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A Beginners Guide to Using Your Cloth Nappies

20 CommentsFriday, 24 July 2015

Understanding Your Nappies

Using real nappies is not hard, just different from using disposables. You need to bear in mind that a "cloth nappy" will usually comprise of a number of parts; the nappy itself provides the absorbency, whilst the outer wrap (cover) provides the waterproof layer. On some nappies, these may be a single combined "all in one", like a disposable is.

On top of the nappy, you would normally use a washable or disposable liner. The liner acts as a barrier to catch any poo, which can then be flushed down the toilet. At night, you may need to add extra absorbency in the form of a booster pad, so that the nappy will last 12-14 hours without a change. This is just a pad of cotton or bamboo effectively an extension of the nappy.

How to Care for your Nappies

It's very simple! When you take the nappy off your child, flush any poo down the toilet and put the nappy and any washable liner in a nappy bucket. You do not need to change the wrap with every nappy, only if it gets soiled, or at the end of the day (or night). If the nappy itself has got soiled, you will find it best to rinse it through before it goes into the nappy bucket, to stop any stains from setting.

Before your nappies go into your storage bucket/bag make sure all hook and loop fastenings are done up so that they cannot catch on stray loops, otherwise your nappies will all end up in a big ball. Some fastenings come with laundry tabs and can be folded back on themselves. Otherwise you can simply do the nappy or wrap up on the widest setting and turn it inside out. This also protects the loop (soft) velcro, as well as stopping the hook velcro from doing any damage.

Drypailing v Soaking Storage
Traditionally nappies would be soaked in a bucket before washing but we DO NOT recommend this now. Just place your nappies in a dry bucket (dry pailing) until you're ready to wash them and then your washing machine will do all the hard work.   It is much easier to load the nappies into the washing machine from a dry bucket .  You can also keep your nappy wraps in the bucket along with the nappies and there will be no significant smell from the nappy bucket when the lid is lifted.

If you decide to go against our advice and soak your nappies you should only use plain water. Soaking does effectively pre-clean the nappies a bit, which helps keep stains from setting. However, the downside is that the nappy bucket will smell when you take the lid off, you also have to dispose of the dirty water and soaking can damage modern fabrics and fastenings. It is also important to remember never to soak your wraps as this will cause them to lose their waterproofing. Use of soaking agents including vinegar, bicarbonate of Soda, Nappisan, bleach or harsh stain removers should never be used as they can corrode the nappy fabric and effectively destroy your nappies. Please note that if any of these products are used on the nappies or accessories it will invalidate any product guarantee. Bamboo is an especially delicate fabric and is particularly susceptible to harsh chemicals.

Step1. Loading the Machine - Washing Load Size
Modern washing machines comes in all different size drums now so there is no hard and fast rule I can tell you as to how many you should/could get in a machine.  You can also get more newborn sized nappies in a washing machine drum than you can big toddler nappies.  As a guide you should be aiming to have your washing machine no more than 3/4 full. This is 3/4 full when the fabrics are wet.  If you put too many into your drum and jam it full, your nappies won't have enough water to fully wash them and there won't room for them to move around and agitate - nappies need a lot of jiggling to get washed.   If you put too few in then this can unbalance your machine so they don't spin properly but can also lead to excessive detergent bubble formation.  If you don't have enough nappies to make up a wash add in mucky bibs, muslins or anything that would benefit from a deep long wash (husband's football kit was known to go in occassionally!)

Step 2. Rinse Cycle
When the time comes to do a wash,  put the nappies in the machine and do a cold rinse cycle without any detergent, a rinse cycle is better than a prewash as modern machines are so water efficient they often reuse water from a prewash cycle whereas rinse cycle water is always fully drained away.  Cloth nappies will be heavily soiled so we don't want any of the water used from the first rinse reused in the main wash.   The rinse cycle removes any remaining solids and flushes away urine.

Step3. Main Wash Cycle
Next simply run your longest 60 or 40 degree  wash with non bio powder washing detergent (NOT ECOVER - see below).

 The cycle should be the longest cycle you can find on your machine and not one of the economy quick washes. These are heavily soiled items so need a long deep wash.  If you have the choice of cotton or synthetics on your machine, the cotton cycle should be used as it uses more water.  If you have an "extra water" function on your machine please use it, modern washing machines are VERY water efficient which is generally great but when you're washing approx 15 nappies that hold 500ml each you need a lot of water to ensure they are thoroughly flushed through. 

