I have been meaning to write this post for AGES. One of my dearest friends has been waiting, for the (hopefully) invaluable knowledge I am about to impart, ever so patiently. I promised myself to get this out before her darling babies arrive! When I was pregnant with Teddy, I did a lot of reading, prepping (as much as anyone can) and hoarding (of all the wrong things). Waste is always something that bothers me (second to being subjected to too many unnecessary chemicals), whether it’s the ridiculous amount of wrapping paper that has to go to landfill each year or all the plastic toothbrushes, which are non-biodegradable, that will be around long after us. With that in mind, nappies were and are still a concern. Did you know that;
…nearly 3 billion nappies are thrown away in the UK every year – 8 million nappies a day. The Environment Agency estimated that the decomposition
timescale for some of the materials and chemicals currently used in disposables is more than 500 years – The Nappy Alliance, 2007
Aside from the disturbing figures reported a decade ago, we are still no closer to reducing the number of nappies disposed of each year or the length of time it takes for the materials and chemicals used to degrade. The other issue with most major nappy brands are the chemicals used to improve absorbency, an issue usually overlooked by most people. When it comes to baby products, we tend to put a lot of trust into the big manufacturers (surely the bigger the brand the more trustful?) This is a completely inaccurate truth usually misled by careful advertising. Big brands do not care about our children, they care about our loyalty. They care about our money.
Admittedly, a comprehensive study by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) shows there is no significant difference in the environmental impact between disposable and cotton nappies. However, the impact of reusable nappies on the environment can be reduced if they are used for more than one child and laundered effectively. Environment aside, typical disposable nappies contain a toxic cocktail of synthetic chemicals. These are chemicals, which have been shown to contribute to cancers, hormone disruption and skin irritations. These chemicals include sodium polycrylate (the chemical that absorbs all the moisture), dyes, fragrances, and phthalates.
Tributyl tin (TBT), a chemical compound which is known to disrupt sex hormones, has been found in disposable nappies on sale in the UK – BBC News, 2001
Without going into too much detail of all chemicals used or scaremongering, this alone is enough to put me off using typical disposable nappies. Disposable nappies do not list their ingredients, which makes things incredibly difficult to decide if you are doing the right thing for your baby, for you and for the environment.
Cloth nappies can be a much more environmentally friendly option, especially if you are considering having more than one child. They are definitely a skin-friendly option and an excellent way to ensure you lowering the number of potentially harmful chemicals that could come into contact with your family.
The Low-Down on Cloth Nappies
Before Teddy was born, I bulk bought new bamboo cloth nappies. Determined to go cloth from day one, I had the full kit, read all the rave reviews and consulted with cloth-using friends & family. I was well and truly sold that cloth nappies were the way forward.
This is what I learned;
- Specific cloth nappies fit better at different stages and most importantly, different babies at different stages
- Do not invest in one system hoping it will last from ‘birth to potty’ (see above point)
- It takes time to figure out the correct washing schedule/ detergent and method to ensure your nappies clean properly (it is not as easy as you may think)
- Failing to wash nappies properly can leave them smelling ‘off’… and can lead you to fear your young baby may have an urine infection (so much unnecessary stress)
- Going 100% cloth is work and may not suit your baby, your lifestyle or your will (do not feel bad if you ditch it mid-way, life is too short)
- I am still unconvinced whether the cost of cloth nappies (taking into account laundering etc) makes for a huge saving versus ‘eco-friendly’ disposable nappies
Choosing Cloth/Reusable Nappies
I confess, I didn’t start using my stash of cloth nappies till Teddy was about 6-8 weeks old. I wanted to get through all the midwife and health visitor appointments, feel comfortable about my feeding schedule and generally adjust to my new role as a mother before embarking on a regular routine of washing nappies.
As mentioned earlier, I bulked up initially on a two-part, sized bamboo nappy system (but later swapped these for all-in-one nappies). Before you invest in one type of nappy system, let me share some options;
- Sized nappies – these are shaped nappies, available in different sizes and usually come in bamboo, cotton or microfibre. They are the most absorbent and require a wrap (waterproof outer cover). To assist with absorbency you need to add a booster (pad of material) to the inside of the nappy.
- All-in-one nappies – these nappies tend to be marketed as birth-to-potty, which means then can be adjusted to fit various ages. They also incorporate the absorbent booster and wrap, which means the nappy is incredibly easy to put on (a dream for grandparents and carers). Some people find these nappies less absorbent and not reliable for nighttime.
- Pocket nappies – these nappies lie somewhere between sized and all-in-ones. Instead of the absorbent layer they have a pocket so you can stuff as much absorbency as needed.
It really is personal preference, I have had and currently have a selection of all types of these nappies in my stash. The ‘mothersite’ for all reusable nappy knowledge is The Nappy Lady and I highly recommend reading their reusable nappy advice. As well as being able to buy all brands and types of reusable nappies, The Nappy Lady also gives a really helpful description of each nappy, fitting/size, containment and absorbency.
