Beginners Guide to Reusable Nappies
We realise that getting started with cloth nappies can seem daunting. Cloth nappies are easy…honestly, they are! They do however come in different variations and they’re made using lots of different materials, we hope the guide below will help you decide which are the best nappy options for you. So if you’re bamboozled by bamboo or muddled about microfibre then don’t be, have a read of this handy guide, cloth nappies really are easy peasy.
Cloth nappies come in a variety of designs, materials, sizes, and styles but essentially they all work in the same way. An absorbent bit of material soaks up wee and a waterproof outer keeps the wetness contained.
Cloth nappies generally come into 2 main size categories – Birth to potty (one size) or Sized. Birth to Potty (One-Size) means the size of the nappy can be adjusted to fit from birth to potty (approx 7-35lbs). Sized nappies on the other hand come in different sizes. With sized nappies you need to buy the next size up as your baby grows which usually works out more costly, they can however provide a better fit particularly on newborn babies.
Nappy types and accessories
All-in-one nappy – All-in-one has all the necessary parts required in one piece, an absorbent core and a waterproof outer which means there is no need for a nappy wrap/cover. An All-in-one nappy is often considered to be the height of real nappy convenience as they are so easy to use. All in One nappy are available in a range of sizes including the birth to potty (one size) option.
All-in-two nappy – Similar to an all-in-one but made of two parts which will fasten together. Usually the absorbent core and waterproof outer will separate for washing which results in a faster drying time compared to an all-in-one. All in two nappies are available in a range of sizes including the birth to potty (one size) option.
Pocket nappies – Pocket nappies consist of a nappy shaped waterproof outer (usually referred to as the shell) with a built-in waterproof layer and an attached lining that has a hole/slot in one end to allow ‘stuffing’ An absorbent bit of material (usually referred to as an insert) is then ‘stuffed’ into the shell. Most pocket nappies will come with the shell and insert included. It’s easy to add extra-absorbent materials into the pocket if you need to. Drying time is usually quite fast as the inserts are taken out of the shell for washing and drying. Pocket nappies are available in a range of sizes including the birth to potty (one size) option.
Shaped or fitted nappy – Shaped to fit around your baby, these nappies can fasten at the front with a nippas, poppers (snaps), Aplix or they can even tie on. They’re available in a range of materials such as bamboo or cotton and also a range of sizes including the birth to potty (one size) option. A waterproof wrap or cover (see below) is required with these nappies to keep the wetness in.
Flat Nappies and Pre-Fold – The traditional cloth nappy, flat nappy consists of a square piece of absorbent material such as terry cotton or bamboo which requires folding to fit around your baby. Pre-folds look very similar the difference being that pre-folds are layered with extra absorbency in the center and they tend to be rectangular in shape. Traditionally these would be covered with plastic pants, these days however you would cover the nappy with a modern nappy wrap or cover (see below for more details). These are by far the cheapest cloth option however they’re not very convenient and they can be quite fiddly too.
Nappy wrap or cover – Traditionally nappy wraps or covers were sweaty plastic pants, yuck! Luckily these days the covers are lightweight and breathable and some are decorated in fancy prints and colours! The wrap is designed to be a barrier between the wet nappy and your baby’s clothing. The most common modern wraps are made from a very slim polyester material laminated with breathable PUL to ensure it is waterproof. Some people use wool or fleece covers (more details below) wraps are available in a range of sizes including the birth to potty (one size) option.
Nappy liners – A disposable paper nappy liner is designed to go between your baby’s skin and the nappy, it’s there to catch the poo and is usually biodegradable and can sometimes be flushed down the toilet. Fleece liners (more details below) are made from a non-absorbent sheet of polyester material which is washable and reusable.
The absorbent core of a nappy is made from a variety of materials which all have advantages and disadvantages so you need to choose the one that is right for you. Natural materials can be naturally anti-bacterial, breathable, and kind to sensitive skin but take longer to dry. Synthetic materials dry very quickly and keep baby’s bottom feeling dry. Usually, a mix of both types in varying quantities is recommended.
Cotton – A natural fibre that offers high levels of absorbency. Drying time is quite lengthy. Organic cotton is a little more absorbent than non-organic cotton as there are no chemicals used in the growing process.
