Cloth Nappies 101

22 Oct 2019 9:22 AM | Michelle Deerheart (Administrator)

By Michelle Deerheart, Co-Founder of Empowered Parenthood and Consultant Midwife.

When you think about cloth nappies do you have visions of big white squares soaking in buckets and needing expert origami skills to fold and get them on a baby? While this traditional style of cloth nappy is still available and loved by many parents, the cloth nappy world has moved on a lot as well. Modern cloth nappies are made from a variety of materials to give us nappies that are very much like their single use counterparts – easy to use, reliable and best of all, easy to wash and care for. Read on to find out more about getting started with cloth nappies.

Why use cloth nappies?

  • Money savings

Depending on what type of nappies you use, you can save at least $2000 over single-use nappies. And obviously, the money savings increase if you use the nappies on subsequent children.

  • Kinder on the environment

The plastic in disposable nappies takes approximately 500 years to break down – which means that every disposable nappy ever used is still somewhere in or on our earth! And given that a baby can go through around 6000 nappies during their early years, using cloth nappies over that time can prevent around a tonne of waste heading to the landfill.

  • Better for baby
    When using cloth nappies, your baby’s delicate skin isn’t sitting in plastic and chemicals day and night, which is a good thing especially around such a sensitive area of the body!

  • And the benefits you never hear about!
    The great advantage to using good quality and really great fitting cloth nappies is that they’re much better at containing those dreaded poo explosions than disposables. If a cloth nappy is fitting your baby really well, you’ll rarely have to deal with those situations where your baby is covered head to toe in poo! They also contain any smells really well.

How many cloth nappies do I need?

Just how many cloth nappies you’ll need depends on a few factors – the age of your baby, whether you plan to use them part time or full time, how often you’ll wash and also the climate where you live (as this will determine drying times).

Generally, for full-time use and washing every second day you’ll need:

  • Newborns - 24-30 cloth nappies (newborns go through a LOT of nappies each day over those first few months!)

  • Young infants (around 4 months old) - 18-20 cloth nappies

  • Older infants (around 8 months old) - 14-16 cloth nappies

  • Young toddler (around 12 months old) - 12-14 cloth nappies

  • Older toddler (from 18 months and older) - 10-12 cloth nappies

What else do I need?

There are lots of cloth nappy accessories out there, some are nice to have, but there are a couple of essentials that you’ll need if you want to use cloth nappies:

  • Something to put the dirty nappies in until wash day – a bucket or wetbag, for example

  • Laundry detergent to wash the nappies in

Some other extras that can be useful throughout your cloth nappy journey include:

  • Nappy liners – there are both reusable and disposable options available. These can help make clean up a bit easier and less messy!

  • Cloth wipes – when using cloth nappies, it makes sense to use cloth wipes as well as everything can go straight into the nappy bucket to be washed after nappy changes. Cloth wipes can be more efficient at cleaning up than disposable wipes and you’re also preventing any unnecessary chemicals coming into contact with your baby’s delicate skin.

  • Wetbags – these are washable, waterproof zip up bags that are handy for taking out and about. Throw in any dirty nappies and wipes and when you get home you can tip everything out into the washing machine. Wetbags are useful for hundreds of other things too, especially with little ones, so having more than one is a must!

How do I wash and care for cloth nappies?

The materials used to make modern cloth nappies are really easy to wash and care for. There’s no elbow grease required come wash day, that’s what your washing machine is for!

Things to keep in mind:

  • Choose a good quality detergent – remember that cloth nappies are some of the dirtiest laundry you’ll do, so you need to make sure that the detergent you use is strong enough to deal with poo and wee! If it’s not, you’ll run into problems with smelly nappies and that’s not going to make your cloth nappy experience very fun.

  • Rinse out any excess poo from nappies (this is where liners come in useful) or cloth nappies that have been used overnight. If your baby is breastfed, the poo is water soluble and washes out easily so there’s no need to rinse these.

  • Dry pail in a bucket or wetbag until wash day. Dry pailing simply means not soaking in any kind of chemicals or water.

  • Try to wash at least every two days to prevent stains and smells setting in.

Basic cloth nappy wash routine:

  1. Start with a short prewash cycle with a small amount of detergent – this helps to wash out the worst of any wee and poo in the nappies.

  2. Follow with a long heavy duty cycle with a full amount of detergent (as per the detergent manufacturer’s advice for heavy soiling).

  3. Air dry or you can use a clothes dryer on low, but try to do this sparingly as long term hot drying can quickly deteriorate any elastics and PUL in your nappies.

Who actually uses cloth nappies?

All sorts of parents around the world from all walks of life! People make the decision to use cloth nappies for their own reasons and very few regret that decision as it is an amazing choice for your baby, your finances and our environment. You may actually be surprised how many people use them – as nappies aren’t usually on show, you probably won’t be aware of just how many babies around you are wearing cloth nappies!

How do I get started using cloth nappies?

Before investing in a huge number of a particular style or brand of cloth nappies, it’s a good idea to try out a few different types to see what you like using best, but also what fits your baby best. Not all cloth nappies suit all babies and it can take a bit of trial and error to find out what works well. Most cloth nappy stores offer trial packs to get you started.

Keep in mind that using cloth nappies doesn’t have to be an all or nothing thing – it is perfectly fine to use disposables AND cloth nappies. Remember that every cloth nappy does make a difference – if you were to use just one cloth nappy a day on your baby, over one year it would save you approximately $70 and prevent around 70kg of waste going to the landfill!

Sometimes the hardest part is actually getting started. So find a nappy that you think might suit you and your baby and give it a go. You’ve got nothing to lose and so much to gain!


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