This is a guest post written by Elle Hilyard for BubbleBubs (Australian Cloth Nappies)
Battling a health issue with my 9 month old son, Ethan, resulted in more nappy changes each day than I ever thought possible. I started to think about the effects all the disposable nappies we were using were having. Not only were they not helping with the health problems they also weren’t doing any good for the environment and more immediately they were really hurting my hip pocket. I realised I may as well just take the $160 odd I was spending a month and throw it in the bin.
I started looking for an alternative. Until then I had not even considered cloth nappies. To me, cloth nappies were old fashioned, lots of work and really only great to use as burp cloths. As I was looking on the Internet for solutions to the endless and severe nappy rash that was turning my happy baby into a little monster, I discovered the term Modern Cloth Nappy (MCN). I was fascinated. I started looking for more information and the more I looked the more I felt like I was in a foreign country without a translator. After many hours spent website trawling I now feel at home in that once foreign land.
Here, in one easy reference, you will find all you need to know about cloth nappying the new way. Unlike the old terry squares, MCNs come in a range of styles. The common fabrics used for MCN are polyurethane laminate (PUL) or wool for waterproofing and bamboo or hemp for the absorbent soakers. Micro fleece and micro suede are often used for lining the nappies as these fabrics wick moisture away from babies’ sensitive skin.
All-In-One (AIO) nappies are probably the easiest to use of the MCN styles as they don’t require assembly or extra bits. You just put them on and go the same as you would a disposable! AIOs have all the absorbent material sewn in to a waterproof cover. They are fantastic for child care, overnight stays with grandparents and other situations where a no fuss nappy is needed. AIO nappies tend to have a longer drying time and as a result can be quite expensive to build a nappy stash from as you will need to allow for washing and drying time.
All-In-Two (AI2) nappies are similar AIOs except the absorbent materials can detach from the waterproof cover. AI2s do require some assembly prior to use; generally the absorbent materials, or boosters, are snapped or laid into the cover and then removed for laundering. This allows for a much faster drying time, which means you don’t need to have as many for your stash.
Fitted nappies are like AIOs as the nappy does not come apart however they differ because the whole nappy is made from absorbent material and requires a waterproof cover. Also unlike the other styles, fitted nappies do not have a lining that wicks away moisture so the use of a liner is recommended. Covers can be used multiple times during the day which means you don’t need as many covers as you do fitted nappies. Fitted nappies can be slow drying because of bulkiness. Fitted nappies can also be used as boosters for other MCN when your child outgrows them.
Pocket nappies consist of waterproof covers which have an opening at the back, between the shell and the lining. The pocket is stuffed with boosters of absorbent material. Pocket nappies need a bit more assembly than the other MCN before use; some people find them a bit fiddly to use. The upsides are that absorbency can be easily adjusted by adding more stuffing to the nappy. In addition, since the bulk of the nappy is removed for laundering, they are fast drying.
There are also dedicated night nappies which have extra absorbency designed to last through the night. Your baby won’t wake up saturated and you won’t have to strip their bedding every morning.
For the nappies that do not require separate covers the outer fabrics come in a vast array of designs, almost as limitless as your imagination; printed and plain PUL, luscious minky, gorgeous cottons, embroidered fanciness and more. The nappies become almost a fashion statement in themselves and you’ll find yourself reluctant to cover them up with clothes! Modern cloth nappies are secured with hook and loop tape or snap buttons which are either front or side fastening.
MCN are available in sized or one size fits most (OSFM) varieties. Sized nappies are similar to disposables; designed to fit certain weight ranges. If you decide to use sized nappies you will need to continue to buy nappies to fit as your baby grows which can be quite costly. Sized nappies generally tend to fit a little more snugly than OSFM and are a trimmer fit under clothing. OSFM nappies have rows of snap buttons on the front which allow you to adjust the rise of the nappy, thus ensuring a firm fit around the leg and multiple snaps or a panel of hook and loop tape across the top to fit around the waist. OSFM nappies are made to fit from approximately 4kg right up to 16kg. Again, it’s a preference thing. I recommend getting a couple of each style and fit to trial; what works for some doesn’t always work so well for others!
