Washable nappies

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Washable nappies or cloth nappies are nappies that can be washed and then reused. Washable nappies can usually last the whole stretch from birth to potty, for one child or sometimes even for multiple children.

Using washable nappies versus using disposable nappies

When people decide to use washable nappies it is often for one or more of the following reasons:

  • Washable nappies are better for the environment than disposable nappies
  • Children who wear washable nappies are, on average, potty trained earlier than children in disposable nappies.
  • It is cheaper to use washable nappies than disposable nappies, for the duration of your child's nappy wearing period.
  • Many types of washable nappies are suitable for extra sensitive skin

Types of washable nappies

Modern washable nappy systems are quite different from the old terry towelling nappy squares that our parents may have used. The old terry towelling nappies had to be folded in certain ways before putting on baby and had to be secured with a metal safety pin. Plastic pants had to be put over the terry nappy to make them waterproof and, after use, the nappy square had to be soaked in a nappy cleaning solution and then boiled in water in a pan on the stove. So as you can imagine, this was a lot of work and very time consuming. Modern washable nappies available today, are easier to use and less time consuming, now that washing machines are the norm in most households. Washable nappies are divided into two types:

  • all-in-one systems
  • two part systems

As the name suggests, an all-in-one system is a complete "all-in-one" nappy. The waterproof nappy cover (or wrap) and absorbent inserts are sewn in as one unit. All-in-one systems are very convenient and user friendly. The nappies are ready for use (no separate covers to use or inserts to attach before use) and they go in the laundry as one whole "all-in-one" nappy.

Some nappy systems, such as “pop in” nappies , are categorised as an all-in-one nappy even though the inserts are not actually sewn in to make one unit. The inserts are “popped in” to the nappy with plastic poppers, to form an all-in-one system. You can pop the inserts out again to wash them, though this isn’t essential. You can actually wash the pop-in nappy as a whole unit, but drying times will be longer as the inserts are not dried separately.

Two part systems (also known as shaped or fitted nappies), consist of an absorbent cloth nappy with a separate waterproof cover (or wrap) which is placed over the top. The two part systems generally have a long life. The outer covers or wraps (if still clean and dry after use) can be re-used a few times before they go into the laundry, so the outer cover is washed less often. This prolongs the life of the waterproof nappy covers.

Nappies can be split into two further distinct groups:

  • birth to potty nappies
  • sized nappies

"Birth to potty" nappies have numerous spaced poppers on the front of the nappy, so it allows you to pop and unpop the poppers to adjust the size of the nappy, as they grow with your baby. As the name suggests, "birth to potty" nappies last for the duration of the nappy wearing period, so you don't need to buy as many. Buying this type of nappy requires an expensive purchase upfront, as you are basically buying all the nappies you need for the entire period your baby is in nappies.

Sized nappies come in different sizes such as small, medium, large and extra large. They are usually categorised by the weight of your baby. Small (e.g. 3.5 to 7 kgs), Medium (e.g. 6 to 12 kgs) etc.

If you chose to use sized nappies, you would need to buy enough nappies from each size category, for the duration of the nappy wearing period. The purchasing of the nappies is then ongoing, as your baby grows to the next size of nappies. The cost of nappies is therefore spread out over a period of time.

Materials used for washable nappies and the environment

Washable nappies are more environmentally friendly to use than disposable nappies because they cause less waste. The impact on the environment from using water and energy consumption to wash the nappies is less than the impact on the environment from discarded disposable nappies. Disposable nappies are estimated to take 250-500 years to decompose—and they’re the third largest single consumer item in landfills and represent about 4% of solid waste. In households with just one child in nappies, disposables make up as much as 50% of total household waste, according to a 2003 study by the Women’s Environmental Network (via the Real Diaper Association).

Depending on what materials the washable nappies are made of, the nappies can be extra environmentally friendly. Bamboo and hemp are better for the environment than synthetic materials such as microfibre or cotton. Microfibre is less environmentally friendly because it is not biodegradable and is not produced from a renewable resource. Cotton is known as the worlds “dirtiest crop” because farmers all too frequently use pesticides and fungicides on the crops, due to various pests that hinder crop growth. Cotton is also a very thirsty crop requiring much water to grow. Organic cotton is obviously better for the environment than regular cotton as no fertilizers, pesticides or fungicides are used, but again, the crop requires a vast amount of water to grow.

