CLOTH NAPPY FAQs
Starting out on your cloth nappy journey can be really confusing, and often you may find you have a whole bunch of questions but you don't know who to ask. I personally just bought a stack of nappies and started using them, but along the way I realised I didn't know much about current washing guidelines or storage of dirty nappies, and so here I can share some of the knowledge I have learnt along the way!
You can also check out another beginners guide to cloth nappies blog I wrote not too long ago here.
Which are the best cloth nappies that I can buy and invest in going forward.
We need to start with some information about you, your baby and your lifestyle. Firstly – where do you live (what is the weather like), how old is your baby, are they long and slim or short and chunky or average proportion, does your baby release large amounts of urine (or faeces) throughout the day (ie a heavy wetter) or would you consider them to be a light wetter (nappies are not so heavy).
Do you want to reuse the covers/outer shells and just change the inner absorbency pads between uses (for wee nappies)? Or would you prefer a complete nappy that you remove and put straight into the washing basket, then change to a completely fresh nappy?
The answers to all of these questions will help you narrow down the styles and brands that will suit you best. If you want to discuss what might suit you best with my team, feel free to copy and paste the questions above into an email, answer them, attach a photo of your washing machine control panel and the detergent and stain remover you currently use to email@example.com and we will get back to you with more information!
Often it is helpful to start with a trial pack. This could be obtained by purchasing a collection of new nappies from a retailer (most of us offer trial pack options), borrowing a mixed pack through a nappy library service, or purchasing a random selection of nappies from your local MCN buy and sell group and/or Buy Nothing group on Facebook. This gives you an idea of the different styles of nappy, what you like putting together, pulling apart, washing and fitting, and it is a smaller commitment prior to making a full jump in when you are armed with more personal experience of what works for you and your family.
How many cloth nappies per day are usually needed? How many should I buy now?
Again, this is determined by how much your little one wets, how old they are, what types of nappies you commit to and the absorbency within the nappies themselves. A newborn will typically need 10-12 nappies a day for the first 3-4 months of their life, which then decreases to 8-10 nappies a day and by the time your little one is 18 months old they may often use 6-8 nappies a day. Cloth nappies need to be changed every 2-3 hours, or as soon as they are soiled, but you can also take into account how many disposables you are currently using each day to get a starting point.
If you are starting with a trial pack, I would recommend trying out at least 3-5 styles/brands of nappy to find something that works for you, before committing to 1-2 of these (possibly more, depending on your personal preferences). You don’t have to start with a complete full-time pack (which would be considered at least 24 complete nappies, for reference). A few cloth nappies a day, or one day of cloth then one day of disposables, still makes a huge difference to your environmental impact and gives you the opportunity to get into it at your own pace.
How long do the cloth nappies last? For how long have you used them? Is it possible that the cloth nappies that I buy now can be used in the future for my 2nd child whenever we plan one?
The lifespan of an individual cloth nappy will differ for many reasons. A small stash of nappies that are main washed every day or every second day will likely wear faster than a larger collection of nappies due to the difference in how many times they are actually used and washed. A good washing routine (adequate heat, daily prewashes and correctly loading the machine) can also make a huge difference to how long a nappy lasts. If the nappy becomes affected by ammonia or mould, these can affect the integrity of the nappy and the sanitisation methods required to fix these conditions may also have an effect on the lifespan of your nappies.
Most good quality cloth nappies should last through at least 1-2 children from birth to toilet training. Many will last more, and can be passed on to friends and family when you are finished with them. It may sometimes be necessary to replace certain elements (elastics, snaps or velcro closures for example) between children, or after a certain period of time.
I personally have nappies in my stash that have been used for 2 children over 5 years so far, and will be used again in the coming 1-2 years on my belly baby. I have had to replace some elastics, clean some Velcro pads, repair a snap or two, and some of my inserts have degraded and therefore been fed to the worms. But the bulk of my stash is still from my original collection with some new inserts and prefolds added in.
Do we need to buy the absorbent pads for cloth nappies separately?
