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Baby cloth nappies? Reusable nappies? Fabric nappies? You might hear these names and more used to describe them and it can seem confusing. Don’t worry though, cloth nappies aren’t as complicated as they may sound and the benefits to the environment, your baby and your bank balance can be huge.

If you’re thinking of making the switch to reusable cloth nappies or just want a little more information on how they work, we’ve got you covered. From which nappies to choose to how to use cloth nappies, let’s dive in!

Image: Baby Beehinds

Why Should I Use Cloth Nappies?

If you’re still not sure what all the hype is about, check out these awesome benefits of using cloth nappies vs disposable options.

Cost Savings

The cost of nappies really adds up over time but there are many ways that cloth eco nappies can reduce the cost of expanding your family! But how exactly do cloth nappies save money?

Environmental Benefits

About 3.75 million disposable nappies are used across Australia and New Zealand every single day! More than 92% of those end up in landfill and it takes between 200 and 500 years for a disposable nappy to decompose. Just let all that sink in for a minute!

There’s a lot of debate over whether disposables or cloth are the most eco friendly and sustainable nappies. Here at Hello Natural Living, we like to look at the “cradle to grave” impact of a product.

Generally, it’s been found that reusable nappies are more eco friendly over their entire life, but there are a lot of factors that affect this.

Disposable nappies have the biggest environmental impact during manufacture and disposal. Reusables have the biggest environmental impact during use. For example, disposables made from more sustainable materials or buying nappies made in Australia will decrease their environmental impact.

Here are some ways to lower the impact of cloth nappies.

Image: Grovia

Styles, Sizes, and Types of Cloth Nappies

There are so many different styles and types of cloth nappies on the market. It can seem like a lot to get your head around. Let’s break down the different types and all the differences.

What are Traditional Cloth Nappies?

It’s easy to forget that not too long ago, disposable nappies just didn’t exist. Reusable nappies were the only option and some of these traditional cloth nappies are still used today.

Both these styles of nappy are one size fits all and will easily grow with your baby.

What are Modern Cloth Nappies?

Modern cloth nappies or mcn nappies, as they’re sometimes called, come in even more options. It’s important to know the differences so you can choose a type that’s best for your lifestyle.

Modern cloth nappies are available as either osfm nappies (one size fits most) or sized as small, medium and large.

Other Cloth Nappy Types

Image: Pea Pods

How to Decide What Cloth Nappies to Use

This decision doesn’t have to be as overwhelming as it sounds! Let’s break it down to make things easier. Here are all the points you need to consider when looking for the best cloth nappies:

Choose the top three things that are most important to you and let those be your main guide when you buy cloth nappies. Finding the best reusable nappies is a very personal decision though.

I personally preferred the modern pocket nappies. I couldn’t get to grips with folding traditional nappies and the all in ones would take too long to dry for me. I hear from plenty of people who love the traditional cloth nappies though and say that it doesn’t take too long to get the hang of it.

What Are Cloth Nappies Made Of?

There are many different fabrics you might find in cloth nappies but we’ll try to break everything down as simply as possible.

Waterproof Outer Layer

This layer is obviously a necessity for most and is usually made from PUL (polyurethane laminate) and TPU (thermoplastic polyurethane). Whilst these are indeed a type of synthetic plastic, they are an inert substance and low tox but they will not biodegrade over time.

Even with this outer layer, cloth nappies are still usually more sustainable and eco friendly than disposable alternatives.

It’s also possible to get wool covers, which is a much more eco friendly option as well as being stretchy, breathable, and lightweight. These come with the added complication of needing to lanolise the wool after each wash to keep it waterproof though. You’ll need to weigh up the pros and cons to decide which is best for your lifestyle.

Absorbency Layer

This is the only layer in traditional cloth nappies. Modern reusable nappies can have just one absorbency layer built in or use a removable insert and also have a “stay dry” layer that sits against baby’s skin.

The stay dry layer is designed to let urine through to be absorbed by the insert so baby doesn’t feel the damp as much. The insert and stay dry layer are often made of two different materials.

Image: Baby Beehinds

Best Fabric for Cloth Nappies – What Should You Consider?

As you can see, the options seem endless but there are only three main things you need to consider when choosing the best fabric.

How Many Cloth Nappies Do I Need?

Here’s another question we get asked all the time and once again, it’s a personal decision. Here are the main factors to think about when trying to come up with a number though.

When my firstborn was 3 months old, we began cloth nappying with modern pocket nappies. I had 15 nappies and had to wash them every other day. Usually, that was enough but on some occasions, I had to supplement with a disposable or two until they were dry. I always dried on the line as I had no tumble dryer.

Retailer Recommendations

To give you a starting point, for full time cloth nappying, nappy retailers usually advise you to start with the below numbers:

Cloth Nappy Accessories

There are tons of accessories out there designed to make your cloth nappy journey easier. Some of them are a bit of a gimmick and really not necessary. These are the accessories we think could be genuinely useful.

When to Start Using Cloth Nappies

There are two trains of thought here and it’s really up to you when you start. The important thing is to do what’s right for you.

Beginning with reusable nappies straight from birth is a great way to set yourself up for eco parenting from the very beginning. You’ll also feel much more confident with cloth nappying by the time baby is older and you’re getting out and about a bit more.