On the other hand, bamboo is considered a “green” crop due to its quick growing cycle and is 100% biodegradable. No nasty chemicals are required to grow bamboo and the plant needs less water than, say, cotton. Hemp is also seen as a “green” crop, if not the greenest, producing a high yield and also does not require pesticides and fungicides to help the growing process. It also requires a lot less water to grow than cotton.

Other materials, such as wool or silk are sometimes used in the manufacture of washable nappies. All the above materials have their own pro’s and con’s in nappy use.

Washable nappies, disposable nappies and costs

At the start of the nappy period, a number of washable nappies have to be purchased. These costs, plus the cost of water and energy consumption from washing, are generally lower than the total cost of buying disposable nappies, over the whole nappy wearing period.

Sensitive skin

Depending on the sensitivity of your child's skin, it may be desirable to use washable nappies. There are washable nappies available that are made entirely from natural materials such as wool and cotton, sometimes entirely without velcro or synthetic material, or without plastic, so nappies are more breathable and better for your baby's skin.

Which nappy is suitable for your needs?

When purchasing washable nappies, thought has to be given to the following points:

  • drying time of the nappies. (Are you planning to dry the nappies inside the house on a clothes airer, outside on the washing line or use a tumble dryer?) Note: Nappies are not recommended to be dried directly on a radiator.
  • whether you plan to use the nappies for multiple children; sequentially or simultaneously
  • the importance of preference of the environmentally friendly materials the nappies are made from.
  • personal preference for certain nappy systems (all-in-one systems or 2 part systems; birth to potty or multiphase systems)
  • your budget

For personal nappy advice it is often possible to phone a local nappy consultant to discuss the different systems and how they would work for you.

Using washable nappies

To ensure you have sufficient clean nappy supplies, it is recommended that you purchase for around 3 days use. Depending on your baby’s age and wetting capacity, this equates to around 6 to 8 nappies per day, which totals around 18-24 nappies for your full nappy stash. Purchasing this amount ensures you can wash every other day. You can therefore have clean dry nappies to hand, while some are dirty; some are in the washing machine and some are drying ready for the next use. The dirty nappies (minus any discarded poo and liners) can be stored, dry, in a nappy bucket (inside a mesh bag) with a few drops of essential oils to reduce odours. (Both lavender or tea tree oil work well). This method is called "dry pailing". You can also store the nappies in a nappy bucket with water and a special nappy solution or a few drops of essential oils, before transferring the dirty nappies into the washing machine. This method is called "wet pailing". Placing a mesh bag inside the bucket, means you don't have to handle any dirty nappies when putting them into the washing machine. You can then take the mesh bag out of the nappy bucket and place the whole bag and its contents, into the machine. The nappies then tumble out of the bag as they are washing. There are special waterproof "wetbags” that can be purchased, to store the used nappies in, when you are out and about, away from home.

For optimal use, it is advisable to put a nappy load in the washing machine at the end of each day. Washing powder can better for the nappy fibres than liquid detergents. To reduce the mess and amount of washing associated with "number two's" it is advisable to use reusable or biodegradable liners with each nappy use, which are then thrown away in the rubbish or flushed down the toilet after use. The liners catch the poo so it doesn't come into direct contact with the nappy fabric and makes clean ups a lot easier! The liners (very thin sheets of either paper, fleece or cotton inlays) are placed inside the nappy gusset, on top of the inserts).

Excess detergent can penetrate deep into the fibres of the nappies and cause a build-up of detergent. This reduces the absorption of the nappies and can also cause unpleasant odours. A strip wash can be performed every few months to prolong the life of your nappies and to keep them smelling clean and fresh.

It is advisable to abide by the conditions of warranty from the company you purchase the nappies from so the guarantee is not in any way affected.

External links

Baby Soft Landings: Cloth Nappy Basics

Author

The first version of this article was written by Beverley Wye and Patty Goumans-Nieuwenburg.

Related words and terms

Diapers, washable, cloth, cloth nappy, cloth nappies, reusable, cotton


NL vlag.jpg Read this article in Dutch: wasbare luiers

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