Bamboo – Bamboo fibre is one of the most absorbent nappy materials available, so it’s often recommended for heavy wetters and for overnight use. Bamboo grows very quickly without the need for pesticides and chemicals. Said to be naturally anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, breathable, hypoallergenic, bamboo is very very absorbent, bamboo has lots of advantages but it does take a long time to dry compared to synthetic materials.
Microfibre – A man-made polyester fabric that dries fast after it’s been washed and is also very absorbent. Microfibre is very popular and is typically used for nappy inserts. Microfibre shouldn’t sit next to a baby’s skin as it can cause irritation. A suedecloth or fleece layer is incorporated into nappies that utilise microfiber inserts and some inserts have a skin-friendly layer on one side. Minky is a form of polyester microfibre which is a lot softer to the touch and looks quite fluffy. Minky can be used for the absorbent layer of a nappy as well as for the outer.
Fleece – fleece is a soft manmade polyester fabric that is often used as a barrier between microfiber inserts and the baby’s skin. Fleece is non-absorbent and so it keeps your baby’s bottom feeling dry to the touch. Fleece is commonly used in pocket nappies and integrated into
PUL (Polyurethane laminate) – the waterproof layer of a nappy is usually made from polyester and laminated to make it waterproof. PUL is breathable and thin and free from PVC.
Wool – wool can be knitted into the shape of a nappy wrap and worn over an absorbent nappy. This provides a natural waterproof barrier and will need to be lanolized.
Hemp – a natural fibre that is very absorbent, anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, and great for sensitive skin. Takes in moisture more slowly than other materials so another material in the nappy is often required.
Aplix, Velcro, or Hook and Loop – Super easy to use and provides a great fit. Older babies can easily undo so watch out! Over time Velcro can get less sticky but will last a long time if looked after. Most nappies have a laundry tap to stick the Velcro to when washing.
Poppers or Snaps – A good stronghold that toddlers can’t undo so easily. A long-lasting durable option too. A little more fiddly to fasten and has less adjustability than Velcro. One-size nappies usually use poppers on the front to adjust the size.
Nappy Nippas – A modern replacement for the big safety pin, usually used with a flat nappy. Nippas grip onto natural fabrics without the use of a spikey pin.
I hope this guide has explained some of the different types, terms, and materials used. If you need any help choosing a nappy then there are lots of shops and sellers who can offer great advice.
You can use cloth nappies full-time or half-time remember even if you change one cloth nappie a morning that means this is one less diaper waste at the landfill. It’s also the best solution: use a disposable nappy starter kit from The Nappy Gurus. There is a variety in starter packs, demo kits and test drives designed for you to ensure you get the greatest nap. The right nappy is available to you. All include a wide range of styles and brands so you can find the one you truly love. You may have many different varieties and the same brands to use if you choose.
Why Use Reusable Nappies
Many parents may think of washable nappies as cumbersome, fixed with safety pins, and needing boil washes on the stove, but nappies have come a very long way since terry-towelling was the only available choice. Today’s cloth nappies are shaped to fit, elasticated to maximise containment, feature beautiful designs, are made from natural and technical fabrics, and are quick and easy to use – without a safety pin in sight. Washing machines take care of the cleaning and eliminate the need for soaking, making reusable nappies no more laborious than – or different from – keeping baby dressed in clean clothes. (And who would put their baby in disposable clothes?)
Are reusable nappies better for the environment?
A common misconception is that reusable nappies are no better for the environment than disposables. A flawed life cycle report released in 2005 is partly to blame for this persistent myth. This was updated in 2008 and showed that reusable nappies come with several environmental benefits: A lower carbon footprint if cared for responsibly and fewer raw materials used in production. In fact, reusable nappies are up to 40% better for the environment than disposables in terms of carbon footprint, if washed at 40-60 degrees and predominantly air-dried. For the full details on how reusable nappies can be more environmentally friendly than disposables, see the Environment Agency’s updated life cycle assessment (2008).
If every UK parent changed to just one reusable nappy a day, this would divert as much as 800 million disposables from landfill over the time the child is in nappies. If you are finding the figure hard to visualise, this amount of waste would fill 5,000 refuse lorries.
