Cloth nappy myths – busted! (Part 3: cost and ease)

As Reusable Nappy Week draws to a close, here’s the final instalment of my cloth nappy myth busting series. I’ve already covered laundry and looks and comfort, Today I’m going to finish up with a few bits and bobs, mainly cost and ease of use. So here we go with some statements and why I think they are myths…

Nappy rainbow on sky blue

They’re expensive to buy

If you look online at the nappy retailer sites it may seem a bit pricy to pay say £15 for one nappy. It is true that the initial outlay for a set of cloth nappies is more expensive than a pack of disposables – you could buy a big pack of sposies for £15. But the difference is that that £15 will in effect and up in the bin – once the nappies are used once, that’s it. But cloth nappies can of course be used again and again, on several children, so that £15 stretches over a long period of time. We had a set of fitted nappies that had been used on 2 children before mine, then my 2 boys, then I passed them on to another mum for her new baby when Andrew potty trained, so that’s at least 5 children, and they are still going strong.

Purple nappies

Some nappies do cost £15 to buy, but not all have to cost that much. First of all there is the thriving pre-loved market, where you can find cheaper than new nappies in good condition – Facebook has several groups for buying, selling and trading nappies, eBay has lots of listings and you can get some real bidding bargains, and there are specialist nappy forums like Cloth Nappy Tree that have free-to-list classifieds sections. So if you don’t have the cash for the initial outlay by buying new, these are a great place to look, and if you do have the cash to buy brand new, you can usually get a fair bit of your money back once your kid(s) have finished with the nappies by selling them on via these sites, knowing that they will be going to another family rather than landfill.

There are certain types of nappy that aren’t so popular, and these can be found really cheap or even free on freecycle (for example). These tend to be flat nappies or pre-folds, and also some older brands of fitted nappy like Motherease and One-life. I’ve personally always got on very well with both of these for my boys, even though they aren’t the most popular, so it’s not like they are no good, just not the prettiest, but teamed with a funky wrap they work well.

Blue nappiesOne thing I would recommend before buying any whole sets of nappies that are more expensive than a real bargain, is trying a few different ones, either through your local nappy library or by buying a few cheap ones pre-loved. If you don’t get on with a particular style, at least you won’t have shelled out a couple of hundred pounds on a whole set of that style!

They’re too much of a faff – to put on / to take with you when you go out

Modern cloth nappies are nothing like the image that you might have of needing to be an origami master to get a square piece of towelling onto a baby’s bottom. There are so many different styles, and many are just like a disposable in terms of how you put it on the baby – an all in one piece with absorbency and waterproofing sewn together, and with velcro tabs that pull across the tummy to fasten, it really couldn’t be any easier. Some are slightly more complicated in that you have to popper or stuff the absorbency into the waterproof shell prior to use, but once it’s in, you just put it on like a disposable, and once you know what you’re doing, you can stuff nappies with a blindfold on. Poppers are an alternative to velcro, and especially handy if you have an older baby or toddler who likes to pull off nappies (including disposables) as poppers make it harder for them to do that!

Green nappies

It might seem a bit odd to be carrying around dirty nappies in your change bag, when you can just throw a disposable away where you changed your baby. If the nappy is just wet, you can easily pop it into a ‘wet bag’ – waterproof zipped or drawstring bags that are designed to hold nappies until you get home. If the nappy is dirty, then I just make sure that as much of the poo as possible is flushed down the toilet, and then pop it in the wet bag and sort it out properly when I get home. I make these bags myself, and I know that with a good zip closure and sealed seams these really do keep in smells, so there’s no need to worry about stinking out your bag. Or if space in your bag is an issue, then most wet bags for out and about (like mine 😉 ) come with a popper-fastening handle that can be fastened onto something else like a buggy handle or bar. Or if you’d rather not carry cloth nappies around with you, there’s no reason why you can’t just use them at home.

There’s no point me buying and using them, I’ll be going back to work in a few months and my childcare won’t use them

I think the first point to make here is that any amount of landfill that is spared by using cloth nappies is great – whether that’s one nappy, 10 nappies, 100 nappies or 1000 nappies. So even if you do end up switching back to disposables, it will not have been a waste (in fact quite the opposite!) to have used cloth nappies for a shorter period than the average 2.5 years from birth to potty.

