Cloth Nappies: Frequently Asked Questions

FAQs: Cloth nappy most frequently asked questions

FAQs: Cloth nappy most frequently asked questions

Parts of the world are celebrating Real Nappy Week (or, Real Diaper Week) this month, so we thought it would be great to write a blog answering some of the most common questions about cloth nappies.

What’s your burning question about cloth nappy use and care? Ask us in the comments and we’ll see if we can help.

Are reusable nappies hard work? Do they need to be soaked and boiled?

There is no soaking or boiling necessary – in fact, boiling is very bad for the materials used in the manufacture of modern cloth nappies. If you’re wondering just how simple cloth nappying can be, check out this blog post which details the process in 5 simple steps.

We asked a bunch of mums how long it takes them to care for cloth nappies and the answers averaged out to 12 minutes a day, including washing, drying and putting back together. Just think… 5 minutes in the warm sunshine or cool evening, peacefully pegging nappies to the line, knowing that you’re saving money while getting some fresh air. And another few minutes on the lounge room floor putting them back together while your little plays next to you or you catch up on your favourite series. It’s not so bad!


I’ve heard that cloth nappies are extremely bulky and severely restrict baby’s movement. Is this true?

The wider position of baby’s hips in a reusable nappy can actually be good for developing hips.

According to the book Care of the Newborn by Ten Teachers, disposable nappies could be contributing to higher incidence of congenital hip dysplasia in some cultures: “…in modern Western society, putting infants for long periods in baby and car seats as well as the use of very slim disposable nappies which do not abduct the hips as widely could also affect hip development.”

In days gone by, double cloth nappies were used to facilitate the correct forming of bones in babies with congenital hip dysplasia.


Do I need to buy multiple sizes as my baby grows to get the right fit?

Some cloth nappies are sized. Other are designed to be multi-fit, fitting from birth through to toilet training. There is an amazing range of options to choose from and something to suit every baby.


How much longer does it take to change a reusable than a disposable?

Many cloth nappies, like the all-in-one or pocket, are designed just like a disposable so you can have one-step changes. Too easy!


Are cloth nappies as reliable as disposable nappies?

Some babies are light wetters and require only the absorbency of synthetic fibres, such as microfibre. Other babies seem to out-wet everything. If you happen to have a baby who is a heavy wetter, we highly recommend bamboo-based nappies and some extra boosters to get them through. The most important step you can take to reduce the incidence of leaking and to protect your baby from rash is to change at least every 2 hours during the day, or as soon as you know they have soiled the nappy. For boys, it can be helpful to adjust the boosting of the nappy so that more of it sits towards the front where extra absorbency is most needed.


Can cloth nappies be used at night once baby starts sleeping through?

Definitely! There are many specific night nappy options, as well as customisable options that can be boosted for nights and slimmed down for day use.


Are reusable nappies soft and comfortable for my baby?

Cloth nappies, much like cloth underpants, are soft and comfortable for baby. However, over time the fabrics can stiffen a little, especially when dried outside during summer. This happens to towels and clothing as well. You can bring the bounce back to your fibres and soften them up with a short stint in the dryer. Remove any boosting from the waterproof outers and tumble dry boosters/soakers on low heat for just 10 minutes. We recommend tumble drying infrequently to maximise the lifespan of the product.


How much money do they really save?

You will change your baby about 5500 times until they are potty trained. At 40 – 80 cents a piece, this is a significant weekly outlay on disposable nappies. You only need 20-30 reusable nappies over the same period at a fraction of the cost. We estimate a minimum saving of $1000 on home laundered nappies over the same period (more on the second child, even taking into consideration water, electricity and replacements).

Perhaps you could consider taking out a 9 month lay-by of cloth nappies when you first find out you’re expecting. This would take the pressure off the start-up costs. Or you could put aside that money each month so that once baby’s born you can try a few different types to see which suits best.

Do cloth nappies cause bad nappy rash?

There is no evidence to link cloth nappies with nappy rash. Consistently, health care professionals advise that frequent changing is the best prevention of nappy rash. If your child suffers from skin sensitivities, be sure to check the ingredients on your washing detergent. Hygiene and skin care, sensitivity to detergents and the presence of infection are the three possible causes of nappy rash listed by the National Center of Biotechnology Information.

