I Love Nappies 2!

June 11, 2007

A while back I noted that my “I Love Nappies” post was one of the most popular on this blog, and that I would follow it up with a post on alternatives. It still is, and so here is the next post (feel free to tune out if you don’t have young children, or have no interest in nappies/ diapers, I will understand!).

The first thing I need to mention is that by “alternatives to disposables” I do not mean flat fabric squares requiring advanced origami skills and scary sharp pins. Cloth nappies have evolved over the last few years and “modern cloth” is just as easy to use as disposables, is easy to clean, and is just so cute.

There are several things to consider when choosing cloth nappies, including the style or system of nappy to use, the fabric choices, and the implications for washing day.   It can be very confusing, it certainly was for me when I started. So here is my attempt to explain, based on my experience (just one child, in cloth from birth to nearly 2) and with some help from The Nappy Network and clothnappy.com– thanks!.

  • Folded flat or “prefold” in a cover– just fold a square nappy into a rectangular pad and place in a wrap-style waterproof cover. Prefolds are simply smaller squares of either very absorbent fabric or literally prefolded and stitched squares.
    Pros: Economical, One size fits all, Quick drying
    Cons: Less absorbant, Some need folding
  • Fitted nappy with a cover– These have the absorbency sewn into the nappy and are fitted around the legs and waist with closures are made of ‘velcro’ or domes.
    Pros: No folding or pins, Snug fit with elastic, Available with stay-dry liner
    Cons: Slower drying, Multiple sizes needed, a separate waterproof cover is needed
  • All-in-One- All-in-one’s have the absorbency and the overnap (cover) combined. They are shaped to fit the baby. They have several layers of absorbency and sometimes adjustable layers. They usually close with velcro tabs.
    Pros: Easy to put on, Caregivers like them, No pins or folding
    Slower drying, Multiple sizes needed
  • Pockets- My favourites! Pocket nappies are shaped to fit the baby but instead of having the absorbency sewn in they have a pocket made from the outer layer of leak proof backing and the inner layer of stay dry fabric. The absorbency is inserted into the pocket. Inserts may be bought or flats or prefolds can be folded into rectangles to “stuff” the pocket. They close with either velcro or domes.
    Pros: Stay dry lining, Adjustable absorbency, Quick drying
    Multiple sizes needed, More expensive


  • Absorbent Fabric- This is arguably the most important part of the nappy, and is laid on, stitched on or inserted into the nappy cover. As noted above basic cotton, toweling or and terry knit flats and prefolds do the job quite adequately. If you want to spend a bit more, or have a particularly heavy wetting child there are plenty of newer options. Microfibre is light and soft and absorbs very quickly, however it can be a bit like a sponge, squeezing liquid out when compressed so is often paired with a layer or two of another fabric such as hemp. Hemp absorbs more slowly but will absorb a large amount and hold it. It is also naturally antibacterial and anti-fungal. The newest fabric is bamboo- very slim, soft and absorbent but slower drying.
  • Outer/ Cover Fabrics- All nappies need a waterproof outer cover, sewn in or slipped over the top. Just not crunchy, non-breathable plastic, nylon or PVC pants! Most of my nappies & covers are Poly-urethane laminated (PUL)- polyester or cotton knits that have a coating of poly-urethane. The most natural fabric for nappy cover is wool which is highly breathable, and does not need to be washed as often as other covers (although some may require re-lanolinzing). Believe it or not wool is warm in winter and cool in summer, however unless you are good with the knitting needles (or have a Grandma who is) wool covers are expensive and some babies are allergic to them. The synthetic version of wool, Polyester Polar fleece, is very breathable and is excellent for most babies but must be high quality with a tight weave for it to be effective as a nappy cover. It is also prone to pilling, which does not affect the function but does make them look tatty after a while.
  • Stay Dry Fabric– One advantage of modern cloth is the use of new stay dry fabrics which keep your baby (almost) as dry as a disposable. Stay dry fabric, usually Microfleece or Suedecloth are used for the layer next to the skin. They draw moisture away and into the nappy, keeping the skin dry and helping to prevent nappy rashes.


The question everyone asks when they find out we use cloth nappie- what about the washing? Lots of people are put off cloth by the thought of cleaning nasty messes. I have to admit I wondered about it too, but in all honesty it’s easy, and only takes minutes each day. Heres our system

  1. Dirty nappies go in a big bucket- wet ones as is, dirty ones with poos cleaned off. With modern nappies solid poos just roll into the toilet. Newborn/ breastfed poos are more difficult, and may need a quick scrub unless you use disposable liners. Flushable liners are the best!
  2. Every two-three days the nappies are tipped into the washing machine (on a rinse cycle first if very dirty), and washed in a non-enzyme washing powder. Nappy sellers will advise you on the best washing powder for your nappies. Don’t use fabric softeners (they coat the fabric decreasing the absorbency) but some hygiene rinses are ok. I use 1/2 cup white vinegar in the rinse cycle, this helps deodorise and soften the nappies quite effectively.
  3. Hang on the washing line in the sun (or on a rack inside in a Wellington winter). Dryers make the job even easier, and the nappies fluffier but does negate some of the environmental benefit (I don’t even own a drier!).

For more detail information about nappy care there are plenty of websites- try here and here.

Of course, having said all that I am on my way to waving goodbye to the nappy obsession- my little girl has decided (of her own accord!) to start toilet training! And that perhaps, is the final benefit of cloth. I can’t remember where I heard the statistic but apparently, on average, children in cloth toilet train 6 months sooner than those in disposables.


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