Yellow nappies

The second point is that you may be surprised by your childcare provider’s policy on nappies. Our childminder was perfectly happy to change cloth nappies (after all, she’d used terry squares with her own older children), and I know a few other childminders who use still cloth nappies on their own children so are happy to do it for others in their care too. I have less personal experience of nurseries, but I know a few friends who send their child to a nursery where the staff are also happy to change cloth nappies. I’m not saying that every childcare provider will be OK with it, but of the people I know who use cloth nappies and whose child also goes to a nursery/childminder, most have managed to continue using cloth nappies once they returned to work.

It’s all or nothing – cloth nappies or disposables

To tie up this post on myths, here’s one that I’ve touched on a few times above. Although it’s nice to use any cloth nappies that you buy as much as possible, it really doesn’t have to be full time. If you only use them at home, that’s OK. If you only use them until you go back to work, that’s fine. If you don’t start using them until your baby is a few months old, that’s great. If you only use them in the daytime, that’s not a problem. If you get behind on the washing and there aren’t enough dry, don’t worry. If you just have a bad day and can’t face another cloth nappy, nobody will think anything less of you! As I said above, if you just save one or two disposable nappies from landfill, that’s a help, and as the saying goes, every little helps.

Orange nappies

We started using cloth nappies when Andrew was about 6 weeks old, once we’d got through all the disposables we’d got free and been bought, and once we felt stressful feeding issues has settled down to some extent. Joel was in cloth nappies from a few days old. Andrew was in disposables at night until he started soaking through them at about 18 months old and I had to do some research on night nappies that were absorbent enough for his super heavy wetting. Joel has always been in cloth nappies at night. Sometimes we use disposables – when we go away (about 3 weeks a year) is the main reason, or when Joel got a particularly sore bottom from teething wee (until I found out about charcoal boosters and these have been great for this), or if Andrew’s night nappies haven’t quite got dry in time depending on when I did the washing and whether I could get it outside. So even as someone who likes to promote cloth nappies, I’m not afraid to say that we occasionally use disposables, it’s by no means all or nothing. There’s also the eco-friendly disposable option, or cloth nappies that you can buy eco disposable inserts for that fit like a cloth insert into the cloth shell – another reason why it’s not black and white.

Red nappies

I hope that this series of myth busting posts has been useful for you. Please let me know if you have any further questions, I’m happy to chat nappies any time. There is still some time to join in all the fun of Reusable Nappy Week and try to win some nappy prizes. Check out the Reusable Nappy Association’s Facebook page. Happy nappying!

Cloth nappy myths – busted! (Part 1: laundry)

It’s that time of year again – Reusable Nappy Week! Well it used to be called Real Nappy Week, though I’ve always preferred to call it Cloth Nappy Week (as I don’t like the implication that disposables aren’t ‘real’), but Reusable means the acronym RNW still fits. I’ve blogged about cloth nappies quite a bit over the 3 years since we started using them, especially when I was running Nappyness (Cambridge Nappy Library and Meet-ups). This year I decided that a couple of posts about busting some cloth nappy myths would be a good idea. I know I had some preconceptions about what they were like before I looked into it some more — mainly from what I’d heard they were like when I was in nappies! And others who I’ve spoken to have had similar ideas about what they think cloth nappying involves. So here are some statements about cloth nappies that I have personally come across — of course there are no doubt more — and why, in my experience I think they are myths….

Nappy rainbow on sky blue

They’re hard/complicated to wash

Forget boil washing on massively long cycles! That’s the first thing to note when washing modern cloth nappies. In fact if you boil them, they won’t survive too long. Boil washing would be fine if you were using plain cotton terry squares, but not for newer designs that have PUL (polyurethane laminate — waterproof fabric) and/or elastic as part of the nappy itself, because these materials degrade quicker than you’d like at high temperatures. But there’s no need to wash at those high temperatures anyway.

