Cloth Nappy Basics
Modern Cloth Nappy Systems are made up of the following:
- Absorbent Layers
- Waterproof Cover
The liner is the part that keeps your babys bottom dry and makes easier work of poo disposal.
- Bio-degradable, disposable liners are available which can be flushed down the toilet. These are great for when you are out and about. We recommend Eenee Flushable liners made right here in Australia.
- Fleece Liners can be washed with your nappies and re-used. Fleece is hydrophobic - it hates water, so any moisture is drawn away into the absorbent layers keeping your baby feeling dry. Many nappies come with fleece or suedecloth sewn into the nappy or you can purchase fleece liners here or look for microfleece or polar fleece at your local fabric store and cut it up yourself. It should be 100% polyester and as it does not fray will not require any sewing.
- Raw Silk Liners are a natural alternative to fleece. Although they do not have the same stay-dry feel as fleece they have the advantage of helping to prevent and heal nappy rash. Silk liners do require hand-washing.
This is where it starts to get interesting! Hemp, Bamboo, Cotton, Microfibre are some of the fabric names you will see as you look at the different types of nappies. Then you will see descriptions of how they are put together and how many layers there are, and lots of talk about absorbency and drying time! Below is a brief description of the common fabric types, there are variations on each of these (ie, bamboo velour, bamboo terry, hemp fleece, hemp terry, cotton sherpa) all of these are variations of the basic fabric type. Once you have worked out the fabrics you can then look at how many layers of fabric a nappy is made up of to work out how absorbent the nappy may be.
- Bamboo fabric is naturally anti-bacterial and anti-fungal and eco-friendly to grow. Bamboo in its plant form is a sustainable resource. Bamboo fabric is great for cloth nappies as it is more absorbent than cotton which means less fabric is required which in turn means trimmer nappies. It is also easy to wash and can be put in the clothes dryer.
We suggest looking for a small polyester content in bamboo fabrics used in cloth nappies for stability of the fabric. Because of its high absorbency bamboo fabric will take longer to dry so look for quick-dry construction of nappies.
- Hemp remains our number one choice for cloth nappy fabrics as it is one of the most naturally eco-friendly fabrics as well as its fantastic ability to absorb and hold moisture. It is also one of the strongest and most durable natural fibres making it perfect for heavy duty nappy use. Hemp has many of the same qualities as bamboo, including anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, does not require the use of chemicals and pesticides to grow, and traditional methods of processing hemp fabric are healthy to workers and the environment. Hemp is usually blended with cotton - for the best eco-friendly option look for hemp and organic cotton blends.
- Cotton is versatile, soft, breathable as well as being absorbent and durable. Cloth nappies made entirely from cotton will require more layers than bamboo or hemp. Unfortunately the growth and production of cotton fabric takes its toll on our environment using vast amounts of water and chemicals and pesticides to grow and manufacture. However there are benefits to cotton including the fact it does not hold onto odours like some fabrics and of course it comes in lots of cute prints and patterns!
If you want cute prints and patterns we suggest looking for a cotton outer fabric combined with absorbent layers of bamboo, hemp or ORGANIC cotton. Organic cotton production prevents the use of chemicals and pesticides.
- Microfibre is made of a blend of polyester and polyamide and is a synthetic material. It makes a great cloth nappy fabric for internal layers or pocket inserts. Microfibre is able to absorb up to 8 times its weight in liquid and is a light, thin fabric which dries quickly. Microfibre absorbs differently to bamboo, hemp and cotton. It acts like a sponge and liquid may leak if pressure is applied. This can be prevented by frequent nappy changes or if microfibre is combined with other moisture holding fabric such as hemp, bamboo or cotton. Microfibre should not be placed against babys skin as it can dry out the skin.
The combination of fabrics and how they are put together is seemingly endless! The common terminology for the different nappy types follows, some include waterproof outer layers that are already sewn onto the nappy.
- All-in-One nappies are basically a nappy that is all in one piece and can be put straight on your baby just like a disposable. Over time All-in-One nappies have evolved. A true all-in-one nappy has all the layers (absorbent layers and waterproof cover) sewn together. Function and practicality has demanded some changes to this style. With all layers sewn together these nappies can take a long time to dry.
You may see some nappies which can "become" an all-in-one by snapping in an insert or a booster. These are often referred to as an all-in-two. To lessen confusion with terminologies we explain the basic premise of an all-in-one nappy is that it can be put on your baby "all-in-one step". That means only one fastening on the outside of the nappy, which may be snaps or Velcro and no other cover is required. The construction of the nappy may include snap in boosters or other quick-dry features.
Pocket nappies are similar to an all-in-one in that they can be placed on your baby "all-in-one step". However pocket nappies have a "pocket" opening where you can stuff the absorbent layers. There are also some pocket nappies which are a fitted nappy and a separate cover is required.