After finding out exactly what a MCN was, I wondered how much work would be involved. I have to admit, I was sceptical. I’m not, and never will be, very fond of housework. I envisioned endless soaking, washing and drying. Much to my surprise, MCN require very little work for so much gain. Due to the nature of organic fibres, like bamboo and hemp, the nappies don’t reach their full absorbency until they have been pre-washed five or six times. You don’t need to dry in between the pre-wash cycles nor add soap; just keep running them through the machine. In my opinion the pre-washing was the most labour intensive part of going cloth and my machine did all the work!
Washing MCN is no harder and no more work than washing a load of really dirty clothes. After changing your baby and removing any solid waste from the nappy you simply pop the soiled nappy into a dry bucket with a lid, often referred to as dry-pailing, and if you prefer you can give your nappies a quick rinse out in hot water before popping them into your bucket. The lid on the bucket ensures the smells are contained. If you like, you can add a drop or two of tea-tree oil into the bottom of the empty bucket to minimise any smells. An alternative to using a bucket is to use a wet-bag. Wet-bags have a waterproof lining so they won’t make a mess everywhere and zip close to contain smells. They come in a whole range of sizes and styles and are fantastic for when you’re out and about too. You wash them with your nappies so if you decide to do use a wet-bag instead of a bucket it helps to have a couple of them.
I am in favour of using flushable liners in my nappies. These liners are made from biodegradable material that won’t clog up your plumbing system and using them with your MCN prolongs the life of the nappy, minimises stains and makes it easier to clean up after a nappy change. You simply have to shake the liner and any solid matter into the bowl and flush. Much nicer than sticking it in your garbage bin, don’t you think?
Once you’re ready to wash, run the nappies through your machine on a cold rinse cycle and follow it up with a normal wash cycle in warm water. You don’t need to use nappy soakers or fabric softeners and you only need to use half the recommended detergent for a load. Please ensure your detergent is enzyme free. The eco-friendly detergents wash MCN really well. If you find any stubborn stains on your nappies, some time in direct sunlight will bleach them right out. Line drying is the preferable way to go. Just make sure when you hang them out to dry, you do so in a way that puts as little stress on the elastic in the leg and back as possible. How easy is that?
If you notice that your nappies are losing absorbency or starting to pong a little then there could be a build up of detergent residue. To bring them back to life you will need to do a strip wash; you replace your detergent with half a cup of bicarb soda and add a quarter of a cup of vinegar to the rinse cycle or to your fabric dispenser. Keep rinsing until the water runs clear and free of any suds; line dry as usual.
The use of barrier creams is also not recommended with MCN as it leaves a film on the fabric which decreases the absorbency and it can be rather hard to wash off. If you must use a cream partner it with a liner. Powders, however, are fine to use if you so desire.
The money you will save each month far outweighs the ten to fifteen minutes it takes to wash your MCN. A fulltime cloth baby needs about 24 nappies which allows for 3 days worth of nappies. You could go fulltime cloth with less or more, depending on how often you want to wash. Where the price of a MCN ranges anywhere from $20 – $40 per nappy it might seem like an expensive outlay to build your cloth stash however when compared to the hundreds of dollars spent annually for disposable nappies, that one off cost soon begins to look like the smarter option. An added bonus is that MCN can last for more than one child so you’ll keep on saving!
I have to admit that the cost benefits were really astounding. Whilst Ethan was unwell we were using a bulk box of disposable nappies a week. We were advised to use a premium brand as it claimed to be “clinically proven to prevent nappy rash”. We were spending over $160 a month on disposable nappies and it wasn’t helping. Nor were the endless creams and lotions I was advised to try. I was at my wits end. I decided to try out cloth; just maybe it might make a difference and I wouldn’t have to fork out so much money each month for nappies. At the very least the natural fibres had to be better for Ethan’s skin than the chemically saturated plastic he was wearing, I thought. So I switched disposables for cloth and barrier creams for cornflour. It took us about another month to work out why his body was behaving the way it was, turned out to be a lactose problem, however in the meantime the cloth nappies definitely helped soothe his raw skin and allowed it a chance to heal. Now Ethan is a healthy, happy 13 month old who sports his clothed bum with pride.
Whether your incentive is environmental, financial or physical I strongly urge you to make the switch to cloth, although be warned, shopping for MCN can be as addictive as shopping for shoes was pre-baby!