If you're here you've probably either bit the bullet and have a stack of reusable nappies and wondering, what now? Or, you're still mulling over the commitment to go cloth?
I won't sugar coat it. It certainly is initially overwhelming and is a commitment to both an upfront cost and then time. However, I can almost guarantee it is so much easier than what you envisage and much more affordable in the long-run. Modern cloth nappies have completely changed the game. No more sharp pins, soaking nappy buckets filled with 💩 water and heavy loads of bulky terry towelling nappies (besides for the ones used for the all the spit-ups, of course)! Modern reusable nappies have actually made the process so much easier and if people only knew just how easy, we could be sparing our landfill from a lot of excess sh!t, literally!
Getting started with cloth nappies
What age do you start using cloth nappies?
The short answer: Any age! From newborn to toddler and anytime in between.
Don't overthink it! Full disclosure, I actually didn't make the leap to use cloth nappies fully until my bub was around six months old... AND THAT'S OK! There are no rules! You can start when you you give birth to your baby or when they turn one. You start when you want to and when you are ready. You can also start and then guess what? You can stop and start again later. Do what works for you! Even though using cloth nappies has so many benefits and is easier than ever before, there is no denying the fact that they involve more work than using disposable nappies. Here is my observation though. I found using cloth nappies part of the time more inconvenient than just going all in. But that's just my preference. You will find your own way.
What sizes do I need and how do I know what will fit my baby?
Unlike traditional terry towelling nappies where you would buy the one size piece of cloth and one fastener, you now have these newfandangled well-fitted nappies. Use the baby's weight as a guide. Cloth nappies can be purchased in separate sizes - newborn nappies (roughly 1-5kg) and crawlers onwards (roughly 4-15kg). However, you can also buy a customisable one-size-fits-all size (OSFA), that will get you from newborn to toddler (roughly 1-15kg). So that really takes the guess work out of it! They will either have easy-to-use snaps or velcro to adjust the fit around the waist and length of the torso. As your baby grows, you simply let out more of the fabric. Another preference of mine, are the snaps. The velcro nappies often have a little flap of material to stop it from grabbing everything in the wash yet somehow, they are opportunistic and still manage to get stuck on other items.
How many cloth nappies do I need to get started?
The answer to this should be based on whether you plan to use the cloth nappies full-time or part-time. However, if I am being honest, with the gorgeous new designs available these days, in my reality there is no limit! On this, I do have a little problem. But hey, resale value is great so it's never a waste right?!
On a more serious note, it does depend on how often you plan on using them and how often you plan on washing them. Your baby's age will play a part too. Generally speaking, you will go through nappies less frequently the older your baby gets. Those newborns are machines! The more often you wash, the less you will need but remember to account for drying time, especially during wet weather or Winter months.
The Little Archer & Co. packs come with six cloth nappies and a reusable swim nappy. Two packs, so 12 nappies, would be enough to get you started for full-time around the clock use, washing everyday. This is based on 6-8 changes a day, so more likely an older baby. If using on a newborn 24/7 and washing everyday we would suggest four packs, so 24 nappies to cover 10-12 changes a day as a guide. The less often you wash, the more you will need. You can also start with the minimum and see how you're keeping up and buy more if and when you need them.
What are cloth nappy liners, inserts and boosters?
When we start talking about liners, inserts and boosters it seems more complicated but I promise, it's not.
There are usually three components to a modern cloth nappy - the shell or nappy cover, the liner and the insert. Most commonly these three components are sold within a two piece nappy, referred to as 'all in two' (AI2).
However, you can also get nappies called 'all-in-one' (AIO) where all three components are built into one piece. With AIO's, you have less pieces to manage but the 'con' to an AIO option is that they take longer to dry because you can't separate the lined insert from the shell. The shell is the outer layer of the nappy which you can adjust the size of. The liner is the fabric that sits between the baby's bottom and the insert. It's either sewn as a pocket on the inside of the shell or is the outside layer of fabric on the insert. The insert is what does the heavy lifting and absorbs the waste. Inserts can be made of all sorts of different absorbent materials - commonly bamboo, microfibre, hemp and cotton and as mentioned, can then be lined with another fabric that will be kind to your baby's skin. The Little Archer & Co. liner is a suede pocket inside the shell for the insert to sit within. Suede is super soft and great at pulling moisture away from your baby's skin. This reduces irritation and redness. The Little Archer & Co. inserts which come included with the nappy shells (one insert for each shell), are made of bamboo. Bamboo is a natural fibre with antibacterial properties and is extremely absorbent, up to 60% more than cotton.
The booster is an additional insert that will work to absorb even more moisture. These are often used at night-time when the nappy isn't changed as frequently or for baby's that tend to be heavy wetters and regularly leak through one insert. Boosters will generally be advertised as a booster rather than an extra insert because they usually include additional absorbency layers. You may also come across a term tri-fold booster as well. This is just a flat piece of absorbent material that can be folded into three layers to increase the number of absorbent layers.
To prepare your cloth nappy when you use it on your baby you simply secure the insert to the shell, either by inserting into the supplied pocket or clipping in place and you are ready to go. You can add an additional insert or booster either in the pocket or on top if needed.