It’s great to start early, but, at Hello Charlie we like to recommend that you give yourself a month to six weeks to get on top of actually having a baby first. The newborn stage is hard, especially with your first. There’s no reason to feel bad if you can’t manage cloth nappies for newborns, on top of all the other things you have going on!

How to Wash Cloth Nappies

So, onto the single biggest thing people ask – how do you clean cloth nappies?! This seems to be a point of fascination with a lot of people. Washing cloth nappies doesn’t have to be difficult or much ickier than changing a disposable.

Be sure to check the manufacturer’s instructions before washing and it’s a good idea to wash the nappies before the first use. There are two main methods for washing reusable nappies.

But first…..

Let’s Talk About Poo!

For a lot of people, the biggest worry is how to deal with the poo. They worry about touching it or dirty nappies stinking the house out until they’re washed. The thing is, when you’re changing a disposable you have just as much chance of coming into contact with poo. It’s one of the many joys of parenting – poo….everywhere!

In fact, when you change a disposable nappy you should be emptying the poo into a toilet anyway, just like you do with washable nappies. Human faeces should never end up in landfill as it’s a biohazard risk to waste disposal workers.

Unfortunately, most people don’t actually realise this and disposable nappies filled with poo end up in landfill, which is a potential public health hazard.

Whether you’re using cloth nappies or single-use, always dispose of the poo in the same way.

Wetpailing/Soaking

This method is exactly what it sounds like – soaking nappies until you’re ready to wash them. This method is recommended for traditional nappies but not for most MCNs.

After disposing of the poo, follow these steps for washing.

  1. Half fill a bucket with cold water and pop in a little laundry detergent.
  2. Throw wet or rinsed nappies straight into the bucket and leave to soak.
  3. When you’re ready to wash, drain the water and dump the nappies in the washing machine.
  4. Wash on a normal rinse and spin cycle.

Pros

Cons

Drypailing

Drypailing cloth nappies is similar to wetpailing except without the soaking. You’ll still need a big enough bucket with a lid to hold a day or two of nappies. After dumping the poo and rinsing any stubborn bits down the toilet follow these steps.

  1. Throw the nappies and inserts into the bucket without anything else and secure the lid.
  2. When you’re ready to wash throw everything in the washing machine.
  3. Use a soak cycle for badly soiled nappies or just a normal cycle if they’re not too bad.

If you’re worried about smells, a couple of drops of essential oil, like lavender or tea tree, on a face washer placed in the bucket will help.

Pros

Cons

What Detergent for Cloth Nappies?

Your baby will be wearing nappies almost 24 hours a day. That’s a lot of time to have something sat right next to their delicate skin. Choosing the right laundry detergent isn’t just essential to get things clean, but also for making sure nothing nasty comes into contact with that sensitive skin.

We recommend using an eco friendly laundry powder or liquid that’s specifically formulated for babies. This will avoid any toxic chemicals found in some mainstream brands of detergent.

If you’re wondering what to soak cloth nappies in, there’s no need for fancy extras or stain removers. Usually, the same detergent you use to wash is as good as anything.

Whichever laundry powder or liquid you choose, make sure to use the recommended amount given by your specific brand of cloth nappy. Too little and they won’t clean easily, too much and you could damage the material and reduce absorbency.

Strip Washing Cloth Nappies

If your cloth nappies seem to have lost absorbency and you’re getting a lot of leakage, first check if it’s a sizing issue and the nappies are fitted correctly. If this isn’t the problem, there could be an oil residue build up on the nappies or liners which has reduced absorbency.

This can happen when you use an oil based nappy cream so make sure you read about which nappy creams to use with cloth nappies. Try a couple of warm washes first, with a small amount of extra detergent to see if this fixes the problem. If not, strip washing modern cloth nappies and traditional nappies is done in exactly the same way.

  1. Wet the nappy or area you think has the problem.
  2. Add about a teaspoon of moisturisr free dishwashing liquid to the area and smear it around. Rub the fabric against itself to make it nice and soapy.
  3. Leave it to sit like this for 10 to 15 minutes so the degreaser can penetrate properly.
  4. Give it a quick rinse under the tap.
  5. Throw it in the washing machine on a normal wash with no detergent.
  6. Dry as normal.

More Care and Washing Tips

Here are just a couple more things that people usually have questions about.

How to stop modern cloth nappies from leaking

Simple – don’t use fabric softener and use the correct nappy rash cream! Both of these things are really important as they can massively affect the absorbency of your nappies.

Can You Put Modern Cloth Nappies in the dryer?

Yes, many people choose to tumble dry their modern cloth nappies. It’s not the most environmentally or cost friendly method though. If possible, dry your cloth nappies on the line in direct sunlight which will naturally bleach stains. If the weather isn’t great, a clothes horse or clip hanger indoors is fine.

Where to Buy the Best Cloth Nappies, Australia

If you’re wondering where to buy cloth nappies online, Australia has plenty of options but we suggest you take a look at Hello Charlie for some of the best reusable nappies.

Baby Beehinds have a range of modern cloth nappies that includes all in ones, all in twos, swim nappies and reusable training pants. This is a beautiful Australian brand with lots of lovely prints and colours.

Pea Pods is another Australian brand that do all in one nappies and swim nappies, also in great prints and colours.

Grovia is a US brand who also have a great range including all in one nappies, hybrid nappies and reusable training pants.

And if you’re a traditionalist, and want to try flat terry squares, check out these beautiful organic ones from Nature’s Child.

Shop cloth nappies at Hello Charlie.

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