Cloth nappies in a disposable world

25 Apr

We were a cloth-nappying family even before we moved to our house and started pursuing a more sustainable lifestyle. Despite being an enviro-nazi and bone idle, the idea of spending so much on disposable nappies seemed crazy to me, and the thought of sending loads of plastic and human waste into landfill just seemed icky, and really – such a waste.

I never want to sound preachy on this subject – I understand that we all have our ways of doing things, and plenty of disposable-nappy-users are far more environmentally responsible than I am in a raft of different ways – for example, I try not to think too hard about my 20 minute hot showers every morning *whistle*.

I just want to take the opportunity to explain how I use cloth nappies on my kids and how easy and cost effective it really can be.

A brand new Baby BeeHinds Bamboo fitted nappy

The Nappies

We use Baby BeeHinds fitted cloth nappies. These are made of a mixture of bamboo (for absorbancy), cotton (for faster drying) and polyester (for softness). The Australian-owned, family company that produces them have refined the make-up of the fabric over time to ensure that the ideal balance is struck between all those factors.

Nappy with both inserts

Inside the nappy goes an absorbant insert made of the same fabric as the nappy. They come in 2 sizes – you use the small one for a little baby, the large one for a bigger one and even both if you need even more absorbancy.

The nappies themselves absorb all the wee and catch all the poo, then a cover goes over the top to make them waterproof.

The best thing about these nappies is the one-size-fits-all factor. My friend used them on her premmie, and my 4 year old (who wears size 6 jeans) still wears the same nappies overnight. Each nappy has been used many hundreds of times, yet still work brilliantly.

Covers drying on the line

The Covers

The covers are made of waterproof polyurethane laminate (PUL), and are nothing like the horrible plastic pilchers of old.  They  go on like the nappy, secured with velcro and come sized from newborn to large. In my experience the large size can work from as early as 6 months until toilet training, so we have a large supply of the large covers.

How Many?

We have a supply of approximately 40 nappies, which means we could probably get away with washing only a couple of times a week, but I prefer to wash more often because it is better to not leave the nappies dirty for an extended period. I have also ordered a few more recently because we are about to have 3 kids in them at once, including a newborn, through winter.

The "Little Squirt'


Washing modern cloth nappies is also a whole lot easier that the old cotton terry squares of old. We have a water gun attachment called a ‘Little Squirt’ on our toilet that we use to spray the poo off the nappy. The whole thing then gets thrown into a nappy bucket in a process known as ‘dry-pailing’, because there is no soaking at all.

This also removes the stress of having large buckets of water in the house, the thought of which always stressed me out with little kids around.

Dry-pailing the nappies

Once you have a full bucket, you throw them in the washing machine on a cold cycle with half as much detergent as you would normally use. This is because:

1. We all use too much detergent anyway


2. Detergent build-up in the nappies reduces their absorbancy.

I normally use a pre-wash setting so the nappies are rinsed thoroughly before they are washed.

Once washed, I hang the nappies out on the line in the sun. It is the sun that removes stains and sanitises.

On a good drying day the nappies will be dry in a single day. On cold, rainy days they can take many days to dry. If there is too much rain you can hang them inside or use the clothes dryer. I found that sometimes clothes-dryer aversion caused me to revert to disposables in long stretches of wet weather, but one load in the dryer costs about the same as one disposable nappy, so it is false economy.

The Fit

It confused me when researching this process how something could possibly fit both a newborn and a 6 year old.

The trick is the press-studs placed at strategic points on the nappy. You use them in different configurations, depending on the size of the child.

On a newborn, the nappy is quite bulky. They actually end up looking a bit like a teletubby, so some people prefer to use a small number of new-born sized nappies or even disposables for the first little while. That is simply a matter or preference, because these ones do definitely work. Many nappy companies (including Baby BeeHinds) make sized nappies that suit the newborn stage – we have a small supply that we purchased for our first. They just work out very expensive because you don’t use them for very long.

My 4 year old still wears nappies to bed at night. She’s huge for her age and wears size 6 jeans, so the nappies are getting tight.

This is what they look like on my 2 year old.  He’s actually pretty small for a 2 year old, but this perspective makes his butt look huge! The fit is still quite roomy. I am nowhere near using the largest snaps.

