A-Z of cloth/reusable nappies

Families choose to use reusable nappies, either solely, or part-time, for a number of reasons. For us, the environmental impact of disposable nappy use was our main reason for turning to cloth, as well as the chemicals in disposables which would constantly be against our baby's skin. Secondary to those concerns, were the fact that using reusables was a more cost efficient system, and of course - they look a lot nicer than a disposable nappy!
For parents who are new to cloth nappies, or trying to decide whether to invest for an impending arrival, I thought I'd put together an A-Z of basic fluffy-bum information. Of course, there are many more pros, cons and considerations that I didn't have space to include (when planning this post I ended up with four different ideas for what to mention under the letter "B" alone!) - but if you have questions about using reusable nappies, feel free to either leave a comment at the end of this post, email me at motherhenblog@gmail.com, or get in touch via social media, I'm no "expert" but as a full time cloth bum Mum these days I'm happy to have a chat. 

My fluffy bum! Quinn's wearing a Little Lambs Fitted Bamboo Nappy here with one of Little Lambs' Bombproof Wraps over the top in "Green Apple"

A - ALL-IN-ONE All in one nappies are just that, they have a waterproof layer on the outside, and a soft absorbent lining. You just pop a new nappy on at every change, just as you would a disposable.
B - BAMBOO Nappies can be made from all sorts of different materials. Bamboo nappies are my favourite. They're really soft and the bamboo fabric retains that snuggliness, even after lots of washes. Bamboo is one the most absorbent nappy fabrics, these nappies are super thirsty, and suck up lots of fluid (wee). Bamboo does take a lot longer to dry though, as a result of being so absorbent, so it may not be ideal if you aren't able to have many nappies on rotation, or have limited drying facilities.
C - COTTON - Cotton nappies are a popular option as they're quick to dry. They're not as absorbent as some other fabrics though, so will need more regular changes, and probably won't be suitable as a night nappy without serious boosting with additional liners.
D - DISPOSABLE LINERS - Lots of cloth nappies users opt to use a disposable liner in their nappies. You can buy rolls of disposable liners which, like a piece of tissue paper, are placed inside the nappy, against the baby's skin. Fluids pass through the liner, but any solids (poo) remain on the liner. When the nappy is changed, you can simply remove the liner, with the poo intact, and either bin it or flush it (depending on whether you're using flushable liners) - this limits the amount of poo that could stain your fabric nappies, and makes cleaning them a lot more straight forward.
E - ENVIRONMENT - There are a number of environmental reasons to use cloth nappies. Some people worry that the extra washing involved could create a larger problem for the environment than using disposables. Wet nappies can be washed with your normal clothes, so there's no need for all nappies to have their own wash. Only soiled nappies need to be washed separately, and you can limit these by using a liner (see above). If you do choose to wash all of your nappies separately from your normal laundry, you can expect to do two additional washes a week (nappies shouldn't be left dirty for more than three days as mould may begin to grow). If you wash at high temperatures and use a tumble dryer then this obviously increases the environmental impact of using reusable nappies. When you wash sensibly though (using an energy efficient washing machine, line drying whenever possible, using environmentally friendly detergents or an Eco Egg), reusable nappies are 40% less harmful to the environment than disposable nappies*.
A disposable nappy takes over 200 years to decompose in landfill. Every baby uses around 4000 nappies between birth and potty training, all of which end up in landfill. The manufacture of disposable nappies is also of great concern to the The Enviroment Agency, as it's a highly toxic process to make the things to begin with. It's suggested that there are 3 billion disposable nappies thrown away in England  and Wales alone every year. That's 400,000 tonnes of waste taking 200 years to decompose in landfill.
Basically, using cloth nappies whilst being energy efficient is significantly better for the planet.

