Anne Ferrey updates us on the green benefits of cloth nappies and shares top tips from her own experiences for how best to use them.
My parents used cloth nappies for five children, as did my partners’ parents. While preparing for the arrival of our own baby, we decided to try doing the same. I was already buying mostly used clothes and baby equipment, and I liked that cloth nappies cut down on the amount of waste going to landfill. They can also be resold or passed on to be used by multiple children, which cuts down on the resources being consumed. The environmental impact of having a child is not negligible and we wanted to mitigate it where we could.
Because we’d seen cloth nappies in action as children, we knew it was perfectly feasible and more or less understood what would be involved. We had visions of learning complicated folds and fiddling around with pins. However, it turns out that cloth nappy technology has come a long way since the 1980s and getting started was easier than I expected.
We began by visiting Rosie at the Nappy Shed in Marston, Oxford. She gave us a primer on all the different types of nappies that are available now and showed us examples so we could see how they work. We learned that the old nappy bucket full of fetid water is no more, as “dry-pailing” with a mesh bag to hold the nappies (and a tight-fitting lid to avoid smells!) is the way to go. The full mesh bag can be tossed directly in the washing machine with no need to touch the nappies. Rosie recommended building up to about 24 “birth-to-potty” nappies as a good balance – this allows for washing every 2-3 days and the nappies can be adjusted to a larger size as the baby grows.
Once Lachlan was born, we used disposables for the first month or so (because he was too small) and then tried cloth part-time by used folded muslin squares with a waterproof cover over the top. When he was big enough, we switched to birth-to-potty nappies. We’ve used a variety of brands and types, mostly “all-in-two” nappies (where the waterproof part can be reused if it’s not soiled) and pocket nappies (where the absorbent part sits in a pocket and can be pulled out for thorough washing and quick drying).
Later in my maternity leave, I discovered a roaring trade in second-hand nappies (believe it or not), which decreased the cost per use even more. I even sold some of the small waterproof covers Lachlan used as a newborn for more than I paid! The technology is really good these days, and lots of parents try cloth nappies briefly, so you can often get lightly-used ones for a song.
However, sticking with cloth nappies has been great for us. Lachlan is almost 18 months old now and we are still using the original nappies, which are working perfectly. Most of them have a popper system on the front that allows you to adjust them to a smaller size and then increase the size as the baby grows. We have an every-three-day wash routine and his nursery is happy to use cloth on him, as long as we send along a supply of clean nappies and a wetbag for the dirty ones. This can also go straight into the washing machine at home. Apart from the odd disposable liner, we send very little nappy waste to landfill.
I’ve written an info sheet about using cloth nappies that you can access here. There are a multitude of reasons for using cloth nappies, both environmental and financial – and they are much better at containing smells and poo explosions. Also, they’re extremely cute. And a reason I never expected to cite: if you ever find yourself in the middle of a pandemic with massive shortages at the supermarket, you will not have to queue at the supermarket for nappies or even leave the house!
- Sunlight gets rid of nappy stains, so dry nappies outside if you have the facilities
- Wash new nappies (especially hemp) a few times before use to increase the absorbency
- Cloth nappies ride quite low at the back compared to disposables, and the leg elastic should be pulled up into the leg crease (not sitting around the thigh)
- Make sure none of the absorbent bit on the inside of the nappy is poking out of the wrap part, or wetness can wick onto clothing
- You can buy “vest extenders” (e.g. from Little Lamb) to make sure vests have enough room in the crotch to fit over nappies
- My bomb-proof overnight combo: Easy Peasy Bumble stuffed with a hemp booster (plus a cotton booster if you have a really heavy wetter) covered with a Mother-ease wrap. We have never had any leaks overnight.
Cloth nappies in Oxford
Her website provides information on the different types of cloth nappies as well as information on their use, washing etc.
If you would rather get advice online, The Nappy Lady website provides an advice questionnaire that will provide you with a personalised recommendation of a nappy system that may be useful in getting started.