The cover goes over the top, attached with the velcro as tight as you can get away with without them squawking at you. The tighter the fit, the better the waterproofing.

Changing Frequency

People ask all the time about how often you need to change cloth nappies and how the baby’s skin reacts compared with disposables. I’ll be frank with this, because I don’t think a lot of people are.

When wet, cloth nappies do not feel dry like disposables do. The bamboo ones are remarkably absorbant, but once they are wet, they feel wet. You can let a disposable nappy get so wet that the weight pulls the nappy down off the child, and yet it still feels relatively dry. If you let a cloth nappy get that wet, then you will have a child with a red, uncomfortable bottom.

Moreover, some people swear that disposables give their child nappy rash and that cloth is a million times better. I don’t have kids with sensitive skin, but I still don’t see how that is possible. Nappy rash is mostly chafing, and cloth nappies are more prone to this if you don’t change often enough. Having said that, bamboo fabric is so absorbant that a friend of mine once called health professionals because she thought her newborn wasn’t weeing. She was, but you honestly couldn’t tell.

The Cost

These nappies (at full price) are $26.00 each, so our large supply would cost slightly over $1,000 plus the cost of the covers at $14.00 each. You only use 2 covers per day (switching between the 2 at each change), so you need far less covers than nappies. This is quite an outlay, but we built up this supply over time. One baby in cloth doesn’t require quite so many, and we use a premium quality brand – there are much cheaper options available, including some very cheap ones on ebay.

When you compare this to the price of disposables over time though, the price difference is remarkable. At the very cheapest end, Aldi newborn nappies are 18 cents each. They get a lot more expensive than that, particularly when you get to premium pull-ups for older toddlers which are close to $1 each. Just assuming for example you use 6 nappies per day at 18 cents each every day until 3 years old, then one child would cost more than the cost of the cloth, and you can re-use the cloth for future children. Anyone who has used disposable nappies knows that 18 cents each is much cheaper than you would actually spend, and newborns use much more than 6 per day.

Cloth is cheaper. Much cheaper. Even when you take the cost of the washing powder and electricity into account. Even if you washed them in hot water and dried them in the dryer.

How do they hold up over multiple children?

In the picture here there are two nappies up close. The one on the right is brand new and the one on the left is more than 4 years old. The nappies definitely lose softness over time, but they soften up when you put them on a child. My nappies should outlast all of our children if they wear consistently.

Other Options

This is not the only way to use cloth nappies. Plenty of people still use cotton terry squares and others use fitted nappies of multiple sizes so that the fit of the nappy is trimmer at each stage. Other people use disposables when they go out and cloth the rest of the time. We are not totally consistent – we use disposables when we go away overnight and sometimes when we go out. The kids’ daycare won’t use the cloth, so we have to send disposables there. I’m not overly zealous with it – any reduction in landfill must be good for our environment.

I hope this helps someone to get their head around how the cloth nappy thing works. It really isn’t difficult, because I’m sure I would have given up by now if it was. Are disposables easier? Hell yes! But not so much easier that I’m willing to pay up to $3,000 per kid for the luxury.

If you have any questions, please feel free to ask. I found it really difficult to get my head around the practical aspects of cloth nappying before I started.

10 Responses to “Cloth nappies in a disposable world”

  1. Sara April 26, 2012 at 8:44 am #

    As you know, I wrestled with all of this a few months ago, and the options really are simple once somebody lays it all out for you, without marketing/bias (meaning, a lot of websites are trying to sell their product, so it makes it hard to filter through the info). We’ve moved our third child into cloth after always using disposable. We expect him to be our last, so we’ve chosen cheaper cloth options, and even some 2nd hand ones (these Modern Cloth Nappies are built to last!). And yes, a pooey nappy needs to be “emptied” before dry bucketing, but that’s the main inconvenience. And, of course, I have to actually wash and hang out the nappies, but with 3 children it’s such a negligable increase in laundry. I haven’t regretted it for a moment.
    re: nappy rash, I started off with only a few cloth nappies, so could only use them part-time. I was switching between cloth and disposables. My son has never had a problem with nappy rash, but I found, once I started using cloth, the disposable nappies were giving him a rash if I used them for more than a day. I’m puzzled by it too.