How often will I need to change a cloth nappy?
Since I have used both reusable and disposable nappies I can speak to the experience of cloth nappies definitely needing to be changed more frequently. Where I would usually only need to replace one disposable nappy in a five hour period, I sometimes have to change a reusable twice. I also use a booster for night time. I put a fresh nappy on right before bed and change it first thing in the morning - roughly 10 hours. In a 24 hour period, we go through about seven nappies. Although it is more often, it doesn't feel more difficult. Plus, you get more chances to cycle through all the cute designs!
The cloth nappy washing routine
We have reached the sticky part, washing poopy nappies! I refuse to deal with the poop longer than I have to so I am not in the business of soaking (obviously, not going back there). However, as they say, there is more than one way to skin a cat. I am just going to give you a generic wash routine that will get the job done but if you feel better about soaking, you do you boo! Your nappies will generally come with a washing guide recommending wash temps and detergents so you are best to take that into consideration to ensure the longevity of the products and not void any warranty.
Here's what I do:
Anytime you get a new, shiny, sparkling clean delivery of cloth nappies, they will need an initial wash to activate the absorbent layers of the inserts.
The easiest way to do this...
1. Soak the inserts overnight in warm water, no detergent needed.
2. Then wash the shells and inserts in a regular cycle with detergent, on water temp of 40-60 degrees.
3. Hang the shells and liners to completely dry before using.
Now your nappies are ready to use, go ahead and start popping them on your baby! But wait, what do you do with the dirty nappies?
Cloth nappy washing instructions
This is what works for me and it's basically the lazy mum's guide to managing dirty nappies. I don't believe there is any need to complicate the process unless you're running into problems. I have been doing this for a while now and have had no issues with stains or smells yet.
Remove the soiled nappy from baby and place into a 'dry pail' or ventilated wash bag. A dry pail is essentially a very well ventilated laundry basket. It does not mean you have to put dry items in it, throw those wet nappies straight in! I use a wire hamper, you can find these super cheap at Kmart or Ikea. Mine has large gaps so the nappies get plenty of ventilation.
If you strike gold and your little love has done a #2, then you are going to need to remove that deuce before placing the nappy into the dry pail. You can do this many ways. A biodegradable or reusable liner in the nappy makes for simple evacuation. It's still easy enough to remove poo without a liner. If it's solid, you may be able to just shift it off the nappy into the toilet. For those 'lived in' poos that evade the liner, we have a dedicated 'poo knife' in the toilet and scrape any of the remnants into the toilet. For runny poos, you can get a bidet spray that attaches to the toilet and you can rinse the contents into the toilet. A less fancy, budget-friendly version would be a large water bottle with a hole poked in the lid. Pop your rinsed and mostly-poo-free nappy into the dry pail.
If you don't like the idea of throwing the dirty nappies straight into a dry pail, you can certainly opt to use a nappy bucket to soak them instead. This is known as a wet pail. Using a nappy bucket to soak soiled nappies really isn't necessary though. It poses a drowning risk to small children and if nappies are left sitting in the dirty water too long, it can breed nasties and break down the fabric. If it's the smell of the dry pail that deters you, find a well ventilated room in your house, away from the living area. In my experience though, it really doesn't get stinky with doing a pre-wash everyday.
If you are out and about, I recommend using a wet bag. The Little Archer & Co. nappy pack comes with one. It's waterproof so you just pop any used nappies in there. When you get home, rinse what's needed and pop into the dry pail. The wet bag can be thrown in the wash with the nappies.
Regardless of how often you are going to 'properly wash' your nappies, they will need a pre-wash everyday before the main wash. This is going to reduce the build-up of ammonia and other nasties. Once this pre-wash is done, you can pop the nappies back into the dry pail and wait 2-3 days to accumulate more before putting them through a main wash. If you need to wash everyday so you have enough nappies, then continue onto the main wash cycle after the pre-wash. You can add in other dirty laundry to your main wash cycle to increase the load size as this water will be clean'er'.
The pre-wash cycle should be on temp of 40-60 degrees with detergent and last 30-60 minutes. If you are not rinsing the nappies with any water prior to putting them in the dry pail, wash for closer to 60 minutes. I use half the amount of detergent recommended for a normal sized load.
If after this pre-wash cycle your shells look and smell clean, you can hang these out to line dry and use but if you prefer or it's needed, put these through a main wash with the inserts too.
Some machines will offer a 'pre-wash' option within a main wash. This should be avoided unless you know that the soiled water from the pre-wash will be completely drained and fresh water filled for the main wash cycle.
Main wash cycle
Once you have enough laundry for a full load, you need to put the cloth nappies through a main wash cycle.
The idea of the main wash cycle is, now that your cloth nappies have been cleansed of excess waste, they can get a 'proper' wash in waste-free water and it is now fine to mix other laundry in with them.
The main wash cycle should be on temp 40-60 degrees with detergent and last a minimum of two hours. For a front loader, this length of cycle shouldn't be hard to find, generally a 'Heavy Duty' or 'Cottons' option. With a top loader, choose the longest cycle possible. As a guide, I use the 'heavy soiling' amount of detergent recommended.
