Why we use cloth nappies?



When people (usually Mum’s, but I have been asked by curious Dad’s, Grandparents and childcare providers) see that my Small boy is wearing a cloth nappy or I happen to mention that we use them, the first questions they ask is: but aren’t they a hassle? Don’t they make life more complicated? How do you wash them? Why are you using those, when disposable nappies are so much easier? Aren’t they expensive?

I usually try to answer very simply, no-one wants a 20minute lecture on the benefits of cloth nappies. But I thought I’d write a blog post about it, as a longer explanation.


Big Girl suffered from re-current thrush, and painful, blistering nappy rash, from almost day one of life. We were using a fairly popular brand of nappies, designed for newborns. We used the standard treatment for thrush, oral and topical meds, and lots of different creams and potions on her bum. We changed nappy brands. Nothing seemed to clear it up. After my 3rd trip to the doctors for antibiotic cream for her poor, sore little bottom, he referred me to my health visitor, to see if she had any ideas. Her first suggestion surprised me: “why don’t you try cloth nappies? Some babies are actually allergic to the chemicals in disposable nappies”. I decided to go and do some research, and look at costs of cloth nappies, how they worked, and why on earth, in this day and age, would anyone in their right mind use them? After all, I had enough going on, I was returning to work, running a home, caring for a baby, pumping breast milk for her and to donate to our local NICU, did I REALLY have time to deal with, and wash cloth nappies too? I had visions of scrubbing nappies in buckets, lethal safety pins, and mountains of laundry, but I decided to have a look, I figured it couldn’t hurt to try, when nothing else had worked.

I found some excellent websites and blogs, which helped me to decide that, actually, I might be able to manage. I also found some information on what was actually in disposable nappies, which horrified me. I won’t put it here, but I have included some links to blogs/websites with the details.

Frankly, I’m also a sucker for the cute factor, and I like to do things differently, so I was immediately drawn to the whole variety and choice of cloth nappies, and after chatting to LSH and working the numbers, we decided to try.

Within 3 days of wearing cloth nappies, her bottom started to clear up, and the horrible rash and blisters disappeared. She has never had the thrush return. We were sold, and never looked back.

Are they expensive?

Initially, the outlay for cloth nappies and the various accessories can be a cost. But it is possible to buy gently used cloth nappies at a cheaper price, some companies do a bulk discount if you buy their cloth kits, and I’ve also found work at home Mum’s or small businesses  that make and sell beautiful cloth nappies at a fraction of the price that you can buy brand names. Also, you can use “flat” nappies, which are like the traditional, old-fashioned nappies our mothers and grandmothers used, which are very cheap, easy to wash, and don’t need as much maintenance.

What kind do WE use and how to they work?

There a vast variety of types of nappies, many brand names, some better than others.

For ease of use we decided to use nappies that looked and worked like a normal, disposable nappy, that didn’t need a wrap or plastic cover, and were easy to wash and dry, and also could be used from newborn to toddler-hood/potty training. You can buy nappies in different sizes, but this is more costly, we worked out. I’ve included links to where we bought our nappies and the brand.

Our nappies have an outer waterproof lining, are stuffed with an absorbent insert, and can be adjusted to fit the size of the baby wearing them. We line our nappies with a flushable liner, so any “solid” waste can easily be plopped into the toilet (did you know, that technically, you’re supposed to do this with disposable nappies too, so that fecal matter doesn’t go into landfill, and spread diseases? I didn’t, it does actually say this on most packets of nappies, and I would bet that most people don’t “plop and flush” before they dispose of a used nappy, I know I never did) I put used cloth nappies in a sealed bucket, with a laundry net in it, and when the bucket is full, or it is wash time, I lift the net into the washing machine, run a rinse cycle, then a wash cycle, on hot, then rinse again. They get hung up to dry, overnight, and then I spend a few minutes stuffing the clean inserts into them, and putting them away. (Actually, my 5-year-old currently does this for me, is one of her “jobs”. She’s very efficient at it, and it contributes to her pocket-money award) We don’t soak, boil, scrape or scrub them. Occasionally I do what is called a “strip” wash, where I wash the nappies on an extra cycle, to remove build up of urine, or detergent, but I don’t have to do this often. They don’t need a lot of washing detergent used on them, and whilst I do use a biological powder to wash them, this is a personal choice, some people use normal washing powder, some use detergent specially marketed for cloth nappies. I don’t use a sanitizer or anti-bacterial detergent, but again, this is a personal choice. We use Wonderoos by Hip Hop Baby.

Are they a hassle?

