The complete beginners guide to using cloth nappies (diapers)

cloth nappies

I get so many questions about cloth nappies via my social media channels and in my inbox, it is a subject that I am more than happy to chat about as I feel passionately that using cloth is better for babies and the environment, but I also recognise that people find it so daunting to start with. This post is less about individual brands available and more about everything you need to know about reusables, hopefully giving you the information that will help you be successful with cloth, regardless of what styles and brands are available to you wherever you are.

How to fit a cloth nappy – The number one thing you need to know about reusable nappies is that they fit differently to disposables. Once you get the hang of fitting cloth nappies, nappy changes don’t take any longer than they do with disposables – however in the beginning days getting used to fitting reusables can be a challenge, because often people do not know that the fit is different. I do think many people who give up on cloth nappies do so because they never get used to fitting them properly, leading to leaks and the impression that cloth nappies just aren’t as absorbent, which is a total myth! Each brand and style has a slightly different shape, but these are general guidelines that will hopefully make fitting a cloth much easier.

First of all prepare your nappies, I store them ready to use, but with some of my stash I use separate liners that I add when putting them on. When you pop the nappy on, start by lining up the back of the nappy with the hip bones. This is much lower than you would start out with a disposable, but is key for a good fit. Next as you bring the front of the nappy up, you need to squeeze the sides gently in, so the nappy fits neatly in the legs, if you don’t do this you will end up with a nappy that is too bulky. Once the front is pulled flat against the tummy, you can then fasten the nappy with the poppers (snaps) or hook and loop. As you bring the back and the front together you want to give the back a little tug up as you started quite low in the back. Now check the fit is how you want it; you should be able to put two fingers down the front of the nappy, this is to ensure it isn’t too tight when baby is sat down. The elastics around the legs should be snug, but not too tight and you shouldn’t be able to see any parts of the nappy that should be inside poking out.

Types of nappy – What nappy you choose will depend on a few factors; how much drying space you have, your lifestyle, budget and how often you want to wash are just a few questions to ask yourself. Some styles of nappy suit some children much better than others, dependant on their shape and how much they wet. If you are completely new to reusables, I would suggest finding a local nappy library, these are generally run by volunteers who can talk you through different styles of nappy in person and even loan out kits for you to try. If you don’t have access to that kind of service, many of the cloth nappy retailers are really passionate about cloth and can give you advice on which ones will suit you as a family. The more research you can do the better. Here is some of the main kinds of nappies:

All in ones: As the name suggests these with these nappies, the soaker and waterproof shell (PUL) are all connected, this tends to make all in ones easy to put together and they tend to be great for anyone new to cloth. All in ones do tend to be a little bit more expensive than two part systems and as everything is connected, they are a good choice if you have plenty of drying space, but not so good if you need to use the tumble drier. Something else worth noting is that because a nappy says it is all in one, it doesn’t mean that it will be absorbent enough for your child, so you may still need to add boosters.

Examples of all in nappies are – Bambino Mio Miosolo, Tots Bots Easyfit Star and Wonderoos real easy.

Bambino Mio Miosolo

Bambino Mio Miosolo – All in one cloth nappy

All in twos: The inner soaker and outer waterproof layer (PUL) can be taken apart. In some cases they can be assembled with poppers so that they are as easy to use as an all in one. With some all in two nappies it is possible to replace the soaker and reuse the waterproof outer several times (unless soiled), making them a very cost effective option. These systems are also great for days out and travelling as you need to pack less items.

Examples of all in two nappies are – Close parent pop-in and Tots Bots peenut.

Pocket nappies: Pocket nappies come with a pocket that can be stuffed with your choice of inserts. They generally have a stay dry layer that goes next to babies skin and either one of two inserts. I love pocket nappies, I don’t find them any more fiddly to put together than an all in one and once assembled they are no different to put on baby than a disposable.

Examples of pocket nappies – Milovia Pocket nappy, Baba and Boo, Tickletot’s original and Bumgenius 5.0.

Bungenius 5.0 cloth nappy

Bumgenius 5.0 – Pocket nappy

Fitted nappies: This is where you have an absorbent nappy, usually made from cotton, bamboo or hemp that is fitted and a separate waterproof layer (PUL). Fitted nappies are perfect for children who are heavy wetter’s as they are brilliantly absorbent, they are also perfect for night time. Fitted nappies can be a little bit more bulky than other kinds of nappies and as you have two items to fit they may take a little longer at change time.