40 degrees is generally fine for most of the times that you wash cloth nappies. The main exception when it’s advisable to wash at 60 degrees is if you know of or suspect a tummy bug or other contagious illness. Otherwise I wash at 60 about once a month or so or if I do a ‘strip wash’ (more on this soon). Washing at 40 rather than 60 (or 90) also reduces the amount of energy you use to clean the nappies.

Blue nappies

One issue that cloth nappy users sometimes run into if they don’t know about it (like I didn’t when we first started before I read up online about it) is using the right amount of detergent. Too much and it can clog the fabric making it less absorbent, too little and it won’t be effective in cleaning and may lead to ammonia build up. Other factors like water hardness and washing machine can also influence how much detergent is needed. For example we lived in Cambridge for 3 years of nappy washing and after realising that we were using way too much detergent leading to less absorbent nappies, I cut right down to the often cited 2 tablespoons of powder; only then we had ammonia build up (stinky nappies, sore bottoms), so I used a little more (about 4 tbsp, still less than a full dose) and we no longer had issues. Some modern washing machines are very ‘eco friendly’ in their minimal water usage, but this isn’t ideal for nappies that need plenty of water to rinse the detergent away so it doesn’t hang around in the fabric.

OK, this does sound complicated, you may be saying. It sounds like it, but once you do a bit of trial and error to figure out how much detergent if optimum in your machine, it’s very easy. And if you do use too much detergent for too many washes or if you get ammonia build up, it’s a simple procedure to correct: you do a ‘strip wash’. As the name suggests this means stripping the nappies of any built-up chemicals. If you goggle ‘strip wash nappies/diapers’, a few different methods come up. The one I’ve done is to use a full dose of detergent at 60 degrees and then do many rinses until I can no longer see bubbles in the washing machine.

Green nappies

Have you already got lots of washing, with a baby and maybe other children too? I know not everyone wants to have any extra loads of washing than they have to, but my take on this was that I’m doing piles of washing anyway, so what’s a few more loads a week going to do to me? I had two boys in full time cloth nappies for about 9 months until Andrew potty trained in the day (he still wears nappies at night), and I did (and still do) 6-7 loads of washing a week – total for clothes, bedding, nappies etc.

What about fabric softener? Some people worry about fabrics (that are next to sensitive baby skin) getting rough over time, and so would like to use softener to counteract this. The trouble is that softener clogs the fabric and leads to a decrease in absorbency. I’ve not had a problem with rough nappies, and there are several styles that don’t have rough terry fabrics next to the skin anyway, but rather a soft, stay-dry fabric like fleece, minky or velour. I’ve also heard that a quick blast in the tumble drier every now and then can help to soften up rough, dry nappies.

Which type of detergent is best? Non-bio is better than bio, because bio will degrade elastics and PUL over time. Powdered detergent is better than liquid, because liquid tends to coat fabrics leading to build up and decrease in absorbency. Some cloth nappy users swear by natural products like the Eco Egg for washing nappies, which have no chemicals so you can’t get a build up of them in the fabric. We tried an Eco Egg a while ago but didn’t think it cleaned particularly effectively in our machine. This is just our experience and I’ve heard that its performance can differ quite a bit depending on your machine.

Orange nappies

Here are my key points for washing cloth nappies…

  • start off using about 2 tablespoons of detergent (non-bio powder), adjusted up if your water is particularly hard
  • wash at 40 degrees on a normal (not quick wash) cycle, or 60 degrees in cases of illness or strip washing
  • do extra rinses if your machine is economical with water usage or if you still see bubbles at the end of your main wash cycle

They’re hard to get dry or take too long to dry

I think this very much depends on the time of year and what your home is like for size and ventilation. Of course it’’s easiest to dry nappies when you can get them out in the sun and wind and they dry naturally. The sun also helps to get rid of stains. I’d say I get nappies outside most days that I wash them from about April to September, though I’m aware that some fairly recent British summers have been very wet and this might not always be possible.

I think we were lucky that our flat where we lived for 3 years of nappying was very efficient at drying nappies hung on an airer — they would generally dry in a day, or two days for the very absorbent night nappies. It was only a small flat, but we never felt like nappies and washing were taking too much room, so I’d say it’s perfectly possible to get nappies for 2 dried in a flat without a tumble dryer. Since we moved to live in a (fairly modern) house, it’s been taking a bit longer for them to dry inside. I’ve found that the key is to have good air circulation and ventilation in the room where they are drying.