Lots of people get very hung up on the amount of detergent they should use, in our experience people always tend to over dose and forget to run a maintenance cycle on their machine regularly leading detergent residue in their machines too.    Our guide as a starting point is to read the packaging of your detergent and find the recommended dose for your water hardness and drum size and halve it.  You haven't got a full drum (see step 1) so a full dose of detergent is normally too much.  Using too much detergent can result in residue building up in the fabric which can cause sensitivity, damage to the nappies, smells and leaks.   When your nappies come out of the machine your nappies should smell of nothing. If you can still smell detergent this is a sign you've used too much.  If after washing they smell unclean this is a sign they've not been washed long enough,  wrong dose of detergent used or too many in the machine (and or your machine needs a maintenance cycle run).    The first thing we do when we have returns, especially faulty ones, is to sniff the nappies (glamorous job being a Nappy Lady).  In the vast majority of times the "faulty" nappies reek of detergent and we can feel it built up on the fibres.    


The reason we recommend non bio and not biological is nothing to do with skin sensitivity but to do with protecting bamboo and cotton fabrics. Some biological detergents contain an enzyme called ‘cellulase’ which can have a degrading effect on cellulose fibres like bamboo and cotton and this can be particularly severe if combined with the levels of heat used when tumble drying.

We DO NOT Recommend the use of Ecover with any cloth nappies as we find it frequently causes skin issues and problems with elastic in the nappies as it tends to build up on fibres very quickly.

Do not use fabric conditioner, as this will affect the absorbency over time.

A washing machine with a higher speed spin will reduce the amount of drying needed. However, I would recommend that you keep the spin speed around 1000 revs, because higher than this may damage some nappies, or at least make the fabric go tatty. You will know from your own experience of washing your clothes how fierce your spin facility is!

Step 4. Drying Nappies
In general order of preference, these are the best ways to dry your nappies:

  1. Outside on the line - the sun is a natural bleach.
  2. Ceiling drying rack.
  3. Airing cupboard.
  4. In front of an Aga or other similar oven (or old fashioned stove).
  5. Freestanding or overbath dryer - a dryer is best stood in a well-ventilated room such as a conservatory or bedroom, as bathrooms often have too damp an atmosphere to dry effectively.
  6. Tumble drier - makes nappies feel nice and soft, but works out expensive and also shortens the life span of your nappies by taking out the pile gradually. You will need to remember to empty the filter regularly of all the fluff. Or you could give your nappies no more than 10 minutes in the tumble drier and then finish them off in one of the other ways listed, to get some of the softness without the cost. Other people swear by keeping the 10 minute tumble dry for the end of the drying period, rather than the beginning, but that is difficult to time.  f you do have to tumble dry make sure you only dry any bamboo fabrics or waterproof layers low.
  7. Radiator - nappies will feel quite hard, but can be shaken out to soften them up a bit.
  8. Terries and prefold can also be ironed dry - many shaped nappies cannot be, either because they are too thick, or they contain some material which should not be ironed. This option is bottom of the list because it involves the serious disadvantage of requiring some effort on your part! Never iron wraps.

Note that you should not dry any clothes in a room used by anyone with a sensitivity to house dust mites, as these love to breed in the warm air produced by damp clothing.

With washing, all nappies will get stiffer than they were when new, although it does help to live in a soft water area (eg Wales!). Shaped terries with a stretch agent (eg Motherease) in them or microfibre nappies such as the Teddy will tend not to go as hard as old fashioned terries. Bear in mind, however, that your baby will not feel the material directly against their bottom anyway, because there will be a liner on top. Also, as soon as baby wees, the whole thing softens up.

 

How Often to Change

During the day, every 2½ - 4 hours, depending on baby's age and how heavy a wetter they are, but always straight after a poo. At night, if you add extra absorbency, the baby can stay in the same nappy for 12 hours or more (unless they poo).

You will find that it is not necessary to use creams on a regular basis. We recommend cream just during the early weeks with a newborn and during teething.  If baby does get nappy rash change more frequently and consider using cream or a suitable wash solution. A cup of honey and camomile tea (from teabags) makes a very effective and soothing antiseptic wash without chemicals or stinging. This has almost miraculous properties and is worth trying first if needed.

Nappy Rash

Despite the advertisers' claims, most rashing has nothing to do with wetness. Most babies are not bothered by a wet nappy at all, although some find it itchy when teething. Research shows that the type of nappy used is irrelevant as a cause of nappy rash, as this arises when stale urine comes into contact with the bacteria in poo, producing ammonia. A child using real nappies may be less likely to have nappy rash, simply because the parents are usually more aware of proper cleaning of the whole nappy area.

