Cloth Nappies, what they are and how to start using them

What are cloth nappies?

You will hear stories of Mums and Grans using terry towelling cloth nappies with plastic pants for hundreds of years as there was no alternative. Then came the so called revolution of disposable nappies, invented in America by an American chemical engineer named Victor Mills in the 1950's who wanted to make life 'easier' for his children by no longer having nappies to wash. This at the time, was a major change to the way people could live their lives, as back in the early to mid 20th century, the facilities we have nowadays just were not available to new mums and dads.

In 1877, the first traditional terry cloth nappies started being mass produced, where very similar to today, they would be folded and either knotted (or fastened with a safety pin if you could afford it!) By the mid to late 1990's, modern cloth nappies were in full production, with the forefront companies being Canadian companies Bummis and Motherease, which are still widely used today. To start promoting the use of modern cloth nappies over disposable nappies, The Real Nappy Week was created in 1997 by The Real Nappy Association to spread information and get parents using cloth for their children.

These days, many different types of cloth nappies are widely available in most countries. I will explain in detail further below the different types which I have encountered. Companies such as Little Lamb, Totsbots, Baby Bare, Bubblebubs, Petite Crown and many many more dominating the modern cloth nappy markets, all offering their own unique products for sale (as different babies suit different MCN's!).

Did you know?

Over 8 million disposable nappies are taken to landfill PER DAY in the UK alone. If you took that into a worldwide perspective, we are talking 6,000 tonnes of disposable nappies in landfill per day.

Pocket Nappies

Pocket nappies are often the cheaper alternative when using MCN's with your baby. These consist of a nappy 'shell' or the outer part of the nappy and inserts made of either synthetic or natural fibres which fit inside the pocket of the nappy to make it complete. The shells are made from a material called polyurethane laminate, but you will see this often written as PUL in the modern cloth nappy communities, then lined with either a fleece or stay dry material. Inserts or boosters are typically made from either microfibre, organic cotton, bamboo, hemp or other synthetic materials such as staydry which is made from polyester. The majority of the nappies which I own for Rory are pocket nappies, as they are easily customisable to the level of absorption you need for your baby! Depending on the inserts you use or if you have more inserts to shell ratio, this option is great if you need to dry nappies quickly.

Pictured: Baba&Boo Pocket Nappy .

All-in -Ones (AIO)

The name of this type of modern cloth nappy is pretty self explanatory. The nappies are an 'all in one' design for quickness, ease of use (for nurseries or family members not used to using cloth), and they usually have either a sewn in panel which cannot be removed (such as Alva AIO's or Motherease Wizard Uno), or a pull out 'tongue' or 'snake' insert such as Bambino Miosolo nappies or Petite Crown Trimas. The downside to all in one nappies is that they often take longer to dry, especially in the instances where natural fibres are used in the non-removable inserts.

Pictured: Littlelovebum Everyday AIO.

All-in-Twos (AI2)

All in two nappies are similar to AIO's, but differ as they have inserts which snap in with poppers. They often have a larger snap in insert such as a trifold, and then a smaller booster to accompany this. A great example of good AI2 nappies are Bubblebubs Candies (previously known as CuteTooshies Candies) and Baby Bare AI2. These in my opinion are better if you do not have a huge stash of nappies as you can get them on the bum, washed and dried much quicker.

Pictured: a selection of AI2 nappies, top two from Bubblebubs and bottom two from Baby Bare.

Fitted Nappies

Fitted nappies are where the entire nappy is made from the absorbent material in question, and they must be accompanied by a waterproof cover or wrap. They are typically used for night time use as they can be extremely bulky depending on how much you need to boost the nappy. An excellent example of this is the little lambs fitted sized nappies, I personally use size 2 fitted bamboo nappies from Little Lamb which come with a sewn in booster and soft fleece liner to keep baby's bum dry. I accompany these with a Little Lamb 3 layer bamboo insert and a wrap (we use Little Lamb size 2 wraps, Alva one size wraps and Petite Crown one size catcher wraps). These nappies also take a long time to dry due to the level of absorption they provide, and I typically either line dry them on a nice day or tumble dry them on a low setting (which has not caused any adverse effects for our nappies yet).