*The Enviroment Agency, 2008
F - FLEECE LINERS - Instead of using disposable liners, some parents opt to use fleece liners. Like the paper options, these wick away moisture, whilst trapping solids which can then be flicked or scraped into the toilet or bin. Your fleece liners may end up stained but your favourite nappies will be spared, I use fleece liners though and breastfed baby poo washes straight out. Fleece liners are often better for babies with very sensitive skin.
G - GNAPPIES G-Nappies are one of the few popular UK brands of reusable nappies that I haven't tried. They have several unique features, including Velcro tabs on the back of the nappy, rather than the front, to deter little hands from getting themselves undressed. You get a reusable G-Pant, which you can fill with a disposable insert, to limit on washing. The disposable insert is biodegradable and more planet friendly than a disposable nappy, and you can use your colourful GPants as many times as you like. This tartan design is one of my favourites (though I'm not sure if that little patch on the back is leather). As I say, I've never tried them, but I have friends who absolutely swear by them, and it's certainly a good cloth/disposable hybrid option for those who are reluctant to ditch the 'sposies.

H - HEALTHY SKIN - We don't get any nappy rash at all using reusable nappies, not even a bit of redness in the morning, and she wears the same nappy throughout the night! Her skin "down below" is in lovely condition, and we're happy knowing that she isn't coming into contact with all of the harsh chemicals found in disposable nappies. Using a thirsty bamboo nappy means that the moisture doesn't sit against her skin any more than it would in a disposable and she's super comfy. Reusable nappies are a great option for babies who have sensitive skin or eczema, which can be irritated by disposable nappies, though they'd probably be better off with fleece rather than paper liners.

I - INEXPENSIVE People do worry that the initial outlay, which can be several hundreds of pounds, is a lot, and worry whether they'll really save money by using reusables, especially given the increased energy costs with extra washing. If you do all of your nappies in their own wash, with a poorly efficient machine, and then tumble dry, then yes, you'll notice a leap in utility charges, but these can be avoided by being sensible. Reusable nappies last years and years and can be passed on and purchased second hand very cheaply. We bought lots of pre-loved nappies from Facebook selling pages before Quinn was born, which gave us the opportunity to try lots of different brands without splashing much cash, and allowed us to identify the brands we were most drawn to using everyday. You can also save by attending The Baby Show (either Birmingham NEC or London Excel twice a year) where most brand exhibit and have great show offers, or wait until the post-Christmas sales online if you can. Unlike your disposables, you can sell your cloth nappies once baby is potty trained, or use for future children - recouping some of your costs!

J - JOIN THE CLOTH NAPPY COMMUNITY There are lots of great cloth nappy groups on Facebook, which are really useful for asking questions, getting recommendations, buying and selling nappies, and finding out about new product launches.

K - KEEPING UP WITH WASHING - Extra washing is one of most parent's biggest concerns when considering switching to cloth. You can do one nappy specific wash every three days if you have enough nappies to keep you going. Remember wet nappies can go in with your normal wash. Just don't use liquid detergents (including liquid-tabs) or fabric conditioner, as these can effect the absorbency of your nappies. I'd use a good "green" non-bio washing powder (we use Ecover) or we use an EcoEgg sometimes instead. If cloth nappies are part of your everyday routine you quickly get used to the washing rota!

L - LITTLE LAMBS - Another popular brand of nappy in the UK, Little Lambs are my most used nappies. We own a lot of their fitted bamboo nappies, which work as a two part system, you put on the fluffy nappy (they also come in microfibre, cotton and organic cotton) which is your absorbent layer, and then you put on a waterproof wrap over the top. The waterproof wraps will usually last all day, and you just change the fluffy nappy inside once it's wet. Little Lambs are one of the cheapest nappy systems available but, in my experience, probably the best performing. I love love love them!

I've included this photograph to show a Little Lambs bamboo nappy before I've put the waterproof wrap on over the top, but, let's be honest shall we, it's all about THOSE LEGS!

M - MICROFIBRE - Unlike bamboo, microfiber is super super quick drying, the perfect material to have nappies made from if you can't have too many nappies due to lack of storage facilities, or you're in a small flat with very few drying options.

N - NAPPY NIPPAS - Some parents use squares of fabric, such as terry towelling or muslin cotton, to make their own nappies. There are lots of tutorials online to show you how to fold your fabric to create a leak-proof nappy, and gone are the days of securing with a giant nappy pin. Nappy Nippas are little plastic grips which snap to your folded nappy to keep everything in place. You'd then need a waterproof wrap on the outside to keep any liquid from soaking through on to clothes, but this would work in a similar way to any other two part system, like the Little Lambs nappies (above).

O - ONE SIZE FITS ALL - Many reusable nappies, unlike disposables, come with a "one size fits all" or "birth to potty" promise. You can adjust the size of these nappies, usually with a series of poppers, so that they can grow with your child from newborn to potty training. Sometimes a baby might be a bit too teeny weeny to actually fit in these at birth though.

P - PREFOLDS - Prefolds are large pieces of absorbent fabric which can be used in place of a nappy. You don't usually need to use a Nappy Nippa with these, simply fold the fabric as per instructions, and place inside a waterproof wrap, then pop the nappy on to the baby. At change time, you can remove the folded fabric, prepare another, and pop it into the same wrap. These are particularly popular systems for newborns, as fresh babies don't wriggle about too much and only do tiny wees. You may find that they don't stand up to the toddler test though!

Q - QUESTIONS - There are a lot of brands out there competing for business - and they'll all give you a different pitch as to why their nappy products are better than the rest. Never be scared to ask questions. Email brands directly or via social media and find out as much as you can about a product, and if you don't think your nappies are performing as they should - get in touch with the brand and find out what might be the problem. Ask other cloth nappy users questions too, that's when it's important to join the cloth nappy community (see above) to draw upon other's experiences.

R - REUSABLE WIPES AND OTHER CLOTH PRODUCTS - Many cloth nappy using parents don't just stop at nappies. There are lots of great cloth wipe systems on the market too (start with Cheeky Wipes) - these offer all the same benefits as cloth nappies. They're kinder to the environment, save you loads of money, are better on your baby's skin, and aren't full of scary chemicals. For women, there are also reusable sanitary products (towels and panty liners) to deal with monthly visitors in a more eco-friendly manner. Sanitary towels present the same problems as disposable nappies in terms of their landfill legacy, so switching to a reusable system is a great idea. Reusable towels are also better for delicate skin than the disposable products which can cause irritation.

S - STAINS - Even if you're using liners in your nappies, there will come a day when nothing is going to stop a Grade 10 poo from absolutely destroying one of your favourite nappies. Baby poo can be potent stuff, especially during teething or weaning, and stains can crop up. It's advised not to use harsh stain removers on your nappies as these can effect the absorbency. The best advice is to remove any solids and then to soak the nappy before the poo has a chance to dry on. Wash as normal but if there are still visible stains, hang your nappies outdoors. Rain water can be particularly good in this instance so don't bring your nappies in from the line if you see some threatening clouds looming overhead, but allowing your nappies to dry in the Sun should bleach out any poo stains effectively. If it's a really bright sunny day it's a good idea to empty your nappy drawer and get all of your nappies hanging on the line, even if they're clean, just to get some zingy white back in to the fabric.

T - TOTSBOTS - TotsBots are one of the most popular brands of nappy in the UK. They're made in Scotland, and tend to have the monopoly on the Birth-To-Potty All-In-One market. Their EasyFit nappies are a traditional All-In-One nappy that comes in lots of really cute colours and designs, including special edition prints to commemorate anything from the Queen's Jubilee, to the birth of a Royal Baby, and Wimbledon. Highly collectible, new designs will often sell out initially on the day of release, and discontinued prints are highly sort after on the preloved market. TotsBots also produce TeenyFit nappies, using many of their most popular prints to produce nappies in newborn sizing. TotsBots have also recently brought out a two-part nappy system, similar in many ways to Little Lambs and GNappies, but with a pop-in pad, which they've called the PeeNut. You simply attach your PeeNut pad (not dissimilar to a reusable sanitary towel) to the inside of a waterproof wrap using poppers, and put the nappy on to baby. When it's time for a change, you remove the pad, pop in a new one, and reuse the outer wrap.

I can't resist a cute TotsBots design - this hedgehog pattern is a TotsBots collaboration with Cornish Organic Cotton clothing company, Frugi 

U - USING SKIN PRODUCTS - Not all nappy creams are suitable for use with cloth nappies, as they can effect the absorbency of your nappy. Sudocrem, for example, should be avoided (I'd avoid it anyway as it's tested on animals and not as great for skin as everyone makes out!). It's worth checking with your nappy's manufacturer, if you're typically only using the one brand, which products they would recommend. However, if your baby isn't prone to skin conditions such as eczema, you probably won't need to use a product daily, as irritations are uncommon. I don't use any nappy cream on Quinn because she doesn't need it. If you want to use a bit of moisturiser on your baby's nappy area, I recommend just using some coconut oil.

V - VELCRO OR POPPERS? Many brands of nappy offer a choice of either Velcro or popper fasteners, whilst others produce nappies with one of the other. Personally, I always prefer Velcro to poppers as you can get exactly the right fit, rather than having a baby who is in between popper settings.

W - WRAPS - You'll need a waterproof wrap if you're using anything other than an All-In-One nappy such as the TotsBots EasyFits (see above). You don't necessarily have to use a an absorbent nappy and an outer wrap by the same manufacturer though. Some wraps suit different babies based on body shape, it's often a trial and error thing to find a design you love. 

X - XS-XXL - Birth to potty nappies are obviously the most cost efficient way to bulk-buy reusable nappies, as you won't have to replace outgrown purchases, as long as your child has potty trained before they're too large. However, as I mentioned earlier, at birth many babies are a little too skinny to get a decent fit with a birth to potty nappy. There are lots of great newborn nappies on the market including the TotsBots TeenyFits, or you can simply use muslins or terry towelling squares and a nappy nippa to make your own tiny nappies for the first few weeks, then move into birth-to-potty nappies once your baby has chunked up a little. If you still feel you need to use a nappy or training pant when your child has outgrown their birth-to-potties, there are lots on the market, up to adult sizes for older bed wetters, or those with disabilities. Shop around and do some research, it helps to ask other cloth using Mums in those situations.   

Y - YUCK! - As well as the washing issue, the most common objection to cloth nappies is that it's somehow disgusting in comparison to a disposable nappy. Personally, I find disposable nappies repulsive, especially when you imagine them rotting en-masse in landfill sites for the next two centuries, but there are obvious hygiene concerns where handling poo is concerned. Nappy liners are great, if you're using disposable liners then you can simply lift out the liner, with the poo on it, and bin or flush the whole thing, which is far less yuck than putting a whole blooming nappy in your kitchen bin. If you're using fleece liners, then once your baby is producing solid poos they're pretty easy to just flick down the toilet, again, no need to actually touch the poo, and it's flushed away just like the rest of the family's waste. The wet nappies go in their own lidded nappy bucket which is emptied directly into the washing machine, so it's not like you have stinking, pee filled nappies laying about the house, and yes, you wash wee soaked nappies in the same machine that you wash your clothes in, but unless you don't understand how a washing machine works, this is not the same as washing your clothes in wee. I don't find reusable nappies disgusting at all. We haven't weaned Quinn on to solids yet so we're still dealing with very typical. exclusively breastfed baby poo. The winner here is obviously that breastfed poo doesn't really smell, but I just run the fleece liner under the tap for a few minutes before it goes in the nappy bucket = easy peasy. If you've ever had to undress a baby who's projectile vomited down their entire outfit, then you can definitely rinse off a poo splattered piece of fleece fabric.

Z - ZZZ - Reusable nappies are totally suitable for use overnight. You can buy additional boosters to bulk up your day nappies to make them extra absorbent, or simply use super thirsty nappies, like I do. A bamboo Little Lamb nappy will last us 12 hours over night with one of their Bombproof Wraps - easily. 

I hope that this post has served as an interesting introduction to cloth nappies, but as I said, please do get in touch if you want to chat fluffy-bums!


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