Important things to note: Always change nappy straight after a poo. Always clean the whole nappy area, not just the genitals. Some children will simply be more susceptible to rashing than others. Diet also affects it, so consider keeping a food diary if your child seems to be sensitive. During teething is when children are most likely to develop nappy rash, but a lot of this is because they are more susceptible to dietary factors - consider oranges, tomatoes and avocados in particular as likely suspects during this time. Use fleece liners to keep baby's bottom dry, to prevent soreness worsening. Change nappies more frequently if need be.

Note that not all rashes are nappy rash - if you are not sure, it is almost certainly NOT nappy rash. You will know it if/when you see it. A bit of redness may be an early sign, if left uncleaned, but is not in itself nappy rash. Consider other causes of rashing as well, such as sensitivity to washing powder, sweat rashes or thrush. Talk to your advisor if you have any concerns.

What to use for Cleaning Baby’s Bottom

You can use cotton wool, packs of disposable wipes or reusable cloth wipes. Reusable cloth wipes are very environmentally friendly and cost nothing after initial purchase. They just go in the bucket with the dirty nappy. Also, unlike commercial wipes, you can control what you put on baby's bottom.

If not using commercial wipes, you may like to use the following recipe to add cleanser to your wipes or cotton wool. You can even put this solution into a spray bottle and use it when out and about:

  1. Place a Camomile T-Bag in a suitable container; add boiling water and leave to cool.
  2. Once cool, remove T-Bag and add approx. 1 tablespoon of Olive Oil.
  3. Add 2-3 drops of Lavender Essential Oil (after 3months old)
  4. Mix well and place washable wipes into container. You are aiming to put enough wipes in to soak up all the liquid, and leave them nice and moist for use, without being sopping wet (you can squeeze them out before using if too wet).

It is best to make up enough to last two to three days at a time. After use, place in nappy bucket.  There is no need to hang out on line to dry, just smooth into a pile ready to use again. This solution is very soothing, and can also help with healing if your baby has any redness or nappy rash.

Top Tips

  1. New nappies should be washed a couple of times before use as this improves absorbency. Never use fabric conditioner, as this reduces absorbency, and never soak or wash them in Vinegar or Bicarbonate of Soda, which can damage the fabric over time.
  2. Rinse soiled nappies through, wring out and keep in the nappy bucket damp until ready to wash to help stop stains from setting
  3. Wraps (covers) should not be soaked in the nappy bucket, as this can affect their waterproofing, but can be kept in there if dry pailing.
  4. If you tumble dry your nappies for 10 minutes before air drying them, they will stay much softer without you adding much to the cost of laundering.
  5. If you live in a hard water area, nappies will gradually become hard. It helps to keep your washing machine clean if you run a maintenance wash or 80 degree hot wash with no laundry every months. You can also wash the nappies without powder occasionally, to help to remove any build up of detergents.
  6. Shake nappies out thoroughly before hanging to dry. This will help with both drying speed and softness.
  7. When you put the wrap (cover pants) on, feel around the top and the legs to make sure it completely covers the nappy, otherwise the wet will wick out onto clothes.
  8. Consider folding any inbuilt or additional boosters so they pad precisely where your child wees: at the front for boys, in the middle for girls.
  9. When you undo a dirty nappy, hold the liner from the underside and wipe off as much poo as possible before moving onto cotton wool or wipes.
  10. To avoid bulk for a newborn baby, use muslin squares instead of your main nappies. See the fold instructions on the last page.
  11. Cheaper underclothes (eg Tescos) have a more generous cut over real nappies.  Use a popper vest to stop the nappy from being dragged down by trouser waistbands etc. It is possible to purchase vest extenders which make it easier to fit vests around a cloth nappy if need be.
  12. For a good stay dry layer and a larger poo catching area, go for a fleece liner – poo drops off into the toilet easily and you can use the liner as the main wipe. Ideal if baby is sensitive to wee, and also reduces staining through to the nappy or soiling onto it.
  13. Some disposable paper liners can be washed and reused a few times, to save money.
  14. You will need at least three cover pants in each size, to allow for one in the wash and another for accidents. It therefore makes sense to buy a cover pant that is adjustable over a reasonable range of sizes. If you use pad folded prefold nappies, you will normally need 5 covers at each size, to allow for messy wraps.
  15. Babies do not tend to poo in their sleep, only when they wake, so if they go to bed with full bowels they will fill their nappy shortly after waking.
  16. Some babies react to a particular powder, so you may need to experiment with brands. Be cautious if using Tee Tree oil as some children can be very sensitive to this, particularly when under 6 months of age.

Muslin Fold for Newborns

Fasten with a Nappi Nippa to give a compact fit. Folding the corners further than the centre in step 1 makes a smaller nappy which is just as tidy. Using a terry is more bulky, but more absorbent. The beauty of this fold is that even a 60cm terry can be folded down to a size small enough for a newborn, with all the fabric spread evenly.