My Nappy of Choice
As much as I advocate living as natural, as uncomplicated and as safe as possible, I am also realistic and know my limits. I initially started my cloth nappy journey with bamboo nappies and waterproof wraps but switched after a few months. The two-part, sized nappies weren’t for me;
- While absorbency was great, they took an age to dry and Teddy always woke in the middle of the night because he felt wet. It took me a while to figure out this was the cause of him waking so often.
- I had issues washing them, which resulted in the nappies smelling foul. Strip washing didn’t help and the nappies didn’t retain their soft, fluffy feel.
- There was no way my mum would be able to fathom putting together the nappy, booster, liner and wrap while wrestling a wriggly baby.
So with all those issues playing on my mind, I switched to all-in-ones and to be honest, never looked back. My favourite nappy is the Miosolo All-In-One nappy by Bambino Mio. I found they fitted Teddy really well as they are a more generous cut and I never had any issues with leaking (or explosions up the back). I have used other brands of cloth nappies; Little Lambs, Tots Bots and Bumgenuis but found the Miosolo’s give Teddy a much better fit and were more reliable for us.
Washing Your Reusable Nappies
This takes a bit of practise. You’ll need a nappy bucket (with lid) to put soiled nappies in till you’re ready to wash them. This is what worked for me (after a lot of trial, error and headaches);
- Remove soiled nappy
- Remove any poo (i.e. flush)
- Secure any velcro tabs on the nappy (stops them sticking to other nappies during wash)
- Put nappy and washable liner in your nappy bucket (waterproof wraps can be used several times before they need washed) till you’re ready to wash
- Load your washing machine 3/4 full – wet nappies are heavy so take care not to overload your machine
I feel like I need to separate the next list of instructions, this is the winning method for me and I hope it saves you a lot of time. Please read carefully (!);
- Do a cold rinse first (not a prewash), without any laundry detergent. This helps to remove stains etc
- After the first rinse, do a full cycle wash on 40c or 60c (ready the guidelines for your particular cloth nappies)
- IMPORTANT! This is the magic formula and took me an age to figure out: always use non-bio laundry powder (and never Ecover). I add 1 tbsp of non-bio laundry powder PLUS 1 tbsp of nappy sanitiser. I have found this combination works best to leave my cloth nappies clean, fresh and without any detergent buildup.
- If possible, reduce your machine spin to around 1000-1200 revs, the higher the spin the quicker your washing machine may degrade your nappies.
Drying your nappies will depend on what options you have at your disposal. We live in a flat with no outside space so out nappies are hung on a drying rack and we find this works well for us. This is what we use; heated drying rack. Nappies can be tumble dried but take care as this will disintegrate the elastic quicker. Drying outside in the sun is always the best option as the sun helps to remove stains due to its natural bleaching effects (yes really!)
Hopefully this hasn’t deterred you from using cloth nappies. Once you get your head around washing them, things get a lot simpler.
A few points to be aware with;
- Always use non-biological laundry detergent. Some biological detergents can degrade the fibres in the nappies.
- Never use fabric conditioner, it seriously affects absorbency.
- Yes I really only use around 1 tablespoon of powdered laundry detergent per load. Your nappies should not smell of anything after being washed, no washing detergent, no poo etc, nothing. A normal dose is too much for cloth nappies. I personally add an environmentally friendly nappy sanitiser to get a better clean.
- If your nappies smell of your laundry detergent then it is likely you have used too much and your nappies are suffering from a build up (which will affect absorbency and may irritate your baby’s skin). They will need a few washes without detergent to try to strip them.
- Many nappy brands do not recommend Ecover because it’s been shown to affect the elasticity in nappies and lead to skin irritations… do not always believe the marketing!
- You may have to wash your nappies on a 60c wash if your baby is unwell or has sensitive skin, otherwise I recommend sticking to 40c.
- Don’t forget; cold wash (no detergent) THEN full cycle (1 tbsp detergent) AND extra rinse
Cloth is No Longer For Me
Teddy’s now a toddler and as a very tall toddler, I’ve found he has mostly outgrown his cloth nappies (we have tried A LOT of brands) so we’re now back to disposable nappies. The horror! but with success I have been using Naty disposable nappies and would highly recommend you give them a go if cloth just isn’t for you. There are more and more eco-friendly nappies becoming available, which I’ve yet to try. Naty nappies from Sweden are made from 70% natural materials, and are also 100% GM, chlorine and fragrance free. Teddy went through phases of quite bad nappy rash, during teething, and I found the Naty nappies helped clear up the rash even better than cloth nappies. There still aren’t any nappies currently on the market which are 100% biodegradable but Naty are proactive in sharing how they make a difference by using renewable resources.
Congratulations on making it to the end of this mega-post! You’ve made it! There is a wealth of knowledge online when it comes to cloth nappies and as you know, no baby is the same. The method and advice shared in this post is what works for me and may not be the best method for you but I hope it helps, even a little.
As a quick recap, these are the products I use and personally recommend;