Pink nappies

Another key point is to think about what style of nappies dry quickest (and that are suitable for your baby’s/toddler’s needs). I find that it’s useful to have a variety of nappies, some that dry quicker and others that dry slower, so we can mix and match depending on what’s dry. Flat nappies like pre-folds dry very quickly, as do the waterproof wraps that go over the top, and some styles of nappy have insert sets that popper into the shell, meaning that you can have extra popper-in sets (which dry slower than the shell) to use with the quick-drying shell. Natural fabrics take longer to dry than man-made fabrics, so having some of each means you’ll always have some nappies dry and ready to use again sooner than others. And just having more nappies available in your wash and wear cycle in the winter than in the summer is a good idea.

What about tumble drying? Well it is possible to tumble dry some types of nappy, but if you regularly tumble dry, the energy you use to do it means that using cloth nappies is no longer as environmentally friendly as you might think. Of course not everyone uses cloth nappies for environmental reasons, but if that’s one of your reasons, tumble drying is best avoided. It’s also not a good idea to regularly tumble dry nappies with elastic or PUL (waterproof fabric) because they degrade more quickly with constant heating like this, and some fabrics, especially bamboo, are quite fragile and tumble drying would decrease the life of the nappy.

Purple nappies

What about drying on radiators? Similar points apply as to tumble drying. Direct heat like this is not good for elastic, PUL or fragile fibres like bamboo. From an energy consumption point of view – if you constantly have fabric items hung over your radiators, the central heating will have to work harder to heat your room to your desired temperature, and you’ll be using more energy for that. So again, it’s not ideal if you’re concerned about the environmental side of nappies.

You get poo on your hands when changing cloth nappies

You get poo on your hands when changing nappies — full stop! So I guess this one’s not actually a myth, but I don’t believe it’s true that you get more poo on your hands using cloth nappies than disposables. This kind of statement is usually flung at me by those who don’t yet have (born) children. Unless you’ve been a particularly well involved Aunt/Uncle/much older sibling/Godparent etc. and actually changed a baby’s nappy, then you may not be aware that being a parent means you’re going to come into contact with poo — fact. Of course there are steps you can take to minimise the amount of poo contact, by learning how to change a nappy most effectively, but it will still happen. And that’s before you even get to toilet training.

Red nappies

When it comes to cloth nappies, there are flushable liners that you can place in the nappy to catch any solids in the nappy, which you simply pick up and flush, meaning there is no more contact than sorting out a disposable nappy. This is probably also a good time to point out that technically we’re not supposed to get rid of any human poo in the bin, so even disposable users should flush as much poo as possible from the nappy — believe me, I’ve tried, and it’s a heck of a lot easier to flush poo from a cloth nappy than a disposable. Of course nobody actually does this and it’s clearly not an enforced rule, but still, interesting if you’re concerned about the environmental side of nappies.

I personally choose to use reusable fleece liners, which I pick up at a corner that isn’t covered in poo and sluice in the flush as I pull the lever on the toilet, holding on tight to the liner. I may get some dirty water splashing over my hands, but it’s no more yucky than muddy puddle water, which I frequently come into contact with when looking after my boys, and in the bathroom I can immediately wash my hands with anti bacterial hand wash (which I can’t in a muddy field).

I hope this has covered enough about poo… or maybe not quite….!

You have stinky buckets of water sitting in your bathroom

One image I had of cloth nappies before we used them is buckets full of pooey water hanging about in the bathroom until wash day. In fact I did this for a while until I learned that this isn’t how best to do it for modern cloth nappies (i was going on perfectly reasonable practice from old terry squares). These days the advice is to ‘dry pail’ instead of ‘wet pail’. When you take a wet nappy off your child, you simply put it in an empty bucket with lid or a ‘wet bag’ (waterproof bag that keeps in smells) as it is – no water involved. When you take off a dirty nappy, you get rid of any solid poo by using a flushable liner or by sluicing a reusable liner in the flush, and then put the nappy in the bucket/bag as it is.

