Reusable Diapers / Nappies

As a mother of a toddler who is almost fully toilet trained I have been deliberating on both the environmental and financial impact of the disposable nappies I have used over the past 2 and a half years. With a new baby due in a few months time I decided to explore the reusable nappy frontier and was amazed to find the developments in this field compared to the terry towel and safety pin options my mother and grandmother talked about. At first I was a bit overwhelmed by the types, sizes, fabrics and brands of reusable nappies nevermind how you actually use and clean them but I have found some very useful tips and advice which I’ve tried to condence into some handy hints as well as some personal anecdotal information I hope others will find useful.

Nearly 8 million nappies are disposed of every day in the UK and with the ever increasing population explosion this figure is going to grow. A lot of disposable nappy companies are being ethical in their quest for more biodegradable materials however wouldn’t it be better to reduce this to as small a volume as possible and concentrate on the disposal of the organic waste instead ? Disposable nappies are made of super-absorbent chemicals, paper pulp, plastics and adhesives. Reusable nappies are mostly made of natural fabrics, are soft and comfortable to wear and less likely to cause irritation to sensitive baby bottoms provided basic hygiene precautions are adhered to. Paediatricians suggest ten to twelve changes a day for babies in the early weeks, reducing to around six a day later on. The frequency of nappy changes can be much more flexible with reusable nappies as you are not trading off your babies comfort for the price of a disposable – how may times have you taken off a disposable just to have the baby wee as soon as you put the next one on! The main cause of nappy rash is prolonged contact with soiled nappies so frequent changing is the best way to prevent this.The choice of reusable nappies is a huge and there is definitely one out there to suit your individual baby’s shape, size and needs.

All nappies have an environmental impact, reusable ones try to reduce this impact by producing less waste requiring degredation in landfill, organic waste joins our excellent sewage system and there is less unsightly rubbish in our countryside. As long as other factors are considered the extra use of washing machines with regard to reusable nappies should have minimal negative environmental effect ie use an energy efficient washing machine, only wash soiled nappies at 60 degrees C, wet ones can be washed at lower temperatures along with the rest of the laundry. Most nappies are made from quick drying fibre so no need to use a tumble drier. Washable liners are frequently used and there is no need to soak these nappies in sanitizers.

There are a variety of materials used in reusable nappies;

1. Cotton

Cotton is harvested from the fluffy fibres that grow around the seeds of the cotton plant and are spun into thread. Cotton is soft, durable and absorbent. Terry cotton has a raised pile making it fluffy and absorbent. Organic and/or unbleached cotton uses fewer chemicals in farming and manufacture however it is often more expensive.

2. Bamboo

Bamboo is a fast growing, cheap, sustainable and efficient crop and is better for the local enviornment than cotton harvesting as it is naturally resistant to pests so requires less chemical treatment. Bamboo fabric is strong, durable, soft and breathable too. It is more absorbent than cotton but takes a longer time to dry.

3. Hemp

Hemp grows extremely fast in any kind of climate, does not exhaust the soil, uses little water and requires little or no pesticides or herbicides.It produces absorbant fabric that gets softer wirth every wash but can take a longer time to dry than cotton.

4. Microfibre

Microfibre is durable, very soft man made fabric made from polyester. It wicks moisture away from skin and is very quick drying and is often used in high performance sports clothes as well as being great for nappies.

5. Fleece

Fleece (sometimes referred to as microsuede) is made from polyester like microfibre but is machined to make it fluffy. It is very soft, quick drying and again wicks away moisture so is ideal for sitting next to baby skin. Poo doesn’t stick to fleece and can be easily shaken off so is great for washable liners. It is a breathable fabric that allows good air circulation around the nappy area helping reduce the risk of nappy rash.

6. Wool

Wool is 100% natural, waterproof and breathable and has excellent sustainability. It can be of benefit to babies who suffer from nappy rash or eczema due to its breathable nature and is naturally antibacterial and so does not hold odours however to ensure it retains its waterproof qualities it needs to lanolised about once a month.

7. PUL (polyurethane laminate)

PUL is the name given to a fabric that has been laminated with a thin film of polyurethane making it 100% waterproof . Most wraps are made from laminated cotton but different fabrics can also be laminated. It is breathable and waterproof ( but not as breathable as wool or fleece)

8. Velcro (Aplix) and Poppers (snaps)

These are the two types of closure for cloth nappies. Velcro allows for easier adjustment although can become less effective over time, poppers are more durable.