Detergent plays an important role in washing cloth nappies. My preference is BioZet Attack powder. I didn't start using it until I got cloth nappies and I find it works so well at removing food stains from the bub's clothes as well, bonus! There are a lot of detergent guides available online, like this one, to help you decide what to use.
Fabric softener is the enemy of absorbent cloth nappies so do not let it near your nappy load! There are plenty of great detergents out there that can bring fragrance to your nappy without needing to add fabric softeners. If it's softness you are craving, you can finish the inserts in the dryer for around 10 minutes and add dryer balls for extra fluffiness. This should get your inserts soft enough for the baby's bottom.
I prefer to line dry my cloth nappies over tumble dry, especially when it comes to the nappy covers. In a pinch, like rainy weather or very cold days, I will tumble dry the inserts on a low temperature. Nappy covers are most often made of Polyurethane Laminate (PUL) and this fabric really doesn't belong in the dryer. The dryer can melt the waterproof layer of a nappy cover and ruin elastic so I use it sparingly. The shell certainly won't need nearly as long in the dryer as the inserts so don't throw them in together. Add the shells at the end. Lucky, in Queensland, we get plenty of hot days! Repeatedly tumble drying your nappies will potentially reduce the quality and life of your nappies.
Cloth nappies versus disposable nappies
There is an upfront cost associated with cloth nappies however, the value for money is great. A conservative estimate for a cloth nappy is roughly $35. A OSFA cloth nappy can last you from newborn to say, 2.5 years old. Say the child wears this one nappy every second day. That's a price per wear of $0.07 - LESS THAN 10 CENTS! If we apply the same math to the cost of a Little Archer & Co. nappy, the price per wear is $0.03! Obviously with disposable nappies, you get the one wear. The lowest price I could find worked out to be $0.15 for one nappy.
Don't forget to factor in reusing the cloth nappies for subsequent children and then the resale of cloth nappies as well. There is a huge market for second hand nappies. If they are in good condition, you don't need to lose a lot of money!
In Australia, there are currently no 100% compostable single-use nappies available. Lots will advertise that they are biodegradable but this does not mean the nappy disappears, it just breaks down into smaller pieces. Disappointingly, once biodegradable nappies end up in landfill there isn't enough air, water and light for them to break down. It's estimated that 800 million disposable nappies end up in landfill every year, just in Australia. Put it this way, a disposable nappy put into landfill over 100 years ago would still exist on this planet today! It will take hundreds of years to break down.
The reason disposable nappies don't break down is because they are made up of chemicals and plastic. It takes about one cup of crude oil to make the plastic for one nappy.
An argument against cloth nappies is that the production and washing contributes to higher water resource depletion than disposables. This is true however, if you look at land usage, energy consumption and production of solid waste, disposable nappies are a much bigger burden on the environment.
Troubleshooting common issues with cloth nappies
Either the nappy needs to be changed more regularly, you need a booster or a better fit around the leg holes of the nappy. If the insert is not overly wet, yet there has been a big leak, likely it's the fit. Make sure you adjust the rise snaps for a snug fit around the legs. If the insert is heavy and wet, then will need to either change more regularly or add a booster insert.
Smells and stains
It's likely your nappies are not getting cleaned enough. You need to be doing a pre-wash cycle everyday. If it's the night nappy or booster that is smelly/stained, try making your pre-wash cycle first thing in the morning once the night nappy comes off. Include yesterday's nappies, then the night nappy isn't sitting in the dry pail up to 12 hours before getting a good rinse.
If you are doing your pre-wash regularly, at least once a day then it could be the detergent or wash cycle that is not working. This is where it starts to get complicated because the type of water you have, the washing machine, the detergent all need to be considered to pin-point the problem. There is a fantastic resource called Clean Cloth Nappies that can offer personalised advice on how to solve various cloth nappy problems. The Facebook community are amazing. The group members will offer advice and check your washing routine to help figure out how to improve issues. So if you are at your wits-end, head there, I am confident they can get you back up and running.
It is likely your dry pail is not ventilated enough or humid weather. You can hang the wettest nappies over the side of the dry pail, inside facing out, so it gets plenty of air. If your dry pail has very few, or small gaps or is made of something like seagrass then switch to a plastic or wire basket with large holes. Also, undo any of the clips so there are no pockets of material bunched up, sitting in wet conditions.
It is possible to use bleach on the nappies as a mould or general stain remover. This is also a little complicated regarding amount. There are lots of great resources like this one, to guide you on the use of bleach. Some people use it routinely to sanitise their nappies or with a first wash when purchasing used nappies. Be careful using bleach doesn't void your warranty though. I haven't yet had the need to use bleach.
If the nappy rash is in the groin, it can indicate a bad fit and rubbing so try adjusting the customisable snaps to fit more snug. Groin rash and an all-over rash can indicate that the nappy needs to be changed more regularly. Treat the rash with a cream and try changing the nappy more regularly to improve the irritation. Any red marks from indentation of the nappy should disappear within 30 minutes. If they are taking longer, the nappy is on too tight. Let the snaps out one layer at a time until the marks are no longer hanging around.