    • L from 500m2 in Sydney April 26, 2012 at 8:21 pm #

      I think it’s great that you switched for #3. I really think I wouldn’t have bothered personally (I’m too lazy), but I’m sure you’re saving money relatively quickly.
      I really don’t understand nappy rash. I’m just thankful that I don’t have to deal with it too often, and when I do, it’s normally because I forgot a nappy change – oops!

      • Robyn April 26, 2012 at 9:44 pm #

        Nappy rash has a number of causes and they aren’t always related to the type of nappy you use. Some rashes are caused by the chemicals in disposables. Some by the lack of air flow. But a cloth nappy can cause more of the chaffing type rash. You can get a rash with either type though if you don’t change poos quickly or sometimes from something the child has eaten. I read some really good info on a website once, but can’t find the site now. Here’s a similar one though:

  2. Tim April 26, 2012 at 12:44 pm #

    Very interesting Lonni. My wife is keen on cloth nappies and I knew nothing about them. We just did the math with the Aldi nappies. Yes, bigger outlay for cloth nappies in the immediate term but huge long term savings. Especially if multiple children are planned, which they are in our case.

  3. Barbara Good April 26, 2012 at 2:21 pm #

    I too am a semi-devoted cloth nappy user right from the start with my girls. Whenever one of my friends asks about using cloth I tell them to buy a few different ones and see what works best for them. For me I could never get one size fits all ones to work for my first daughter – very skinny legs meant that I just couldn’t get the fit right and had leaks all the time requiring a complete change of clothes as well as nappy. I am quite old school now and use the flat squares with a really good one-size nappy cover (I used a newborn sized cover for the first six months). I use fitted nappies when we’re out and about as they last a bit longer and are a trimmer fit under clothes and some pocket nappies that I can add bamboo boosters to overnight. Because most of my stash are simple squares with just a small number of MCNs it was really quite cheap to set up and even cheaper now that I have two, I only bought a couple of new covers as the elastic in my previous ones were a bit stretched. I also find that because both my girls are small they outgrow the sized nappies very slowly – Baby Good is still in the smallest sized ones and she’s nearly one. Miss Three was toilet trained before she was big enough for the largest size in most of the MCNs I was using, so I only had to buy a couple for overngihts.
    As for nappy rash Miss Three has very sensitive skin and suffered a lot from nappy rash – and still does sometimes. I always found it worse in disposables because she reacts to plastic. For the same reason I could never use a plastic mattress protector on her bed and had to buy one made from eucalyptus. That’s not to say she didn’t get rashes in cloth, she did, but she also got them in disposables. She also has rashes from high acid foods which comes out on her face and her nappy area. As for Baby Good, she hasn’t had any nappy rash at all ever, regardless of whether we use disposables or cloth.
    My laundering routine is exactly the same as yours, but I do use a hot cycle.
    In all I think they’re well worth the extra effort for the reduced cost and waste.

    • L from 500m2 in Sydney April 26, 2012 at 8:19 pm #

      I agree about the fit thing – kids are all different shapes.

      Having said that though, I have never actually met anyone who has issues with the Baby BeeHinds bamboo fitteds. I know at least 6 families who have used them, from tiny premmies to long, thin kids to my (chubby, chubby) babies. Because the cover is what provides the waterproofing, they just seem to work. There are definitely cheaper options out there though – I just find that our system is set and forget. No more buying as you go, and I appreciated that.

  4. Liz April 26, 2012 at 10:19 pm #

    OK I will admit it, I use disposable nappies – I am a bit ashamed but there it is. My first daughter was born in the UK and we came back to Australia after 5 months and I didn’t want to lug a whole lot of nappy gear on the plane so started with disposables – the idea being that I would change to cloth when we got here. But I never did and then my second one came along and I just bought disposables – and yes I do feel guilty about it, and, after reading your post, a lot poorer.

    • L from 500m2 in Sydney April 26, 2012 at 10:27 pm #

      I can understand that Liz, and I really don’t want to make you feel guilty. I was lucky that I had people around me using cloth, so there was a bit of guidance.

  5. Prairie Cat May 1, 2012 at 6:19 am #

    I loved this post! It was very informative.

    No children running around here yet, but whenever that happens, I know I will be choosing cloth over disposables. The price, plus the addition of all the waste that happens with disposables, makes it an easy choice for me!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: