How I Started Using Cloth Nappies and You Can Too.

by Nadja Uebach
How I Started Using Cloth Nappies and You Can Too.

Cloth Nappies are not something I ever considered when I imagined myself starting a family. And yet for the last five years, they are a part of our lives. They are not just used by their third little bum now but they also marked the start of our journey towards a more eco-friendly and conscious life. We went from reusable nappies to using reusable products in almost all areas of our home and beyond. We are also a lot more careful about what we consume. Among other things, we reduced the amount of meat we eat and changed the type of clothes we buy. Instead of supporting cheap fast-fashion empires, we like to buy good quality garments while supporting small independent businesses like Sugar & Storm. Not just for their products, ethics, and eco-consciousness but also for their gender-neutral & cloth bum friendly designs as well as colourful & expressive prints!

But it all started with reusable nappies. If you are thinking about using cloth nappies or are just curious, I hope this post about my journey and all the little facts I picked up along the way will help and inspire you!

First Things First or How I Bought Cloth Nappies and Never Used Them

When I was pregnant with my first little man, my entire outlook on the world began to change. Suddenly, the future wasn’t just something to consider for myself or my partner but also for another human being who will live even longer into said future than me. This realisation made me look at a lot of lifestyle choices we used to make without even thinking about them. When I researched eco-friendly products for families, I came across an article that detailed all the facts about disposable nappies. From what they are made of to how long they are hanging around in landfill until they eventually break down. I had no idea that every single disposable nappy made in the world was still on this planet. It takes anything between 200 and 500 years for a conventional disposable nappy to decompose! That fact made me buy a terry cloth nappy kit right away. I am talking about the towel like nappy squares with the safety pins and rubber pants. Needless to say, when the time came, I never used them. The thought of it was overwhelming and to be honest, the safety pin really freaked me out. Instead of giving them a go, I gave the set away unused.

Take Two: How Cloth Nappies Finally Moved In

Even though the thought about cloth nappies never really went away and I would often feel guilty throwing my son’s nappy in the bin, it wasn’t until our second child was nine months old that I decided l would look into it again. 

I found a whole world of modern-day cloth nappies that had little in common with the terry squares and safety pins. In fact, these nappies were cute and looked comfortable. Most importantly though, judging by other people’s experience they were easy to manage. After two days of research, I ordered some preloved nappies to try and haven’t looked back since!

Over the first few months, we tried different nappy systems and brands. Our stash was very small, and I still had two little fluff bums, so we did a 50/50 job on using them alongside disposables. After a while, I figured out what kind of nappies worked best for my kids and set out to build up our nappy stash gradually. This kept the initial cost as low as possible and increased the washing slowly over time. I immersed myself in a colourful world of prints, wash routines, inserts and loads of cloth nappy lingo. 

It all sounds daunting at first but once you get there you will find yourself in a very tight-knit and kind community of fellow cloth nappy families that will be at your side with sound advice, tons of experience and lots of laughs!

The Why & What of Cloth Nappies in Short

Whenever I get asked about cloth nappies, I remember how confusing it all was at the start. There seemed to be an endless amount of systems, materials, brands, and methods – so I understand how complex it can be at the beginning. I like to keep it simple and break it down into the essentials to get others started. There will be plenty of time for all the minor adjustments and lovely little details of using cloth nappies. When getting your head into the cloth nappy world you generally ask yourself two questions: WHY & WHAT!

WHY Reusable Nappies are Worth a Try

Many different people have many different reasons for using cloth nappies, but there are a good few motivating facts that most cloth nappy users would have in common.
  • Better for the environment

    Until a child is potty trained it will go through anything between 5.000 and 7.000 nappies. If using disposable nappies, almost all of them end up in landfill where they will take up to 500 years to decompose. Even after multiple centuries they never go away but stay around as tiny microplastic particles polluting the environment. Since disposable nappies were only introduced to the market in 1948 every single disposable nappy ever used is still on this planet! When you are trying to do the maths on the number of nappies that hang around in dumping grounds all over the globe you end up with an unimaginably high number. In Ireland alone it is estimated that each year up to 500.000.000 disposable nappies are thrown out – can you picture that mountain? In comparison, picture a pile of 20 to 30 cloth nappies which you would use from birth until potty; and even after that many can still be used for other little fluff bums. That’s a pretty significant difference.
    1. Kinder to baby’s skin

    2. Disposable nappies are made from a mixture of chemically bleached wood cellulose, plastic, and super absorbent polymer. In addition to this, the manufacturing process also requires a number of processing aids like glue and fragrances. In fact, since the nappy industry isn’t properly regulated, brands don’t have to disclose what kind of substances they use to make their nappies.

      Some information regarding the ingredients in disposable nappies as been made public by the French ANSES Opinion Report in 2017. This report independently tested a total of 23 different disposable nappy brands. The findings have been quite sobering with such a large number of different chemicals found that they simply couldn’t list all of them individually. These chemicals inside a disposable nappy are often responsible for nappy rashes and allergic reactions of the skin. Since cloth nappies are mainly made from untreated natural fabric such as cotton, hemp or bamboo they are not known to cause irritation but to be soft and kind to baby’s skin.

