. I also prefer the shape of the leg holes as they seem to contain poo better (although apparently breastfed babies can go for days without pooping, my baby is one who goes often and “enthusiastically”).
Aside from the fact that they are super cute, super soft, very absorbent and made in the UK, what I wish I’d known from the start is that you can get whatever fitted nappy you want and pair it with ANY cover – you don’t get specific covers for each brand that you have to pair with them. You also don’t have to change the cover every time – if the nappy is wet and not soiled, I just leave it to air out for next time and grab another cover. I’d say covers can be used 3-4 times (assuming no poosplosions, see above) before being washed, meaning that you don’t need as many covers as fitted nappies.
What do you do with the poo?
I imagine dealing with poo is most people’s number one issue with regards to cloth nappies. I have had cats for years, and so my tolerance for poo is perhaps higher than average (I recall one occasion, when a really nice couchsurfer was staying with us, Storm jumped out of the litter box prematurely and then dragged her butt all over the then beige carpet). But I understand, it’s not very nice to deal with.
Exclusively breast fed poop is water soluble and washes out (in theory) without any other intervention. This is true only up to a point – it will wash out but it depends very much on the action of your washing machine (top loading, front loading etc). In the first few weeks we found that while the poo washed out of the nappies, there was some left in the washing machine (luckily not much but still…). Since then we have used liners to collect the poo. We’ve tried biodegradable bamboo ones which were very soft and then when these were no longer available on Amazon we tried some which were made from corn starch – also biodegradable. They claim to be flushable, but to be honest, I just wouldn’t. Read about fatbergs and then realise we shouldn’t put stuff down the toilets…
These catch the vast majority of poop – so when you change the nappy you take them out, put them in the bin, and the nappy is mostly just soggy by that point. I then put them in a large wetbag that lines an old laundry basket, no lid or anything. This is called “dry pailing” and when they are exclusively breast fed it really shouldn’t smell. (At least, I don’t think it smells, not compared to the war crimes that happen in my cats’ litter trays) I will obviously see what happens when weaning begins, since that’s when it’s supposed to smell much worse!
When laundry time comes (every two days), I take the whole bag to the washing machine. I put rubber gloves on and shove everything into the barrel, separating inserts if necessary. (We also use washable wipes, I put these in a net bag since they are small and sometimes get stuck around the rim)
I wash on 60C, with a prewash and extra rinse. I use washing powder formulated for sensitive skin – no fragrances and without any bleaching agents etc. I don’t use fabric softener. Basically anything other than detergent – bleach, vinegar, softener, will damage the elastic and possibly the PUL.
The nappies come out clean. Ta da! Now currently I stick the prefolds and boosters in the dryer and leave anything with elastic or PUL to line dry. I am about to order a whole bunch of bamboozles, because they turned out to be my favourite, but they are supposed to be washed at 40C and not tumble dried. I am not sure whether 40C is enough to get them really clean but I will see. Tumble drying for a short time on low is nice to retain the softness and fluffiness, and seems to have worked out ok on the one I bought.
Is it worth it?
I think this is a question only you can answer for yourself and will depend on a number of factors:
Do you loathe doing laundry already? If so, adding another load every couple of days might not be for you. I’m sort of a fan of laundry, as household tasks go, but even I will admit I sometimes go a bit mad in my laundry jungle in the spare room.
Can you afford the upfront cost? Although you will save money overall (and can even get money back by selling them on), you need several hundred pounds to spend upfront.
Is your baby prone to nappy rash? I don’t have any nappy cream in the house because I simply don’t need it, and have only seen a little redness a couple of times (and then only with the All in ones which were microfibre). I use coconut oil on these bits, but generally I think cloth is much better for their little butts.
Poopsplosions – I have had poo leakages a grand total of twice, and these were all due to human error (i.e. me not securing the legs tightly enough). Poo doesn’t explode up the back because cloth nappies have elasticated backs.
Are you prone to being a shopaholic? Um, sounds like a strange one, but there is such a variety of cute designs that it is very easy to get carried away. “It’s not for me it’s for the baby”
Cloth nappies are really not as bad as they sound
They will save you money, are soft on baby butts, and are super cute
They don’t have that weird smell that disposables have
3 billion nappies a year are thrown away in the UK. These take several hundred years to decompose and contain plastic that will likely break down into microplastics, a major cause of ocean and sealife pollution