It took me a few weeks to get used to using cloth nappies, working out roughly how many a day I’d need, how often to change my babies and how to use them whilst out and about. To be honest, I’ve been doing cloth nappying for nearly 5.5 years now, so I’m totally used to it, but there are a few things that you need to take into account. We line our nappies with a liner, that can be used several times, and re-washed, before being flushed away, which helps to stop nappies staining, and also means I don’t have to soak or scrub them. We call it “plop and dump”, we plop the solid waste in the toilet, flush it, dump the nappy in a bucket… SIMPLES!! πŸ˜‰

  • They do need to be changed more frequently, particularly in the newborn/pooping often stage.
  • They are bulkier, so they do take up more storage space, and space in a nappy bag. You also have to plan to carry them about with you, rather than disposing of them, you need a system, of wet bags or a storage system for this. I use small waterproof bags, which I pop under our pushchair, or back into the nappy bag. They seal, and don’t leak, so are easy to use. You also need to take into account clothes when using cloth nappies, as they do take up more room in trousers, baby-grows and tights.
  • You will add to your laundry regime, but as I have said, I don’t find it too much of a hassle, once you get into a routine, it works well. You can use a laundry service if you want, I didn’t look into the costs of this, as I was fine doing my own nappy laundry.
  • You may not want to use them while travelling. I must confess, we tend to go for the very expensive eco-disposables when we travel, simply because I am lazy. I do know lots of families who are hard-core cloth nappiers and use them whilst away, even camping. If you decide to do this, you’ll need to plan and pack carefully (that sounds silly, because when packing for kids, who doesn’t?)
  • initial cost may may you gulp, but there are plenty of second-hand websites, and sales, and also some councils do a cloth nappy voucher, towards initial payment of cloth nappies, and when you work out how much you spend on disposable nappies and wipes, it actually works out cheaper, particularly if you do like we did, and used them for both children, and will again if we have another baby.
  • You have to be careful what washing powder you use and you CANNOT use fabric softener or tumble dryer sheets with cloth nappies. They will absorb the softener and lose their “wicking” or soaking ability and then leak, and you will have to strip and wash them, and in fact some nappies can be ruined by fabric softener, so it’s best avoided.
  • You need to experiment at night, with cloth, especially if you have a baby that is a heavy wetter, at night. We use a nappy wrap  over SB’s cloth nappy, which prevents leaks, and wet pj’s and fumbling about in the dark changing bed sheets.
  • You also need to be careful what lotions and creams you use on your child’s bottom, some of them are not cloth nappy friendly, and can reduce the absorbency. I have found coconut oil based ointments or creams are safe, and don’t cause any issues.

I don’t use cloth for the first week or so, with Small Boy, we used the eco disposable kind, then switched to flat cloth/prefold nappies, then to our fitted, all in one kind, which he now still wears. This is personal preference. I was told our hospital would be fine with us bringing cloth nappies if we had wanted to, we may do next time, but that first week is so insane, I figure washing nappies was the last thing I needed or wanted to do, or to add to LSH’s workload while he was home with us on paternity leave.

I am pretty certain that Big Girl potty trained so fast, because she was in cloth, and could feel she was wet, and didn’t like it. Small Boy is not as enthusiastic about the whole idea as his sister….

So that’s why we use them. I like them, I find folding and putting them away satisfying, and we have never had any real problems with them, and they look very cute on a baby bum. I don’t make any claims on environmentally friendliness, they do mean more work, more washing, etc, but I like to think I am not adding to the landfill with more disposable nappies. Also, did you know, that even with disposable nappies you should “plop” the solid waste, into the toilet, before disposing of the nappy? Ah, see, I bet you didn’t. It actually does say it on most packaging, but very few people actually do it.

Some links:

What’s in a disposable nappy? http://www.babiesnappies.co.uk/2008/06/19/scary-sposies/

Which’s review of both disposable and cloth nappies http://www.which.co.uk/baby-and-child/nursery-and-feeding/guides/choosing-nappies-washable-vs-disposable/

Babykind, where we buy most of our supplies, and the link to the nappy we use: http://www.babykind.co.uk/index.htm?gclid=CJjH46bf97QCFcjKtAodd3wA6Q

Wonderoos: http://www.babykind.co.uk/wonderoos.htm

Cloth nappy scheme: http://www.babykind.co.uk/incentiveschemes.htm

The Used Nappy Company: http://www.usednappies.co.uk/ A good place to buy or sell second hand nappies. I have used it myself, for both, and have found it a very useful site, you can also get advice on cloth nappies there.

Posted in Family Life and Parenting and tagged cloth nappies.

One Comment

  1. They can be expensive to start with but you do save a fortune in the long run and a happier little one who skin sensitive cause them any more discomfort and stress.

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