    3. Often cheaper

      The initial investment of cloth nappies with the price of one reusable nappy ranging from €14 to €30 seems expensive at first. In the long run, however, cloth nappies will save you a good few euros. It is estimated that cloth nappies could save you up to €650 for one child and even more than €1.000 when the same nappies are used for more than one baby. Additionally, once your little ones are out of nappies and they are still in usable condition you will be able to sell them on in various preloved nappy groups on social media. You also don’t have to buy a full set of reusable nappies at once. Instead, add one nappy whenever you can and build your stash over time – every single reusable nappy makes a little dent in that mountain of nappies going to landfill!
    4. Prevent the dreaded poop explosions

      Poop is possibly one of the first things you think of when you consider reusable nappies. What do you do with it? The answer to that question is simple: You plop it in the toilet before you add the soiled nappy to your wetbag where it is stored until washday. However, there is another reason why we need to talk about poo and cloth nappies: the dreaded poo explosions. I am talking about these instances when the poo escapes the nappy and wanders up your baby’s back – gross! Due to the superior fit of reusables and the materials used in them, those kinds of explosions simply don’t happen with cloth nappies. With reusable nappies, it’s all about changing your little one’s nappy not the entire outfit!
    5. Super cute

    6. Granted, to some people the way a nappy looks might not matter one bit. However, for others cute and colourful prints on reusable nappies fill those often lonely and monotone days of early motherhood with joy. I, for instance, enjoy nappy changes and it’s not just me; my almost two-year-old loves picking out his nappies, which makes an otherwise dreaded nappy change fun and entertaining for him! Plus: There is nothing cuter than a big cloth nappy bum in cut for cloth leggings or colourful harem pants 
      – match made in heaven!

    7. Shape a better future

      This one brings me back to reason number one, the environment. This time from a different angle though. Using cloth nappies, regardless of part-time or all the time, will help normalise reusable products for our children and therefore an entire generation. My children for example call our cloth nappies the “normal nappies” and disposable nappies, which we use for night-time at the moment the “emergency nappies”. Whereas if you would have asked me at their age, I would have pointed at the disposable nappy for the “normal nappy”. The more we normalise reusable products for our children, the better are our chances of a more sustainable future!
    8. Easy to use

      This one might be very surprising as reusable nappies have a reputation of being complicated and a lot of work. That is a myth though which dates back to the time of the terry cloth and the safety pin. When wrapping a nappy around a child’s bum was a real skill and the soiled cloth nappies had to be washed and boiled. All this is simply not necessary with modern cloth nappies. Instead, reusables resemble disposable nappies in shape and fit. This means, instead of wrapping them around a little bum, they have two tapes at the back that wrap around the hips to close the nappy in the front, using either poppers or a hook & loop fastening. Used cloth nappies are stored in washable wetbags. On wash day you just open the zips of the wetbag, place the entire thing into your washing machine and you are done!
    9. WHAT You Need to Get Started

      Cloth nappies essentially come in two different systems. An All-in-One-System where the entire nappy is just one whole thing. The insert (the absorbent part) is either sewn into the nappy or secured within a pocket. The second option is a Two-Part-System which means that the outer waterproof layer of the nappy and the absorbent part aren’t stuck together but the inserts are placed around the bum individually with every nappy change.

      In order to find out which system and brand works best for you and your little fluffy bum, you could either buy a few different styles to try or borrow a loan kit from the
      Cloth Nappy Library! These kits include many different options and allow you to figure out what works best without having to buy and resell. Once you know what type of cloth nappies you get on with, you can begin to build your stash by buying new or preloved nappies. 

      How Many Cloth Nappies Do You Need?

      As mentioned above, the amount of cloth nappies you will need depends on a few different things. If you are starting out with a new-born for example, you’d have to calculate with about 8 nappy changes a day, while a toddler may be fine with 3 to 6 nappies each day! So, in order to wash every other day, you would need a minimum of 20 to 25 nappies for full-time use.

      Which Accessories Do You Need?

      Once you have nappies including inserts sorted, the next thing on your list is a wetbag to store dirty nappies until they are washed. Wetbags are available in many different sizes, shapes and prints.
      For around the house you would typically need two big wetbags. Plus, a smaller one for nappy changes out and about. Alternatively, you can also use a nappy bucket. However, since a wetbag is washed together with your nappies, it is definitely the easier option. Many people like to use a liner in the nappy. This is basically a very thin layer between the skin and the absorbent part.

      While it is not necessary to use liners, they wick excessive moisture away from baby’s skin and also make it easier to deal with poo. You have a choice between reusable fleece liners or disposable liners. One thing to note though: Disposable liners should never be flushed, even if some of them are labelled as “flushable”! When babies get older their absorbency needs often grow. This is easily solved with additional boosters made from super absorbent material like hemp or bamboo. These boosters can be added to any type of nappy very easily and are often especially useful for night-time nappies or during long car journeys when you’d want a little bit more absorbency.

      Cloth Nappies – Every Little Helps

      Cloth Nappies can be daunting, seem like a lot of work and just too much effort. However, all things considered, reusable nappies are always worth it. Whether you are using one cloth nappy a day for three years, working on increasing your stash to full-time usage or just use cloth during the day or at weekends, it all adds up. Every single cloth nappy you use prevents one disposable nappy from going to landfill. So even if it is just one nappy a day, you will end up with 365 nappies a year. Try picture that many dirty disposable nappies and now give yourself a pat on the back because that pile doesn’t exist because of YOU!

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