How to get started with reusable nappies
In contrast to disposable nappies, reusable nappies come in a huge range of styles, which means there is a nappy for every baby and scenario, but can be overwhelming for the beginner. To make sure you find a solution that suits your family’s preferences and circumstances and that fits your baby’s size and shape, speak to your nearest nappy library or retailer. If you have the opportunity to try a selection of nappies on your baby – with the support of a nappy advisor – before you buy, we recommend that you do. There is no better way to enter the world of reusable nappies than by seeing, touching, and trying a range of different types, styles, and materials to get a feel for what you will get on with best. If there is no nappy library near you, some retailers offer postal nappy hire kits or trial packs, so initial outlay need not be expensive.
Reusable nappies save you money
Reusable nappies save parents around £500 (including washing costs) per child compared to the cost of disposables – and what’s more, a full set of reusable nappies to last a baby from newborn to potty training can cost as little as £200.
Finally, it does not have to be all or nothing: Part-time use will still save you money and cut down on waste.
Top Nappy Tips
Here we list our Top 5 snippets of advice when starting out and using real nappies, and also our Top 5 nappy mistakes as inspired by the experiences of parents we have worked with!
Top 5 Nappy Dos
1) DO “Try Before you Buy”- it is true to say that not all nappies will suit all babies or parents’ requirements. Ask 100 people what their favourite brand of cloth nappy is and you are sure to get a huge variety of responses! Check out your local Council authority or voluntary Nappy Library to see if there are any real nappy lending kits available
2) DO think about your individual requirements. Different nappy systems come with varying features and benefits and some parents will prioritise certain benefits over others. For example, if you do not have, or do not wish to rely on a tumble drier, you will be better suited with a nappy utilising microfibre for absorbency as these dry extremely quickly as opposed to natural fibres. Some online stores will offer personalised nappy advice, check out our supporters page here who can work with you on your individual requirements
3) DO see if you qualify for a voucher or cashback from your local authority. Contact your local Council and ask what they can offer new parents wishing to use real nappies. Sending nappies to landfill costs local authorities an awful lot of money, so it is in their long term interests to offer their residents an incentive to “go cloth!”
4) DO experiment! Play around with size fittings, inserts, or boosters to help maximise the effectiveness of your nappies. Night time nappies can often be a bit of a case of trial and error, but a bit of experimentation and you will find the solution that works best for you.
5) DO follow washing instructions. Real Nappies do not need a complicated washing routine, but it is important that a few simple rules are followed- such as never using fabric softener as these will drastically impact the absorbency of your nappies.
Top 5 Nappy Don’ts
1) DON’T forget to take your changing bag, even on a short trip to the park!
“My DH took my youngest out to the park but forgot to take a change bag. He was faced with an explosive up the back horror. He cleaned my son up with . . . his sock! Used his jacket to wrap his bum and then sprinted home!” -Sarah,
Always remember to pack your changing bag with a spare nappy, wipes and wet bag, just in case of poo-nami disasters!
2) DON’T forget the waterproof wrap if using a two part system!
“We co-sleep and I woke up to a very damp patch when we were first starting to use cloth… OH had put a fitted nappy on without a wrap!” – Liz
Fitted nappies are great when high absorbency is needed, for example, night times. The whole nappy is absorbent and waterproofing PUL is not built in so a waterproof wrap is needed or you will find a damp patch! This can definitely cause nappy confusion for those less familiar with cloth if you normally use all-in-ones or pocket nappies during the day!
3) DON’T leave your nappies in the car on a hot day! Another common one, which leads to a very stinky car.
“I have to admit to this one….I had been complaining for days about a stench in the car and even blamed it on DS filling his pants at one point, I later discovered a bag with a horrendous nappy inside in the boot of the car- cue flashback to earlier in the week when we had a poo-nami event whilst out and about and resorted to changing it in the boot of the car for lack of toilet facilities! Poooo-eeee!” – Laura
4) DON’T leave other people a pocket nappy without pre-stuffing it with an insert! If nappies are not an “all in one” design and require inserts, remember to get them prepared before leaving them with a child-minder or grandparent who might not be familiar with their design…
Zoe told us:
“My mum put a fleece liner in a pocket nappy as the insert… funnily enough J was wet within seconds of weeing! Bless her.”
5) DON’T put your real nappy in the bin! Last but not least, don’t forget the most important one of all…
“When we first switched I did change Immy and put a cloth nappy in the bin”- Grace
Put them in the washing bin instead of the rubbish bin!!