Pictured: Two Little Lamb bamboo fitted nappies inside (bottom) a Little Lamb wrap and (top) a Petite Crown Catcher wrap.

Terries, Muslins, Prefolds and Flats

Terry cloth nappies, as previously mentioned have been around for hundreds of years as we know them, and even longer than that before they were mass produced. There are several different folds (or make up your own!) readily available to choose from to suit your baby. I will admit, my terry cloths do not get as much use as they should, as they are extremely reliable and give a 'back to basics' feel away from the hundreds of pretty eye catching prints produced today. They should be fastened with a Nappy Fastener, some well known brands include Little Lamb, Snappi and Nappy Nippa. They also require a waterproof wrap to use.

Pictured: Terry cloth nappy without a wrap. This fold is known as the 'bat fold'. Fastened with a Little Lamb nappy fastener.

What material should I use?

Here is a handy list of insert/nappy materials available and how to use them to maximise efficiency!

  • Microfibre: This is the quickest absorbing material and also the quickest drying. It is best used alone if your baby is not a heavy wetter, but this material should be accompanied by a natural fibre insert to get the most out of using it.

  • Charcoal Bamboo: These inserts are black/grey in colour and despite the name, are mostly made up of microfibre. I would class them as microfibre as they offer the same amount of absorbency.

  • Bamboo: This is slower absorbing than microfibre and charcoal bamboo, but can hold a larger volume of liquid, and in addition takes longer to dry. I find this the most efficient and economical combination, to use a bamboo insert on the bottom for the absorbency level, and a microfibre/charcoal bamboo insert on the top of this in a pocket.

  • Hemp: Similar to bamboo, but can hold an even larger volume of liquid. Very good paired with either microfibre or charcoal bamboo for larger babies who can hold their wees for longer, sometimes resulting in a nappy being flooded. The fast absorbing microfibre/charcoal bamboo soaks up the wee and allows it to settle into the hemp booster.

  • Staydry: Essentially polyester. Famously used by Motherease in their Wizard Uno and Duo nappies. I have one preloved Motherease staydry uno (all in one) in the print Foxy. I find that I do not have to boost this nappy and it can last approx 2-3 hours before another change. I have also seen some small handmade start ups using staydry in their new design nappies.

  • Organic Cotton: This is what terry cloth nappies, flats and prefolds are often made from, and it is tried and tested. Some AIO nappies use this material such as Bumgenius Elementals. It takes longer to dry than microfibre but it is not as absorbent as bamboo. Bamboo is used more often as it is easier to get the absorption right without too much bulk in the nappy.

Let's talk about number 2's

It may put people off using cloth nappies as with a disposable they can wrap the whole thing up and throw it away, poo and all. Yes, you do have to deal with and dispose of poo when using modern cloth nappies, but it doesn't have to be a big deal. Personally, poo doesn't bother me as it is from my own child and I have dealt with MUCH worse in my job as a nurse than a bit of baby poo. For others, this might be a complete deal breaker, but it doesn't have to be! There are many methods available to use for disposing of poos. Exclusively breastfed poo in the pre-weaning stage is 100% water soluble and therefore you don't need to do any prep before placing it in your wetbag/bucket/nappy pail before the nappy wash. Simply pop the nappy in the machine and the poo will be washed away! After your baby starts weaning, their poo changes due to them eating 'normal' food instead of just milk. It will become more solid, which means easier to just drop into the toilet before storing your dirty used nappies ready for the nappy wash. I have seen some parents install a hose to their toilet to wash off the poo, or simply rinse it under the flush in the toilet like I do before storing for the wash.

For more information on how to wash nappies in an approved way, please visit the Clean Cloth Nappies website:

And finally, whatever you choose to use, just remember that it's better for everyone to use cloth/reusable products imperfectly rather than one person using them perfectly!

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