This would depend on the specific brand and style of nappy you decide to use. If you find that your nappies are leaking it is worthwhile investigating the fit of your nappy, as well as the absorbency capacity of the absorbent inserts/pads you are using.
As a general rule, a microfibre or “charcoal bamboo” insert tends to be the fastest absorbing insert (great for kids that flood) but they have the lowest capacity. They dry fast, and can be helpful for boosting over the top of a more absorbent insert (please ensure that microfibre inserts are not placed directly against your baby’s skin as they do not move the moisture away and can cause moisture-related rashes/reactions). Charcoal bamboo inserts are simply a microfibre insert with a thin layer of dark bamboo viscose lining around the outside, so that this style of microfibre insert is safe to place directly against baby’s skin but is not generally much more absorbent than a standard microfibre insert.
Cotton tends to be more absorbent than microfibre or charcoal bamboo and takes a tiny bit longer to absorb the liquid. Organic or unbleached cotton are the safest options.
Bamboo (or bamboo viscose) inserts are usually blended with some degree of other fibre in them to improve their absorbency qualities and strength. They are well known for providing great absorbency with a management uptake of liquid, particularly when blended with microfibre or cotton. Bamboo is commonly used in most good quality Australian nappy brands.
Hemp inserts are perhaps the most “natural” option with the greatest absorbency capacity, however they tend to take a longer time to absorb the liquid. For this reason, they are often either blended with cotton or bamboo to improve absorbency time, or should be placed underneath a faster absorbing insert to slowly draw moisture away from baby and the less absorbent, but faster absorbing layer/s closer to baby’s bottom.
What are the different types of cloth nappy?
An All-In-One (AIO) style nappy consists of a waterproof cover with sewn-in absorbency, and therefore you purchase it as a complete nappy.
All-In-Two (AI2) nappies consist of a waterproof cover with removable absorbency inserts/pads, however most of the time these can be purchased as complete sets.
Pocket nappies have a waterproof cover with a pocket sewn inside to “stuff” your absorbent inserts/pads inside. Most of the time they will come with at least some absorbency, however cheaper nappies may come with fewer inserts or less absorbent materials.
Fitted nappies are shaped the same as the 3 options mentioned above, however they do not include a waterproof layer. These nappies require a separate waterproof cover (PUL/TPU coated, wool or fleece). You can often use fewer covers as a fitted nappy is designed to contain all contents inside them, with only light remnants likely to leak onto the cover, so the cover can be aired and reused without washing it every single time.
If you choose to use flat or prefold nappies, you will also need to purchase covers separately. A flat nappy is a traditional nappy square – this is the style many of our parents used for us. A prefold (or trifold) nappy is similar, however they are often smaller and usually have lines of stitching throughout the absorbent fabric to easily separate the nappy into thirds or quarters. Both of these options tend to be more economical than the more modern cloth nappy (MCN) options, however different folding techniques can mean the “ease” of an MCN style nappy is preferable for many busy families.
You can also purchase additional nappy inserts (or boosters) to increase the absorbency of your nappies for times when baby increases their average urine output (often around 6-8 months of age, and again as they move closer to toilet training), for day naps, overnight use or for changing options between different aged or shaped children.
Can we wash the cloth nappies without a washer/dryer?
You do not need a clothes dryer to use cloth nappies (in fact the most environmentally friendly option is to air dry on the clothes line!). You do however need a washing machine to ensure adequate washing and agitation. Short periods of hand washing may be required, for example if you are camping or travelling and unable to use a washing machine, however I would recommend putting all handwashed nappies through a long hot wash cycle as soon as possible upon returning. A sanitise cycle may also be required if the nappies start to become smelly or causing skin reactions after a period of handwashing or utilising a less optimal washing routine.
The Australian Nappy Association, as well as Clean Cloth Nappies organisation, recommend storing dirty nappies in an open air dry pail basket without a lid (definitely NOT an airtight, closed container). Faeces should be scraped into the toilet and all soiled nappies should be rinsed prior to dry pailing to remove the bulk of the surface mess.