Examples of fitted nappies – Tots Bots Bamboozles.

Birth to potty vs sized – Birth to potty nappies are designed to fit children from birth to potty and the size can generally be adjusted with rise snaps on the front of the nappy. Sized nappies will generally fit a smaller weight range, but can be a better fit on some children. Most birth to potty nappies are designed to fit children from eight pounds upwards and my experience is that birth to potty fit best from around ten weeks or so depending on the child. Some people choose to buy a newborn stash, these are smaller and fit well, you can purchase newborn nappies second hand in great condition as they are used for a shorter space of time than birth to potty.

Closures – Nappies come with two kinds of closures, snaps (poppers) and hook and loop. Which you use really is personal preference, some brands offer both kinds of closure and some offer only one. Hook and loop can be easier to use for beginners, as it is exactly the same as disposable nappies, whereas snaps generally last longer and are more difficult for older children to remove themselves when they reach a certain age.

Fabrics – Nappies come in a choice of natural and man made fabrics. Man made fabrics such as microfiber are generally quicker to dry than natural fibres and are a good choice for anyone with limited drying space. Natural fibres such as bamboo, cotton and hemp are very absorbent and some nappy manufacturers use organic materials as well, the downside is that they can take longer to dry. Natural fibres often have a tendency to become a little crunchy in hard water areas, so I tend to tumble dry for a short period every few washes to soften them up. Man made fabrics can shed microfibers, which are not great for the environment, this can be combatted by using a special wash bag that collects these fibres and prevents them from entering the environment.

How often to change – One of the myths surrounding cloth nappies is that they are less absorbent and need changing more often than disposables. Although there is a slight different, if you have chosen the right fabrics and style of nappy for you baby as well being fitted correctly, then you shouldn’t have to change cloth nappies significantly more often than disposables. For younger children you can expect around six nappy changes a day, whereas older children can last 3-4 hours without a change.

Night time cloth – I see a lot of people who cloth nappy during the day, but are concerned to use cloth at night. It is a personal choice but I personally have found using cloth nappies at night as easy as during the day time, the key is choosing the right kind for your baby. Our favourite night time options are Tot’s Bot’s Bamboozles (Fitted nappy) with a wrap and the Wonderoos Real Easy nappy (All in one) which has a hemp soaker.

Tots Bots Bamboozle

Storage – Storing cloth nappies isn’t difficult at all and certainly doesn’t have to be smelly. You will need a large wet bag, preferably one that can be zipped up completely or alternatively a nappy bucket is a really useful accessory. I use a nappy bucket lined with a mesh, this enables to me simply remove the mesh when it is time to wash the nappies and pop it straight in to the washing machine, no need to soak nappies or handle dirty ones either! When you remove a dirty nappy empty any solids in to the toilet, if you use a disposable liner remove it and if your nappy closures are hook and look ensure that you use the wash tabs provided so that the hook and loop doesn’t catch the nappy fabric in the wash.

What about the Poo? – I have said it before and I will say it again, if you are squeamish about bodily fluids, parenting may well not be for you. In terms of cloth nappies, people worry unnecessarily about dealing with the poop, it really isn’t as much of a chore as people make it out to be. If your baby is not yet on solids and exclusively breastfed, the poo is water soluble and so the whole nappy gets popped straight in the wash. For children who have started weaning, nappy liners are available to make things easy. Later on when children are having solid poos, you pop them straight in the loo and flush, easy!

Washing – There is so much information out there when it comes washing cloth nappies, in my opinion many people make it sound unnecessarily difficult. Modern washing machines are more efficient than ever and do all the work for you. I always start by doing a rinse cycle, this helps reduce staining and the movement of the cycle helps inserts come out ready for the wash. I always use powder rather than liquid to wash my nappies and it is important that you don’t use softener as it can coat the fabric and reduce absorbency. I tend to do a long 40 degree wash and occasionally a 60 degree if they are slightly more soiled. Don’t overload the washing machine, the nappies do need a certain amount of space to get really clean, I find doing a nappy wash every two days works well for us. When it comes to drying, air drying where possible is better for the environment and the longevity of your nappies, but most nappies can be tumble dried on low if you need to, although best to check with each individual brand.

See my in depth reviews of the Tots Bots Easyfit and Wonderoos for more cloth nappy information.

Ana Green

Written by Ana – A beauty industry professional who is passionate about product and helping people navigate the marketing hype in the beauty industry.