Disposable nappies contain superabsorbent gel, paper pulp, plastics and adhesives, while reputable brand reusable nappies are made from knitted or woven fabrics, which better allow baby’s delicate skin to breathe.

Once you take into consideration the manufacture of materials, amount of water to wash, the detergent used and sometimes even the drier, are cloth nappies really that much better for the environment?

LCA report 2009 states reusables are 40% better for the environment when sensibly home laundered (ie, line dried, not ironed!). For a comprehensive look at the cost of laundering cloth nappies, check our Darlings Downunder’s blog post HERE.

According to 2009 figures from IbisWorld, 5.6 million single-use nappies are thrown out in Australia every day. 5.6 million. Every day. That’s over 2 billion a year. That’s all kinds of crazy. And that was 9 years ago, so it’s probably higher now.

The vast majority of these end up in landfill. And our best guess of how long they take to decompose there is about 500 years. Landfill space is one of those issues that we don’t tend to fret over too much in Australia, because, unlike European countries, we have vast amounts of space. But having space to fill doesn’t mean we should fill it. Not least of all with filthy used nappies.

Local council authorities are becoming a driving force in working to reduce the amount of municipal waste sent to landfill. But we all know that waste prevention at its source is the best way to reduce rubbish. Even part time reusable nappy use goes a long way in reducing disposable nappy landfill.


Are cloth nappies messy? Will they make my laundry smelly?

Solids should be flushed immediately (just as they should with disposables) and the soiled nappy placed in a bucket with a tight lid or in a wet bag with a firm closure, such as a zip. A few drops of essential oil in the bucket or bag can help to keep the laundry smelling fresh. Washing at least every second day will keep on top of smells and reduce the chance for mould to develop.


Do I need to use liners?

You don’t have to use nappy liners (unless using barrier creams) but these will help keep mess to a minimum come change time. Please remember that flushing liners may not be suitable for older or damaged drains and there is some evidence to suggest that liners shouldn’t be flushed at all. Wet liners may be disposed of in the bin, compost or worm farm. For more information about reusable nappy liners, please Click Here.

Can I use barrier creams with cloth nappies?

You can use barrier creams with cloth nappies, but it is really important to use a liner (disposable or reusable) when using them. Barrier creams are designed to do just that – create a barrier between the urine and your baby’s skin. However, they can also create a barrier on the nappy, coating the fibres of the fabric and causing it to repel urine and leak. If you need to use creams, please always ensure you use a liner. For further information about the use of liners, please Click Here.


Will my nappies stain?

A cool rinse before washing will help lift dried in stains and keep your nappies fresh and ammonia free. Most nappies prefer not to be spun at more than 800 rpm. Sunshine is great for stubborn stains but be careful about hanging them out when it’s too hot, as high heat can damage your elastics and waterproofing. For our summer cloth nappying tips, please Click Here.

Common sense applies with stains, as it does with all other facets of cloth nappying. If we spill tomato sauce on a shirt and leave that shirt in the laundry, unwashed, for a number of days, we have a significantly reduced chance of getting it out, even with the use of special stain removers. It’s the same with nappies. Remember to wash your nappies frequently (at least every second day) to reduce the chance of staining.


Do I need to use dedicated cloth nappy detergent?

Cloth nappies can be washed using any commercially available washing detergent. However, steer clear of detergents with additives designed to stay in the fabric after the wash, like softeners (which can reduce absorbency) and brighteners or fragrances (which might cause issues for a baby’s sensitive skin).


How long will my cloth nappies last?

It is expected that with correct use and care your birth to potty nappies will last the length of time that one child is in nappies, however the actual duration of nappy life is dependent upon a number of factors including use and care the nappy receives, your child’s wee and how many nappies are in rotation.


How many nappies will I need?

How long is a piece of string! This question is vastly dependent on the frequency of washing (every day or every second day), the type of nappies you have (flats which dry quickly or all-in-ones which take a lot longer to dry), sizing and your child’s output. In general though, we recommend 25-30 nappies so that you have enough to get you through to a wash every second day.

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