Let’s be clear: I LOVE cloth nappies and as such, this is an utterly one-sided piece of writing. I am totally in the cloth camp and will talk to anyone who asks about them, though I hope in an informative and enthusiastic way rather than being all holier-than-thou.
I had always planned to use cloth nappies for my little boy, for environmental reasons (please keep reading, this bit is quick!), but I did think it would be a massive ball-ache with all the washing and an inconvenience I endured for the ethics.
I think the benefits of cloth nappies, for the environment, for your pocket, and more, are pretty widely known, so I won’t bore you with that here. But there is still a wariness and uncertainty about them amongst many. Disposables are an accessible and familiar option and I can empathise with why many parents don’t bother, or toy with the idea but don’t make it over the line. So, if you’ve ever thought about it, or are just getting started, but find it all a bit of a minefield, here’s what I have learnt in the last nine months, which might help make your cloth nappies life a bit easier:
There are way too many choices of design. The internet is awful at explaining how they all work, or else I am very poor at comprehending. Go along to a Nappy Natter event, or find a fellow mum who uses them, so you can see some in real life. The different types will make way more sense then. Or ask a Facebook Group like Cloth Bum Mums for recommendations. Just narrow down the research pool quickly or the internet research will drive you mad.
Too many cloth nappies are over-engineered and scary. Pop-ins: looking at you. The benefit often touted for these designs is that by taking all the bits apart apart, they dry quicker. Meh; they’ll dry anyway. Go for the simplest design. I couldn’t be bothered with all the poppers and seventeen different pads: fuck that. No wonder people get put off. The easiest ones to use are ‘all-in-ones’, and ‘pre-folds’ with a waterproof wrap. Easy for mum, easy for dad, easy for nursery or granny or whoever comes across them, they go on and off pretty much like a disposable. Anything else is just trying too hard to solve a problem which doesn’t exist.
Start a newborn in disposables. I hadn’t planned to, but my son was so little when he was born the cloth nappies I had didn’t fit him, so he was in disposables for a couple of weeks and with hindsight, I needed that. Don’t add extra washing chores to those first few weeks (and you are likely to be washing every day until the nappy numbers plateau), start when you’ve got your head around feeding and generally keeping the small person alive.
Be prepared to be flexible. Don’t be a cloth nappy martyr. Cloth is bulky, so if you’re out all day and don’t want to take a suitcase, take a couple of emergency disposables in your changing bag and don’t worry about it. You don’t have to use them all the time. Any time you do use cloth rather than a disposable makes a positive difference, you don’t have to use them 100% of the time from day one to get your smug badge. Take disposables on holiday if you don’t have washing facilities, or if you just don’t fancy laundry en vacances. Or use disposables overnight and cloth during the day. Whatever. Don’t worry about it.
The washing really isn’t that bad. You’re going to be doing a million loads a day anyway with a baby; you won’t notice one more. And they do get clean and it’s not gross. Maybe they’re not snow-white all the time, but a wash with a cloth nappy-specific product (maybe a pre-wash rinse for any grim ones), and hang in the sun to dry as much as possible and they’ll be dandy. The sun bleaches those bright yellow baby poo stains out of pretty much anything! A lovely washed and folded stack of colourful cloth nappies is so mmm, like having all your shoes arranged nicely only cuter. Strip washing gets talked about a lot and sounds like a pain but isn’t really necessary; I’d only do it after an infection like thrush to be on the safe side.
They look so adorable. My son got so many comments when I changed him at groups and when he started nursery: his squashy round rainbow-coloured behind is super cute.
Cloth is not perfect. They leak, though no more or less than disposables. They do involve a considerable initial expense. They are, just like disposables, a device for catching shit. Unfortunately though, there is no shit-free way of doing this.
Find out more about Cloth Nappies
Find cloth nappies online at Hunny Bums, The Clean Green Nappy Machine, The Nappy Lady and many more online retailers or try second hand from eBay or Gumtree – ensure second-hand nappies are sterilised before use.
Are they more environmentally friendly?
Though it does mean less in landfill sites (approx 8,000,000 disposable nappies PER DAY end up in landfill) cloth nappies must be washed and dried, which uses a lot of energy. Especially if you’re washing at 60 degrees C – which the Department of Health advises you to – and using a tumble drier… cloth nappies take a notoriously long time to dry. However if you do line dry and use an energy-efficient machine you can reduce the energy output dramatically.
Plus if you keep your nappies for your next child or even use second hand nappies then the associated carbon emissions will be much much lower.
Are they cheaper?
A set of cloth nappies will set you back around £250 but if you tot up how much you’ll spend in disposables for the 2.5-3 years your child is likely to be using them it’s closer to the £700 mark. In the long run they’re cheaper – especially again if you go second hand or use them for subsequent children. Even factoring in the extra electricity spent in washing them and drying them, they’re still a better deal.
Do I have to soak them?
Nope! Most people choose to dry pail these days. Shake out or swill off any poo in the toilet before dumping them into your dirty nappy bin. Just make sure you have a bin with a lid. It’s useful to have a drawstring string bag inside so you can just pull it closed once it’s full and whack the lot into the wash without having to handle them!
How do I wash them?
Different manufacturers have different advice so check. Just ensure you don’t use fabric softener and to always sniff test the nappies. If they smell even faintly re-wash them as bacteria can irritate a babies skin. There are also nappy washing services in major cities! They come over and collect your dirties and replace them with a fresh clean batch. Genius.
About Helen Tourle
I live in Sheffield with my husband and a small menagerie, and we enjoy lots of outdoor adventures in the Peak District. I work for a wonderful charity very close to my heart called Cruse Bereavement Care. My rainbow baby son was born prematurely in August 2015.
Image credit: Stephanie Chapman, Flickr.com (cc) 2008