The advantage of pocket nappies is the ability to add more absorbency if required. Most pocket nappies that include a waterproof outer also have a stay dry lining such as suedecloth or microfleece.
- One-Size Nappies are designed to fit babies from birth to toddler, eliminating the need to purchase nappies for different sizes/stages. Some one-size nappies are a fitted nappy which will require a cover over the top. Covers are usually sized (small, medium, large). A very popular option is the one-size pocket nappy. These then eliminate the need to purchase separate covers and are an economical option for cloth nappying your baby. Occasionally you may also see an one-size All-in-One which are usually a snap in booster system.
There are some stages of your babys growth where they may not fit very well into one-size nappies, the common stages are newborn, 9-12 months when they are at their chubbiest and large toddlers. You should also not expect a one-size nappy to last more than 1 child. A nappy that is being used for 2-3 years should not be expected to last as long as a nappy that is used for a few months to a year.
- Fitted Nappies are shaped to fit with elastic in the waist and legs. They close with velcro, snaps or a snappi and require a waterproof cover. Fitted nappies can come as a sized system (small, medium, large) as a pocket, one-sized and with snap-in or lay-in booster systems. A fitted nappy in combination with a well fitting waterproof cover is the most reliable of nappy systems as there are two lines of defence against leaks, the elastic in the legs/waist of the nappy and the elastic in the legs/waist of the cover.
- Flat Nappy / Prefolds. Flat nappies are the terry or flannelette squares we all know. These still form the basis of many cloth nappy stashes. They are quick to dry and remain the cheapest way to cloth nappy your baby. They are not as absorbent as modern cloth nappy options.
Prefolds are the next step up from flat nappies. They are a rectangular shape with three panels, the middle panel is made up with more layers for extra absorbency in the wetzone whilst eliminating tricky folding. Prefolds are a great economical option for cloth nappying your baby and are often used for the newborn stage with frequent changes. You will see descriptions of prefolds as being 4x6x4 or 2x3x2. This indicates the layers of fabric in each panel. For example 2x3x2, panel 1 has 2 layers, middle panel 3 layers and the 3rd panel has 2 layers or fabric.
This is the bit that keeps your babys clothes from getting wet. Covers can be made from PUL (polyurethane laminate), Wool or Polar fleece. Each type of cover functions in different ways and have their own advantages and disadvantages. You may also see other fabric types described as an outer such as minkee or cuddlefleece. These fabrics on their own are not waterproof, look for hidden layers of PUL or whether the fabric has been laminated to make it water resistant.
- PUL - short for Polyurethane Laminate which is applied to fabric to make it water resistant. Originally used in the medical field PUL is able to provide water resistant protection, withstand high heats and multiple washings, making it ideal for cloth nappies. PUL can be applied to many types of fabrics, the common ones in cloth nappy use are cotton and polyester and unlike plastic pants they offer a small degree of breathability.
Often the terms waterproof and water resistant are interchanged (us included!). Any fabric that claims to be breathable will only be water resistant. This means for adequate protection you need to have enough absorbency in the nappy and frequent nappy changes otherwise leaks may occur. Cotton PUL is more likely to have leaks than a polyester PUL as it is an absorbent fabric and moisture may seep through the PUL to the cotton. If you are using cotton print PUL we suggest they are for day use only. PUL offers the trimmest nappy cover option.
- Fleece - Polyester Fleece is a man-made synthetic fibre which is for outdoor wear. The same qualities that make it an outdoor fabric make it ideal for cloth nappy use. It has a high degree of breathability which allows condensation and water vapour out while keeping your baby warm when they are wearing a cold wet nappy.
The quality of fleece can vary, when purchasing fleece nappy covers look for a heavyweight fabric, often referred to as 200wt or 300wt. The higher the weight the heavier the fabric. As it is a breathable fabric, fleece is not waterproof, only water resistant so the key to preventing leaks is the absorbency of the nappy underneath and frequent changes.
- Wool – The natural qualities and properties of wool have a number of advantages over other fibres when used as a cloth nappy cover. Wool is naturally water resistant whilst it is able to store water vapour up to 30% of its own weight, yet it remains dry to touch and the thermal properties create a natural cooling system allowing skin to breathe, yet never feels damp and clammy. Wool is a durable fabric with the ability to stretch and recover, making covers that fit well while allowing body movement and they will last for years.
- Wool covers only need to be washed every couple of weeks and aired between wears. Wool should be hand-washed in luke-warm water using a suitable wool wash. They will also need to be lanolised every 4-6 weeks to retain their water resistance. Read our Washing Cloth Nappies section for more detailed instructions for caring for wool.