Cloth Nappies: Everything you need to know
Whether it’s saving money, reducing your environmental footprint or simply the gorgeous designs, there are so many reasons why cloth nappies are a great alternative to disposables.
When I was pregnant with my first child and planning for baby’s arrival, one of the first things I decided was that I wanted to use cloth nappies. I didn’t know anyone else who used them, but the thought of using and throwing away something 8-10 times a day seemed madness when there was a reusable alternative.
My husband took a bit more convincing - he thought they’d be a lot of work, and with everything else we’d have to deal with when baby arrived, he thought they’d quickly fall by the wayside. But three years and two kids later, we’re still using them. He is the first to admit that they were so much easier than he thought.
Cloth nappies have come a long way since the 80s, when many of us might have rocked the giant white towel look. Today’s modern cloth nappies are easy to use, trim(ish) and come in the widest array of designs and patterns.
Though the white terry squares origamied into nappies are still used (and some people swear by them), ‘modern cloth nappies’ are a far more popular option. These look and are put on in a very similar way to disposables. With a waterproof outer shell, and often a stay-dry material next to baby’s bum, they have all the benefits of a disposable but with a few added bonuses. Most are one-size-fits-most, with snaps being used to adjust the fit - this means the same nappy can be used on a 3 month and a 3 year old. With a good fit, they are far better are containing wee and poo - meaning those dreaded poonamis are far less likely! Finally, cloth nappies are a great stylish statement, with thousands of designs and patterns available - you can even get licensed prints if you’re a Sesame Street, Peter Rabbit or Harry Potter fan.
Saving the environment and your credit card
The average child, from birth to potty training, goes though around 6,000 nappies - enough to fill 30 wheelie bins! And it’s not just the waste produced that needs to be taken into account, but also the resources taken to produce the nappy in the first place. It takes three times more energy, 20 times more raw materials and two times more water to make a disposable nappy than a cloth nappy. Even taking into account the electricity and water used in washing cloth nappies, they are a far more planet-friendly option than disposables.
And it’s not just the environment you’ll be helping to save - also your money too. Around 24-30 cloth nappies are enough for full-time use. With an average nappy costing anywhere between $16 and $35, depending on how premium the brand is, that’s an initial outlay of anywhere between $540 and $1,050. Whilst this is a lot of money to spend upfront, over the course of a child’s lifetime, disposables would cost at least $1,800. And those numbers are based on just one child - if the nappies are used for future babies, the savings get even greater.
Here’s everything you need to know to get started with cloth nappies.
Choose your style
Every year, there are more and more brands of cloth nappies coming onto the market, and it can be overwhelming to know where to start. One of the first things to decide is what type of nappy would suit your family best - each has its pros and cons.
The most popular options are pocket nappies, all-in-ones, all-in-twos and fitteds.
- Pocket nappies are a waterproof cover and a stay-dry inner with absorbent insert stuffed in between. These are a great option as you can customise your inserts to be as absorbent as your baby needs. They take a little bit of time to stuff after washing, but as you can pull the pieces apart they are quick to dry.
- All-in-ones are exactly like disposables, with the absorbent inserts built in - no stuffing or disassembling required. But for the ease of this, you compromise on a longer drying time after washing.
- All-in-2s have a waterproof shell with an absorbent insert that clips or sits in place. A great feature of these is that you don’t need to replace the shell each change, just the insert, so you reduce the amount of washing needed.
- Fitteds are a shaped nappy where the entire nappy is absorbent (as opposed to just the centre portion in the above options). These are by far the most absorbent option and are great for heavy wetters or naps/nights, but they require a waterproof cover to go over the top.
A great way to try lots of different types and brands and figure out which ones work best for you is to rent a set from a cloth nappy library, like The Nappy Nook. For around $40, you can get a set of nappies delivered to your door for you to use for a month. Nappies are sanitized between each hire, so you know they’re safe to use on baby’s bum.
Because cloth nappies have such a long life, they have strong re-sale value too. Another option to try different types or brands without investing fully is to buy second hand. Carousell or Facebook Marketplace often have deals, or you can join local Facebook groups such as Cloth Diapering Singapore for buy/swap/sell posts. And if you decide that a certain nappy isn’t for you, you can sell it on without losing money.
A good wash routine is essential to ensure baby’s bum stays rash-free and your nappies have a long and smell-free life.
Generally, nappies are washed twice after use - a quick wash at the end of each day to get the worst of the soiling off, and then a long, thorough wash every few days to ensure they’re squeaky clean. Temperature matters, and a warm or hot wash is important to ensure they are properly cleaned.
Nappies are stored in a dry-pail after they come off the bum and after the first wash. It seems counter-intuitive, but the airier the container, the less likely they are to smell.
Clean Cloth Nappies is the best place to go to get a wash routine set up and to troubleshoot any problems. As well as the website, they also have a Facebook group of nappy gurus who can solve pretty much any laundry challenge there is (both nappy and non-nappy!).
Know where to go for help
Even the most seasoned cloth mums occasionally need some advice, and Facebook groups are a great place to turn for questions, support or to buy/swap/sell nappies. Cloth Diapering Singapore is the perfect place to turn to for Singapore-specific advice (such as which laundry detergent to use or how to dry nappies during the rainy season). It’s also a great way to get to know other cloth mums and make friends.
There are also lots of brand-specific Facebook groups you can join for specific fit advice or help troubleshooting any leaks.
Accessorise your nappies
As well as nappies, there are a few other bits you’ll need. Instead of wet wipes, cloth wipes are a really easy and cost-saving swap. You also don’t need to worry about chemicals on baby’s bottom - just wet them with water and they’re ready to use. And they can go in the wash with the nappies, ready for use next time.
A wet bag to store soiled nappies when you’re out and about is also essential. All the major cloth brands sell them, and you can also pick them up on Pupsik. They’re also great for storing wet or dirty clothing after swimming or messy play, so are a useful addition to your nappy bag even if you don’t use cloth nappies.
Contributed by Rachel Ward