Types of reusable nappy:

1.Flat Nappies

– these are basically flat, square pieces of absorbant material which are folded and combined with a waterproof wrap.

2. Shaped Nappies

-do not require folding as the nappy is already shaped to fit your baby and can be fastened with poppers or velcro and combined with a waterproof wrap.

3. All in One Nappies

– convenient and easy to use as the waterproof cover is attached to an absorbent layer and most come with a choice of either poppers or Velcro fastenings. Disadvantages of this are that you need to wash the whole nappy, including the waterproof part each time and drying times can be longer.

4 Pocket Nappies

– the perfect combination of the absorbency and quick drying qualities of a flat nappy with the convenience of an all-in-one nappy. The pocket nappy is a shaped nappy which allows you to separate the absorbent part to aid quick drying. Pocket nappies work by stuffing a pad into a pocket between the waterproof outer and the fleecy, stay-dry layer that goes against baby’s skin. A separate waterproof wrap is not necessary. The pockets allow you to customize how thin or thick you want the nappy to be (by altering the number of inserts you use) therefore the absorbency ie thicker and more absorbant at bedtime or on long journeys. As the stay dry fabric is touching your baby’s skin, you can put whatever you want in the pocket – generally one or more microfibre, hemp or bamboo inserts or a combination.

Blue reusable Diaper
A Blue reusable nappy from Simply babies online


Birth-to-Potty Nappies

These allow you to adjust the size of the nappies, using poppers, to fit your growing baby. You will only need to buy one set, which should last from birth (or approximately 10lbs) until your baby is potty trained. For a birth-to-potty system you will need around 24 nappies (plus 4 – 6 wraps in each size if not using all in one or pocket nappies).

Sized Nappies

Shaped, All-in-One and Pocket Nappies are available in different sizes, usually size 1 from birth to approx 20lbs, then size 2 up until potty training. They are also often available in smaller sizes – ideal for premature babies, and larger sizes for chunkier toddlers. If you choose to use different sizes you will need 20 – 24 size 1 nappies and 15 – 20 size 2 nappies with 4 – 6 wraps of each size.


Wraps are most commonly found in different sizes but you can find some birth-to-potty styles

Soiled Nappies

Nappy liners are either made from flushable paper in which case any soiling is wrapped in the liner and flushed straight down the toilet. Washable fleece liners (part of the nappy in the case of all in one and pocket nappies) are shaken or stretched over the toilet and solid material drops into the bowl, the liner can then either be rinsed or stored for washing with wet nappies (poo doesnt stick to fleece)

Washing Nappies

New resuable nappies need to be prewashed at least twice to improve absorbancy, bamboo fibre should not be washed above 40°C. Deep and dark coloured nappies should be washed seperately initially incase the colour runs.

Nappies should be washed after after every use. Some people do a cold rinse cycle before a wash cycle which helps nappies stay fresh smelling as urine is rinsed away with cold water rather than being set by hot water.

Many people wash at 40°with a 60° wash every so often and for soiled nappies. Non-biological washing powder should be used at 1/2 or even 1/3 of your regular amount otherwise detergent can build up on nappies affecting their absorbency, irritating baby skin and producing a fishy odours .Fabric conditioner should not be used as it will affect absorbency.

Avoid nappy creams with reusable nappies as they will leave a greasy residue on the inner lining which is very difficult to remove and will affect absorbancy. the best way to reduce nappy rash is to limit exposure to soiled nappies ie frequent change, babies will often benefit from periods of being uncovered and open to air in cases of bad nappy rash.


Air drying outside is ideal weather permitting! Failing that drying in an airing cupboard or on an airer near a radiator is good as most resuable nappy material is quick drying. A tumble drier on low heat will keep nappies soft and drying time can be decreased by addiung a dry towel to teh load however tumble drying may shorten the nappy’s lifespan. Avoid drying nappies directly on radiators as this can affect waterproofing abilities. pocket nappies especially microfibre or fleece are best at drying as all componenets can be seperated for washing and drying. Once dry reassemble pocket nappies and they are as convenient to use as disposables.

Storing dirty nappies

Used nappies are fine stored in a lidded bucket or ziplock bag, no need to soak and sanitisers can damage modern materials. Pocket nappies should be seperated into their individual componenets ready for washing. Mosot people store nappies for 2 to 3 days before washing but this is entirely dependent on how many nappies you have and dont forget nappies can be washed with your ususal wash so storage may not be required.


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