Yellow nappies

When it comes to wash day, you do a cold rinse cycle before your main wash, which is the equivalent of the old soaking, except this means the nappies aren’t sitting around in the stinky water for a couple of days. It’s important to do a cold rinse, because if the water is body temperature or above, stains will be set in rather than washed out.

I hope this has been useful information about the laundry aspect of cloth nappies. In my next posts I will bust some more myths about other aspects of cloth nappies – hope you’ll come back and read them 🙂

 

The wonderful world of cloth nappies

As it’s cloth nappy week 2012 this week (there seems to be an awareness week for everything these days!), I thought I’d squeeze in a quick post (note: I wrote that before I realisd how much I could go on about it…not such a quick post in the end!) about our experience of cloth nappies. I still don’t have loads of time or energy for blogging at the moment, but hopefully this offering will keep you amused for a while.

Sometimes Andrew enjoys sitting playing with just a nappy on

When I found out I was pregnant with Andrew, there were lots of things to think about, and I have to say nappies were not high on my priority list of thoughts. But I do remember briefly reading about nappies in one of the free magazines I got with the pregnancy bumpf I got at the start. It was there that I saw an advert for cloth nappies. Then a couple of months later, my mum mentioned them, as a colleague of hers at work was considering selling the ones she had used for her girls when they were younger. I said I wouldn’t mind looking at a sample of what she had on offer, so she very kindly let us have a few samples of a couple of different makes and styles.

Again, sitting and playing in a nappy, though this photo was taken in January so it was a bit chilly, hence the cardy

At about the same time, a friend of mine happened to post something on facebook about how much she loved cloth nappies, so that got me curious and I asked her for advice too – she warned me that she could go on for hours about it, so we should go round for dinner one evening when her kids were in bed and she would go through it all with us. Both these experiences were very useful, and I was persuaded by what I saw to have a go at using them. Also, Tom, being Tom, decided that he would have a go at doing a rough estimate of how much money there was to be saved by comparing the price of disposables with the cost of water and electricity for washing cloth. He worked out that on average we would save LOTS by using cloth over the course of a few years (for Andrew and potentially more kids), even taking into account the cost of buying cloth in the first place.

The first time we tried them on – at about a month old: does my bum look big in this?!

However, we still had a couple of reservations, like we live in a small flat with no tumble dryer and so weren’t sure whether cloth nappies would dry very easily/quickly in the winter, and whether we would handle that much washing in the early days of getting used to a new baby. But then my parents said that for our ‘cotton’ wedding anniversary (2 years), which was in the August before Andrew was due in the January, they would buy us a set of cloth (cotton!) nappies. Perfect. In fact Mum got a great deal with her colleague with the second hand ones, so it cost a fraction of the price of a new set, and we were spared the cost altogether. If things didn’t work out with drying etc., I wouldn’t feel as bad as if they/we had shelled out for brand new ones. We also decided that we’d start off with newborn disposables for a few weeks, or as long as it took to get used to life with a newborn, so as not to put too much pressure on ourselves during that time.

A selection of our Motherease set: top left – folded nappy for newborn size; top right – unfolded nappy for bigger bottoms; centre – fleece liners for wetness absorption; left side – small and medium wrap; right side – medium and large wrap (all very funky designs)

I’m so glad that we did what we did, because it turns out that cloth nappies are no trouble for us. We have a set of about 20 Motherease shaped toweling nappies with popper fastening, plus lots of fleece liners for repelling wetness away from his skin, about 15 Motherease popper-in boosters which keep the nappy going longer, organic flushable liners to catch poo so it is quickly and easily removed from the main nappy, and about 5 waterproof wraps of each size (S, M, L) with popper fastenings to go over the top of the toweling – with various funky designs with animals from various ecosystems e.g. rainforest, savannah, pond. These are suitable from birth to toddlerhood, as the front of the towel nappy folds down to create a smaller nappy at first, and then over time you can stop folding it down and use the full nappy size; you just start with a small outer wrap and then progress to bigger ones as baby grows into toddler!

Close up of unfolded nappy – incredibly easy to fasten with poppers, at different positions all the way along to allow for growing bottoms!