All cloth nappies should be rinsed in a daily 40-60deg prewash of dirty nappies in a separate 45-60minute “quick wash” or similar wash cycle with an approved washing detergent. These can then be stored in another open air dry pail (I like to label mine unwashed and prewashed) until your main washing day.
Once you have 2-3 days worth of nappies that have all had been through one “prewash” cycle, you should place all prewashed nappies into your machine with the appropriate amount of detergent for a “heavy” cycle and ensure that your machine is relatively full when dry (it should be about 2/3-3/4 full when wet). If you do not have enough nappies to fill the washing machine up adequately, you can include light coloured baby clothing, burb cloths, and any general household items/rags/towels that are smaller than a 60cm flat nappy square. The main wash cycle should be 40-60deg, on a long heavy cycle lasting at least 2 hours. Most brands recommend using spin speeds of 800rpm for both the prewash and main wash.
Nappy covers/shells and wetbags should not be routinely dried in the clothes dryer as this can affect the waterproofing. Most absorbent inserts, cloth wipes and flat nappies can be dried in the dryer if necessary, however it is recommended to utilise air drying wherever possible to extend the life of your nappies as well as reduce your reliance on electricity (not to mention your poor power bill!). It is not recommended to dry nappies in the direct sunlight, especially in summer, on a regular basis, as this can degrade the fibres as well as the waterproofing and elastics. “Sun bleaching” should not be necessary with a good washing routine.
Wool nappy covers require a completely different washing routine, although this is not done as regularly as PUL/TPU and absorbency washing. More information for washing wool covers can be found via the Clean Cloth Nappies website and on YouTube.
The Clean Cloth Nappies website is a great resource for checking out recommended detergents and products for washing cloth nappies as well as details on dealing with ammonia build up, fungal rashes, mould, sanitising secondhand nappies and more. Fabric softeners and essential oils can reduce the absorbency of the fibres in cloth nappies and should generally be avoided.
Are cloth nappies a good choice when the baby starts teething?
Whilst it is true that many babies poop more when they are teething, this should not significantly affect your cloth nappy journey. You may need to have more nappies available (either by purchasing more, loaning an extra pack from an MCN library, or washing more often). The key to avoiding nappy rash issues during teething is to ensure that baby remains well hydrated, is offered nappy free time throughout the day and all nappies are changed a soon as possible after soiling. This is the same recommendation regardless of whether you are using cloth or disposable nappies.
If you have a good washing routine, you can continue to use most (if not all) barrier creams to protect your baby’s skin during a non-fungal rash outbreak. Some medications and certain foods, including paracetamol and blueberries, have been known to cause extra staining in some children, so if you know that your child is affected by these you should pre-treat your nappies with a stain remover prior to washing (Sard Soap, Napisan, etc) and you may wish to use a disposable or reusable fleece nappy liner to protect the nappy itself from stubborn stains.
Please note that disposable nappy liners are often advertised as compostable and flushable, however this is not always the case. In almost all cases, it is recommended to avoid flushing wherever possible as most modern sewerage systems are only designed to cope with human waste and toilet paper. You are responsible for the capacity of your own sewerage or septic system, and you should be aware that a qualified plumber may be required to help unblock your system if your “flushable” liners cause a blockage. Prior to composting, please ensure that your liners are in fact biodegradable in a home composting system, and ensure that they are washed prior to composting (most will hold up relatively well in a washing machine pre-wash cycle!).
My best advice
Just do it! Get your hands on some nappies, have a go, and see what happens. Don't be disheartened if it doesn't work in the first few days. Reach out to us for help with the fit, washing routine, storage or any other questions you may have. We also have a Facebook group which you might find helpful:
Clean Cloth Nappies: https://cleanclothnappies.com/
Australian Nappy Association: https://www.australiannappyassociation.org.au/
SHOP nappies at Cloth and Carry: https://www.clothandcarry.com.au/collections/all-mcn
FREE PRINTABLE RESOURCES:
Australian Nappy Association's MCN Washing Guidelines
Australian Nappy Association's Tips for Fitting Cloth Nappies