If you have a Problem with your Nappy System...

Talk to The Nappy Lady! We may be able to advise you on where you are going wrong. Good cloth nappies should be more reliable than disposables, not less.


Mary
Monday, 25 January 2016  |  21:11

Your videos are going to be very useful for my Child Development classes. I have spent such a long time trying to find something like this as I do not have any resources in school.
Just asking, your information is very comprehensive,but will you consider putting your information on a shorter worksheet format for GCSE students
Thank you.


wendy
Tuesday, 26 January 2016  |  14:44

Hi, yes we're more than happy to help schools. If you email in with what areas you need covering we're happy to help write something. Please feel free to use any information from the site, please just credit us as the source.


Jenny
Monday, 14 November 2016  |  12:15

Hello, I've been really happy with the tot bots easy fit nappies, till recently. My son is 8 months old now and I find his nappies leak at the front or legs. They just don't seem to be able to hold the amount of wee. Sometimes after just 2 hours they will have leaked. It makes things a bit stressful as I'm always clock watching and time consuming. Do you have any advice? He's been wearing the nappies for about 7 months now. Although his night time nappies Tot bots Little Lamb, don't leak , they rub his legs and belly at night. He has red marks. I've tried putting Vaseline on before the nappy to protect his skin. It doesn't help much. Thank you for your time, Best wishes, Jenny


Admin
Monday, 14 November 2016  |  14:03

Hi Jenny, It would help to know which version easyfits you have as they all have different fabrics etc. Generally adding a booster is the usual solution for leaks but email us with which type you have and we'll be able to help you more. Please don't use vaseline in your nappies as this will lead to them getting covered in it which will lead to them becoming unabsorbent. For rubbing legs this could be the wraps as well but we'd need more information to check fit and build of the child for you.


Jane Broom
Thursday, 19 January 2017  |  14:54

Just wanting some advice. We've been using gnappy newborns with disposable liners since he was born 2 weeks ago. These are great but we wanted to try the reusable fleece inserts instead. Having tried a couple of times, they've just leaked through onto his clothes. Can extra boosters be added, or should we move up to the g pants?


wendy
Thursday, 19 January 2017  |  18:51

Hi Jane, Gnappy is a very low absorbency system. What gnappy counts as a nappy we called a nappy booster! Unfortunately for this reason we come across lots of people having leaks as they just don't hold very much. Fleece liners won't help as they don't have any absorbency and are there just to make getting rid of poo easier. I would add more inserts to increase absorbency but if you don't already have the larger size gnappies I wouldn't be going out to buy more.


Isabel
Wednesday, 25 January 2017  |  22:23

You mention not to use Ecover.. are there any eco friendly detergents you would recommend? Many thanks!


wendy
Monday, 6 March 2017  |  11:50

Violets is natural and is popular with cloth nappies. We sell it on our site under nappy detergents.


Vicky Harrison-Chen
Saturday, 10 March 2018  |  4:15

My baby seems to find the Bambino nappy liner itches his skin. Can you suggest alternatives please?


wendy
Saturday, 7 April 2018  |  21:24

Try fleece liners they are super soft.


Tracy Morrissey
Friday, 23 March 2018  |  21:56

This was fantastically helpful thank you so much!


Nicola
Thursday, 26 April 2018  |  3:35

Hello, would you recommend using liners from the beginning for newborns (breastmilk poo only)? Our nappy library advisor suggested they're not necessary until weaning onto solids?


wendy
Wednesday, 30 May 2018  |  20:02

Yes we would recommend you start with them as it makes nappy changes a bit easier. For some people the thought of putting pooey nappies direct into their washing machine can be a step too much and puts them off. We don't want anything to put you off the start of your nappy journey.


T
Friday, 25 May 2018  |  11:47

I used washable nappies for my first girl and want to use them again for my second, but she is 1.5years old and still has very loose poos. Everytime I try to use them it is very very messy and I find myself tipping a flushable liner in the toilet before then having to scrape off the poo from the fleece liner and the rest of the nappy. Are there any other techniques or suggestions for making this process a bit easier? I find myself going back to disposable as I have a 3.5 year old which makes it difficult to spend time scraping poo off nappies!


wendy
Wednesday, 30 May 2018  |  20:23

I've never scraped a nappy ever. If the poo isn't coming off with a shake I used to let the fleece liner soak in the toilet bowl for a little while to soften and loosen it. Then I would hold onto the liner and flush and the power of the flush would take the poo off.

Nappy help & expertise since 1999