Andrew likes wearing them, and although they are more bulky than disposables (which he wears overnight and occasionally if necessary), it doesn’t seem to have stopped him moving around. He was quite an early walker, cruising from about 9 months and walking confidently a week after his first birthday. I remember reading in the free magazine I mentioned above (which shall remain nameless) that one of the ‘cons’ of cloth nappies was that they were ‘less comfortable’ for baby than disposables. I thought ‘How can they claim that?! Did they do a survey and ask a load of babies/toddlers whether they preferred the comfort of cloth or disposable?! I think not…’ As far as I can tell, Andrew has no complaints. For me, I like the soft and pure feel of the cloth next to his skin, compared to the seemingly soft but full of chemicals disposables. He has only had a mild nappy rash once, and his skin is lovely and smooth still on his bottom.

Close up of folded nappy – an inner line of poppers turns into the outside when folded over – clever 😉

It does annoy me slightly that he grows out of trousers around the bottom more quickly than tops, and dungarees just never seem to fit right these days, but I see that as the fault of clothes manufacturers rather than the cloth nappies – it seems it’s a disposable nappy world when it comes to toddler clothes. I’ve learnt to buy (or mention to people who like to buy him clothes that it’s best to buy) stretchy bottoms like joggers or stretchy jeans. Unfortunately dungarees just don’t seem to fit him these days, though they weren’t too bad up until a year old. He’s not exactly fat either, but he’s got a more muscly bum now he’s walking than when he was a baby of course. On my never-ending to-do list is ‘write to toddler clothes companies saying that I’d like to see designs suitable for cloth nappy wearers’ – maybe one day I’ll get around to it. I’d also love to have the time to make some clothes for him myself, as that would be the perfect fit. Anyway enough about clothes. He looks so cute toddling round in with his padded bum (great when he was learning to walk – extra cushioning for inevitable mishaps!) and the designs on the wraps are so cute too.

Nice and cushioned – this was taken at about the time he started pulling himself up, and it was good to know he had a nice padded bum to fall down on (though of course he’s sitting on a soft bed here, but you get the point)

Of course there is more washing than if we were to use disposables, but now we’re in a routine, we hardly notice the extra time spent on nappies. I say ‘we’, because I am fortunate to have a husband who helps a lot with the housework, especially now I’m back at work (well, he always did do lots, particularly when I was working all hours to finish my PhD!) Our routine is as follows: Tom empties the nappy pails (usually once every 2-3 days now), puts them in the washing machine, and turns it on or puts in on timer depending on when I will be around to do the next bit; once they’re washed, I do the hanging out to dry and putting back in the nappy stacker to use again. In fact the extra time spent on this seems like nothing compared to how often we’d have to buy disposables if we used them all the time. As we live in Cambridge, most of our trips to the supermarket we do on foot or bike; it would take many more trips if we had to pick up big bulky packs of nappies every time. We are also very lucky that our childminder is fine about handling cloth nappies. We send Andrew there with a couple of clean ones, and he comes back with a couple of wet/dirty ones in nappy sacks that we then empty into our pail at the end of the day.

Flushable liners – they come on a big roll, and are easily torn off one at a time using the perforations you see here. They are thin and feel like fabric (as opposed to paper – hence the photo against the light to show they’re see-through), but very strong when wet so they don’t disintegrate, though still degrade once flushed away. This makes it very easy to get rid of poo!

I know that cloth nappies are not for everyone – it must depend on so many different practicalities of everyday life. We have been very lucky with various things (like the gift of nappies, our routine suits washing over shopping, our childminder supports us). But I hope that by sharing our experiences, it might encourage others to just have a think about whether they could give them a go. Plus I’ve done my bit for raising awareness this week. I’d be interested to read other mummy bloggers’ experiences of cloth nappies (good or bad), so why not post a link down there with the comments if you’ve written something on this. I’ve also just entered a competition on the cloth nappy info website to win some more cloth nappies with some very cool designs – Jubilee inspired 😉 So who knows, I might be adding a few more to our collection soon. Happy cloth nappy week! 🙂

New bright orange wrap – a recent photo I took trying to capture the wrap and the fact that Andrew was having great fun waving a union jack around – neither came out very well because he kept running towards me!